Saturday, March 29, 2008

From those who brought you the Tascon List: official racism in Venezuela

When I was taking my English courses to go to graduate school in the US I had to file for Social Security. We were all gathered in some auditorium and some official distributed us a form to fill up. The usual stuff until I came to a section who asked my ethnic background or something of the sort. I did not understand the question at first, and when I saw the choices I understood even less. See, I had to pick between hispanic, african, caucasian, native american, pacific islander, asian (I think those were the exact words then, but they might have changed since). I was very confused because ethnic origin for me would have been French and French was not an option. Caucasian I had no idea what that word meant then except for this word appearing in some Russian music titles and geographical features. African I was not but I wondered if it meant black or arabic or what. Hispanic was not an option at first since for me Hispanic meant from Spain and I found it odd that Spaniards would be underscored.

I had to ask and the designated helper did not know what to do with my request and blandly told me to write what I thought would describe me best. Of course, I understood much later that even if I had been pitch black with the kinkiest hair of all that person could not have even suggested African.... Eventually one of my class mates pointed Caucasian. "Why?" "European, you know..." But the Caucasus is not really in Europe!". Eventually at a loss I put Caucasian. But a few months later when I started understanding the real meaning of these code words I was genuinely upset and form then on each time I was asked such question I put a different answer. In one census I am Hispanic, in another I am "Other". By the end of my stay I was always putting "other" whenever I was asked such indiscreet question except for the single/married ones which did made sense though I resented that "concubinage" was not an option.

See, my problem is that until my early twenties I had NEVER been asked my race and the idea that I could be asked such a question directly did not even enter my mind. In Venezuela then you never asked someone's race, you just assumed it if you must, or took for granted whichever race your interlocutor wanted to be, even if you disagreed inside. That is, in Venezuela when I was a kid and in college, race was simply not a mater of discussion even though we knew that the darker one's skin the less likely one to be rich. If there was a divide it was the money one which overlapped dangerously on the skin one, but in the end the money divide was the one that mattered the most. Though in all fairness if you stroke it rich, people even forgot you used to be poor. The reason for it all was very simple: the racial mix in Venezuela is so varied that trying to bring out the "pure" races would have left at least 3/4 of the population as unclassifiable.

Well, Chavez has done away with all that. It might have been a little bit hypocrite for us to pretend that there was no racial problem, but Chavez made sure to create new racial problems where they did not exist. The latest is the little picture above, of lousy quality I am sorry, and which was reported earlier this week by Tal Cual. In it, a school of art in Venezuela asks you to fill up one of the following choices in their application form:

African descent
Native (indigenous)
Immigrant
Handicapped
Other

I do not know where to start on such a racist instrument, and a blatantly xenophobic one to boot. Whomever designed this questionnaire has no sense of nuance, and favors only native and backs, hoping for immigrants to return home ASAP. Or are we also to suppose that immigrant means Spaniard descent even if one can trace back one's ancestry tot he XVI century? Clearly, whoever is responsible for this form has been brain washed, and is full of hate.

But what can you expect? After 9 years of chavismo saying all sorts of historical nonsense and pretending to rescue minorities, some are actually starting to think that this is the way to go and that reverse discrimination is acceptable. And in a country where almost 4 million citizens suffer of a political apartheid due to the Tascon list (look in the right side column for complete references), why not also install racial separation?

With Obama the US might be advancing further on the difficult path to integration but in Venezuela we are going back to colonial times where a frustrate and idiotic Chavez wants revenge for what happened to his ancestors. In fac we are not returning to the past, we are going to a worse place where we have never been.

-The end-

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