A good 2-2 World Cup quarterfinal today with Argentina advancing, probably deservedly, over Netherlands on penalty kicks to play Croatia (who tied mighty Brazil 1-1 and then beat them on penalty kicks) in the semifinal.
Lionel Messi of Argentina had a superb assist today and converted both penalty kicks on impudent little chip shots. Messi, the son of two immigrants from Italy, is arguably the best soccer player of all time. At age 35, he barely ever runs, he mostly just ambles in the direction of where the ball will be in 12 seconds, while nobody else on the field can predict that more than 3 seconds in advance.
If Argentina wins its first World Cup since Maradona’s in 1986, then we can say with confidence that we were there, we witnessed the greatest player of our age, Lionel Messi, win his World Cup.
Hence, the Washington Post opinion section irately wants to know why Argentina has so many players who look more or less like Messi:
Why doesn’t Argentina have more Black players in the World Cup?
Messi is recognizable in wide shots by being fairer than the Argentine team average, but none of their players is distinctly dark.
Argentina is far more diverse than many people realize — but the myth that it is a White nation has persisted
Perspective by Erika Denise Edwards
Erika Denise Edwards is the author of the award-winning book “Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law and the Making of a White Argentine Republic” and an associate professor at the University of Texas at El Paso.
December 8, 2022 at 6:00 a.m. EST
As fans keep up with Argentina’s success in this year’s World Cup, a familiar question arises: Why doesn’t Argentina’s team have more Black players? In stark contrast to other South American countries such as Brazil, Argentina’s soccer team pales in comparison in terms of its Black representation.
I dunno… Maybe because Messi is extremely good at playing soccer?
The observation is not a new one. In 2014, observers hurled jokes about how even Germany’s soccer team had at least one Black player, while it appeared that Argentina had none during that year’s World Cup Final. In 2010, Argentina’s government released a census that noted 149,493 people, which amounts to 1 percent of the country, was Black. For many, that data seemed to confirm that Argentina was indeed a White nation.
But roughly 200,000 African captives disembarked on the shores of the Río de la Plata during Argentina’s colonial period, and, by the end of the 18th century, one-third of the population was Black. Indeed, not only is the idea of Argentina as a White nation inaccurate, it clearly speaks to a longer history of Black erasure at the heart of the country’s self-definition.
I would think that “Amerindian erasure” would be a vastly bigger theme in Argentine history, but who cares about them? Not the Washington Post.
Here’s from the abstract of a 2012 genetic ancestry study of Argentines:
A set of 99 autosomal ancestry informative markers (AIMs) was genotyped in a sample of 441 Argentine individuals to estimate genetic ancestry. We used non-parametric tests to evaluate statistical significance. The average ancestry for the Argentine sample overall was 65% European, 31% Indigenous American and 4% African. We observed statistically significant differences in European ancestry across Argentine regions [Buenos Aires province (BA) 76%; Northeast (NEA) 54%; Northwest (NWA) 33%; South 54%, as well as between the capital and immediate suburbs of Buenos Aires city compared to more distant suburbs [80%) versus 68%].
Similarly, a 2015 study of 521 villagers from rural central Argentina found:
Admixture estimation by province showed a slightly higher proportion of European ancestry in San Luis than in Córdoba (0.582 ± 0.038 vs. 0.551 ± 0.042), whereas in Córdoba there was a relatively higher proportion of Native American ancestry than in San Luis (0.435 ± 0.025 vs. 0.403 ± 0.025). The African component was negligible in all the subpopulations investigated.
From a 2019 study of people in Patagonia in the south:
Overall, in the Patagonian sample, the average individual ancestry was estimated as 35.8% Native American (95% CI: 32.2–39.4%), 62.1% European (58.5–65.7%) and 2.1% African (1.7–2.4%).
Another 2015 study of 175 Argentines found 67% white, 28% Amerindian, 3.6% black and 1.4% East Asian.
I spent a few days in 1978 walking around the expensive downtown parts of Buenos Aires, such as Recoleta, looking at pretty girls. I’d say that they were significantly less mestizo than the girls in the equivalent section of Mexico City in 1975 (Zona Rosa, I think, was the happening part of Mexico City back then, although that has decayed since then). On the other hand, the Argentines weren’t exactly European looking, being consistently dark-haired brunettes with long straight hair. If you told me that in the upscale parts of Buenos Aires, the girls averaged 10% Amerindian and 1% black, that would have sounded about right. Off hand, I don’t recall anybody being distinctly sub-Saharan looking, in sharp contrast to Rio de Janeiro, where we’d just come from.
On the other hand, Buenos Aires is culturally highly European (e.g., we attended a performance of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov at the famous Teatro Colon opera house).
I have the vague impression that Argentina has gotten more mestizo since then due to immigration from poorer South American countries such as Bolivia and Paraguay.
So, Argentina is kind of like Mexico, only less Amerinidian. Mexico still has distinctly indio populations who speak Indian languages and wear Indian clothes. In contrast, practically everybody in rural Argentina speaks Spanish and wears European clothes.
I wouldn’t be surprised if pure-blood Amerindians in Argentina, being at lower altitude and latitude, were fairer skinned than their equivalents in Mexico, hence mestizos in Argentina tend not just to average somewhat whiter by genetic ancestry than in Mexico, but, all else being equal, look whiter.
