Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wanted: Man with Dark Skin

I was on the bus going to the Centro the other day, and I swear, there was a job announcement on a tattered piece of paper glued to the window that said, “Wanted: Man with Dark Skin.” It was an advertisement for a guard position—every private home, apartment complex, office, bank, government building, store, etc. etc. employ guards to watch over their establishments 24-7. It is part of the expansive private security system used here by the elite because they know the police cannot be relied upon and Quito is so dangerous that armed private guards are viewed as a necessity (not that their presence is fool-proof—lots of apartment buildings still get robbed, either because it’s an “inside job” or simply because he is sequestered in the process). As a side note, I’ve never seen a woman security guard here. But anyway, back to the job offer. I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of the message—horrified by the blatant racism that continues to exist here. They want a man with the darkest skin possible, feeding on the racism of the rest of Ecuadorian society.

According to their logic, if they have a black man at the helm they will be less likely to be attacked or disturbed because many Ecuadorians view Afro-Ecuadorians as innately dangerous. According to this ad, a robber planning an attack on a building would be dissuaded because he might be too scared of the black guard to carry out the act. This is truly absurd given the fact that some (many) Ecuadorians view Afro-Ecuadorians as delinquents. So if the attackers are black, why would they be scared of a black guard? According to the racist part of Ecuadorian society, wouldn’t it be more likely that the black robber and guard be working together? Wouldn’t a black guard be more dangerous because due to his “innately dangerous composition,” he might plan an attack with co-conspirators? He would obviously be the “inside man” in an elaborate scheme to sabotage an entire empire. I thought it was pretty ironic that the ad was trying to recruit a black person, who instills the most fear in the people he would be trying to protect (most like the white elite). A dark skinned guard in a “white” building? I’m not sure the ad thought this through very carefully. Perhaps the residents might want a “mestizo” with dark skin, but I highly doubt an Afro-Ecuadorian would make the cut. I’ve never seen an Afro-Ecuadorian guard in a fancy residential building—please post below to correct me! Indeed, perhaps the ad wasn’t referring to the recruitment of an Afro-Ecuadorian guard, but only a mestizo with dark skin.

Many people discuss their racism openly with me. I was at a recent meeting and a woman from a middle-upper class background confessed that she was simply terrified of Afro-Ecuadorian men. She went on to say that she knew she shouldn’t be, but that it was impossible not to be in this country. Another woman piped up and said that in this country they are forced to be racist—they can’t help that all the crimes are committed by Afro-Ecuadorians. Even the women on the streets with whom I work, many of whom are black (or part black), have told me: “Anita, if you see a black man just run!” I remember laughing at this comment but my black Colombian friend scolded me and said, “They aren’t kidding Anita—I hate to say it but black men are bad.” Wow. I wasn’t sure how to respond. “Well, they aren’t all ‘bad” I lamely replied.” “Yes they are.” I was told in return. I pleaded with my white, liberal, privileged bleeding heart, “But they haven’t had the same opportunities as everyone else, there is so much racism here.” The response: “When you see a black man, run.”

I don’t run when I see black men here. I have formed friendships with many black men and women alike, most of whom are Colombian or come from the province of Esmeraldes, on the Northern Ecuadorian coast. These are people from the streets and yes, some are robbers, pick-pockets, drug-consumers, drug-dealers etc. Obviously they don’t rob me because they consider me their friend. But I have other Afro-Ecuadorian and Afro-Colombian friends on the streets trying to make a decent living, legally—selling ice-cream, coconuts and other coco-products (coco-water, coco-candy, etc.). They are part of the working poor committed to a life within legitimate society even though they make much less money than their counterparts in the underground economy. Despite the fact that they aren’t muggers, they have told me that people cross the street when they approach or won’t even dare buy anything from them, sensing that it would be too dangerous.

The same thing happens to my African-American friends in New York. People cross the street when they approach and it is much more difficult for them to hail down a taxi at night. In fact, I remember once I was with a black friend and he was desperately trying to hail a taxi for us after dark and after many frustrated attempts he finally gave up and said, “You do it Anna, they won’t stop for me.” Sure enough, the next cab that passed stopped for us. My white skin and gender, an assurance that we will be safe passengers. I don’t have any Afro-Ecuadorian friends here who would be in a position to take a cab (simply because it would be too expensive), but I’m fairly certain they would have the same difficulty as my friends in New York. Of course there are plenty of middle-upper class Ecuadorians and foreigners of African descent here, but I don’t have access to these social circles. I would love to hear about how they are treated here. Similarly, from time to time, I see African-American gringo college students studying abroad here and I would love to hear how Ecuadorians treat them. But I already know based on stories from the streets that it is no fun being black man here. In fact, it’s an exhausting existence given that everyone tends to see you as “bad” and “dangerous” until you can prove otherwise. Although I should point out that the Afro-Colombian and Afro-Ecuadorian sex workers tend to do well because plenty of men are in search of the "exotic other" and associate “black” with sexy, especially if these women are well-endowed and curvy.


  1. I don't have a lot to add, but I remember in my WorldTeach group there was an African-American girl who complained about racism and being treated badly because of her appearance. She left the program early.

  2. Sometimes people here can get so focused on, Oh, I've got to get a flight, that it becomes the end all of everything. Then they go off and fly a couple of flights and they think, Okay, is that all there is in life? No, it's not. There's a whole big life out there. Cheap flights to Quito