African Descendants in the Americas

By Barbara Melendez


TAMPA, Fla. (April 14, 2010) – An impressive international array of scholars, funding agency representatives and local activists will tackle one of the thorniest issues of the Western Hemisphere, the persistent problems of African descendants, for three full days – April 28 (Marshall Student Center room 3707), 29 (MSC room 2708) and 30 (USF Tampa Library, Grace Allen Room) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. The international conference, Reexamining the Black Atlantic: Afro Descendants Still at the Bottom? will analyze and compare the causes and effects of racism throughout the Americas.


The first two days of the conference are free and open to the public. On the third day, a roundtable will be held limited to conference contributors who will elaborate concrete proposals involving scholars, activists, and funders, targeting black communities in the region. They will develop a list of funded actions that will be made available on the Web site of the USF Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean (ISLAC).


Much has been written and discussed about the impact of the slave trade on the United States but few in this country know about the rest of the Americas. Black ancestry is difficult to pin down with statistics because attitudes about race vary from country to country and willingness to self-identify as having African origins varies as well. But estimates range from five per cent to 16 per cent for African descendants in South America, with Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela leading the way and Belize, Panama, Nicaragua and Costa Rica have the highest numbers in Central America.


“Many in the United States are surprised to learn that Brazil received 10 times more African slaves than the U.S., four million compared to 400,000. The Caribbean received some two million,” said Political Science Professor Bernd Reiter, primary organizer of the conference. “Slavery lasted longer than anywhere else in Brazil and almost that long in Cuba. About half of Brazilians are of African Descent. With some 192,000,000 people that makes it a quite sizeable portion. Brazil is also one of the emerging economic powerhouses in the world, at times outperforming China when it comes to being categorized the number one or two emerging market in the world.” 


Reiter also pointed out that Haiti was the first Black republic of the Western Hemisphere and the second republic in the hemisphere, noting a fact that is central to discussions of race in the Americas. 


“You will often hear that class is more important than race in the Americas, or that race relations there are "cordial," but persistent racism has held African descendants at the very bottom of all the societies in the region, without exception. This is not a coincidence but clearly a legacy of slavery,” Reiter said. “Black people throughout the Americas share a history of racism, exclusion and oppression that we are finally getting around to viewing as a singular phenomenon that requires examination.”


The overriding themes of the conference will be covered in panel discussions led by USF faculty.  Topics include: Cultural Politics (Kevin Yelvington, anthropology), Human Rights and Black Social Movements (Rachel May, ISLAC director), Structural Inequalities and State Policies (Reiter), and Migration, Disasporas and Identity (Cheryl Rodriguez, chair and Eric Duke, professor, Department of Africana Studies).


The keynote address will be delivered by Faye V. Harrison, director of African American Studies at the University of Florida, and author of Resisting Racism and Xenophobia: Global Perspectives on Race, Gender and Human Rights. Papers and presentations will cover a broad range of subject matter from Tampa’s cigar factories, to anti-Black racism in Argentina, Afro-Brazilian marginalization, a look at images of African-derived religions and racial mixtures in the Dominican Republic.


Panel participants hail from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, the University of California, Los Angeles and Berkeley, University of Florida, University of Texas, Austin, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Kellogg Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Inter-American Foundation. 


Details are available at or call (813) 974-3547 for more information.


The conference is sponsored by ISLAC, the USF Department of Africana Studies, the USF Institute on Black Life, the Jim Walter Partnership Center, the Dr. Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions and the Latin American Student Association.




The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.