Following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, protesters across the world took to the streets to relay one message: no more racist violence and discrimination.
This message reached global audiences despite Donald Trump’s efforts to stifle demonstrations in the United States with military force and curfews. Under the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, Instagram was flooded with black squares symbolising solidarity with the movement to end racial discrimination.
Miriam Gomes is the president of the Dock Sud Mutual Association “Unión Caboverdeana.” She led the fight to include Afro-descendants in the 2010 census. The results showed that 150,000 people of African descent live in Argentina today, but Gomes maintains that the true number is even higher.
This year, the Afro-Argentine community agreed with Marco Lavagna, the new head of the INDEC national statistics bureau, that the category will be included in the next census as well.
"The members of black communities feel the denial and invisibility of our presence in the country. Because we have existed since the conquest and colonisation of America, due to the slave trade,” explains Gomes.
She continues: “At the time of the slave trade, according to official figures that do not include contraband, 200,000 people entered the country. And they did not disappear as is usually implied. They did not disappear with the yellow fever epidemic in 1871, nor with the wars that they have participated in.”
Gomes adds that systemic racism has kept Afro-Argentines marginalised and displaced.
“There used to be a large black population in San Telmo, Palermo Hollywood, and Flores. Many of these families were displaced to the periphery, and they continue to be invisible,” says Gomes.
Alejandra Egido Cervera, an Afro-Cuban actress and theatre director, currently chairs the Association of Afro-descendant Women in Argentina. Cervera, who created the Theatre Company in Sepia (TES) in Argentina, agrees with Gomes – there's a certain sense of invisibility for the black community of Argentina.
Cervera offers an example of the tangible consequences of this invisibility.
“My colleague once presented her passport at Ezeiza [international airport] to travel to Panama, and they told her that the document was false since it was not possible for her to be ‘Argentine and Black.’ She was detained, unable to travel, and no-one ever apologised,” said Cervera.
Global to local: police brutality in Argentina
Both Gomes and Cervera agree that police brutality exists in Argentina too, especially against the Senegalese and Nigerian populations who make up a large portion of street vendors.
Gomes says that cases of police violence and murder in the Senegalese community have slipped under the radar.
“Not to mention how police persecute and harass them. Which even pervades their homes. Police steal merchandise, money, mobile phones. And there is brutal abuse that is not very different from what happens in the US,” asserts Gomes.
Both activists acknowledge that the Covid-19 crisis has made the conditions for the black community in Argentina worse, because migrants are unable to access government aid.
Kissie Elizabeth Olivera is an Afro-Uruguayan singer who has lived in Argentina for 35 years. She says she was bullied as a child for the colour of her skin and that racism has marked her life since then.
“Oftentimes the male gaze towards the black woman has to do with believing we are prostitutes,” explains Olivera.
She continues: “It is difficult for us to get jobs. I have had enough of taking resumés to job interviews and being asked if I really think the job is for me.”
Gomes echoes Olivera’s experience and adds that the invisibility of racism in Argentina makes it even more painful.
“This is our reality and it is always covered up and denied. It is not possible to speak on the existence of racism in Argentina because people get offended. They believe that racism only happens in America or Apartheid South Africa,” she affirms.
She concludes: “The reality is that we live with racism and marginalisation. This is our reality. However, it does not mean that we are not fighting, organised and trying to change the situation.”