Beatriz Aiffil: Black consciousness is not a color

Beatriz Aiffil

Her name means "the one that gives happiness" and she says it with habitual sympathy and laughs. Beatriz Aiffil, more than a sociologist, graduated from the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) in 1987, defines herself as a "militant of pride and black consciousness." When she was a university student, Argentine professor Andrés Serbin constantly reminded her that she represented the Black Power in Venezuela.

She belongs to the group of voices of black, Afro-Venezuelan and Afro-descendant women "Trenzas Insurgentes". Africa is its conscience, that the pandemic has put humanity to the test, not only by who receives the vaccine but where it is tested. "Everything that we are as humans is being exposed and under review." Adverse to those who "make believe that there is nothing to look for there." As part of the social movement of Afro-descendants in Venezuela, she has been commissioned to organize the events related to the elevation of Juana Ramírez, Matea Bolívar and Hipólita Bolívar to the National Pantheon.

- Why is it that you try to impose the aesthetic theme when you talk about black men and women?
-It's the fashion. We are in a world where consumption and appearance prevail more than the background of the processes. That is what characterizes this era. For example, the use of the afro, which I consider a political weapon, in Venezuela and in many parts of the world has become fashionable, but for the aesthetic issue, then we must debate so that beyond the appearance, the raised hair that It looks beautiful or that you are now going to make it look beautiful, is the content inside the head, what does it mean to wear it, what is the reference in Black Power, in African women, in women and men who were brought to be enslaved . Is it a resistance? Is it a rebellion? Is it a confrontation with the established power that subjugates, kidnaps, enslaves you, that wants to impose its rules? The debate has to be that it is a response to the social group that discriminates, rejects and sets you apart. The answer is "I am black, so what?"

—In other countries, this response has been in groups, through social and political movements.
—In Venezuela there is a handicap of what we have called “miscegenation”. What physically exists, there is no doubt about it. But miscegenation is also an ideology that becomes a pacifier. Here it is said that we are mixed and we are all the same. That makes the Afro people's struggles go back, inhibit them. Try to be like everyone else so as not to cause problems. Since the Colony there has been a rejection of the black and many have tried to integrate into society. The way was to be whitened, to look like what is seen as good, acceptable, decent. Being black is not decent, it is not ideal. The ideal is to be white, male and with money.

"The Western ideal."
- Whitening has been a norm since the colony, for this reason the Royal Certificate of Grace to the Sacar was established, but with miscegenation the maintenance of social tranquility was established under the argument of not dividing, that we are all equal and we understand each other in an atmosphere of harmony, of cordiality and it turns out that the black people are oppressed, that they have to swallow their way of being and straighten their hair.

- But that resistance seems to be that it is to be admitted within the hegemony.
—There is no black power that opposes that bourgeoisie, the heirs of the Mantuanaje as we have seen throughout history. What exists is an ethnic shame of being what you are. So nobody is what he is, but what he appears or what is accepted by society. In Venezuela there is no such confrontation with the established power because they kept you under the veil of equality.

The equality practiced

Aiffil maintains that in Venezuela, from the establishment of positivism in the dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gómez, they began to bring “people from European peoples to whitewash our population. That did not appear in the newspapers and if it did, we could not read. There was an importation of white people to 'improve' the race in Latin America ”.

—The governments and certain social sectors boast of it.
—Under the argument that they are “workers”, that they contribute to the “development” of the country, that here there is a tightrope, bandits, any number of qualifiers that have historically been given to indigenous and Afro people, and to the mixture of these two. But having created colonies as a policy from the centers of power or bringing labor for the oil companies, made the Afro population be relegated more, than having already left slavery and supposedly having access to education, work, to the arts and culture, was still subjugated.

- What has changed with the Bolivarian Revolution?
—Understand that there is racial discrimination in Venezuela. Despite the opposition saying that the revolution came to divide.

