TV Show: Duro de Domar
Host: How are you doing, Old Cat?
Cat: Good. How are you?
Cat: I'm going to tell you the first joke. Do you know who would drown first?
A white guy or a black buy?
Host: No, I've never thought about that.
Cat: The white guy would. Because shit floats.
Cat: Do you know how many times it takes to run over a black guy?
Cat: It's very strange. You have to run over him three times.
The first time is an accident. The second is when you backup
to see what you've run over. The third is when you realize
it was just a black guy (so you run over him again).
Argentina's racial makeup is remarkably homogeneous. This is visibly manifest in Buenos Aires, which for a city of 3 million people has very little diversity. There is almost no sign of the city's more diverse, African-influenced past. This contrasts sharply with other major cities in the Americas and Western Europe.
It wasn't always so. Researchers say that in the early 1800s Afro-Argentines made up as much as one-third of the population of Buenos Aires. What caused them to disappear? Some cite a devastating Yellow Fever epidemic in 1871. Others say the government sent a disproportionately high number of blacks to fight in 19th century wars, including the War of the Triple Alliance. Others point to low birthrates and high mortality. Some say the black population gradually blended into to the broader Caucasian one, which grew dynamically thanks to European immigration. Paulina Alberto, an Argentine professor of Afro-Brazilian history at the University of Michigan, thinks it was likely all of the above.
Another observer had this to say when reviewing a book on the topic:
“In 1838…black people still made up approximately one quarter of the inhabitants of Buenos Aires. Yet within half a century the number of Afro-Argentines was said to have dropped to less than 2 percent of the population – a startling decline which apparently continued into the twentieth century, earning Argentina the designation: 'Land of the Vanishing Blacks.'”(1)
In 2005 Washington Post reporter (and friend) Monte Reel addressed the subject in a story. He noted that based on recent DNA samples some researchers believe “as many as 10 percent of Buenos Aires residents are partly des
cended from black Argentines but have no idea.”
As a white male, I can offer no comments about the role of race in Argentina from the perspective of a minority. Friends of different racial backgrounds have reported mixed experiences here, though most have been positive. I have heard many locals say, “Argentina is not a racist country. We don't even have black people. How could we be racist?” Apart from the odd nature of that statement, how should one think about race in Argentina?
What exactly would it take for a country to be “racist” in nature? Is the US a racist nation? How about the UK or Brazil? Clearly, racism exists in these countries. What percentage of a country's population needs to be bigoted for the country to be racist? Every nation has bigots and probably every human heart has at least some discriminatory tendencies. Is it fair to generalize how an entire country feels about anything at all, let alone race?
These questions are worth pondering when reflecting on this video. The segment I've clipped and subtitled comes from Duro de Domar, one of the more popular shows on Argentine TV. It brings to mind Michael Richards (“Kramer” of Seinfeld) and his tirade against black people during a stand-up performance last November.
It is not often that I hear racial pejoratives spoken in Argentina. But my impression is that such rhetoric seems to be voiced more openly here than in the US. This is not to say that Argentines are more racist than are people in the US or any other country. It does mean that racial pejoratives (which almost always relate not to blacks but to Bolivians, Paraguayans or Jews) are voiced with a nonchalance that seems less common in the US. If this is true, can anything be concluded from it?
At the very least, it indicates that many people here feel free to use racial epithets publicly. Undoubtedly, racism exists in the US, but it seems to be accompanied by a degree of opprobrium that does not prevail in Argentina. Earlier this year, US radio legend Don Imus called a team of black female basketball players “nappy-headed hos.” He was fired almost immediately and his $40 million contract with CBS terminated. Mel Gibson encountered a massive backlash after making disparaging comments about Jews.
Duro de Domar (or Hard to Tame) is a comedy show that some consider to be one of the funniest on television. Comedians often live on the edge of what is acceptable discourse. They frequently walk a fine line when trying to make people laugh. Many get as close to that line as possible to maximize the punch of their jokes.
It is to be expected that comedians will sometimes cross the line. This usually results in tasteless or simply unfunny jokes. But sometimes the line in crossed in a way that does more than offend the senses. That is what happened in this case. Not only is there nothing funny about these jokes, but there is something grotesque about them.
They are pure invective. Moreover, the reaction from the audience in this video is noticeably different from that in Richards' auditorium. Here, despite some apparently uncomfortable reactions, many people laugh and continue to enjoy the show as the jokes are told. Of course, Richards was on a tirade; he wasn't joking when he spewed his vile epithets, so this is not a perfect analogy. But there is something else to consider: Here there hasn't been a national reaction to Duro de Matar that parallels the outcry over Richards' comments in the US.
Richards' outburst made news around the world. Of course, this was largely because of his worldwide fame. But word of his act also spread because the US tends to air its dirty laundry in public, for the whole world to see. To whit, many people around the world know about Jena, Louisiana. Two taxi drivers here have asked me about it.
This episode of Duro de Domar seems to have come and gone without much notice. Perhaps that says more about racism in Argentina than anything that happened on the show itself.
Then again, consider what happened at Colombia University in New York yesterday. There a hangman's noose was placed on a black professor's office door. I can't say I've heard of anything like this happening in Argentina recently.
1) See Leo Spitzer's review of The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1800-1900 by George Reid Andrews, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 15, No. 4 (1982), pp. 781-783