the difficulty of existing in politics when you are black – Jeune Afrique


The American novelist Toni Morrison repeated it throughout her life: « The main function of racism is to distract, to prevent me from doing my job and to force me to constantly justify myself on my legitimacy to occupy a place of power. »

In 2022, his words remain sadly relevant. In Europe as in the Americas, attempts are still being made to discredit, through racist attacks, black politicians who seem to be judged more on their skin color than on their work. As proof, the controversies and reactions, especially on social networks, after the appointment, in France, of Pap N’Diaye to the post of Minister of National Education and the election, from the first round of the legislative elections of June 12 , by Daniele Obono. Those who would like to adhere to the theory of the advent of a « post-race » era must realize that these « distraction » strategies tend to prove the opposite: these new faces of politics are denied the right to exist and prove themselves in the public space.

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France: Pap Ndiaye, a symbolic appointment and already controversy

« Dignity as a habit »

On the other side of the Atlantic, the same techniques are at work, even though the candidate Francia Márquez could well become the first black vice-president of Colombia at the end of the second round of the presidential election, June 19. Symbol celebrated by many Afro-diasporic communities in Latin America but also in the United States – the American activist Angela Davis, in particular, who recognizes in her a great figure of racial and social justice, sent her a message of support – , Marquez must also face countless racist comments, even before she can develop her vision of change in a country in the hands of a political elite that has been little renewed for almost half a century.

In the last months of the campaign, the candidate had to speak out on several occasions against attacks comparing her to King Kong. Like the former French Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, compared in her time to a monkey. Francia Márquez responds that racism and machismo kill every day in Colombia and that once elected, one of these priorities will be to stand up against the normalization of these practices. Remember that one of his rallying cries is « for dignity to become a habit », in a country where the wealth gap is still as glaring and to the detriment of Afro-descendant populations, under-represented in the media and in political positions of responsibility.

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Racism: “It is not enough to declare oneself a universalist”

Another technique of the Colombian media is to prevent her from developing a global vision for the country by only asking her about her status as a black woman, as if she could not express herself on other themes. In terms of life and expertise, the candidate from the Pacific coast has a lot to share with the Colombian people. A former mine worker and domestic worker, she became a mother at 16 and experienced a spectacular rise as an environmental activist, a struggle she has been waging since she was 13. In particular, she denounces the illegal mining activities that pollute the Ovejas river in her native land with mercury. In 2018, she received the « Nobel for the Environment », the prestigious international Goldman Prize, and two years later obtained her law degree at the Faculty of Law of the University of Santiago de Cali. At the beginning of this year, Márquez becomes the electoral phenomenon – as described by the Colombian and international media – by obtaining the third place of the votes in the primary elections of the country, without having ever obtained a political position beforehand.

Convergence of movements

The numerous attacks of which she is the victim do not prevent Francia Márquez from recalling her commitment to the promotion of black populations. She proves it by choosing the symbolic date of Saturday, May 21, National Day of Afro-Colombianity, to end her campaign before the first round of the presidential election. In the heart of Bogota, the organizers are developing a program that celebrates Afro culture and resistance with artistic events and interventions by social leaders. under the mantra  » live sabroso » (live in a tasty way), a formula well known to black populations on the Pacific coast, which highlights the importance of well-being, dignity and quality of life despite the terrible episodes of armed conflict and repeated violence in the region, an eclectic crowd chants “We love you Francia” at the end of each of the afternoon speeches.

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Racism in France: « great replacement » and other clichés about immigration put to the test

In the public, there is a convergence between several movements: the Afro communities but also the indigenous populations, the LGBT communities and a majority of young people who recognize themselves in the need for change that the candidate carries. But beware of those who want to reduce its political impact to a simple generational phenomenon, another great classic for discrediting progressive political figures. Márquez also receives support from older populations, who see in her respect for ancestors and a hope for aging in more respectable conditions, at the end of the pandemic.

Death threats

This May 21, therefore, barely twenty minutes after Francia Márquez spoke, a laser beam disrupted her speech. The contestant’s bodyguards surround her with their shields to protect her from possible gunfire, and she finds the strength to finish her speech despite an emotion-altered voice before being forcibly removed from the stage. Shocking image and yet well representative of the death threats that Márquez and his entourage receive in return for his political visibility in a country which holds the sad record of the highest number of assassinations of social leaders for several years. In 2021, according to official figures, 145 of them were assassinated and the statistics are more than worrying for 2022. Asked about her management of threats, the Colombian vice-presidential candidate replies that it is the risk to run to bring about political change for future generations.

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If we can only rejoice in the rise of many black personalities with profiles and programs that stand out for their commitment to racial and social equality, how long are we going to trivialize the risks run by women politicians? like Francia Marquez? The specter of the 2018 assassination of Afro-Brazilian Marielle Franco, who had made her transition from activism to mainstream politics, is often cited among her supporters, who deploy great energy to make her work visible. .

Beyond the programs, the change must also be made by raising the awareness of civil societies: protecting those who embody modernity in politics is part of the good health of our democracies. We can only wish Francia Márquez to be able to continue her political epic under the same conditions as the many other candidates spared from the constant threats and racist attacks, which distract them from the real issue: more political representativeness of profiles justifying both experience and expertise close to the people in order to make projects of living together more inclusive. This is the challenge of a democracy sabrosa !

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