In Contesting Racism: Democratic Citizenship, Human Rights, and Antiracist Politics in Argentina (This article is found in JSTOR), a professor of sociology at University at Albany, Barbara Sutton states, “In Argentina, racism is a relatively hidden but entrenched social problem that has undermined democratic citizenship and the possibility of social justice” (Sutton 106). The concept of racism in Argentina is not as explicitly spread out as that in the United States, but it certainly affects social norms and structures. The racism in Argentina has been invisibly promoted through media, which can easily create false images for some particular races and form public opinions. Sutton first explains the historical background of racism in Argentina and the relation between class and race. Based on the history, she develops her opinion that the racism has been fostered through policies and practices. She also claims that this biased view is shaped by making use of websites and mass media such as news programs and newspaper. After the termination of dictatorship in Argentina and the transition to democracy, however, civil-society groups and government institutions began antiracist movements. The government actively attempted to incorporate international conventions as local legislation in order to fight against racism. She concludes that it is essential for citizens to vigorously take actions to challenge racism. She insists that media can regulate the knowledge of citizens and have power to shake not only society but also individuals because it can easily influence the whole society and form public opinions. Moreover, she implies that equality of human rights can be achieved only under democratic society, since the end of the dictatorship in Argentina brought the trigger of anti-discrimination movements, which aimed to gain equality among every single individual.
Sutton explains that the racism in Argentina originates from the history. In the nineteenth century, the government tried to make Argentina “more economically powerful, white, and civilized” by encouraging the massive immigration of Europeans and annihilating indigenous and afro-descendent people (Sutton 107). These unjust policies let people associate civilization with white and resulted in depriving non-white people of their citizenship. As the number of non-white people decreased, white people had more social influence. The racism also did its work to generate class inequality, since white people had power and were recognized as elites. On the contrary, people with mestizo or indigenous features were usually put in the poor and the working class. This class and racial inequality was more conspicuous in big cities. For example, people living in rural areas immigrated to Buenos Aires, and mestizo or indigenous people were frequently scorned and bullied there. These history and national policies gradually formed racism in Argentina, and it has still affected their daily lives even now.
The racism in Argentina, which was formed through its long history, has been promoted through concrete policies and practices, such as education and media. Sutton examines the coverage of issues about racism in Argentine newspaper articles. She concludes that these media are “more likely to talk about racism when there was a willful agent (e.g., graffiti painting) or interpersonal interaction (e.g., physical aggression) than to report cases of institutionalized racism and frame them as such” (Sutton 111). By regulating the contents of reports, media in Argentina succeeded in avoiding the attribution of the racism to the government institutions. The citizens have no choice but to believe these broadcast, and this is how media form public opinions toward racism in Argentina. She raises an example of such reports by picking up an article that states the factors of the malnourishment of indigenous people lie in their failure to assess the illness that they suffer. To refute this report, she insists, “The cultural explanation of indigenous malnourishment depoliticizes the problem and skirts the question why indigenous children have little access to food in the first place” (Sutton 111). There should be some reasons indigenous people are likely to be poor. The economic gap between races in Argentina has been created through institutional racism.
In addition to the fact that Argentine media usually attempt to avoid mentioning the political racism, the media also cause the loss of the self-identities in Argentine. Sutton considers that the media imposed people on wrong categories. For instance, Sutton analyzes, “People with indigenous or mestizo ancestry have often been placed in the ‘black’ category” (Sutton 112). In the context of Argentine races, “black” does not necessarily mean that a complexion is black, but implies that the black people are non-white, who are regarded as those in the lower class. Since race is used more as derogatory words than as positive self-identification, some Argentine people lost their ways to identify themselves.
Even though the racism in Argentina was shaped through history and spread out by media, some civilian groups and institutions started taking actions to confront discriminations after the political power moved from dictatorship to democracy. Because of the actions taken by human rights organizations, the ideas of human rights became more familiar, and people came to be increasingly aware of racism. Sutton explains that, since these movements involved international conventions on discriminations, the government institutions deepened their understanding of discriminations and adopted those international conventions as local legislation (Sutton 116). Moreover, international summits and conferences gained attention from Argentine activists, and they indirectly strengthened democratic movements. She concludes that integrating foreign frameworks and calling for actions are crucial to spread awareness and to confront racism in Argentina.
As Sutton argues in her work, in Argentina, media can easily manipulate citizens and move the whole society, since they help form public opinions by regulating the contents that are broadcast. One example of a website is raised in her paper. The website explains the proportion of races with data and states that each race is accounted for what percent of the total population. These data appear to be pretty convincing. However, these data are suspicious too because the definitions and categories of each race are unclear. Even though what the website shows might not be true, the visitors of the website would believe these data without doubt, and they would shape the ideas of racial proportions in Argentina. Similar to the case of the website, media can also exaggerate and beautify the contents to be broadcast. For instance, one Argentine newspaper emphasized that the conquerors did not intend to eliminate the culture of the indigenous people, and therefore, that was not genocide (Sutton 111). Unless people are critical enough to analyze what is broadcast and conveyed through media, they merely believe what they just saw, and it would strongly affect his opinions.
Besides the power of media over society, Sutton also implies that democracy enables citizens to fight against racism and to achieve equality among every single person. During the military dictatorship in Argentina, people were tortured or executed for unjust reasons. Those fear for unfair punishments discouraged people from taking actions to obtain equality. Even if people were under restrictions and were not allowed to take actions and make speeches, there would be no way to achieve equality, since the movements of citizens are necessary to spread out the voices to seek equality. After the end of the dictatorship and the beginning of the democratic society in Argentina, people were finally able to start activities for their human rights. The transition to the democracy is functioned as the trigger of anti-discrimination movements, which aim to procure equality within any races.
Sutton explains that racism in Argentina originates from its historical backgrounds, such as immigration of Europeans and decimation of indigenous people. The increasing number of white people imparted social power to them, and it created racial differences. The racism was encouraged through media by focusing on interpersonal racial incidents and avoiding the broadcast of institutionalized racism. Even though racism was spread out through media, some activists stood up and began antiracist movements after the transition to democracy. Media hold such horrifying power that they can easily manipulate citizens by regulating the contents. In addition to the power of media, the case of Argentina implies that democratic society is required to call for actions and realize equality of all citizens. Without media, the concept of racism might be less familiar to citizens in Argentina. The case of Argentina left lessons that it is important for citizens to have power to think and analyze critically in order to avoid the deception by media.