#BLM beyond the United States: anti-racist struggles in Latin America
In the year since the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has toured the globe. Country after country, people have resisted oppression and called for an end to systemic racism. A year later, these movements for justice remain active.
Something about the way the needless and cruel death of George Floyd was widely documented and shared on social media, made it resonate. What might at first appear to be a more terrible case in the long and routine series of American police murders of blacks has had unintended consequences, and far beyond the United States.
People not only protested in solidarity, but were also empowered to share their own experiences of racism in their country. They mobilized for George Floyd but also for countless other people who lived anonymous lives and died anonymously. They said the names of those killed made the invisible visible and demanded recognition and redress. They claimed a different life for themselves and for others whose lives should matter but who were treated the way they didn’t.
In Latin America, strong new responses have built on decades of activism. In Brazil, half of the 211 million people are black (described either aspretos‘ or ‘pardos‘in the country’s terminology), the protests largely focused on human rights violations committed by the police in informal settlements, mostly against blacks.
Brazil’s long-standing racial justice movement aims to dismantle Brazil’s founding myth that it is a racist-free “ rainbow society ” – a myth that has proven to be enduring in the government’s response to the protests sparked by the November 2020 murder of a black man, Beto. Freitas, by private security guards working in a Carrefour supermarket in Porto Alegre.
According to the vice president of Brazil, this murder had nothing to do with race, because racism was not a Brazilian problem but a foreign importation. In response, activist Sheila De Carvalho of Black Coalition for Rights denounced the prevailing apathy towards racial injustice in Brazil and noted that “when there are international cases like Michael Brown, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, they have repercussions here. But when the same thing happens here, it seems people don’t care.
A similar challenge arose in Colombia, when activists demanded justice for Anderson Arboleda, an Afro-Colombian who died at the hands of the police, but who faced the hurdle of recognizing that racism was not not just an American peculiarity, but also a burning domestic problem. : in the words of David Murillo the Colombian advocacy agency, DeJusticia, an essential first step to tackle it would be for people to “understand what racism is and that it really exists”, followed by the establishment of “transnational networks to give visibility to what is happening in the country. Colombia”.
In the Dominican Republic, a tribute to George Floyd was coupled with an opportunity to express demands for equality and reparation for Dominicans of Haitian origin, habitual victims of racism in this Caribbean nation which shares a border with Haiti. . In 2010, generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent were stripped of their Dominican citizenship, legally sanctioning the systemic exclusion they have long faced, which – as elsewhere – has also disproportionately worsened the impacts of the pandemic for them.
Speaking from his own experience of exclusion, Elena Lorac of the human rights movement Reconoci.do says that “in the Dominican Republic, all blacks are thought to be Haitians. If I am Black and have curly hair I am constantly questioned even though I have ID, and if I am unable to produce ID I may be kicked out because I am supposed be Haitian. There have been cases of black Dominicans being kicked out because of their skin color. On June 9, 2020, Reconoci.do hosted a socially distant event to commemorate George Floyd, but faced backlash not only from the police, as has been the norm elsewhere, but also from a right-wing nationalist group. which mobilized a reaction to the vitriol.