A Little Bit About Whiteness

Seen in Buenos Aires

Might be opening myself up to some true craziness in the comments lmao...

Reflections on my time in Argentina have me feeling nostalgia for a world I never knew.  Buenos Aires seemed to exist in a different dimension entirely and yet, the city persistently reminded me of my experience in the United States. The feeling was inescapable. Granted, their version of Spanish, spoken with the undulating cadence of Italian, is significantly softer on the ear than American English, with its jagged edges and stale vowel sounds. But the language itself is a constant reminder of colonization and of where its speakers descend from. The population is overwhelmingly white and the people will not race themselves, which is to say, they often won’t even acknowledge their race because in a nearly homogeneous society, there’s no need. They’re blind to what’s right before their eyes.

Buenos Aires, the capital city with ports into which enslaved Africans were legally trafficked, is 88% white. For comparison, my home state of New Hampshire is 93% white and neighboring Vermont is 94%.

White Argentines believed, and would confidently exclaim that “there are no black people in Argentina” and that racism is not a problem there. Just like when people say New England is all white. I knew this to be a lie because Black people are literally everywhere, and I had heard stories from several Black Argentines myself.

After my experience in Argentina, I wrote my undergrad thesis on the “Erasure and Denial of Afro-Argentina”, and what I found was that despite perpetual efforts to exterminate and scatter them, Black Argentines survived and made their presence permanent in the very heart of Argentine cultural exports. The tango for instance is a polyrhythmic music and dance style taken and appropriated from African people. Originally known as the candombe, it was shunned until white people came to accept it. The word tango itself is African, likely Bantu in origin. Look no further than rock and roll or jazz for the American version of the same story.

And the similarities continue: Women and LGBTQ people are terrorized constantly. Femicide occurs nearly once a day and the government controls and restricts access to legal abortions. Income inequality is out of control. Communities are segregated and the police are an occupying military force in neighborhoods like La Boca or San Telmo where many People of Color live. Pundits and politicians stoke fears of dark skinned criminals coming down from Paraguay and Bolivia, bringing drugs, being lazy, and stealing jobs. Just like the United States, Argentina exists on stolen land, but a sense of entitlement permeates the culture, a culture borne of death and destruction. Young men weaponize science and promote eugenics by discussing differences in human skull shapes and IQ scores. And just like every single city being colonized by white people, Buenos Aires has a budding craft beer scene. Flourishing craft beer industries are a dead giveaway that gentrification, also known as neocolonialism is happening.

I’m sure if you look closely at any country colonized by people who believe they are white, you’ll find the same patterns. Cultural forms of creative expression will have been appropriated from People of Color, and the contributions of the colonizer will be reduced to varying modes of consumption or conquest. The colonizer hears the appeals of the oppressed and shudders at the thought of what must be sacrificed, with no regard given to what they themselves have already lost and could perhaps recover.

I say this to say, look around, and know that the world is not an accident.

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