Rubbing Salt into the Wound of Racial Pain

Rubbing Salt into the Wound of Racial Pain

Luis Escobedo

A well-known Afro-Peruvian activist and TV journalist Sofia Carrillo sparked widespread comment and debate over racism in Peru following an incident in airport.

Two weeks ago, well-known Afro-Peruvian activist and TV journalist Sofia Carrillo was returning from Colombia to Peru only to be met by the indifference towards and denial of the issue of racism that many of her compatriots have. Carrillo and a male immigration officer at Peru's main airport were involved in an argument concerning an act of discrimination committed against her. When she almost forgot to have her passport stamped, the immigration officer approached her with the phrase: 'œIt's past noon, that's why you are forgetting things.' As this is a common Peruvian phrase used allegedly to mock Afro-Peruvians , suggesting that after midday they are no longer able to think, Carrillo became furious and attempted to hold the immigration officer accountable. He responded by laughing at her reaction and suggesting that she was exaggerating.

Relying on her position as a journalist, Carrillo used the media to inform the general public of the incident. As soon as the case was made public, the National Superintendence of Migration in Peru published a press release stating that they reject any discriminatory act and are therefore looking into the case, and welcomed Carrillo and a member of the anti-racism initiative Colectivo Contra el Racismo to 'œreassert' this position.

While the relevant parties were engaged in resolving the incident, Carrillo's public denunciation of what had happened sparked wide discussion on social media. What was truly shocking about the discussion was the presence of a large number of racist comments against Carrillo and the Afro-Peruvian identity as a whole. Examples of such comments have included 'œ[R]emember that here in Peru you are a minority', 'œWhat a disgusting black woman, how could she speak, they should put chains on her', 'œAfro-descendants? Afro-Peruvians? Stop the nonsense. BLACKS is what you all are', 'œIt's true, after 12 the black race does not think', or 'œWhat a drama queen the little black girl', to name but a few. These comments expose that the general perception continues to be that those condemning racism, such as Carrillo, are psychologically weak, masochistic, overly sensitive, and full of complexes; that they are exaggerating, misunderstanding the situation, or not getting the 'œjoke;' that they are unreasonably victimizing themselves, or playing the martyrs; that they are looking for media exposure or scandal; or that they are part of some kind of communist conspiracy, or members of the caviar left – those with leftist ideas living in what would generally be perceived as 'œgood' social conditions.

These comments are just one more sign that in Peru, when dealing with a large part of the population, governmental and non-governmental organizations, the media, and civil society initiatives are still finding it very difficult to battle against deep-rooted racial beliefs, naturalized racist practices, and, most importantly, cynicism around, indifference towards and denial of racism and racial pain.

In the next lines, I would like to draw your attention towards one of the many reasons for this difficulty: living under the narrative of the independent, democratic, 'œculturally diverse,' and 'œmestizo' nation for the last almost 200 years, without critically and systemically addressing longstanding social issues such as racism, makes it difficult to recognize the enemy against which this fight needs to be conducted.

An enlightening comparison can be drawn with the Apartheid regime (1948-1991) of South Africa, which, in a nutshell, was a political, economic, social, and legal system of institutionalized segregation, exclusion, and discrimination, favoring a racial group over the rest. The clarity of the racist nature of this perverse system has been an important factor in the recognition of the enemy to fight against (e.g., separate services for whites and non-whites, or segregationist laws such as the 1949 Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act), and the development of large-scale anti-apartheid political activism (e.g., the Black Consciousness Movement, or the Anti-Apartheid Movement).

It is possible that post-apartheid South Africa will in time have to face the challenge of recognizing more discreet forms of racism under a context pervaded by narratives of equality and freedom but that is not yet the case. So far, the slightest sign of racism in South Africa tends to be addressed relatively mindfully. Peru, however, has not had a formally recognized system of racial segregation and discrimination in the same way that apartheid has been in South Africa. Neither do Peruvians officially live in a post-apartheid era. However, it would be cynical to deny that the exclusion, discrimination, and (ironically speaking) in the best of the cases, assimilation, of racial, or racialized peoples has taken place under an alleged system that supports equality and freedom. In other words, the fact that we like to repeat to ourselves that we are all equal does not mean that longstanding racist beliefs and practices are not largely present. On the contrary, it is precisely that repetition that sustains such beliefs and practices. It is then unsurprising that a considerable part of the Peruvian population claim that the issue in Peru is not racism, but classism.

It is important to point out that in societies where many claim that classism, and not racism, is the real problem, a famous activist and journalist like Carrillo should not feel excluded and discriminated against on the basis of physical appearance. Even more so, the reaction of the general public should not result in an overflow of comments that while denying racism and racial pain only manage to intensify them.

What the state could do, always in full collaboration with the media and civil society, in order to intensify its efforts is to first start questioning anything (e.g., an urbanization policy, an oil development, a marketing campaign) that may be in the slightest way creating, promoting, cherishing, or perpetuating a racial binary relation of domination. Second, the state, media, and civil society should expose and openly fight against it, each time proposing more creative alternatives. Last Wednesday, Peruvian Minister of Culture Salvador del Solar, in his speech against racism in Peru and in football, demonstrated that the intention is there. It is entirely up to us to decide to follow his example and even go beyond it. Until that happens, many Peruvians will only keep rubbing salt into the wound of racial pain.

The author Luis Escobedo is a postdoctoral research fellow at UFS Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice (IRSJ) in South Africa. His research focuses primarily on the application of discourse and visual analysis, postcolonial and feminist approaches, and race theory in the study of racism and whiteness, ideology, and violence in postcolonial and post-apartheid contexts, particularly in Latin America and Africa.

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1 Comment

  1. Chicho Caceres
    May 29, 23:18 Reply
    Racism will never end in Peru or anywhere else. I don't think it can Ve eradicated from any society. We may educate people and control that feeling jut it will always be there. I am indigenous my mother was from Arequipa and my father from Cuzco. I have never been victim of racism abroad BUT on Peru - I have always had at least one incident everytine I go. It's sad but it shows the reality of our nation. The most ironic thing is that sometimes the racial innuendo comes from someone who looks like me...but Peru is my country of birth and the love I have for my roots help me to overcome the emotional pain....nothing has changed - triste pero cierto

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