Mona, Mona, Mona! Tropicality and the Imaginative Geographies of Whiteness in Colombia

Abstract / Resumen / Resumo

White women in Colombia are called ‘mona’, and various techniques are used for whitening, which continues to be associated not just with being attractive but also with modernity, progress, and even peace. This article turns to how whiteness has been imagined and practiced in Colombia to deepen understanding of how race and space are socially constructed together. Key to that dynamic in Colombia has been the role of the geographic imaginary of tropicality, a system of power/knowledge widely used to justify colonial domination. Tropicality is one form of the basic colonial idea that certain people belong in certain spaces and that those spaces affect who they are. Colombian elites imported this imaginary from Europe and reworked it for internal colonial projects inside the tropics themselves. Today it continues to undergird the all too colonial present, creating the distancing that justifies ongoing violence in the Colombian conflict. Early geographers played a key role in the Colombian reconstruction of tropicality, using an environmentally determinist moral topography. This leaves us as geographers today with a responsibility to expose and dismantle the ongoing impact of that work. Understanding the forms whiteness has taken around the world is essential for understanding both its power and vulnerability to anti-racist resistance. That resistance is particularly urgent in Colombia today for building a truly just peace.