In the age of inclusivity, Argentina’s one-culture national team is bound to come under interrogation by those who have vast affective investment in sports, particularly soccer as Dr. Yusuf Bangura does in this piece
By Yusuf Bangura, PhD
It’s clear from the articles posted that there was a deliberate policy of transforming Argentina from a highly diverse society, in which blacks were well represented, into an almost all-white nation. In the 19th century 50% of the population in half of the provinces and 37% of the national population was black. Today, Argentina is the whitest country in Latin America, with 97% of the population identifying as white. Only 0.37% of the population now identifies as black or Afro-Argentine.
The policy of white supremacy advanced in the 19th century by President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento played a big role in the extermination of the black population and the whitening of the country.
Two policies stand out in the narrative:
(1) The overrepresentation of black people in the military (at one point 65% of the army was black). Black people were promised freedom from slavery if they enrolled in the army. In one of the country’s wars (against Paraguay in the late 19th century) there was a deliberate policy of sending black soldiers to the war front where most of them perished.
(2) The late 19th century yellow fever plague in Buenos Aires killed many blacks because of the segregationist policies of President Sarmiento. Sarmiento separated the black population from white immigrants and denied the black population health care and basic infrastructure. Black people were more devastated by the plague than whites.
There were two other developments that led to the decimation of the black population in Argentina.
(1). The whitening of the black population. It’s suggested that the death of many black men in the Paraguay war led to a gender imbalance, forcing many black women to marry white men. The offsprings of these marriages (métisse) further married white men or women, leading to a high level of whitening. Black women may also have been raped during slavery to lay the foundation for the emergence of the métisse as has been documented in the case of the US.
It’s reported that even though only 0.37% of the population identifies as Afro-Argentine, 7.5% (some studies even claim 10%) of the population has genetic links with Africa. White privilege and the devalorisation of blackness forces those with a drop of black blood but look white to identify as white.
(2). The migration of black Argentines to Brazil and Uruguay where conditions were perceived to be less hostile for black people.
The question that remains is why there’s no black Argentine in the national team even though 150,000 Argentines identify as black or Afro-Argentine. Is it the case that black Argentines don’t play football, the easiest route out of poverty for disadvantaged groups everywhere?
After all there was a famous black player in the Argentine team in the 1920s: Alejandro de los Santos.