“As a child and teenager, I was called ‘black shit’ and I had to face it all my life,” laments the specialist in the 400m and 800m, Deborah Rodriguez, 28, who trains in his native Uruguay.
The South American champion who participated in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics no longer trains in the United States because of the pandemic. In this southern spring, she runs on a wet track, the curls of her hair tightened by a headband while a few months ago she sported a long straight hair.
“I needed to have my hair cut to return to my origins, to find my identity”, admits the athlete who straightened his hair “since the age of 12”.
Uruguay is one of the South American countries with the best statistics on social inclusion. Inequality and poverty rates are the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean.
However, a recent World Bank study points out that Afro-Uruguayans, the largest minority representing 8.1% of the 3.45 million population according to the last census in 2011, “are more likely to be excluded “ and that poverty affects them twice as much as the national average.
Their pay is 11% less for equal work, and they are 20% less likely to finish high school.
Model and feminist Romina di Bartolomeo, 29, says she has always strived to meet beauty standards in order to satisfy her employers.
Like the sprinter Deborah Rodriguez, she had “the habit of straightening your hair” but decided to let admire her beautiful curly curls, sitting in the radio room where she hosts a program dedicated to the plena, a style of Caribbean music that fascinates her.
According to German Freire, from the social development department at the World Bank, young Afro-Uruguayans have practically no referent from their community in the upper echelons of the country: “If you are a young boy it is easier to project yourself as a future footballer than to serve in academia or politics. It predefines your path”, he believes.
In the Uruguayan Parliament, it took nearly two centuries before a person of African descent sat down in 2005. In the Senate, it was in 2020 that Gloria Rodriguez was the very first to rise to the House. high.
Despite the progress made in the recognition of the rights of people of African origin, the senator of the presidential party of Luis Lacalle Pou believes that Uruguay is, in practice, far from having bridged the gap.
“The rights are acquired. But they still have to be effective. Even today, we carry on our shoulders the weight of slavery”, she believes.
After colonization, Montevideo became, by order of the Spanish Crown, the only point of entry for slaves to the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata and the Viceroyalty of Peru.
When Uruguay abolished slavery (1842), nearly a century after the first shipment of slaves arrived on its shores, many more were smuggled in from Brazil.
According to Amanda Diaz, head of the Afro-descendants department of the Ministry of Social Development, being black in Uruguay “has a negative connotation”. She judges that her country is “ extremely racist “ but hides it behind slogans like “we are all equal”.
In Uruguay, it is common to refer without restraint to physical features to call out to others, without moderating “black “,” fat “,” thin “, sometimes with affection but sometimes also with contempt.
Last week, Uruguayan striker for England club Manchester United, Edinson Cavani, was criticized for calling a friend “bold“on social networks, “a loving greeting” assured Cavani who nevertheless apologized and withdrew his message.
Nine years earlier, his teammate at the forefront of the national team’s attack, Luis Suarez, had been penalized for calling Frenchman Patrice Evra “Negro“in a particularly derogatory tone.