"Before, were we united?"
"Under that veil of equality." That false equality. Hugo Chávez always spoke of "practiced equality", as Simón Bolívar put it. Then he began to listen to the poor, the women, the black men and women, the indigenous people, and changes began to occur accompanied by policies that were established through the United Nations, with the signing of international pacts. It is not that we were alone, but that we acted under the influence of something that is happening in the world, which promotes the equality of races and religions, and in our country, with the Revolution, Chávez took into account the word of black power that, although reduced, it had some spokesmen who had studied the black revolts since 1553, from the times of Negro Miguel, who took into account the revolutionary proposals of José Leonardo Chirinos, who scrutinized orality in the testimoniality of what life was by Juana La Avanzadora or Miguel Gerónimo Guacamaya, what the cumbes had been and had the possibility of connecting with other countries, because we don't get that in the books. There we only get that the black population was brought from Africa to do jobs in slavery conditions. That's just three lines. It is passed over so that you do not realize that the black population, to which you do not want to belong, was below the social pyramid, because they were not considered people.

"They were made invisible."
—You have to make it invisible, you don't have to tell that much in history, you don't have to give blacks references because they get up. There was always a fear of conspiracy, of blacks organizing and demanding their participation in this society. You have to take a photo of a graduation of doctors at the UCV to see how many blacks there are and another of the workers of the Urban Cleaning. Things like these make it clear to you that there is discrimination, that there is a people who are not allowed this social advancement. Do not cover your eyes. If the Afro had to flee to the mountains, to escape from the farms, what did they live on in the mountains? They had to catch chickens that would allow you to survive in the open. So founding the cumbes was a secret matter. They go to places that are difficult to access so as not to return to slavery. But there are models of organization and relationships under conditions different from those established by slavery on the haciendas.

Black First as a symbol.

Blacks had reasons for being in the ranks of the royalists when the War of Independence began. Beatriz Aiffil wonders: “Who was whipping you? Who was it that subjected them to slavery? Who was holding you prisoner? The Venezuelan. So, if a man like José Tomás Boves comes who offers you freedom, equality, I'll go with Boves. What happens is that in all historiography they cannot mention it without putting 'bloody' before it, because they have to destroy it ”.

"He was also discriminated against."
—There were extremely poor whites who were discriminated against. But the bulk of those discriminated against were blacks who were not considered people. Boves takes advantage of the discontent, the lack of freedom and arms his army. The Royalist Army had blacks to its credit, while the Liberation Army was a military career that was allowed to the mantuanaje.

—In the Congress of Angostura they were against eliminating slavery.
"They opposed Bolívar." If we were in 1814, we would be with Boves. Chávez, too. Although he takes Bolívar as a unifying element, that as a result of his “visits” to Haiti and the evolution he had in his thinking, he understood that it was necessary for everyone to participate.

"Thanks to Alexandre Pétion."
—The commitment with Pétion was taken as one of his flags: liberate the blacks who participated with the Liberation Army.

—Pedro Camejo is a symbol of blacks in the independence struggle?
- They have used it as an example of loyalty in their relationship with José Antonio Páez, a man I admire.

"What is this admiration for?"
—Let's be clear that he had his break later. That is why I say that it is better not to pay tribute to anyone who is alive. But since he was a child until his participation in those battalions of barefoot llaneros, he is my hero. I mean, I would have been Black First. But Juana Solórzano already existed, we met her thanks to Reinaldo Mijares, who told us what La Bizarra called her. I don't know if Negro Primero, whom I also admire, had several women. But in the conditions he was in, a maroon, he would have been the First Black. Páez said of him in his Autobiography that he was a very intelligent and undoubtedly brave Negro. I have seen that many take bits and pieces of what Páez wrote or that he was half a thief, that he left with "El Catire" because he was going to pay him. Generally they do not count everything to detract from being a symbol of Independence. Just as they hide the elements that can destroy a character that they want to praise, so they take out human elements from characters that they want to put under the table. That happens with Negro Primero.

"Apparently heroes must be perfect."
-Saints! And they have been given all the tools to be devils, because marginalizing them, throwing the crumbs at them, bringing them in a boat inside their own filth, is so that we could be destroying the world. However, we return smiles, work and we are not bitter.

Current racism

Aiffil speaks of the past and the present, and she is part of the history of black women and men, she does not exclude herself. He maintains that we must build together, “integrate, but not a lie. We all have the same rights, but they promise to do interviews and they don't call you, they offer some spaces and black is the last in line. If they give you a job, the position is the one that is not seen much because if they open the door and see a black man, it can cause rejection ”.

