As a consequence, in early 2017, I began envisioning a new project, which I have named The Return of the Repressed, hinting at those denied cultural contents, which, notwithstanding, always come back in some form or other. Inquiring into colonial archives allowed me to peep into the genealogy of racism and capitalism. Racism and colonialism are inseparable, and, on some level, they are the founding pillars of modern capitalism. It is impossible to think of race without the qualifying eye of the colonizing power, which couples inequality with the intention of justifying the domination, slavery, servitude and the annihilation of the – supposedly naturally – inferior other.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, after the independence wars, a process of constructing a national identity took place in Argentina as well as in the other Latin American countries. This identity was forged from myths of origin, symbols and national heroes. Thus emerged a new mirror – marked by European longings – where it was possible to recognize oneself as “Argentinian”.
In a kind of whitening of the population, migratory politics were promoted, stimulating European immigration and adding to the manipulation of population statistics, which, from the nineteenth century onward, eliminated the variable “race” in the surveys. The census of the city of Buenos Aires in the year 1778 indicated that 30 percent of the population was black. In 1887, no municipal census registered information about race.
The alleged disappearance of the black population is one of the most intriguing mysteries in Argentinian history, even if the official narrative proposes different explanations. One of these, quite obviously, is the decline of slave trafficking following the abolition of slavery in 1813. A second explanation refers to the disappearance of the black population as a consequence of the independence wars, where Spanish, indigenous, Brazilian and Paraguayan people fought each other, and where millions of Afro-Argentinian soldiers died in battle. A third hypothesis talks about miscegenation or interracial marriage: given the scarcity of men after the wars, black and mulatto women, with the aim to improve their social mobility, turned towards white men in the hopes of bearing children with fair skin. A fourth argument refers to the low birthrates and high mortality rates resulting from the economic conditions which placed the black population at a precarious social level. The black population had a lower life expectancy than white people. The disappearance culminated, as a coupe de grace, with the yellow fever epidemic in 1871.