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Argentina and a Racism Hidden in Plain Sight  

Sergio Caggiano

As part of a push to homogenize culture, the modern Argentine nation-state (1880–1930) did away with race as an explicit criterion of social classification, laying the foundations for the myth of White Argentina. Cultural productions and the mainstream media have fed that myth for a century. In recent decades (since the mid-1980s and the 1990s), however, community media outlets have drawn attention to racist practices against specific social groups, particularly Indigenous peoples, regional immigrants, and Black people. While working to forge ties with ancestors from the 19th century or even earlier, these alternative media outlets tend to overlook the 20th century entirely, as if to confirm how successfully Argentina rendered non-White people invisible during the nation’s modern history. Besides targeting minority groups, racism in modern Argentina was also directed at a large swath of the working class that embodies what shall be referred to here as negritud popular (low-class Blackness). What is the relationship between discrimination against specific groups, their responses to this discrimination, and a broader racism directed against working-class and popular sectors? Working through denial and drawing on appearance, Argentinian racism operates ambiguously and intersects with other forms of discrimination. By removing the racial dimension from racism, race could no longer be politicized, but “White” Argentines could still refuse to acknowledge others’ existence, shaping a racism through denial that is epitomized in the commonly heard “in Argentina there are no Blacks/Indians left.” Appearance proves key in this process: Although it alludes to the color of one’s skin and phenotype, it also encompasses a number of visible traits, such as clothing and accessories, gestures, and face and hair care, that, when taken together, convey a person’s social class and value. From this perspective, racism in Argentina targets two types of subjects (ethnic, national, and diasporic subjects, on the one hand, and negritud popular on the other), although certain individuals may fall into both categories. The spaces for racism in Argentina—and for combating racism—are difficult to locate with any precision.