Racism has never been talked about so much. Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, movements, collectives, organizations, study groups, and networks are emerging or strengthening of Black people discussing race and its relation with other social markers, such as gender, sexual identity, and class. They are thousands of Black young people, women, men, or non-binary people thinking in their daily lives about what it means to be Black in our countries, the different expressions of structural racism in our region and how we can progress toward a society that does not separate and violate us based on our skin color.
This could not be different. Latin America and the Caribbean as we know and understand it today is the product of a historic process marked from its beginning by oppressive relations of the white race over others understood as non-white. Slavery, which ripped millions of Black people from their territories in Africa and put them in diaspora, originated processes that even today we have not resolved, and we do not even fully understand the totality of their consequences.
Black people in diaspora were always in resistance. The mobilizations against the slavery of bodies and race oppression and against a colonial model is still actual for Afro-descendant peoples and communities. Revolts of enslaved people, the struggle for political participation and equality, discussions regarding racist models of security policies, the lack of economic opportunities, and even ways of overcoming the capitalist model, show that Black people always fought for spaces from different voices in Latin America and the Caribbean.
From these different voices also emerge new perspectives from which to think about racism and the ways in which it operates on our bodies. Black women are the pioneers of this perspective, because at the same time they fight for freedom of their bodies and autonomy as women, they emphasize that, for Black women, freedom includes the struggles for their community and for the life of Black bodies.
Black women are on the frontline of the anti-racist struggle in different spaces. In the defense of quilombos and slums in Brazil, the Community Councils of Black Communities in Colombia, the Garifuna communities in Honduras, and in other Black territories in the region, women play a leading role in collective struggles for their communities, whether they are rural or urban, at the same time they defend the territories that guarantee life, their bodies.
Recognizing black protagonism in Latin America is a historical debt of public institutions, universities, and all actors with dominant voices in our nations’ narratives. We have to learn the stories, the struggles, and the social changes won at the cost of the sweat, blood, tears and very bodies of Black people who put themselves on the front line of the anti-racist struggle. These are the histories that made us question the colonial inheritance that continues to operate in our societies and teach us our footsteps come from far off.
Learning the Black history of our continent is a collective responsibility of all of us who call ourselves anti-racists. And the path to this includes recognizing the importance and truly listening to current voices in Black activism, because they are the ones telling us the paths our ancestors already walked, as well as showing us paths for the future.
Black women have long been saying that their bodies are not commodities; Black mothers have long been saying that governments cannot kill their sons, and Afro-descendant people have long wanted to enjoy religious freedom to exercise their ancestral cultural practices. Why are we not radically changing things? What is missing for indignation with racism and its different ways of manifesting to be permanent? It is urgent we recognize the centrality of race as a contribution to understanding the inequalities that permeate us.
Black movements and organizations make a constant effort to teach that the perspective of race is central for the defense of human rights in Latin America and the Caribbean. Even so, this agenda does not seem to go beyond specific manifestations of indignation with the most grotesque episodes of racism, and never gains the strength necessary to become a permanent priority of human rights organizations and international bodies. And when the perspective of race is not always considered, we do not reach the intersectionality we advocate for so vehemently, because we tend to view episodes of racism from this perspective, and ignore how it constantly operates.
It is not just the listening that people must bring to anti-racist struggle, nor only indignation for the most embarrassing episodes of racism. Understanding the problem is the first and long step for transformation, but this agenda must also become a priority for anti-racist organizations who are allies of the Black struggle. This involves moving resources, repairing, opening spaces and making truly effective changes to practices in order to implement an anti-racist agenda. The commitment to a society free from racism is not only the duty of Black people, but of all people.