Every few months the debate starts up again about racism in Latin America. Is it worse than in the United States or just different because of the very specific way colonialism played itself out and continues to play out in the region? Many Latin Americans and Latinos will swear up and down that there is no racism in their countries of origin and in their families, which often times are multi-racial. But what passes for “non-racism” actually includes thinly veiled language and action that reveals centuries old internalized issues around genetic purity and colorism.
Last week Peru’s government apologized to it’s Afro-Peruvian community for centuries of “abuse, exclusion and discrimination”.
The government said racially-motivated harassment still hindered the social and professional development of many African-Peruvians.
A public ceremony will be held to apologise to African-Peruvians, who make up 5-10% of the population.
And earlier this week, at least 60 prominent African-Americans, including Cornel West, actress Ruby Dee Davis, film director Melvin Van Peebles, former South Florida congresswoman Carrie Meek, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of President Barack Obama’s church in Chicago, and Susan Taylor, former editor in chief of Essence magazine, released a statement condemning racism in Cuba.
The four-page statement demands that Raúl Castro end “the unwarranted and brutal harassment of black citizens in Cuba who are defending their civil rights. . . . We cannot be silent in the face of increased violations of civil and human rights for those black activists in Cuba who dare raise their voices against the island’s racial system.”
The statement also demanded the immediate release of Darsi Ferrer, a well-known Afro-Cuban physician and activist jailed since July while under investigation on charges of illegal possession of two sacks of cement. The statement called Ferrer a political prisoner.
While the African American signers support Cuba’s right to sovereignty “and unhesitatingly repudiate any attempt at curtailing such a right,” the statement added they “cannot sit idly by and allow for peaceful, dedicated civil rights activists in Cuba, and the black population as a whole, to be treated with callous disregard.”
“Racism in Cuba, and anywhere else in the world, is unacceptable and must be confronted,” their statement declared.
A “briefing sheet” issued with the statement noted that Afro-Cubans make up 85 percent of the prison population and 60 of the 200 political prisoners, but only 20 percent of the Havana University professors.
As a light skinned Latina whose family prided themselves on teaching me to “pass” as a child, my privilege doesn’t allow me to comprehend what it is to be an afro-latino. Dealing with the legacies of European colonialism and North American colonialism, including slavery, though have allowed me to witness the way in which we Latinos classify ourselves based on skin tone, hair texture, facial features, and bloodlines based on the presence of “Indian” or “black” blood. In the case of Peru, does apologizing for centuries of racism deal with the current struggles of Afro-Peruvians and the Indigenous peoples of Peru and those who fall in between? Is it too easy a move without real policy to back it?
And in the case of Cuba and the United States. How do we reconcile the legacy mentioned above and the ways in which U.S. policy towards Cuba, such as the embargo impact the Afro-Cuban population?
Latinos, both inside and outside of the U.S need to get real with ourselves first in terms of how we deal with race and color. How do we contribute to racist attitudes in the histories we tell ourselves and our children, in the names we call each other (negra, india, prieta, mulata etc etc)? If we can’t get real with ourselves on an individual, community, micro level how can we adequately analyze and deal with the macro?