Racism has continued to disadvantage the Afro-Colombian population, as evidenced by economic disparities, a large educational performance gap, and under-representation in politics.
“We need affirmative action because of the large economic difference. That is the genesis of all the [Afro-Colombian] problems. We started our economic growth 160 years ago when slavery ended. Everyone else started before,” Ray Chappuri, director of the activist group Chao Racismo, told Colombia Reports.
Ethnic minorities face discrimination when seeking formal employment in Colombian urban centers. According to a study by Social Mobility Mission (MMS), Afro-Colombians are plagued by high rates of informal labor and unemployment, high dropout rates, illiteracy, overcrowding, poor access to potable water, poor sanitation, child labor, and poor access to government services, among other things.
Though the 2005 census showed 10.6% of the population as Afro-Colombian, the number of black Colombians could be as high as 25% because of how individuals of mixed race choose to define themselves.
The Afro-Colombian population, which is concentrated along Colombia’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts, has been disproportionately affected by the armed conflict. “Often displaced from their communities and towns, many [are] forced to move to urban areas where they face discrimination and economic dislocation,” wrote Ana Margarita Gonzalez, a lawyer for the Racial Discrimination Watch (ODR), which fights racism in courts throughout Colombia and Latin America.
In 1991 Colombia’s new constitution legally recognized the Afro-Colombian ethnic group and broadened its rights, including a law mandating a minimum number of Afro-Colombian legislators. In 1993 the Law of Black Communities (Law 70) gave the right for Afro-Colombian communities to claim ancestral lands along the pacific coast, instituted semi-autonomous political entities for those communities, and established government programs to provide better access to education, and to protect cultural identity.
“While the constitutional and legislative measures are praiseworthy, the… implementation of Colombia ‘s legislation on Afro-Colombian communities remains woefully inadequate, limited and sporadic,” according to a 2010 statement by Gay McDougall, the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues.
In September 2012 the Colombian senate ratified the “equal opportunity” amendment, creating quotas in universities, government jobs, the police and the military, and incentivizing an increase in Afro-Colombian political representatives.
“The tools to win significant economic inclusion are unavailable because, for this, one needs sustained education which goes from preschool through to specialization, and a home to which one can return every day. Without that, there are many difficulties in finding dignified work,” said Dr. Enobong Hannah Branch, author and professor at the University of Massachusetts, who studies contemporary life for blacks in both the U.S. and Colombia. Indeed, Dr. Branch has observed parallels between Colombia and the U.S.
“In Colombia, the current conditions of Afro-Colombian women are much like those of African-American women in the United States 50 years ago, as there is still the [societal] tendency to reserve them for service work,” said Dr Branch.
To raise awareness about these issues the ODR has organized an academic forum taking place over Thursday and Friday, in Colombia’s capital of Bogota. The forum, “Policy of racial equality in the Americas,” will host panelists from the US, Brazil, and Colombia.
- Interview with Ray Charrupi, director of Chao Racismo
- Ley 70 de 1993 (Senado)
- Partidos recibiran mas dinero por cada voto, si incluyen afros en sus listas (El Espectador)
- Statement by the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights)
- Equidad en la Diferencia (Mision de Movilidad Social)
- La realidad de las afrocolombianas (Semana)
- Afro-Colombian Leaders (Americas Quarterly)