By Yenny Delgado
Colombia is on the verge of a historic election in which a woman of African Descent has the genuine possibility of being elected as Vice-President. Francia Márquez, 40 years old, who is of African Descent, could become the second in command of the republic. But what is the difference between the Colombian elections and the well covered candidacy in the United States of Barack Obama, who is African America, during his presidential campaign in 2008? Or during the candidacy of Kamala Harris, who in 2020 was elected the first female Vice-President of the United States as a woman of African and Asian ancestry?
Just as what happened in the United States, in Colombia people are making racist jokes about being governed by an “African,” and other disparaging 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 could 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. The view and thought has 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, these people claim, history is different, and it is different from the “Anglo” oppression. However, following the assassination of George Floyd by a police officer of European ancestry that 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 our societies truly operate and the underlying opinions, subversive racism and white supremacist 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 about. In the conservative circles, it is about “old history.” In the liberal circles, they prefer to move quickly around “post-colonization.” Both prefer and desire to bypass the most tragic events in Abya Yala.
Not surprisingly, the resemblance between United States and Colombia history is the same. Colonization of the native population and the enslavement of 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 Catholics and Protestants; between Spanish and Portuguese; between English, and French. We can see the same colonialist agenda that was used throughout the hemisphere to ensure that in both the United States and Colombia, and other nations in Abya Yala, white supremacy remains the norm.
Marquez is from the Cauca Region. The region has a long history of exploiting individuals of African ancestry to mine golds and plant a variety of crops. During colonial times, enslaved Africans were bought, sold, or inherited between the Spanish and their descendants, also known as “Criollos”, whom the Spanish Caste system defined as Spaniards born in Abya Yala, in Popayan and other regions in Colombia Today, the sting of this period of slavery continues to plague the nation as racist rhetoric surrounds Francia Marquez’s candidacy.
The candidacy of Francia puts the finger on the wound. Her empowerment as a community leader and educated Afro-descendant woman breaks the silence. It forces the ruling 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 exemplify what many non-Black Colombians have long believed but have never openly said.
Marquez represents the face of a country with historical memory. Thanks to the brave presence of Marquez, Colombia can recognize and confront its history by seeing someone like her on the ballot. For this reason, Marquez puts on the table what the new Colombian generations want to discuss and how those generations desire to see the country 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 supremacist 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.
Psychologist and Public Theologian. Director of Publica and convener of Mujeres Doing Theology in Abya Yala. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church USA. She writes about the intersections between ancestral memory, decolonization, womanism, and public faith.