The recent realization of the depths of systemic racism, social injustice, and inequities is proving to be an awakening for many. The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, was the tip of the iceberg that unveiled another pandemic that has existed for centuries—not only within the United States, but in countries around the globe – and that is the pandemic of racism.
Talking about race is complex and multi-layered, yet necessary. These conversations have forced their way onto the agenda in Latin America. The following is a candid conversation between Pyxera Global’s Latin America Regional Leads, Carolina Gowland, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Fernanda Scur, based in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Fernanda and Carolina discuss some of the historical foundations of racism in their respective countries, how Pyxera Global is living out its commitment toward being an anti-racist organization, and how collective action and collaboration across sectors will truly move the needle toward sustainable change.
Foundations of Structural Racism in Brazil and Argentina
Fernanda: When speaking of structural racism in Brazil, it is imperative to remember that our country was the largest slave territory in the Western Hemisphere and the last to abolish slavery. Worse yet, no mechanisms for a new beginning that would integrate the Black population into a free society were ever put in place, and the Black population, in its majority, lives on the historical margins of society. Although approximately half of the Brazilian population is non-white, to this day, profound levels of inequality and violence towards Black Brazilians persist. Practical inclusive measures were only introduced throughout the 2000s, and sadly, Brazil is also plagued by frequent incidents of police brutality similar to the murder of George Floyd.
Carolina: I hear you Fernanda and it hurts. In Argentina, the first step is to deconstruct the myth that Black people do not exist. This idea has been so deeply embedded in Argentinian social consciousness that it has fundamentally shaped our perception of race, and we have hidden the importance of Afro-Argentine contributions in the formation of the nation and our culture. The plan for progress and civilization in Argentina has long been defined by whiteness. Argentina’s National Constitution contains an article that establishes, as a duty, the promotion of European immigration to create a new “white culture” and purify the national race, thereby systemically excluding native and Black people and inherently linking the concept of backwardness to these populations. The word Black itself has been long been associated with the concept of being “primitive,” and there is still a lack of positive representation related to Blackness, as seen by the prevalence of negative slang in popular vocabulary.
Urgent call for Visibility and Agency
Fernanda: In Brazil, it is important to highlight the increase in the number of initiatives and companies that are providing opportunities to the Black population. We are seeing a number of accelerators specifically aimed at Black-owned businesses, such as Black Rocks, Preta Hub, Fa.Vela, Movimento Black Money, and Google’s initiative, Black Founders Fund. Companies such as Magazine Luiza and Bayer have created leadership and trainee programs specifically for Black individuals. Many top companies are also highlighting their diversity and inclusion strategies and setting more incisive inclusion-related goals and indicators.
Carolina: On the theme of diversity and inclusion, we recently had a very interesting conversation with Ezequiel Massa, Head of D&I for SAP Latin America and an alumnus of the SAP Social Sabbatical program. While Ezequiel acknowledged the challenges of establishing metrics for inclusion, he highlighted that SAP understands and values the benefits that diversity brings to the business—a newer concept for many companies. Ezequiel pointed out that adopting inclusive behaviors requires an investment in developing leaders who have new mindsets, empathy, and other interpersonal and communication skills. From his perspective, all companies need to equip managers, “to feel confident in hiring diverse people that will bring value to the team.” I couldn’t agree with Ezequiel more!
In partnership with Pyxera Global, SAP has expanded its skills-based volunteer programming to include the Pro Bono for Economic Equity program and will soon launch in Brazil.
Change Begins with the Individual
Carolina: Something changed forever in Pyxera Global. We acknowledged that maintaining the status quo is unacceptable. We also understand that clearing the path for systemic change begins with introspection, deconstructing implicit personal biases, and challenging preconceived cultural notions.
Fernanda: Totally agree Caro, and I think Pyxera Global is taking our unlearning and learning journey very seriously. In our “Courage > Comfort” sessions, the global team is invited to reflect on relevant themes from our home countries. In February, during Black History month, colleagues presented on a topic of significance related to structural racism and historical contributions of Black people, every day at noon for 12 minutes. We are also building our Pyxera Global anti-racist library, presenting a cycle of webinars entitled “Rhetoric to Action” and working closely with our partners to co-design anti-racist programs that strive to elevate underrepresented perspectives.
Collaboration for Societal Change
For Pyxera Global, it is not enough to be a force for good, but rather a force for change. Pyxera Global will continue to recognize the cultural, economic, political, and scientific contributions made by the Black community in all countries in the region, while also acknowledging the persistence of racial discrimination and long-standing inequalities that affect access to education, health care, affordable housing, and other basic rights as well. To this end, Carolina and Fernanda will continue to amplify the important work of the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Latin America who tirelessly advocate for the rights of minority groups, and who work to ensure equality and justice are reached for them. They will also continue to amplify the opportunities for cross-sector collaboration toward achieving these goals—while a strong social sector is vital in fostering change, private sector engagement is equally necessary to effect change.
Carolina and Fernanda look forward to continuing to engaging in conversation, keeping the momentum, and collaborating with you on the journey toward action!