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date: 15 April 2021

Blackness, Race, and Politics in Argentinalocked

  • Judith M. AndersonJudith M. AndersonCenter for Ethnic Studies, Borough of Manhattan Community College
  •  and Patricia GomesPatricia GomesInstitute Against Discrimination of the Ombudsman of the City of Buenos Aires

Summary

Africans and Afro-descendants in Argentina have a long tradition of organizing to resist all forms of oppression. This can be traced back to the 17th century with various forms of organizations including cofradias (religious brotherhoods or fraternal organizations), naciones (Afro-descendant social and cultural organizations), mutual aid societies, and military-based organizations in Río de la Plata, the region that would become Argentina and Uruguay. From the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries, as a part of the construction of the Argentine nation as European, white, and “civilized,” the myth of black disappearance was reified through discursive elimination and the cessation of collecting data on race or color in official records.

The rise of Peronism in the 1940s would cause the return of race to public discourse, as large internal migrations of nonwhites from the interior of the country descended on major cities like Buenos Aires. The opponents of Perón, and his policies that embraced these poor migrants, mocked these individuals as cabecitas negras (derogatory term meaning “little black heads”), but they would open the possibility for a new reworking of a more inclusive Argentina. The new migrants represented a merging of categories of race and class, as these negros included Afro-Argentines who formed part of Perón’s constituency.

The late 20th century would bring more direct challenges to black invisibility, with multiple new organizations and events centered on the experiences of the African diaspora in Argentina. One of the first organizations created after the return to democracy in Argentina was the Comité Argentino Latinoamericano contra el Apartheid (The Argentine Committee against Apartheid) in 1984. The example set by this organization, alongside inspiration from black liberation movements in the United States, Brazil, and on the African continent, would be a catalyst for the creation of numerous new black organizations for decades to come.

Black organizing in Argentina found support in activist networks across the globe as well as across international organizations, which was reflected by the multicultural turn in Latin America during the 1990s. The era sparked the creation of significant legislation and activities due to pressure from local activists and the international community through organizations like the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank. One of the earliest conferences organized by Argentine black activists was the first Jornada de Cultura Negra (Black Culture Conference) in 1991. The National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI) was created in 1995 by the Argentine state to address the needs of marginalized populations in Argentine society.

The late 1990s and early 2000s saw increased immigration of highly visible Africans and Afro-descendants from Latin America and Caribbean countries, which led to the creation of novel organizations to serve their specific needs. New conferences and events that provided opportunities for these diasporas to organize and interact, like the Semana de África (Africa Week), were also created. Along with the existing black communities in Argentina, these organizations contributed to new legislation officially recognizing Afro-descendant populations and condemning racism. Many of these legislative acts were passed under the Fernández de Kirchner administration (2007–2015), like the 2015 Law No. 5.261 Against Discrimination, which provided a more comprehensive antidiscrimination policy, and the historic 2010 Argentine census which restored the possibility of identifying as Afro-descendant. The reappearance of the category in the 2010 census after over a 120-year absence had been prompted by the World Bank’s landmark census 5 years prior. Though these gains were primarily symbolic, they helped fortify black activism.

Grassroots organizing and political mobilization has remained steadfast in spite of shifts in national politics, continuous economic instability, and increased antiblack racism at both the systemic and individual levels. As black activism increased incrementally over the decades, it inspired an upsurge of academic studies that in turn provided knowledge which helped propel activist efforts. The 21st century has been a particularly fruitful time in the Argentine academy as anthropological studies on Africans and Afro-descendants have proliferated. This time period has also marked a much-needed expansion of black organizing into more rural areas of the country, especially the northwest, which has historically had a large population of African descent. By holding more activities in the provinces and outside of the City of Buenos Aires, the decentralization of black activism has helped increase consciousness across the nation.

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