democraciaAbierta: Opinion

How many more murders of black people will be tolerated by democracy?

I can't breathe! The yoke oppresses me, my skin trembles with pain, my body lies as evidence of crime; but still, it will not break my voice!

Lolo Simont - Abhorred Blackness

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Valentina Arango
9 June 2020
Sebastian Barros/NurPhoto/PA Images

The anti-racist fight is not a war of blacks against whites. Even so, to believe that we are all equal is to disregard the meaning of deaths like George Floyd's and to perpetuate the normalization of social statuses determined by racism and the continuity of an unequal structure that is classist, sexist and racist.

The black population has suffered the worst violence and denial of rights throughout the world. Too often, these attacks violate the universal principle that gives meaning to all civic guarantees: the right to life.

This harsh reality was highlighted in the wave of protests that began on March 26 in the Minneapolis metropolitan area in the United States. These demonstrations have managed to put on the world agenda a topic that everyone knows, but of which very few speak. It took a graphic video of an African-American man being suffocated to death by a white policeman in broad daylight for racism to become a central issue again; to open up the debate and put aside the discomfort of those who do not want to listen.

This barbarity is systemic. It does not occur in a war scenario; it is not part of an episode of apartheid in South Africa. It is one more case of the pandemic that precedes the arrival of Covid-19, which is continuing its course in the 21st century and which has as its epicenter the supposed "greatest democracy in the world": the United States.

Just as African-Americans die every day in the United States, black men and women in Latin America die every day, victims of the systemic racism carefully cultivated by their institutions, the product of more than 500 years of slavery. The deaths in the United States were necessary so that many of us could think about the real meaning of anti-racism and black genocide around the world.

The case of João Pedro, a 14-year-old black teenager shot in the belly by the Military Police inside his house in São Gonçalo, Brazil, on May 14, and the case of Anderson Arboleda, a 22-year-old black man killed by a police officer who gave him eight blows to the head in Puerto Tejada, Colombia, on May 21, are just two examples among many, proof that the issue of race is as alive as ever in the region.

According to the World Bank’s report "Afro-descendants in Latin America: Towards a Framework of Inclusion", Latin America’s black population in 2015 was about 133 million, around 24% of the total population. Unlike the United States, whose methodology for racial or ethnic classification is based on descent, in Latin America, this recognition is flexible and established around self-identity, connected with physical and socio-cultural aspects.

Too often, these attacks violate the universal principle that gives meaning to all civic guarantees: the right to life.

However, few countries think differentially and equitably about this population. In Brazil, Colombia and other nations in the region, the constitution, legal guarantees, codes and protocols cater to an elite that denies the presence and contributions of the black population. As a result, they become the main victims of the actions and omissions of the State. It is blacks who have the lowest levels of schooling and access to healthcare and employment. They are the ones who die at higher rates from Covid-19 and violent police interventions. They are underrepresented in the socio-political system, and in the cultural industry.

Black people around the world know exactly that the experience of racism varies from extreme abuse to small daily micro-attacks, all based on the same story.

The images of George Floyd’s murder have historical significance and weight in the lives of black people. They tell us how the system does not hesitate to kill us. Despite being mentally and physically exhausting to see another unarmed black man dying at the hands of a white police officer, the agony of that racialized body fuels our desire to fight and live.

The black population, in the United States and in Latin America, weeps for their own and continues to fight for justice and the guarantee of a safe life. The resistance continues in the city of Minneapolis, as it continues in different parts of the world, two weeks after the murder of George Floyd.

"Black lives matter", "I can't breathe", "Who ordered the assassination of Marielle?", "Black powerhouse", "Justice for Anderson Arboleda", among other chants of courage and resistance, are what keep us firm, with the determination to change things, and with the mission of staying alive.

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