Peter says: “Indigenous people suffer pretty intense racism. You couldn’t call it anything but racism. It’s abusive, it’s stigmatising, and it’s excluding, on the basis of their identity as indigenous people. But indigenous movements are often reluctant to talk about it. If you talk about discrimination against indigenous people as racism, then it brings it into the same realm of action as discrimination against black people or other racialised minorities. It brings in that history of colonial conquest, and exploitation and so on. Indigenous and black people share that history.
“Anti-racist organisations identify a problem in people not wanting to identify as black. Some of those people, in Latin American contexts, can choose not to identify as ‘black’ because they can be called ‘brown’ or another term meaning ‘mixed’. That’s identified as a problem of solidarity or political mobilisation. When people you want to recruit to the cause aren’t identifying because they think ‘that’s for black people and I’m not black’. In that movement, there’s quite a lot of consciousness-raising. You have to teach people that, actually, they are black. That’s a difficult area because if they say they’re not black, who are you to tell them they are black? It’s true that some people, especially if they’re lighter-skinned and not as African-looking, will likely suffer less discrimination. So that’s also a problem, there’s a kind of hierarchy of discriminations.”
Luis Suárez racism case
The language used was central in the investigation of Uruguayan footballer Suárez after racism claims from footballer Patrice Evra. Peter and James Scorer, a colleague in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, were approached by the FA to offer context on the language used by Suárez:
“Evra, an Afro-French player accused Suárez of racism because he called him the Spanish word negro meaning ‘black’. And he said he’d used it to him repeatedly. Evra speaks Spanish and he said that this was an insult and it was used on repeated occasions.”
Suárez’ defence was that negro can be used neutrally, or affectionately in Latin America.
Peter says: “The fact is that is true and it isn’t true. It is true that the word can be used in a kind of everyday sense of calling somebody negro because they’ve got dark skin, and it can be a friendly term. But it all depends on how you use it and in what context. If you use it in a particular tone of voice or a particular way then it can be very insulting.”
The FA found Suárez guilty of racism, having included Peter’s and James’ findings in their evidence. Find out more about the case in the video, Racism in Football
, made by the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology. Part of the Social Anthropology discipline area at The University of Manchester.
“We think Latin America has got something to tell the rest of the world because it’s been dealing with the minimisation and denial of race since the middle of the nineteenth century.”
Genomics and race
Peter has also taken part in research into genomics. The use of the human genome to study complex differences between individuals or populations. His focus was on the ways the research is organised, communicated and used to influence policy in Latin America. Here too, it became clear that there is widespread denial of race and racism:
“The geneticists are very interested in mixture. While they’re looking for particular genetic variants that solve complex diseases, they also talk about the nation and its genetic profile. They do a lot of ancestry testing that measures what percentage of African ancestry, European ancestry, or indigenous ancestry the nation or different subgroups have. There’s a huge amount of interrogation of that mixedness at a genetic level. We were interested in the actual process of doing that in the lab. How they design the projects, how they sample, what they do and how they present and interpret the results. Also how some of that information gets into the public sphere.
“For example, in Brazil, the government recognised in 1995 that racism was a problem and started to institute affirmative action policies in higher education and in health. In higher education, there were quotas for students who identified as black. This was very controversial. Genomic data on the biological mixture in Brazil were used by some opponents of affirmative action to challenge it on the grounds that ‘races’ do not exist as identifiable biological groups, so they should not be used as a basis for social policy. They argued that racial quotas would exacerbate racial divisions.