It was a Tuesday evening at the Institute when two fellow researchers and I engaged in a heated discussion about a conference on pan-Africanism that South Africa’s Department of Arts and Culture, the equivalent to Peru’s Ministry of Culture, had recently organized. ‘You cannot romanticize poverty!’ said one of them. The reason for his exclamation was that the speakers at the conference had idealized Africa to the point where they were completely ignoring the continent’s most relevant issues, among them poverty and insecurity.
Given my area of interest and research, I then could not help but wonder whether the leaders of Peru were not doing just that, but in relation to racism. Aren’t many of our leaders romanticizing the nation by projecting it as a space where diversity coexists in harmony? And how are those that are addressing the deeply intricate racism present in Peru doing it? In the next few paragraphs, I would like to draw your attention to the way one of our political leaders is approaching the fight against racism.
Salvador del Solar has been Peru’s Minister of Culture since December 2016. A year ago, prior to the last presidential elections, in an interview with El País, del Solar showed his concern regarding the support many people tend to have for ‘a government that rules with an iron fist, that faces no opposition, that does not negotiate, that neither listens to, nor respects the minorities.’
Del Solar does not articulate the term ‘minorities’ here in reference to a legal status or an official recognition only. He is referring to all ‘non-core groups,’ which scholar Harris Mylonas describes in a study on nation-building in the Balkans, as ‘any aggregation of individuals that is perceived as an unassimilated ethnic group (on a linguistic, religious, physical, or ideological basis) by the ruling political elite of a country.’
Only a few months into his ministerial duty, del Solar pointed out an important factor behind the creation of a government and a society that does not listen to and does not respect democratic values. He tells us Peruvians off for ‘reading slightly less than a book a year,’ and gauging our development based on, for example, ‘the PISA exam.’ Del Solar insists that we should focus instead on reading as a way to develop cultural awareness, sensitivity, and competence (‘empathy,’ ‘capacity to understand the other, the diverse one’), as well as the ability to be self-critical, and to support democratic values, and not simply in order to pass exams.
One month later, during an event organized by the National Commission Against Violence at Sporting Events, the Minister started speaking openly against racism. Adopting a more pedagogical posture, he identified Peru as a racist society, condemned the normalization of racial supremacy, and racist beliefs and practices, underlined the injurious nature of racism, and asked us to change this situation together. He concluded by saying that ‘racism and football are not linked in any way. (…) Racism is part of the problems of our society, and as such, it is also present in football.’
Finally, this month del Solar warmly received three victims of racism in order to congratulate their decision to take action against their aggressors, and to offer his legal and moral support.
Considering our Minister’s so far symbolic actions, can we say that he is addressing racism suitably? Racism in Peru is very complex and the state’s approach to the fight against it must match this complexity. Considering Peru’s great diversity, Ministers of Culture need to be first of all persevering listeners, but without petering into inoperativeness or postponement. Likewise, they should be passionate teachers that do not adopt either a paternalistic attitude or a single perspective of the world. Moreover, they need to relentlessly make us Peruvians aware of and accountable for our racism. My personal opinion is that, at least seemingly, del Solar has up to the present moment demonstrated the aptitude to address the complex ways racism is manifested in Peru. A future challenge would be to gradually integrate his approach to fighting racism into other areas, such as defense, environment, labor, or foreign affairs.
Regardless of whether you think del Solar’s actions are outstanding or insufficient, he has thus far transmitted one clear message: You cannot romanticize racism!
Luis Escobedo is a postdoctoral research fellow at UFS Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice (IRSJ) in South Africa. His research focuses primarily on the application of discourse and visual analysis, postcolonial and feminist approaches, and race theory in the study of racism and whiteness, ideology, and violence in postcolonial and post-apartheid contexts, particularly in Latin America and Africa.