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A post-racist continent

January 20, 2009

“So you have a new president, this Obama.” “Yup,” I said to the brown-skinned cab driver, having just hopped in to make it to the Quito (Ecuador) bus terminal on time. He continued: “I’m happy about that. We’re all happy about that here, no more Bush. But he’s giving all the blacks in the world hope.” “Oh?,” I responded, surprised. This is a negative consequence? African descendants make up a small part of Quito’s population, but are numerous in the outer villages. And like blacks throughout the Andes, are all but invisible in local news coverage and TV programs, official politics, tourism posters and corporate ads that make up a large part of the visual media landscape. “Yes, well, they cause trouble here, you know, and in other places. But this Obama I like.”

I tell this story not to pick on a Quito taxi driver, but because I think it’s a pretty accurate representation of what the election could mean for African-descendant social movements in the region. One step forward, one-and-a-half steps back.

I’ve seen a number of vapid mainstream media stories that go like this: Obama is half Kenyan, lots of African-descendant people are happy about that, especially Africans living in Africa, particularly Kenyans. The end. Sometimes the analysis is a little deeper, as in Reuters’ coverage of black Iraqis claiming inspiration for their runs for office.

Meanwhile, there’s been a ton of good counter-story work going on against the “post-racial America” storyline by media, economic justice and police accountability activists in the US. But I haven’t seen any of that coming from Third World media outlets, even as front-page Obama transition stories (Span.) here make subtle mention of his Muslim schooling, etc. Some news outlets have noted that Reps. Mike Honda and Jim McGovern invited (Span.) Afro-Colombian (Span.) elected officials to the inauguration, but it’s gotten pretty short shrift. No extended op-eds by prominent (white) liberals, who wax profound on anything of even casual significance in both big dailies, that I’ve seen at least.

It’s impossible to make basic comparisons – Colombia hasn’t experienced anything like a Black Freedom Movement. But indigenous groups have through collective struggle carved out some visible space in society, however marginal, and claimed rights to land, for instance, that many white and mestizo Colombians I’ve met have denied are deserving of coastal Afro populations. White racism manifested publically reminds me much of the US – in my experience, whites have a particular resentment, fear of and prejudice towards blacks, particularly African Americans. Both sets of data are anecdotal, but it’s held true here as well.

Which is all to say, not only is Michael Eric Dyson’s “post-racist” vision out of reach, it may be time to watch for the backlash, even here.

THE REST OF THIS POST is dedicated to the kids I’ve met in DC, Dream City/Chocolate City, and not much related to Colombia…

THE REST OF THIS POST is dedicated to the kids I’ve met in DC, Dream City/Chocolate City. I think the reality about the impact of the election that’s most exciting to me can be found somewhere between the skeptics challenging us to consider how the election of a black North American could set back domestic movement work – and that as many people could get drawn into progressive political action and longterm anti-racist work as repelled – and Shakira telling Latino kids, as she did yesterday, according to a report I heard on Radio Caracol, to be like Obama and decide to believe they can be president, because then anything’s possible…

Here are my two favorite post-election reflections: George Lakey’s five steps to “The Change We Need”audio or summary

and Jay Smooth on “Getting Back to Work”

And here’s a great reason to listen to both of them.

Up next: Hillary Clinton tells us (or, John Kerry et al) about the near future of US-Colombia policy.

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