Home » ‘An everyday thing’: a fatal beating reveals Argentina’s racist bias
South America

‘An everyday thing’: a fatal beating reveals Argentina’s racist bias

Fernando Báez Sosa, son of Paraguayan immigrants, was killed by men who screamed racist slurs as they kicked him to death

    The murder of Fernando Báez Sosa rocked Argentina.

    A nightclub altercation turned deadly as a group of amateur rugby players kicked to death an 18-year-old who dreamt of one day becoming a lawyer.

    Public outrage was followed by punishment: five of the young assailants were sentenced to life in prison earlier this month, and the remaining three are to serve 15 years behind bars.

    But the case carries with it the weight of a much more complex conversation around racism in Argentina – and a stubborn resistance to acknowledging there is a problem.

    As the rugby players assaulted Sosa, the son of Paraguayan immigrants, that January night in 2020, some of them screamed racist slurs, calling him a negro de mierda – black piece of shit – and vowing to take him home “as a trophy”.

    In Argentina, the term negro is also used to refer to people of Indigenous descent and darker-skinned people, and may be used as an insult towards other marginalized groups, including people who are poor or rely on government welfare.

    And yet in court, and in coverage of the trial, racism was not the dominant lens through which most people perceived the crime, said Federico Pita, a political scientist and Afrrican-Argentinian activist.

    “They talked about youth, sport, masculinity, class,” said Pita. “The racial element appeared sharing the stage with other variables, but as a subordinate variable.”

    “The problem is that not everyone is talking about it, not everyone is denouncing it,” he said. “That’s racism. The one that keeps people blind to the existence of the phenomenon.”

    Argentina has never had a national reckoning over racism. Like all countries in the Americas, its history is one of colonization, punctuated by campaigns to eradicate Indigenous peoples and the African slave trade.

    Government-sponsored mass immigration from Europe in the 19th and 20th century shaped a mythical identity of a homogenous – predominantly white – society. But Argentina’s racial makeup has always been much more diverse. And the patterns of racial privilege and discrimination based on skin colour never went away.

    To this day, said human rights lawyer Alejandro Mamani, some Argentinians continue to question whether racism exists, even though the evidence is everywhere – in who sits in jails, who is killed by police, who ascends in politics and media, or who gets hired for certain jobs.

    A survey published last year by the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism found that almost three-quarters of people surveyed had experienced some form of discrimination, the most common being “ethnic racial”.

    “Racism, not just in Argentina, but across Latin America, is a topic that is timidly debated and then it disappears,” said Mamani, who is a member of the anti-racism collective Identidad Marron, composed of of Indigenous descendants.

    Mamani criticised a lack of analysis in the 163-page court ruling on Sosa’s murder, in which there are 12 references to testimony about racist slurs uttered during the beating, but “there is no pronouncement with respect to racism”, he said.

    Nonetheless, Mamani said the case was groundbreaking. It was a rare example in which the public empathized with a racialized body such as Sosa’s, the son of working class immigrants who fit into the category of “good boy” with a promising future.

    But other narratives of empathy which emerged during the trial were also telling, he said. The press was full of stories about the lives of the rugby players, their conditions in jail and their life plans dashed by the guilty sentences.

    “I don’t know of any case of a racialized person who was sentenced [for a crime] where they talk about their future,” said Mamani. “Racialized people don’t have a future that is present. Because there isn’t a future that you can fall in love with, that you can fantasize about.”

    The concern for the rugby players also speaks to a carceral system “that was designed to ensure los negros rot in jail”, said Pita – not just in Argentina, but all over the world. “By that I mean what each society considers to be negro,” he said. “As long as [the system is] there to control certain people, no one has a problem with it. That’s racism.”

    Anny Ocoró Loango, an anti-racism activist and researcher at Argentina’s renowned National Scientific and Technical Research Council, saw some signs of changing attitudes through protests, radio programs and social media campaigns that shape public opinion.

    But deep reflection on how race and class factored into Sosa’s murder were largely missing from the mainstream, she said. “There are individual responsibilities that we are judging in [this case], but we also have to look at the social responsibility,” she said. “We need to speak about the racism that is embedded in this society.”

    She recalled a cab ride she took during the World Cup, and the conversation she had with the driver about the mess that had been left behind by revelers.

    “Because they are negros. They are negros in their soul,” he said to her. “That still echoes in me,” she said.

    “People don’t realize that those expressions are racist and discriminatory. And this is an everyday thing in Argentina. So we have to deconstruct these daily phrases that people repeat and point out the racist weight that they carry.”

    Source : TheGuardian