Race and Racism in the Americas and Caribbean

Race and Racism in the Americas and Caribbean

December 18, 2020 | Anthony Baxter Jr. (MALAS Student)

We have reached a critical moment in history where we find ourselves amid a global pandemic that has yet to show signs of easing up or ceasing to wreak havoc on people around the world. However, regardless of how devastating and deadly the coronavirus continues to be, the issues regarding race, anti-Black racism, and police brutality have still managed to be at the forefront of all this pandemonium. Even in the pandemic, a multitude of protests and demonstrations have occurred throughout the diaspora this year after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The way governments have responded (or not) to the coronavirus crisis has also served as an impetus for worldwide protests since Black and Indigenous peoples have continued to suffer the worse from the effects of the virus. This is not a coincidence or the fault of Black and Indigenous peoples, this reality points to a much larger issue that rests at the root of all the problems in the Americas and the Caribbean-anti Black racism, racial capitalism, and coloniality.

During the summer, the UF Center for Latin American Studies kickstarted a Racism in the Americas series which consisted of four events. The center invited a myriad of professors and scholars whose work spans across multiple disciplines and examines the consequences of race and racism in different sectors of society.

The first event moderated by Dr. Carlos de la Torre held on June 16th featured two MALAS faculty members, Dr. Tanya Saunders, and Dr. Paul Ortiz. It was centered on police brutality in the Americas uncovering not only the emergence of protests throughout the diaspora after the death of George Floyd but understanding the history of the police which was founded on racist, anti-Black, and torturous principles that were designed to police and destroy Black and Indigenous lives. Ella Baker, who was an African American organizer and activist for human and civil rights once stated that if poor and oppressed people wanted to become part of a society that is meaningful, then we would have to radically change the system (Ransby, 2003).

Radical refers to digging at the root to understand the cause of a particular issue or circumstance. This event took a radical approach by examining the origins and evolution of the police, the systems that created and shaped them to be purveyors of violence, and how they maintain dominant power structures throughout the Americas. Some of the key points and highlights of the event was the emphasis of racial capitalism, chattel slavery, colonialism, and anti-Black racism being the main catalysts for the creation of the police.

The speakers also provided information about the emergence of the police during the periods of enslavement who were created to catch enslaved Africans, war with native communities over their land and protect settler colonialism. By discussing the history of the police and violence of the state, the speakers were able to help the audience understand how police violence has continued to exist throughout the centuries and how the police functions to maintain racial capitalism, imperialism, and a variety of other oppressive 'isms' and systems. Another crucial moment in the event was the discussion of the coloniality of gender and sexuality, which were created by and maintained through state violence and must be examined when discussing police violence.

To further examine the behavior of systemic anti-Black racism in the context of law enforcement and the police’s use of violence, the Center for Latin American Studies and the Instituto de Altos Estudios Nacionales IAEN held an event on October 1st entitled, La Brutalidad Policial y los Afrodescendientes en America Latina. The center invited speakers from across Latin America-Dr. John Anton from Ecuador, Sheila de Carvalho from Brazil, Altagracia Jean Joseph from the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and Luis Ernesto Olave Valencia from Colombia. The speakers discussed various proposals to reinvent the role of the police and other law enforcement institutions in democratic and multiracial societies. They also touched on the democratic deficits and the weakness of the State regarding the protection of human rights for African descendants and other racialized peoples.

The next event in the series held on July 1st moderated by Dr. Carlos de la Torre featured UF faculty members Dr. Christopher Busey, Dr. Carmen Martínez Novo, and Dr. Lillian Guerra. It was a discussion about Racism in the Americas which began with examining how anti-Black racism was used to create the Americas and how it explains the occurrence of various protests throughout the western hemisphere. As the panel discussed the strong presence of racism in contemporary times throughout the diaspora, their words quickly shattered the myths of racial equality/democracy and recentered the focus of various movements to uncover the presence of anti-Black racism which has been intentionally swept under the rug by those that seek to commodify moments of activism and struggle without seeking to spark radical change.

In the Caribbean and the Americas, there is a tendency to declare that racism no longer exists or that it only occurs in certain areas. However, this event acted as a mirror to the issues regarding anti-Black racism that many governments and countries seek to keep hidden or cast as “things of the past”. The tendency to hide racism in the Caribbean poses many challenges and struggles, especially in the realm of activism. It is common in places such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic to deny Blackness due to the preference of identities rooted in Nationalism. However, that does not exclude the presence of racism. The event held on July 30th was focused on examining race and racism in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean to understand how race has continued to dictate the structures of society and day to day life for Black and non-Black Caribbeans. Zaire Z. Dinzey-Flores, Edwards Paulino, Ana Teresa Toro, and Dr. Chantalle Verna were the speakers at this event, which highlighted society’s harsh treatment of Black people in the Caribbean and Puerto Rico and how they deal with these issues.