Wednesday, May 30, 2018

An American First—the Parodox of Latin American Racism

In Latin America, a black person with a foreign passport and Euros, British Pounds, or American or Canadian dollars is treated as an honorary “white” person.

It's been all over the news and social media, reports of one incident after another; innocent and unarmed black men and women accosted and even attacked by the police for minding their own business— “living while black.” He could be moving into a new apartment, she could be napping in her college dormitory lounge, or checking out of an Air B&B facility. I too can tell stories of being racially profiled, although not as aggressively as what has been outlined in the news. 

No matter how much I try to fit in with Latin-American black folks, they too see me as an American first and a black person second.

 I once got into a discussion with a recent black immigrant from Cuba who asked why blacks in the U.S. refer to themselves as “African Americans” and not simply “Americans.” All I could say in response was, “you just wait until you've been in the U.S. for a while, and especially when your children get big enough! Here we are seen as black people first, and Americans second.

Receiving my advanced Spanish Certificate at the El Sol Escuela de Español (The Sun Spanish School) in Lima, Perú.
  I myself have been to Cuba and eight other Spanish-speaking countries, and the main thing that I notice is how much better I'm treated. People see me as an American first, and a black person second. No one fears me or crosses the street when they see me coming, and even cops of all people, made me feel welcome. 

 Chillin' like a villain in my Havana, Cuba home-stay

I can recall only one minor incident in Lima, Perú when I was profiled and followed at a distance in a music store. I called the man over and asked him to help me find the items I was looking for. After collecting all that I wanted, he escorted me back to the register and rung me up. I then thanked him for his first class customer service (sarcasm). I believe this store clerk or manager thought I was Afro Peruvian. Had I gotten cute and flashed my American passport, my black skin would have, “poof,” vanished.

Passing through El Salvador
Yes; there is prejudice and racism in Latin America. The old adage, “if you are white, you are right—if you are brown, stick around—if you are black, stay back” is alive and well. But unlike the U.S., racism is subtle. The racism that I found appears to be economically related with the best paying jobs going to those primarily with the whitest skin even in predominately black and brown areas. What you won't find; however, with the exception of Brazil and Colombia, is police brutality and hate crimes against black folks. 

Shopping in La Mitad Del Mundo, Ecuador

A friend, an entrepreneur, living in Perú with his Afro-Peruvian wife testifies repeatedly that with his income and education, he and his family get first-class treatment with race being inconsequential.  He does not worry about his son being harassed or beaten by the police for little or no provocation. A Haitian friend living in Ecuador with his Ethiopian wife has experienced zero racism. In his city of Cuenca, he is well-known and well respected. People flock from all over the country and different parts of the world to attend his alternative medical clinic.

While being served fresh-squeezed orange juice in Mexico City, the police officers (left) are not even “thinking” about racial profiling.

I too get treated as an upper-class white person when in a Latin-American country; that is, until I steer away from tourist routes, which I usually try to do, and blend in with the local black community. One evening, I went shopping in a high-end shirt shop where none of the clerks wanted to talk to me because they assumed that “this black guy” didn't have the income to afford such merchandise. 

Finally, I made my way to the owner who was intelligent enough to notice my foreign accent and the Muhammad Ali t-shirt that I was wearing. Suddenly, he exhibited a whole change in attitude; he saw an American (with a  pocket full of  money) first, and a black person second.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments will be ignored and deleted.