"Is it still frowned upon to be black?"
-Yes. It seems that no.

—We are against racism, but it seems otherwise.
—When black men and women tell their stories, elements of racism come out that are not seen. Above all, the black ones because of the color, the shapes of their buttocks when they are in the adolescent stage or when they are in pairs that put you at a disadvantage for the perception of what a pretty or decent woman is. Even in families where all are black, it was instilled that to be decent you have to straighten your hair, dress in colors that are not garish. It is a Eurocentric fashion protocol.

—Chávez said that he couldn't stop saying “mi negra” because it was difficult for him to say “Afro-descendant”.
—The power one faces, he does not use it out of affection. He uses it disparagingly. In slavery, if the black was on the street, they took him away because he had to be a slave on the run. Nothing suited him better in slavery than our color. And that epithet, moreover, was used by the colonizer to distinguish us as his property. And we at this time, who are not in slavery, but in "mental slavery", return to oppose that same colonizer who has another figure today. As Ali Primera said ...

- "Who is the Mantuan today?"
—Then I tell the Mantuanian today, who calls me “black” disparagingly, to dominate me and keep me in my place in quotation marks: yes I am black. I use it to rise up. Then, Chávez spoke of the term black, and even instructed us, because he is a manual, to redefine the term "black", which is not necessarily bad and associate it with crime, garbage, dirty, demonic, which is even a religious question. There are many defenders of Afro-descendants, I think they are not ...

-… Exclusive.
"I am black and of African descent." The Orthodox of Afro-descendants, who say that black is a color and it was the colonizer who put that on us to disqualify us and we must remove it. Then the last name would have to be removed, because they are all González, Pérez… we would have to change the language, the cimarrón term that causes us so much pride today. That we are rebels and we cannot hold the stocks again. That maroon, the colonizer gave us. Now we say black for the color, but we must make it have a political reference.

- There is the thesis that the drums from here are original, they did not come from Africa because when they were kidnapped, they brought them with nothing. What did people of African descent bring?
—The codes came, the songs, beliefs and all that was recreated here, as well as the drums, they shared technology of how to work cocoa, plant and fish as they had learned in Africa. What strikes me is what we cannot explain because there is a mystery; first, by the denial of the whites and, second, by the self-denial we made of ourselves, by shame, endoracism, by wanting to resemble whites. We were not all maroons. Some lived their entire lives in the farms or houses where they were held captive, such as Negra Matea who lived with her former owners until her death and lived for a hundred or so years (laughs). She became a family of the former owners. But there is in us and in us that longing for freedom, which is typical of humans, but since that right was usurped from us, there is an inner expression that we cannot explain. Maybe it comes out in singing, in percussion, in dancing.

—Not necessarily every explanation comes from reason.
—They are codes installed in the genes, in the memory, which sometimes comes out and it is understood why he did that or something happens. That is a mystery for Afro populations.

—The real wonderful has to do with the Afro culture.
"And the indigenous woman." Here it is very different from what can be felt in Trinidad or in the Caribbean islands. There is no such shame there because we are among blacks. There is a greater response, not so in Venezuela. The most wonderful thing is what we cannot explain. But with the word we got to Chávez and we told him: "They didn't put us in the Constitution!"

"Aren't blacks in the Constitution?"
"Explicitly no." And Chávez said, “what do these… want? Okay, put me there, I'm also Afro-descendant ”, but he did not deny the other. He didn't say, black, no; Afro-descendant, yes. He remained black and of African descent.

—What did the 2011 population and housing census that included self-recognition show?
—The proper campaign was not carried out, despite having made the videos, they were not broadcast in the media because there is structural racism. The result was that 0,7% of the population recognized themselves to be Afro-descendant, 2,8% black or black, and 49,9% brown, so that the numbers forced the Orthodox of Afro-descendants to open the compass and talk about blacks, brunettes and Afro-descendants as the same thing, because how are public policies to be carried out with 0,7%. Also, using these terms is one of the best ways the ruling power has used to keep us quiet. We entertain ourselves in that.



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