Colombian Black Lives Matter: Fighting For a Seat at the Table At War’s End (E)
U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) had an authentic Afro-Colombian experience. “I was stopped in the airport and profiled, a case of racial profiling by police,” he says. Two officers requested to see his ID and asked him about some luggage found at another airport. The activists accompanying Johnson, who doesn’t speak Spanish, had to explain to the officers that they stopped the wrong black guy.
While this scene could easily have taken place in the United States, the history of racism in Colombia is quite different. The myth of racial democracy—a Latin American ideology that posits that inequality and discrimination exist because of class differences, not racism—persists. Still, the results of racism affect black people in similar ways.
Colombian racism today not only can get you stopped for looking suspicious, or prevent you from getting into some nightclubs and restaurants, but also can severely reduce life opportunities, says Hugo Vidal, an activist with Black Communities’ Process, or PCN. It limits access to jobs and contributes to an 80 percent rate of poverty among African descendants.
“In the United States, it was very clear you weren’t wanted: ‘No Blacks Allowed.’ Here, you’re left thinking, ‘Why didn’t they call me for a job interview?’ The racism in Colombia isn’t in-your-face,” Vidal explains. “They don’t tell you anything.” That’s true for everyday interactions as well as high-stakes politics.
Racism also results in government neglect of traditionally black territories. Fed up, Afro-Colombians recently spent several weeks shutting cities down with massive protests they call “civic strikes.” It’s the latest eruption of activism in five centuries of Afro-Colombian rebellion.