By Yenny Delgado
Colombia is on the verge of a historic election in which a woman of African descent as a Vice-Presidential Candidate has the genuine possibility of being elected. Francia Márquez, 40 years old, an African Descendants Colombian citizen, could become the second in command in the republic. But what is the difference between the Colombia elections and the well cover candidacy of Obama in his first running in 2008 as an African descendent president in the United States? Or even in 2020, when Kamala Harris was elected the first female VP of the United States as a woman of African and Asian ancestry?
Once again, people are making jokes about being governed by an “African,” and other denigrating comments making visible the racism that is often not so subtly hidden under the surface of Colombian society. On the other hand, people who support Marquez’s candidacy in Colombia have different approaches. They see an opportunity to show what equal rights and inclusion can look like in Colombia’s political sphere and offer a more progressive view of the country.
For the past decade, I have written about racism and the ideology of white supremacy in the United States. There have been few willing to engage in discussions or conversations for most of this time, especially with colleagues throughout Abya Yala. Essentially, the view and thought have been that the problem is more contextualized to the north and the United States but does not accurately reflect situations throughout the continent. In the United States, it is clear to see the long history of persistent laws and customs that have supported practices that preferentially benefit individuals of European ancestry. In the South, history is different, and it is not the same as the “Anglo” oppression. However, following the assassination of George Floyd by a police officer of European ancestry was captured on video for the world to see amid a global pandemic; there has been a greater awareness and awakening throughout the continent of how are societies truly operate and the underlying opinions and thoughts we hold as a society.
However, we often fail to realize similar histories and laws are pervasive throughout the continent, all motivated by the flawed idea of white supremacy. There are deep roots in the history of colonization that many people no longer want to talk. In the conservative circles, it is about “old history.” In the liberal process, they prefer to move quickly around “post-colonization.” Both prefer and desire to forget the most tragic event in Abya Yala.
Not surprisingly, the resemblance between the two countries’ history is the same. Colonization of the native population and the enslaved Africans go hand to hand in all over the continent. Colonization and white supremacy were not invented in Abya Yala but in Europe, where they divided the territory between catholic and protestant between Spanish, Portuguese, English, and French. We can see the colonialist agenda to maintain the United States or Colombia under white supremacy.
Marquez, at this moment, visualizes the history of enslavement in Colombia during three hundred years under the Spanish monarchy, and after “independence,” the administration did not change. Marquez is from the Cauca Region. The region has a long history of exploiting individuals of African ancestry to exploit gold mines and plantains. In colonial times, enslaved Africans were bought, sold, or inherited between the Spanish and their descendants “Criollos” (Spanish born in Abya Yala) families from Popayan. Today, the sting of slavery continues.
The existence of Marquez in politics puts the finger on the wound. Her empowerment as a community leader and educated Afro-descendant woman breaks the silence. It forces the ruling class in power to confront themselves and deal with a history of injustice and inhumanity. The comments towards Márquez’s candidacy, such as “she must go back to Africa” or “Colombia is not an African country,” seem to sample what Colombians have long believed but have remained not openly said.
Marquez represents the face of a country with historical memory. Thanks to the brave presence of Marquez, it is already known with presence and face what an Afro-descendant woman is and what Colombia must endure. For this reason, Marquez puts on the table what the new Colombian generations want to discuss and even move forward.
A few days before the elections, Colombia is again faced with deciding the next political administration, a difficult task, when the right-wing counterattacks with discriminatory speeches and the left and liberals promise to solve an ideological problem with laws.
Laws are powerful tools but are not the remedy. Everyone who wants to move forward needs to confront the consequences of colonization, which is indeed the original sin and basis of white supremacy ideology. We have a shared story across Abya Yala, and the current election should help us see the interconnectedness of this land and its real history.