By Daniel Gómez*
While countries in the north of the American hemisphere celebrate Black History Month in February, in Colombia, the National Day of Afro-Colombians takes place on May 21st, commemorating the abolishment of slavery in the country in 1851, as well as the contributions and struggles of the black population in our country. In light of this date, it is worth questioning the ways in which racism has evolved to eventually become almost imperceptible. The modern racist, the good racist, celebrated the day of blacks because he celebrates their “coloring.” He is a fervent defender of multiculturalism, the difference and the popular clamor. Given this, it would be unfortunate to leave him out of celebrations of Afro-Colombians. This would not be inclusive, and above all, in Colombia inclusivity reigns.
Colombia, like many other Latin American countries, proudly distinguishes itself from other countries, in particular the United States, with respect to its history regarding race. In Colombia there has never been segregation (at least formally), Jim Crow laws never existed. Additionally, Colombia proudly touts its “myth of mestizaje” as fact. According to this myth, one shared by other countries, including Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, and others, there cannot be racism in our countries, due to the simple fact that we are all racially mixed: indigenous, black, European. According to this myth, since we are all a result of centuries of racial intermixing, racial categories have less meaning, and there is certainly no racial hierarchy between them. This myth helps fuel the intentions and arguments of the good racist.
The good racist is a decent person, of high moral principles, as noble as you or me. He no longer expresses himself through insults against someone’s skin color. He has become sophisticated. He is now more politically correct and friendly in his discourse. He does not use words like black because they remind him of his national and foreign predecessors. Instead, he prefers to refer to his inferiors with another type of adjective, like people of color.
The good racist does not have any issues with having black friends, nor distant black relatives, and even less so, domestic female black workers, whom he considers “almost family.” In fact, his relationships with blacks are one of his most important social attributes as they demonstrate his benevolence. For the same reason, every time he can, he declares his appreciation for blacks and he indulges them with words like chocolate, god of ebony or similar ones. His love for non-white people makes him always attentive to manifestations of true racism, that which does not have good intentions. In this manner, he does not miss the opportunity to condemn the homicides of blacks in the United States, the unfortunate phrases of local politicians or the xenophobia against Latinos in Europe.
Nonetheless, his elevated moral standing and deeply humanistic character do not prevent him from sending his children to elite schools, where there is not a single black child. To educate his children in segregated universities, all diverse and inclusive given the presence of white foreigners, is also not an obstacle for him.
The good racist has evolved so much that sometimes he cannot see color, the color of blacks who have been displaced, blacks who have disappeared or blacks who lack freedom. He is incapable of questioning why is it that the gym he goes to, the restaurants in which he eats and the places where he buys things are all racially homogeneous. Even less so, he asks where are the black voices in the news at noon or in his preferred newspaper, or in the courts, banks or airports, because he is satisfied with the black glory that is visible in soccer and the arts. He prefers not to go out with someone with darker skin than his own, not because he is racist – this word makes him itch- but because “he is not attracted to it.”
Nonetheless, he has always wondered whether the sexual voracity of black women and the size of black men’s virility are as impressive as conventional wisdom states. Maybe because of this, when he has dared to enjoy the sweetness of interracial love, he has done so with a sense of adventure, like a Christian colonist in the New World, amazed by the exoticism and mysticism of the conquered territories.
He does not see any sense in asking himself about his simple privileges. Occasionally, he might even ask if all these robust – and almost exaggerated- state benefits given to these peoples could make them lazy and sink them even further into their misery. He tends to think about this type of issues when he sees some woman – who says to be a victim of violence – with four children located in the corner of a marginalized neighborhood of the capital. Scenes like these make him ask himself whether there could be some truth in that which bad people – those who are actually racists – say sometimes: that blacks are destined to be born and die this way, because they lack intellect, because they lack work, because they lack hits and blows so they can learn, and a tough hand, a tougher hand.
The good racist is a decent person, of high moral principles, as noble as you or me. Sometimes I even think this could be one of us.
*Daniel Gómez is a researcher at the Center for the Study of Law, Justice, and Society (Dejusticia).