Columbia’s color code

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(NNPA)—I had the opportunity to visit Bogota, Colombia for a meeting of representatives of public sector unions from the Western Hemisphere. The focus of the meeting was on issues of race and xenophobia.

One of the things that struck me in the meeting was the discussion of the situation facing the Afro-Colombian population. Descendants of slaves brought over by the Spanish, the Afro-Colombian population is on the lower rungs of the economic ladder of Colombian society. They have been subjected to racist discrimination, as well as atrocities at the hands of narco-terrorists, paramilitaries and elements of the government. Those who speak up about their conditions and take up various social justice struggles, e.g., the fight for land, are subject to death threats, attempts on their lives, or actual murder.

Colombia, like much of Latin America, has been in deep denial of race and racism, whether it is racism carried out against the indigenous population or the Afro-descendant population. One of the reasons for this is that in Latin America, the racial divide is not always as clear as it is in the U.S.A. Shades of skin color are far more important in Latin America than they are here in terms of how one is treated in the larger society. Whereas a light-skinned African-American in the U.S. is still recognized as an African-American [Black], albeit sometimes having access to some privileges, in Latin America, the extent to which one’s skin shade is closer or farther from Europeans can make all the difference.

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