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African Descendants in Latin America

Cultural anthropologist, Dr. Andoni Castillo, spoke to Black Britain about Britain's slave colonies in Latin America and why Afro descendants are establishing a reparations committee. Dr Castillo, who is a member of the Garifuna community, insists that the Garifuna are African descendants of the Mandingos from Mali in West Africa, who migrated to South America 200 years before Christopher Columbus in 1302. The Garifuna fought against Spanish and British chattel enslavement in order to preserve their freedom, language and culture. "Spanish American societies have consciously and unconsciously continued this process and sought to support 'emblaquecimiento' or 'whitening' of their populations. This is an elevation of all things white and European, whilst denigrating and excluding other non-white cultures and races," the report states.

Afro Descendants in Latin America Gearing up for Reparations Battle after Centuries of Oppression under White Supremacy

By Deborah Gabriel (May 14, 2007)

"He has been learning about someone else and when he finishes his degree he doesn't think like an African anymore. There is this supremacy ideology in his mind, where he is thinking 'I used to be black but I'm not black anymore. I'm not African anymore,'" Dr Castillo explained, adding that the educated Afro descendant man does not look for a marriage partner among black women but seeks acceptance by marrying white and Latino women. -- Dr. Andoni Castillo, Scholar

Brazil's African Population Almost Equal to that of Nigeria

A macro study by Minority Rights Group International (MRG), found that people of African descent living in Latin America are socially, economically and institutionally marginalised as a consequence of slavery and colonisation and rarely benefit from general development programmes. Racial discrimination is cited as the major factor contributing to poverty among the black population, who are absent from the political arena and have no voice with which to participate in the creation or implementation of policies that affect their lives.

150 million people of African descent live in Latin America and account for about one third of the total population. They reside mainly in rural areas, which are characterised by poor infrastructure, few schools and health facilities, low income and high unemployment. Afro descendants - as they are self-defined, account for 40 per cent of the poorest people in the region.

Studies carried out by the Inter American Development Bank in 2001 found that in Brazil, the allocation of school places was determined by skin colour, which resulted in a large number of Afro descendants being denied access to education. Brazil has the largest number of Afro descendants in the whole of Latin America, which is estimated at 150 million - 20 million less than Nigeria, the most populous country on the African continent. (2006 Census).

In Colombia, 98 per cent of the black population are without basic public utilities, compared with just 6 per cent of whites. These examples are representative of the experiences of Afro descendants throughout Latin America. Development initiatives funded by NGOs have little impact because the NGOs rarely work directly with Afro descendant organisations but through the same state channels who are instituting economic oppression and discrimination in the first place.

MRG notes that the attitude towards Afro descendants has over centuries been "based on the concept of white supremacy." This began in 1492 with the expulsion of the black Moors from the Iberian peninsular which aimed to eradicate Africans and blacks from the colonies:

"Spanish American societies have consciously and unconsciously continued this process and sought to support 'emblaquecimiento' or 'whitening' of their populations. This is an elevation of all things white and European, whilst denigrating and excluding other non-white cultures and races," the report states.

Dr Andoni Castillo, a cultural anthropologist from Honduras and Afro descendant, is seeking to establish a reparations committee in Latin America and has been networking with organisations in the USA and here in the UK. He feels that it is important to open a debate about the plight of African descendants in Latin America.

When Being Black is Too Hard to Bear

"In Argentina there are over one million African descendants, yet they deny the African population in the country. In Mexico there are over three million people of African descent, yet the government of Mexico will say that there are no Africans in Mexico," Dr Castillo said.

One of his chief concerns is the lack of a proper education programme which includes African history. Many Afro descendants are isolated, impoverished, spawned by the rest of society and abandoned by their governments. The denigration of black people is so longstanding and far-reaching, that many of those who do manage to get an education cannot wait to cast their blackness aside as they try to win acceptance.

"He has been learning about someone else and when he finishes his degree he doesn't think like an African anymore. There is this supremacy ideology in his mind, where he is thinking 'I used to be black but I'm not black anymore. I'm not African anymore,'" Dr Castillo explained, adding that the educated Afro descendant man does not look for a marriage partner among black women but seeks acceptance by marrying white and Latino women.

As Frantz Fanon observed in his acclaimed work: Black Skin, White Masks "The colonised is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother country's cultural standards. He becomes whiter as he renounces his blackness, his jungle."

As MRG noted in their study, education functions as a means of promoting European values and Eurocentric versions of history, in which people of African descent have contributed nothing to the world and in which Africans are seen as inferior to other races. One of the main reasons that some Afro descendants are keen to escape their black identity is the deliberate omission of the contribution of Africans to history of Latin America which is not to be found in any history books.

In particular the role that Afro descendants played in fighting for independence against the Spanish is not acknowledged. In Argentina, Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic - Africans fought on the front lines for the independence of these countries, yet according to Dr Castillo this information is not to be found in any archives.

He said that it is little wonder that there are such low levels of esteem and confidence among Afro descendants, because they are bombarded with images of a poverty-stricken and destitute Africa, whilst simultaneously being denied the knowledge of their true history. Dr Castillo believes that establishing a reparations committee will go some way to addressing the legacies of the European chattel enslavement of African peoples and believes strongly that the priority must be in establishing African education programmes which teach African history.

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