But it’s hard to find much about Argentina Indians. Mexico has been fairly solicitous intellectually of its indios since the Revolution, with the government devoting a lot to training anthropologists, restoring their mighty pyramids, and building impressive ethnographic museums as part of the national ideology of la raza cosmica. But Argentina hasn’t showed much interest in their own Indians, who, unlike Mexican and Peruvian Indians, didn’t build much in the way of tourist attractions.
Neither country has shown much interest in its limited black heritage.
But the Washington Post is obsessed with Argentina’s small black ancestry, while being utterly bored with its roughly an order of magnitude larger Amerindian ancestry.
Both countries are likely in the lower single digit percentages in terms of sub-Saharan genetic ancestry, with tiny communities that are distinctly black, and a lot of people who are, say, 1/256th to 1/8th black, with few obvious clues.
Unlike North America, Latin America did not have a sharp color line / one drop rule, but this black woman historian doesn’t seem to have thought hard about the implications of that.
Argentines have several myths that purportedly “explain” the absence of Black Argentines.
Perhaps the first and most popular of those myths has been that Black men were used as “cannon fodder” resulting in a massive death toll during wars throughout the 19th century. …
Another myth argues that because of the high death toll of Black men caused by the 19th-century wars, Black women in Argentina had no choice but to marry, cohabitate with or form relationships with European men — leading to the “disappearance” of Black people. Miscegenation, or interracial mixing, over several generations is thought to have taken its toll, creating a physically lighter and Whiter population. …
Also, Argentina had a huge immigrant population from Europe, second only to the U.S. in magnitude.
These and other myths about Black “disappearance” in Argentina serve to obscure several of the nation’s most enduring historical legacies. …
But White Argentine leaders such as Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, ex-president of Argentina (1868-1874), crafted a different narrative to erase Blackness because they equated modernity with whiteness. Sarmiento wrote “Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism” (1845), which detailed Argentina’s “backwardness” and what he and others perceived as the need to become “civilized.” He was among those who shared a vision for the nation that associated it more strongly with European, rather than African or Amerindian, heritage.
This sounds like the Great Replacement! But we all know that’s just a conspiracy theory… except when politicians do it in favor of white immigrants. Then it’s solid historical fact.
Argentina abolished slavery in 1853 in most of the country and in 1861 in Buenos Aires. With its history of slavery behind it, Argentina’s leaders focused on modernization, looking to Europe as the cradle of civilization and progress. They believed that to join the ranks of Germany, France and England, Argentina had to displace its Black population — both physically and culturally.
In many ways, this was not unique to Argentina. This whitening process was attempted throughout much of Latin America, in places such as Brazil, Uruguay and Cuba.
What makes Argentina’s story unique in this context, however, is that it was successful in its push to build its image as a White country.
For example, in the 1850s, the political philosopher and diplomat Juan Bautista Alberdi, who was perhaps best known for his saying “to govern is to populate,” promoted White European immigration to the country. Argentine president Justo José de Urquiza (1854-60) supported Alberdi’s ideas and incorporated them in the country’s first constitution. Amendment 25 clearly stated: “The federal government shall foster European immigration.”
On the one hand, Argentina fostered immigration, which is Good. On the other hand, it fostered European immigration, which is Bad.
In fact, ex-president Sarmiento remarked toward the end of the 19th century: “Twenty years hence, it will be necessary to travel to Brazil to see Blacks.” He knew that Black Argentines existed but suggested that the country would not recognize them for long. Argentina’s landscape was soon transformed, as 4 million European immigrants answered the government’s call to migrate between 1860 and 1914. That clause remains in Argentina’s constitution today.
As for the nation’s Black and Amerindian populations who were in Argentina before this mass European immigration, many began to strategically identify as White if they could “pass” or to settle into more ambiguous racial and ethnic categories.
Well, due to intermarriage, many of them, over the generations, became more ambiguous.
This history makes clear that while Argentina’s soccer team may not include people of African descent, or perhaps people that most would view as Black, it is not a “White” team either.
While Argentina has collapsed racial categories in its quest to be seen as a modern, White nation, the presence of people described as morocho nods to this history of Black and Indigenous erasure. Morocho, an inoffensive label, continues to be used in Argentina today. This term, which references those who are “tan-colored,” has been used as a way of distinguishing non-White people.
Perhaps the most famous morocho in Argentina is soccer legend Diego Maradona, who came to prominence in the 1980s and 90s. The country had three days of national mourning when he passed away in November 2020. This non-White legend became the face of Argentine soccer and, ironically, a “White nation.”
Messi & Maradona
To me, Maradona looked pretty much like a Mexican mestizo. If you told me you had proof he was 10/16ths white, 5/16ths Amerindian, and 1/16th black, I’d want to see the evidence, but I wouldn’t scoff either.
Various players on the team today are likely to be described as morocho in Argentina. Understanding this history reveals an Argentina that is far more diverse than many people often associate it with. It also points to the concerted efforts to erase and minimize Blackness in attempts to create what many of the nation’s leaders perceived as a modern nation.
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