Coauthor Allison B. Wolf
With the triumph of the first leftist government in Colombia, cynical attitudes have become allied with classism, sexism, racism, and other forms of intolerant discourse in the country. While it was to be expected that distrust and cynicism would be exacerbated in right-wing sectors, such cooperation between cynical and discriminatory discourse is a new and alarming phenomenon. And, this alliance is particularly evident in the responses of journalists, public personalities, or ordinary citizens to the speeches and actions of Vice President Francia Márquez, an Afro-Colombian woman, social leader, environmental activist, feminist, and human rights defender, in the media and social networks.
Contemporary cynicism is, without a doubt, a multifaceted phenomenon that is difficult to understand. In the 1980s, the term began to be used, especially in the United States, to designate a kind of endemic pessimism based on the disappointing realization, on the part of the citizenry, that political debate and state institutions had become the stage for disputes between personal interests or economic groups for the benefit of the urban rich at the expense of the poor.
At the time, this cynical attitude was seen as a mark of intelligence, healthy distrust, and sophisticated coolness; a sign that one could not just be duped. During the 1990s, cynicism spread to all areas of social life and became the widespread conviction – perhaps derived from capitalist logic – that the only sources of human motivation are economic interests. Thus, the sophisticated realism of a few, the healthy deception that gave rise to a critical view of political activity, became an attitude of total distrust in people’s intentions.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, this new cynicism began to proclaim itself as a kind of “political realism”, that is, as a clear vision of the world as it is. But, although this self-definition seems harmless, cynicism is the best breeding ground for political extremism, both on the right and on the left. And this is evident in the Colombian public sphere with the support for attitudes of social intolerance such as classism, racism, sexism, and xenophobia against Colombian Vice President Francia Márquez.
This alliance between cynics and supremacist, racist and sexist factions in the country is very visible in several comments of this nature about the vice president that are expressed without the slightest shame in social networks and media such as SEMANA magazine. One citizen, for example, wrote on Twitter: “The show has already started. Now it will be ‘being rich is bad’ (for others, not for them), ‘those of my color have been oppressed’, ‘we must help the poorest’, ‘equality for all’, ‘free health for all’ (them to private clinics), ‘free education’ (them to private universities)”. In this tweet, social class prejudices are expressed under the slogan of cynical distrust.
Leftist social demands, such as “equality for all”, “free health care for all”, etc., are put in quotation marks to indicate that Márquez holds them falsely and that what interests her is to obtain the privileges that the elites have enjoyed for his social class. Thus, anti-democratic and intolerant sentiments are hidden under the cloak of “intelligent and sophisticated” cynical distrust, of “political realism” that considers the ideals of social justice as false slogans of social sectors that, in reality, have no right to any vindication.
There are also ways in which cynicism allows the expression of racism and sexism, and under a conciliatory tone diverts the public’s attention from the direct offenses that Francia Márquez has suffered for being black and a woman. For example, SEMANA magazine devotes more than one article to the comment made by a citizen about Marquez during a protest march against the government: “And that ape, because he cast a million votes, she considers herself the gutsy person of the walk? Poor ape, the apes are ruling (…) She is an ape… What education can a black person have? Black people steal, rob, and kill, what education can a black have?”.
The magazine in question, instead of criticizing the bigoted speech of this woman, reported with indignation Francia Márquez’s public response to the offense following her statement that she will not tolerate racism and, consequently, will denounce the woman before the courts. The media’s response was the publication of testimonies from politicians critical of Márquez’s decision. Among them, the former secretary of the government of Bogotá, Luis Ernesto Gómez, stated: “The racism of Mrs. Uribista is perfectly described by the popular adage: “ignorance is bold”. Dear Francia Márquez, reconsider your decision not to conciliate. You can teach a lesson to Mrs. Luz Fabiola and to a whole country that longs for reconciliation (…)”.
Gómez’s comment minimizes bigoted expressions of racism against the country’s vice president, explaining them by mere “ignorance”: an apparently minor evil that we should tolerate. From his cynical sophistication and condescension, he asks the victim to conciliate with the victimizer, that is to say, of her own free will, and by virtue of a greater collective end – national reconciliation – she should not use the channels of the state to denounce her and allow the offensive and openly racist treatment.
Apparently, the privileged white man, from his cynical recognition that selfish interests are the only thing that reigns, is asking the vice president to avoid conflict and allow the continuation of a racist status quo, because, in reality, the offense of which she was the victim is not relevant. We are before a cynic who justifies racism and sexism under speeches that seem to be “well-intentioned”, but that in the end do not advocate for true national reconciliation.
In conclusion, this new cynicism that allies itself with intolerance in order to set fire to political extremism should be denounced. Our acquiescence with the cold distrust of the cynic has allowed cynicism to conceal and perpetuate the oppression of marginalized groups, diverting attention from what is essential. All of these issues under the slogan that, in a society where only personal economic interests prevail, social demands are unnecessary and those who express them are dishonest.
Allison B. Wolf is an Associate Professor and Researcher at the Center for Migration Studies, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia. Ph.D. from Michigan State University.
*Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva