Afro-Latinos in Colombia

In the last couple years there have been an increasing amount of news stories in the US about Afro-Latinos. I have been glad to see some of it because oftentimes I feel like in the US, it’s as if slavery didn’t happen in Latin America and there are no Black people there to speak of. Or that somehow or another, the Spanish speaking Caribbean and South America has “gotten beyond” racial categorization, when it was only a generation ago that people like Cuban singer La Lupe (among many others) proudly declared she was Black. And why don’t any of these Baseball players from the Dominican Republic get discussed as Black people? There’s also this thing that happens, where I have been told that I, as an African-American, don’t understand the nuances of what happens in terms of race/racialization in Latin America.

OK, I am not trying to take over that conversation, there are plenty of Afro-Latinos organizing on their own, but I know that when many of these organizations of Afro-Latinos in Latin America are referring to Black American struggles for inspiration, and sometimes directly seeking assistance from groups like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (as did organizations in Brazil) to help address legal forms of racism in their countries. That says something to me about how Afro-Latinos in those organizations see what Black Americans have done as a possibility, and not as some group of people who don’t get it. And I do, ultimately, feel responsible for what happens to Black people wherever we are, however we got there, and no matter what conquistador language we now speak.

Anyhoo, I found this interesting story about Afro-Colombians, which are even less talked about than Cubans, Dominicans or Brazilians. What interests me most about the many different movements of racial justice happening in Latin America is in what ways are notions of “nation/nationhood” informing conversations about gender, sex and sexuality–that is, as a cautionary tale from many Black Nationalist configurations in the US–is the Afro-Latin revolution being formed as a (hetero) dick thing?

11 thoughts on “Afro-Latinos in Colombia

  1. Or they see the NAACP as rich Americans who will give them money. Just because one group asks another group for money doesn’t mean they respect that group, just that they respect their wallet.

  2. BRAVO ON A GREAT POST.

    It is sad that brown people all over the word want to distance themselves from their African roots. Mixed people will list everything they are (or may not be) mixed with and then slip in black last. SIGH!

  3. First of all, many thanks for posting that video, I’ve seems stories about black people in Colombia in the Latino press, but this is the first one I’ve seem from a major American news network. Now regarding your post, I have some observations of my own.

    I’m a black man from the Dominican Republic and from my experience in the U.S. is mostly true what you were told about not understanding the “nuances of what happens in terms of race” in Latin America. I would help to start looking at your own experience. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in the U.S. “black” more than a race categorization is an identity. Is who you are, your culture, your music (the reason some people find it weird that a white guy like Eminem is a rapper), an so on. Isn’t that the reason that you refer to yourself as an “African-American”?

    In the Dominican Republic your race is one factor in your identity, but not the main one. Yes, as in the U.S. race in the Dominican Republic is often used as a tool for social exclusion, but not as often as class. Your social background, your family, even your region may have a lot to do with your place in society. People go as far as to legally change their names to pick their mother’s surname over their father’s if they find it more valuable for social advancement.

    You ask me how do I categorize myself? I’m Latino. Does that means that I’m denying my race? Not, I’m just saying that my race is not my identity. So, to answer your question about why someone like the NY Mets Jose Reyes “don’t get discussed as black people” I would have to say I don’t know, but if what you really mean to say is why the don’t get discusses as African-Americans is because they are not African-Americans.

    A few years ago I have a conversation with a black friend from Atlanta about Amadou Diallo, the immigrant from Guinea who was shot 41 times in the New York building where he lived. My friend told me that if Diallo was “black” (meaning, African-American) he would be alive because an African-American would have understood that when a cop says “don’t move” it really means “move and you die”. But the poor Diallo thought that the logical think was to look into his wallet and show his ID to prove that he was doing nothing wrong.

    You know what got to me about that story? That if it was me instead of Diallo, I too would be dead because in the Dominican Republic the first thing you do when a cop stops you is to get your wallet, either to show your ID…or to hand them over a few pesos so they’ll leave you alone.

  4. Hi Ulises —

    Thanks for commenting. A few things:

    1. I do think there are some things we can mark as a part of African-American culture, but my analysis of race is not reduced to collard greens and Lil Wayne. When I am talking about race, I am talking about social and political construct, less about culture. And how that construct organizes one’s experience and life choices–regardless of whether you like James Brown or can do the Harlem Shake. The reason I refer to myself as an African-American is really about convenience–I actually prefer the term “Black” but when I need to make dinstinctions about those of us born and or raised here (with no other “homeland” claims or ties), and Black immigrants, be they from Jamaica, DR, Nigeria or wherever, I use African-American or Black American. I draw from Ruthie Gilmore’s notion that “racism is the state-sanctioned and/or extra-legal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.”

    2.I won’t get into a debate about DR, but I do know Dominicans who have a different analysis from you about how race is functioning there. I will say that those things (class, region of birth/residence, family, etc.) all have impacts on people’s lives in the US too, even for Black people. But even those things, when you pull back the lens and look at populations and not at individual stories, something is happening at around race that cannot be explained by any other social factor.

    3. I am not asking for Afro-Latinos to be simply called African-Americans for convenience sake or to only be discussed in the same way or as African-Americans. I am just saying there is an awful lot of silence around race in that instance, which is (as I suggest) is new around Afro-Latinos (even in a US context) that deserves some level of inquiry.

    4. I don’t really know what to do with this argument about Diallo. I don’t agree with your African-American friend–how many African-American people can we name who were shot and killed with no weapons? The issue is the police, not whether or not Blacks, of whatever origin, understand the literal or cultural protocols of dealing with the police. The officers in that case were plain clothes on top of it–I thought that he probably thought he was getting robbed. But unfortunately we may never know.

  5. “I do think there are some things we can mark as a part of African-American culture, but my analysis of race is not reduced to collard greens and Lil Wayne…”

    Kenyon,

    Yes, I understood that. It was not my intention to imply that being black in America is just a question of what type of music you listen to or doing the Harlem Shake. It’s obviously more than that, but I just didn’t wanted to take that much space in my first comment ever in your blog… 🙂

    And it is true that other Dominicans may not agree with my analysis and is a reflection of our own diversity. I do stand by my premise that race is more a factor for Americans (not only African-Americans) than for people in Latin-America when it comes to our view of who we are. Having said that, I’m in complete agreement with you that there is a lot of silence about race when it comes to Afro-Latinos.

    In fact, that silence is the main cause that racism is a bigger problem in Latin-America than it is in the U.S. Again, I don’t want to monopolize the discussion in your blog, but I strongly recommend that you watch the PBS documentary “Brazil in Black and White“. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but I think anyone who’s interested in Afro-Latino issues should watch it at least once.

    Best regards,

    Ulises

  6. Thanks Ulises —

    I wasn’t trying to be flip. But I was using examples of “culture” that I think are less relevant to a discussion of race and racialization as a political and social construct that cuts across the cultural particulars to some extent.

    I saw the PBS documentary, and I thought it was really interesting.

    Thanks for commenting on my blog, too! I actually appreciate thoughtful comments even if we don’t always agree. I’m gonna check out your blog now!

    Kenyon

  7. Colombians for mew are the finest folks in the world, and Colombians are 40% black ‘color’
    who cares the color, all men are created equal
    and black folks in Colombia are ‘Colombians’ not black white racist labels like in USA
    totally different in MY opinion as a ‘white gringo’

    had a chance to work with ‘Colombian fishermen in Choco
    and they are all black folks with a very interesting culture and there they see themselves as ‘Colombians’
    Viva Colombia and thanks for the vid

  8. 30,5% of latins are black and 19,1% of colombians are black. I am colombian and i rode your post and i see you are wrong. Slavery most happened in southamerica, when spanish realize they discovered america and than discovered gold in it they slaved indians and forced them to work, but then when most of indians where dead they brought africans. Spanish people treat them really bad so many of them run away and formed little towns. When rich latins rebeled for first time, they ignore blacks, and then they all fighted between them to get even more rich, then spanish take over south america again. For second time latins and blacks rebeled for second time and formed ecual nations in 1810 not as eeuu (usa) wich continued with rasism and slavism into 1963.
    Latins live in totly peas with afro-latins wich we consider latins.
    United stater keep beeing rasit and disrespectful until now.
    Postdatta: americans is not anly uniteded stater is Canada center america and south america too. Ignorande is not good :).

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