The Eugenics Next Door: Disappearance of the black race in Argentina
Note from BW of Brazil: As I frequently cover the phenomenon of what is known as embranquecimento, or whitening in Portuguese, I haven’t spent much time acknowledging the simultaneous process of blanqueamiento, which means whitening in Spanish, as it was promoted and took place in Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America. One can find numerous examples of the whitening process throughout the region in countries such as Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia and others.
The tactics and ideologies were generally the same. Statesmen and leaders calling for the “improvement” of their populations through racial mixing with white-skinned people and/or policies of attracting millions of European immigrants to outnumber the black and Indigenous elements as well as encouraging the infusion into the bloodlines of the population of color with what they considered to be stronger European genes.
Several articles on this blog have focused much on how the whitening process continues in Brazil today with millions of non-white Brazilians having relationships with white/r partners under the belief that “love has no color” or sometimes even “improving of the race”. But looking at examples such as Argentina where cities such as Buenos Aires and Córdoba had rather large black populations in the 19th century, we see many similarities with Brazil in the way that the presence of very dark-skinned descendants of Africans has diminished over the years.
To have an idea, it is estimated that black Argentines made up made up about one-third of the population of Buenos Aires in the early 19th century, while in Córdoba, they made up about 44% as well as about half the populations of provinces such as Santiago del Estero, Catamarca and Salta. In fact, there was a time when Afro-Argentines represented about 30% of Argentina as a whole. So what happened between then and now that the 2010 census estimated that the black population in Argentina had dwindled down to about 0.37%?
The similarities with Brazil are many.
1) High casualties of black Argentines during the Paraguayan War (1865-1870)
2) With the dramatic reduction of black men to choose from, black Argentine women entered relationships with white European immigrants, leading to an increasingly lighter skin color within the African descendant population.
3) Epidemics such as yellow fever of the late 19th century
4) Millions of European immigrants pouring into the country lowering the percentage of black people in the population
5) Generations of racial mixture making it difficult to define who exactly was black
Also, similar to Brazil, Argentina’s intellectuals believed that their nation could only be on par with advanced European nations with the disappearance of the cultural and physical presence of its population of color. Like Brazil, they seemed to revel in the imminent demise of its black population. By 1905, the newspaper Caras y Caretas declared that “The (black) race is losing in the mixture its primitive color. It becomes gray. It dissolves. It lightens. An African tree is producing white flowers.”
Yet another manner that Argentina approximates Brazilian techniques is the manner in which it masked the true numbers of blacks in the country with the usage of the term “pardo” instead of employing the Spanish term meaning black, “negro”. While it is true that miscegenation did in fact make it difficult to say for certain exactly how many black people resided in 19th century Argentina, it is also true that many people who were once classified as negros came to be re-classified as “pardos”.
Today, in the 21st century, official numbers tell us that Afro-Argentines make up a little less than 150,000 of the country’s 45 million citizens, but like Brazil, it may not be possible to say with any certainty how many Argentines should be considered black. With small numbers of African immigrants arriving in the country, as well as black people from neighboring countries such as Uruguay and Brazil, along with black organizations, there has been a sort of re-kindling of interest in African history in Argentina. One of these organizations, Africa Vive, meaning ‘Africa lives’ estimates that there are as many as 1 million black people in Argentina. As I’ve said in previous texts on the situation in Brazil, much of the question of how black Argentina really is depends on what one considers black.
No matter how you see this, in Argentina, as well as neighboring Chile, it’s very common to hear the phrase “Aquí no hay negros”, meaning ‘there are no blacks here.’ And in an Argentina where 97% of the population is classified as white, and where it is considered the whitest country in South America, this might explain why it might raise eyebrows if one were to spot a clearly black woman on any of Argentina’s national sports teams.
The eugenics next door
By Wellington Oliveira
It caught my attention last Sunday (08/18) the sight of a black woman wearing the uniform of the Argentina women’s volleyball team, in a scrimmage against the Brazilian team. This led me to a brief immersion in the history of the black population in that country and also a quick reflection on the relationship between these two countries and the black people kidnapped from the African continent.
In all the previous images that I have accessed from Argentina, whether through sport, cinema, politics or any other source, the presence of black people hadn’t occurred to me in any of them. The sight of an Ecuadorian with Argentine citizenship, Erika Mercado, among those other athletes, all white, displaced me in a comfortable lapse.
Until now, what I knew of the history of Argentina was only the distinction of the Spanish colonization instead of the Portuguese one. A brief look at the saga of the black population in the neighboring country has shown me the drastic reduction of the black contingent over the past two centuries. Of the almost 50% of the population at the beginning of the eighteenth century, today around 3% remain, according to census data.
The eugenics project made use of various devices. The use of black men on the battle fronts of the independence wars and subsequent civil wars; the massive sale of blacks in the post-abolition period of slavery to countries where the system still endured (in Brazil, enslavement would continue for over 80 years); and the geographical agglutination of the black population in times of epidemics are just a few of the examples.
Argentina’s everyday view of the world is one of an eminently white country with very discrete traces of miscegenation, and there never seems to have been a slave system in that country. The hermanos managed to sweep the dirt and blood that stains the country’s history under the carpet. They succeeded in what Brazil has been trying to do for over a century, without success. Here, despite the attempts, blacks are still alive and resisting.