The Black Lives Matter movement is not a U.S. cultural export to Latin America and should not be treated as such, for the assertion that “Black lives matter” is far from new in the Americas. From the maroon communities of Jamaica, Suriname, and Brazil to Black independence movements starting with the Haitian Revolution, Black peoples across the Americas have long articulated a demand that Black life, personhood, and autonomy be valued and respected. Today’s movements are only the latest iteration in the long Black struggle for liberation.
As observers of contemporary waves of heightened hemispheric Black activism, we were surprised to find few talks, symposia, and syllabi that consider the issue of Black life mattering from a transnational perspective. Several questions emerged out of preoccupation with an unsettling observation: despite distinct socio-historical contexts, African descendants across the hemisphere face remarkably similar issues—from gentrification to displacement and segregation, cultural appropriation, labor discrimination, to institutionalized racism and the enduring presence of structural barriers to educational attainment and economic parity. From Baltimore, Maryland to Buenaventura, Colombia, Black people contend with what historian Forrest Hylton, in his book Evil Hour in Colombia, refers to as “the unresolved legacies of conquest, colonization, and slavery”—legacies that manifest as police surveillance and brutality, disproportionate rates of incarceration, poor health outcomes, and lower life expectancies. One need only read reports by Human Rights Watch, the U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics, and the Brazilian Public Security Forum to find a host of sobering statistics that corroborate the need for and imperative of today’s social movements that center Black lives.