The cover of Colombia's Ébano Revista (Ebony Magazine)
Afro-Colombian Edna Martínez, a sociologist, tells a different story. She remembers seeing, as a child growing up in Bogotá's poor neighborhoods, a sign in an apartment window that read, “For Rent, but Not to Blacks.” More recently when she went out with some friends, she was turned away from three different night clubs that either claimed to be closed for private parties or quoted exorbitant cover charges. A lawsuit won them a public apology, but it didn't really change anything,” says Ms Martínez. Such experiences are why some black Colombians support a government plan to present an affirmative-action bill. When I visited the predominately black and brown city of Cartagena, in 2010, I walked into a bank and felt that I needed sunglasses to see my way around it was so bright inside. There was not one person of color working in that bank; not even the security guard. Why?
Piedad Cordoba -
Colombia's first black senator
Colombia's 1991 constitution recognized the country's multi-ethnic character, and provided for two additional seats in Congress for Afro-Colombians and a similar quota for Amerindians. Two years later Afro-Colombian communities on the Pacific coast were granted collective titles to land occupied by their ancestors when slavery was abolished in 1851.
Despite such steps, a committee to study racial inequality set up by the government and headed by Francisco Santos, then vice-president, concluded that black Colombians face “structural discrimination”. It reported that they were more likely to be poor and that their infant mortality rate was half as high again as that of the rest of the population. The committee proposed quotas for blacks in universities, government agencies and the armed forces, and incentives for companies to recruit Afro-Colombians as middle managers and for political parties to field black candidates. The role of Afro-Colombians, today little more than a footnote in history books, would be highlighted in school texts.
Colombia's first black general, Luis Moore Perea, greets
citizens in the gang-infested area of Cali, Colombia
The first problem will be deciding who is black. In the 2005 census 10.6% of the population thus defined themselves, but some demographers say the real figure could be as high as 26% (which would mean that Colombia has the third-biggest black population in the Americas, after Brazil and the United States). That is because many mulatos do not see themselves as black. This may be either because they do not feel discriminated against—or as a means to avoid discrimination.