A Look at Who Gets Left Out of Black History Month
Continued from previous page
Then there is the story of Jose Nieto Gil, the first black president of Colombia (1861), who was left out of history books, until sociologist Orlando Fals Borda spent years documenting his history and the whitewashing of his legacy. See: The black president Colombia forgot
Part of the problem is the acceptance of "the West Indies" (those parts of the Caribbean which were formerly British colonies) and Haiti as "black." Yet on the same island with Haiti, the next door neighbor the Dominican Republic is "Hispanic or Latino." We include historic political figures like Marcus Garvey or cultural icons like Bob Marley (both Jamaican) but do not do the same for latino revolutionary leaders like Don Pedro Albizu Campos (whose mother was black) and who served in the all-Black 375th Regiment.
So rarely does our Black History Month cross borders, and artificial boundaries (and yes " race" is itself one of those) but the huge segment of African diasporic history in the New World fails to embrace Afro-Latinos, or Afro-Brazilians.
Anthropologist Sidney Mintz has designated the entire Caribbean basin region as the Afro-Caribbean, a culture area linked by roots in the transatlantic slave trade and plantation slavery, whose cultures are rooted in blackness, no matter the current phenotype of the citizenry.
Thankfully, some ol this is changing. a major breakthrough in the media was Henry Louis Gates' series Black in Latin America was first aired on PBS in 2011.
Latin America is often associated with music, monuments and sun, but each of the six countries featured in Black in Latin America including the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru, has a secret history. On his journey, Professor Gates discovers, behind a shared legacy of colonialism and slavery, vivid stories and people marked by African roots. Latin America and the Caribbean have the largest concentration of people with African ancestry outside Africa — up to 70 percent of the population in some countries. The region imported over ten times as many slaves as the United States, and kept them in bondage far longer. On this series of journeys, Professor Gates celebrates the massive influence of millions of people of African descent on the history and culture of Latin America and the Caribbean, and considers why and how their contribution is often forgotten or ignored.
Gates speaks about how his eyes were opened to this history of the "other Americans":
It wasn't until my sophomore year at Yale, as a student auditing Robert Farris Thompson's art-history class, the Trans-Atlantic Tradition: From Africa to the Black Americas, that I began to understand how "black" the New World really was. Professor Thompson used a methodology that he called the "tri-continental approach" -- complete with three slide projectors -- to trace visual leitmotifs that recurred among African, African-American and Afro-descended artistic traditions and artifacts in the Caribbean and Latin America, to show, à la Melville Herskovits, the retention of what he called "Africanisms" in the New World. So in a very real sense, I would have to say that my fascination with Afro-descendants in this hemisphere, south of the United States, began in 1969, in Professor Thompson's very popular -- and extremely entertaining and rich -- art-history lecture course.
In addition, Sidney Mintz's anthropology courses and his brilliant scholarly work on the history of the role of sugar in plantation slavery in the Caribbean and Latin America also served to awaken my curiosity about another Black World, a world both similar to and different from ours, south of our borders. And Roy Bryce-Laporte, the courageous chair of the program in Afro-American studies, introduced me to black culture from his native Panama. I owe so much of what I know about African-American culture in the New World to these three wise and generous professors.