Race in Argentina

Published: June 3rd 2009
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I was talking with an Argentine who told me that he has a friend in Miami. As I tried to explain to the difference between Atlanta and Miami, and the discussion turned inevitably race. I think that Argentina on the whole is pretty blatantly racist; one need only turn on the TV and see their caricatures of Chinese people, or the cartoons of sheiks and African cannibals speaking in “Dirka-Dirkas” and “Unga-Bungas” to agree, but Argentines often have a different sort of outlook on the relative racial tensions in the US and Argentina.
Many Argentines associate Atlanta, as a southern city, with racial violence. Though I try to explain that while racial injustice and social disparities still exist, it has not been an issue of major contention for 35 year, though usually make no headway until I bring up Obama. One time I made this point and it led to a very interesting insight about a how Argentines view international ethnicities. “Ah well,” the cabbie I was talking to responded, “he’s a North American black. It’s the Argentine blacks that are bad. They are really good for nothing. Just lazy bums, those black Argentines.”
Argentine culture has a dynamic of intense racial insensitivity coupled with an embrace of their diverse roots. Any Argentine will gladly point out some of his rich background: Italian, Spanish, German, English, Middle Eastern, or a host of other nationalities, thus it seems strange that they would be so insensitive to other races and cultures. As we studied, genetic evidence indicates a fair degree of African blood in the Argentine population, yet few Argentines would claim black ancestry, and the few blacks are often looked down upon. The American concept of political correctness does not exist in Argentina, nor do the slightest qualms with calling people who are by no stretch of the imagination black or Chinese “Negro” or “Chino.”
While it is true that as Americans we get a little too concerned with not offending anyone at all, I also think that especially because Argentina identifies itself as a nation composed of a mix of nationalities, their lack of concern about racism is a little surprising. They cling furiously to their European roots only; as the political analyst at the embassy put it, “they see themselves as Europeans who happen to be in South America.” Perhaps because their insensitivities take the form of teases and nicknames, not the violence of recent US history, that some Argentines view the US as the more racist country, and maybe it is. But one need only look as far as Jacobo Timerman and the anti-Semitism of El Proceso or as far back as the War of the Triple Alliance and the decimation of the Afro-Argentine forces to recognize that violent racism tragically lies just under the surface, even in Argentina.


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