Posted on December 12, 2022

Why Doesn’t Argentina Have More Black Players in the World Cup?

Erika Denise Edwards, Washington Post, December 8, 2022

As fans keep up with Argentina’s success in this year’s World Cup, a familiar question arises: Why doesn’t Argentina’s team have more Black players? In stark contrast to other South American countries such as Brazil, Argentina’s soccer team pales in comparison in terms of its Black representation.

The observation is not a new one. In 2014, observers hurled jokes about how even Germany’s soccer team had at least one Black player, while it appeared that Argentina had none during that year’s World Cup Final. In 2010, Argentina’s government released a census that noted 149,493 people, far less than one percent of the country, was Black. For many, that data seemed to confirm that Argentina was indeed a White nation.

But roughly 200,000 African captives disembarked on the shores of the Río de la Plata during Argentina’s colonial period, and, by the end of the 18th century, one-third of the population was Black. Indeed, not only is the idea of Argentina as a White nation inaccurate, it clearly speaks to a longer history of Black erasure at the heart of the country’s self-definition.

Argentines have several myths that purportedly “explain” the absence of Black Argentines.

Perhaps the first and most popular of those myths has been that Black men were used as “cannon fodder” resulting in a massive death toll during wars throughout the 19th century. Revolutionary armies, for example, conscripted enslaved people to fight in Argentina’s wars of independence (1810-1819) against Spanish forces {snip}

But rather than dying on the battlefield, many simply deserted and opted to not return to their place of birth, as the historian George Reid Andrews has argued. {snip}

Another myth argues that because of the high death toll of Black men caused by the 19th-century wars, Black women in Argentina had no choice but to marry, cohabitate with or form relationships with European men — leading to the “disappearance” of Black people. Miscegenation, or interracial mixing, over several generations is thought to have taken its toll, creating a physically lighter and Whiter population. {snip}


In reality, Argentina has been home to many Black people for centuries — not only the population of enslaved people and their descendants, but immigrants. {snip}

But White Argentine leaders such as Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, ex-president of Argentina (1868-1874), crafted a different narrative to erase Blackness because they equated modernity with whiteness. {snip}

Argentina abolished slavery in 1853 in most of the country and in 1861 in Buenos Aires. With its history of slavery behind it, Argentina’s leaders focused on modernization, looking to Europe as the cradle of civilization and progress. They believed that to join the ranks of Germany, France and England, Argentina had to displace its Black population — both physically and culturally.

In many ways, this was not unique to Argentina. This whitening process was attempted throughout much of Latin America, in places such as Brazil, Uruguay and Cuba.

What makes Argentina’s story unique in this context, however, is that it was successful in its push to build its image as a White country.


In fact, ex-president Sarmiento remarked toward the end of the 19th century: “Twenty years hence, it will be necessary to travel to Brazil to see Blacks.” {snip}

As for the nation’s Black and Amerindian populations who were in Argentina before this mass European immigration, many began to strategically identify as White if they could “pass” or to settle into more ambiguous racial and ethnic categories.

These categories included criollo (pre-immigrant background often affiliated with Spanish or Amerindian ancestry), morocho (tan-colored), pardo (brown-colored) and trigueño (wheat-colored). While these labels ultimately cast them as “Others,” they also helped dissociate them from blackness at a time when that was a state imperative.

Despite a history and its remnants that have sought to erase Blackness from the nation, Argentina’s Black population remains, and more people of African descent have been migrating there.

Today, Cape Verdean immigrants and their descendants number 12,000 to 15,000 and primarily live in the Buenos Aires area. In the 1990s and 2000s, West Africans began migrating to Argentina in larger numbers, as Europe tightened its immigration laws. While the census revealed that Argentina housed nearly 1,900 African-born nationals in 2001, that number had nearly doubled by 2010. Over the past 10 years, African descendants from other Latin American countries such as Brazil, Cuba and Uruguay have also increasingly entered Argentina seeking economic opportunities.


Various players on the team today are likely to be described as morocho in Argentina. Understanding this history reveals an Argentina that is far more diverse than many people often associate it with. {snip}