Posted on | May 19, 2010 | 11 Comments
It seems like every day I live in Peru, I learn something new.
I haven’t, in my time here, had the opportunity to attend many funerals. I’ve been to one, but it was a small family affair at a church, held the same day as the death. Not to be gruesome, but I guess embalming is a cost most folks here can’t afford, so it seems that funerals take place pretty quickly, once there’s a death.
So – I was watching the news with the hubs last night, and there was a news story on TV about how the funeral homes are being blasted with charges of racism.
I though, holy cow – are they refusing to bury black people?
No. It turns out that there is a custom in Peru (amongst those that can afford it anyway) to have paid pallbearers. And, it’s also a custom for those pallbearers to be morenos… or Afro-Peruvian, if you want to get PC about it.
Now, I’m a constant complainer about racism in this country. It’s not the kind of racism I’ve seen in the US, where you see an actual hatred for those of another race*. Here, it’s more of a caste type system where it’s typically assumed by people in Peru that you have – or are deserving of – a higher status in society if you have paler skin. In general, lighter skinned people (whether actual gringos or light-skinned Peruvians) are treated with more respect. And in the end, what’s the difference between that and any other type of racism?
But I’m not sure where I stand on this. It started when the Ministry of Women and Social Development called out the funeral homes, saying that their practice of hiring only blacks for pallbearer positions was racists. They’ve called out to the funeral homes, asking them to stop this practice and to start hiring from among the many races that live here in Peru.
The funeral homes have fired back, insisting that their hiring practices are not racist, and that they do hire various races, but that it’s their clients who prefer having black pallbearers. It seems that dark skinned people – in a funeral procession at least – are perceived as more serious, and more suited to a mourning processional.
The Afro-Peruvian pallbearer who was interviewed on TV stated that he didn’t feel it was a racist policy at all, and that he was quite happy just to have a job.
It’s hard to see the funeral homes as having racist hiring practices, since they can only hire the people they have jobs for. It can definitely be argued that thinking blacks are more appropriate for a job is, at best, a discriminatory practice (horse carriage drivers and hotel doormen are other jobs here that are all but exclusively held by black Peruvians). But should it be illegal for people to ask for all black pallbearers? If the supposed victim of the racism doesn’t see anything wrong with it, is it racist? Or is it a simple cultural quirk? And if it is racist, is it bad when it’s actually benefiting the Afro-Peruvian community by providing more jobs for them?
*And don’t get me wrong, there is actually a small but growing skin-head movement here that does espouse real hatred towards other races – but that’s not what this post is about.
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