Nelson Mandela and the fight against racism

The idea of ​​the existence of human races was disproved in the year 2000 with technological and scientific advances that made it possible to study the human genome and demonstrate that all people in the world share 99.99% similarity in their genetic code regardless of nationality. , ethnicity, place of origin, skin tone, height, hair type or phenotypic characteristics in general.

There is phenotypic diversity from that 0.01% of genetic difference, which precisely translates into differences in eye color, skin tone, hair shape, etc., making us particular and unrepeatable as people; however, that small genetic difference is not enough to speak of races, since it does not imply a difference in physical or intellectual aptitudes.

Human races do not exist. The idea of ​​race is a colonialist conception of control that served as a banner of moral, civilizational, aesthetic and intellectual superiority to classify and prioritize the value of human life according to belonging to a population group.

Although the idea of ​​race has been dismantled, physical appearance, skin tone, ethnic origin and language continue to be a reason for racist and discriminatory behavior. Racism exists and inequality from it, too.

That is why it is appropriate to remember July 18, this day was designated by the United Nations General Assembly as International Nelson Mandela Day, in recognition of his contribution to the construction of a peaceful, free and democratic society. Nelson Mandela dedicated his entire life to the fight for the human rights of people historically discriminated against, to the promotion of gender equality, to the protection of children’s rights and to conciliation and conflict resolution as a revolutionary strategy for change for a fairer and more equal society.

Mainly, he surrendered and fought against the racial discrimination that his country experienced with the apartheid regime of oppression (which in Afrikaans means “separation”), which was a system of segregation imposed in 1948 by a white party (the National Party), heir to colonialist positions and Nazi policies that legally granted more rights and opportunities to white people to the detriment of the black and indigenous majority of South Africa.

Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in Mveso, South Africa; in 1944 he joined the African National Congress (ANC) and founded, along with others, the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL); for years he organized peaceful campaigns against racial discrimination and the exploitation of the black and indigenous population, it is until 1955 that he began an armed protest, and after being arrested for five years and released, declared innocent, he continued the armed struggle with the formation of the armed movement from the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spearhead of the Nation”); in 1964 he was sentenced to life imprisonment, he was released from prison in 1990 after 27 years to take a joint conciliation and negotiation position with the UN against the apartheid regime.

In 1991 apartheid was abolished thanks to international pressure and ANC negotiations with the regime; in 1993, Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment to conciliation, and in 1994, he became South Africa’s first democratically elected president.

Mandela represents an example of struggle and conviction against racism, and although the contexts and situations are different, he puts into perspective the identification and visibility of racism in our reality.

In the history of Mexico there is no talk of an apartheid or of any regime of oppression that resembles it in a formal way; however, the construction of the miscegenation myth built by the Creoles after the country’s independence divided, classified and pigeonholed the ethnic and linguistic diversity of the population, excluding anyone who moved away from Western European parameters. Thus, every person who was not a descendant of criollos or did not become a mestizo was condemned to backwardness and lack of opportunities. Indigenous and Afro-Mexican people were excluded from economic and political decisions in Mexico, they were made invisible and denied (until 2019 the Afro-Mexican population was constitutionally recognized, for example).

Nowadays, it is enough to go through the mayoralties of Mexico City to observe the racial and class differences that exist according to the neighborhood in which we are located, and how this can mean not being able to move freely through the same spaces without experiencing discrimination: many times skin tone, clothing, phenotypic traits and appearance in general, matter to be able to enter a place or not; whether or not they give you a job; so that you can move freely down the street without racial profiling.

An example of this, as mentioned in the research article “Skin Color and Social Mobility: Evidence From Mexico” by Raymundo M. Campos-Vazquez and Eduardo M. Medina-Cortina (2019), is that brown or racialized people (indigenous and Afro-Mexicans) earn 57% less than light-skinned people; in the majority of television commercials they present white people (70% in contrast to 30% of brown or racialized people), as published by Gómez. H. in the color of privilege.

To continue with the examples of racism, it is 43% easier to get a job for light-skinned women than for racialized women, according to the investigation “Inequality will speak for my race”, by OXFAM Mexico. For its part, in Mexico City, according to the EDIS 2021 Discrimination Survey, carried out by COPRED, the perception of the most discriminated group falls on people with brown skin, followed by indigenous people in second place.

Overall—and if you differentiate by gender—compared to white or light-skinned men, black men are 46% less likely to achieve better living standards; those who speak an indigenous language, 59% less; and indigenous people with brown or dark skin, 74% less. On the other hand, black women are 60% less likely to have better economic opportunities; indigenous women with brown or dark skin, 68% less; and speakers of indigenous languages, 71% less compared to white or light-skinned women, as revealed by OXFAM Mexico research.

The foregoing also means that people may have more obstacles when they have several of these racialized characteristics and that discrimination and racism can be multifactorial and intersectional when it intersects with other categories or conditions such as gender, social class, place of residence, sexual orientation or disabilities.

Racism and discrimination must be addressed according to the problems of each context, it is not the same racism that is (still) experienced in South Africa as the one that is seen every day in Mexico, each place has a particular history that builds a network of meanings; in our case: conquest, colonization and the myth of miscegenation.

Nelson Mandela is a legacy of struggle and reminds us that racism exists, that it is necessary to continue talking about it in all social spaces to know how to combat it and continue promoting an anti-racist and anti-discriminatory agenda that promotes equal rights for all people.

* Ricardo Portilla de la Cruz is education advisor in COPRED’s Training and Education Subdirectorate.

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Nelson Mandela and the fight against racism