Show the World What We Have to Offer
These past few weeks have been a rollercoaster of ups and downs; however, through the process I am learning more and more about myself than I could’ve ever imagined. What stunned me the most was that I had my first encounter with racist comments from a student within my study abroad program. Coming from the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) area and growing up in Montgomery County (a relatively diverse area) I didn’t deal with much racism when I was growing up. Although this is a good thing, having to deal with racist remarks in Buenos Aires made the space of privilege that I have lived in for all of my life blatantly apparent for the first time. I was not aware of the privilege before because I was and still am fortunate to not regularly experience racism at a personal level, even though I see how it manifests at systematic and institutional levels. The individual who made these comments towards me lives in the New York, but is from Norway. The individual made remarks that suggested I would be able to “hotwire a car” in case we needed to get back from an event because I am black.
I was overcome with feelings of anger and disgust that I unintentionally carried with me until the next day. As I sat in my room and thought, it dawned upon me that my first run in with racism and prejudice in Buenos Aires came from someone who is not even Argentine. Before arriving in Argentina, I was under the impression that it was a very racist country that wasn’t accepting of black people. Of course this was because of what people told me and what I read about online in various forums for black women and their experiences here; not a single post was positive. However, thus far, I haven't encountered not an ounce of racism from an Argentine citizen. As I said in my previous post, I have been 100% accepted with open arms and many are interested and intrigued by my blackness. Therefore this specific incident from a U.S. citizen didn't necessarily surprise me because I know that many U.S. citizens hold negative views towards blacks. However, it did sadden me that with all the progress blacks have made with constantly trying to prove themselves as “equal,” some people still hold this disgusting view that we are inferior.
Complementing what I have learned in the classroom thus far with first hand experience with citizens of Buenos Aires, I have noticed that Argentina is a country based off of immigration. Furthermore, historically 90% of the immigrants came from Italy or Spain. Unlike the United States, their system seems to marginalize groups based off of income and class as opposed to race. Although Argentina doesn't specifically struggle with this idea of institutionalized racism, partly because most of the citizens are of the same race and ethnic background, the United States is still able to push its agenda of “anti-blackness” through the media here, in addition to the lack of black faces to represent their country. The lack of black American faces represented in Argentina, due to angst and racial tensions at home, lead people to believe that people with darker skin cannot thrive there.
A specific instance that showed me how this notion of invisibility for black Americans has been manifested was with my encounter with the ambassador of the United States to Argentina. My university here in Buenos Aires held an open forum with the ambassador. In the session, many people asked the general questions such as: “How were you able to be placed in Argentina?” or “What University did you attend?” I sat in my seat displeased with how the assembly was going because I felt all the previous questions asked were superficial and did not allow us to get to real issues concerning study abroad access for all Americans, and more specifically minorities. I pondered on how to pose a thoughtful, relevant, and meaningful question to the ambassador who was a white American male that grew up in California. I raised my hand and asked: “The minority communities in the U.S. have the lowest percentages of study abroad participants, with African American students being as little as 5%. What do you think is the best way to promote minority students to have this international experience throughout their academic journey?”
In awe, the ambassador was not able to easily answer the question, but instead attempted to pacify the situation with the response that the solution was “partnering HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] with study abroad programs.” My problem with this response is that it assumes only African American students in the United States attend HBCUs. I attend a Predominately White Institution (PWI) yet still chose to study abroad.
I believe there must be a broader movement to attack this issue. Hearing this out of the mouth of a very esteemed individual who President Barack Obama appointed to represent the United States in Argentina, I was, to say the least, very disappointed with his response. I proceeded to inform him about our mission at Black Beyond Borders to promote the expansion of black faces abroad and international experiences for African American students. He believed this was a terrific idea, but I still questioned what he would do to address the issue.
These two experiences have pushed me harder to make black faces present in places where they aren’t. The notion of anti-blackness has been revealed on an international scale because of how the media portrays us and how western civilizations perceive us. We are seen as entertainers, our roles in movies often are secondary or negative, we are uneducated, violent and barbarians. We are invisible internationally and obviously the issues have not been addressed correctly. It has even gone so far that not only do other populations question our veracity, but we too doubt and internalize that we can only thrive in one specific setting. I urge every person of color to travel abroad, not only to study but volunteer, speak at forum, or even take a job opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the environment to show that we are multifaceted beings who can interact and succeed in a multitude of spaces. Let the world know what black people are really made of and have to offer. We are intelligent, articulate, cultured, and beautiful people despite what the media and history depicts us to be.