132 Years of Abolition of Slavery in Brazil | May 13th-2020
Note from BW of Brazil: For those not familiar with the history of slavery in Brazil perhaps you should know that today, May 13th, 2020, marks the 132nd anniversary of the oficial abolition of slavery in that country. Brazil was the recipiente of the most enslaved Africans during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, receiving upwards of 11-13 times more Africans than the United States received. May 13, 1888, the remaining slaves that had yet to achieve their freedom were liberated by the Golden Law signed by Princess Isabel. But the questions have Always remained. What happened to the Afro-Brazilian on May 14, 1888? What has been the experience and treatment of the descendants of these people in the 132 since then? Who was truly responsible for the abolition of slavery as it clearly wasn’t about one woman simply signing a piece of paper. And finally, still today, is there any reason to celebrate this day?
Long-time actress Zezé Motta pondered this question and took a few moments to address the issue via her Instagram profile. Of course, there plenty more that could be said about this date and what has transpired since then, but she got right to the point.
Zezé Motta – Golden Law: Is May 13 really a date to be celebrated? On May 13, 1888, Princess Isabel, heir to the throne in Brazil, signed the Golden Law, which officially abolished slavery in the country. The princess and her achievement are revered in the history textbooks and the date, Abolition of Slavery Day, was instituted in the official calendar as something to be celebrated. But for the black movement there is nothing to celebrate. After much struggle by black women and blacks in Colonial Brazil, such as the Quilombo dos Palmares and the Malês uprising, for example, the Golden Law came, but it came without any moral or economic reparation. It did not guarantee social inclusion. Many remained on the very plantation where they worked as slaves because they had nowhere else to go, others left to their own resources became marginalized and discriminated against, initiating the evils we have fought until today: discrimination, poverty, lack of opportunities and decent work for the black population. May 13th is another day of resistance and struggle for equality and against racism. #resistencia #13demaionãoédiadenegro #13demaio #racismo #132anos
132 Years of Abolition of Slavery: The 13th of May and such abolition of slavery
In an article, sociologist Tadeu Kaçula reflects on the process that led to the signing of the Lei Áurea (Golden Law), which never actually freed blacks in the country. In the fight against slavery, the intellectual highlights the work of the abolitionist movement, with names such as André Rebouças, Luiz Gama, José do Patrocínio and Joaquim Nabuco.
“I ask the servant, I ask the creator, who painted this watercolor? Free from the whip of the senzala (slave quarters). Trapped in the misery of the favela.” (Mangueira, 1988)
To think about May 13th 1888 and all that involves the abolition of slavery in Brazil is an arduous task full of complexities. If reflective production focuses on the studies from the arrival of the first Africans enslaved in its territories and brought to Brazil in the mid-16th century, we will certainly have a vast history of resistance movements and struggle against the enslavement of African peoples.
These struggles took place throughout the period in which the white slaver and colonial elite invested to maintain a policy of enslaved exploitation for the production of wealth that guaranteed the hegemony of the economic and political power of normative whiteness. It is possible to find important studies on these movements of struggle and resistance, such as the diverse research published by the sociologist and professor Clóvis Moura. Among them the books Rebeliões da senzala, Quilombos – Resistência ao Escravismo, Dialética radical do Brasil negro, among other studies that give us a broader dimension on the hundreds of “Quilombagem” (attacks and looting in urban centres) carried out by the black aquilombados.
Another essential factor in the history of the struggles and rebellions against slavery in Brazil was the abolitionist movement. The abolitionists played a fundamental role in the various fronts of combat and resistance against the maintenance of the slave politics that in other countries had already been extinguished. Names such as André Rebouças, Luiz Gama, José do Patrocínio and Joaquim Nabuco were vital for the dozens of advances by the abolitionist movement against black slavery in that context. The political movements for the liberation of the enslaved, in that context, initiated a joint “pressure” with the actions carried out by England – which was leading a universal process of abolition of human slavery – to force the Portuguese crown to sign the document that contained the law of liberation of the enslaved.
The history of the abolition of slavery in our country has since been told in a distorted, slanderous, vain, unfair way and without the least responsibility with the consequences that this lie told in an institutionalized manner can cause in the lives of thousands of heirs of this fallacious history.
Anthropologist and researcher Lilia Schwarcz is emphatic in saying that there is no reason to celebrate. Brazil was the last country in the West to abolish slavery. Sometimes people say it was the last of the Americas, but no. In fact, it was called “retardation” at the time. It was too late. Statistics vary, but indicate that the country would have received between 38% and 44% of the absolute number of Africans forced to leave the continent. And it had slaves all over its territory, different from the USA, for example, which in the South had a model similar to ours, but in the North had another economic model.
When the Golden Law came in 1888, it came out very short, very small, very conservative. “There are no more slaves in Brazil, positions to the contrary are revoked”. A series of proposals, some even more conservative, others more progressive, ran in the plenary.
The anthropologist makes an analysis of the structure of racism in Brazil with the following proposition: “What we see today in the country is a recreation, a reconstruction of structural racism. We are not only victims of the past. What we have done in these 130 years is not only to give continuity, but to radicalize structural racism”, considers Schwarcz, professor of the Department of Anthropology at USP and author, among other books, of O Espetáculo das Raças, As Barbas do Imperador, Racismo no Brasil and Brasil: uma biografia.
Exactly 132 years ago, blacks deprived of their freedom were liberated by a slanderous policy and without moral strength to counter the various abolitionist groups that already faced the racism and social-racial inequality that ravaged that period and that still haunts us today as a “ghost” that insists on visiting us.
The big question, I suggest, that put the black population in a process of social and economic invisibility in the post-slavery period was not exactly the law that “liberated” them on May 13, 1888, but what would happen to this population on May 14, 1888? Until May 13 that year the black population was an active subject of the Brazilian economy, but to the extent that such abolition is declared, this same population becomes a passive subject of the Brazilian economy. It is impressive how this brutal process of emptying the black presence in the post-slavery period took place in a systemic manner. Black Brazilians are now treated as “good slaves to the bad citizens” and are conditioned to an underprivileged life managed at their own accord.
Reflecting to resignify our history may be the way so that the injustices and historical erasures about the insubordination against slavery are not left out of the empiricism that the black population bravely helped to write, for as long as this “history” that the enslaved were freed by Princess Isabel’s “compassion” is fed and taught in the public school network, our children will continue to be involved in the dirty and captious game of normative whiteness that has remained in power for centuries alienating the Brazilian population with a colonizing public education project.
Brazil was the last country of all slave continents to “abolish” slavery, with the State of São Paulo being the last in Brazil to “close the process” and the city of Campinas the last. We see the social entities and the news daily explaining the peripheral genocide of young blacks placing them in a state of criminality to justify the ethnic-social control that is nothing more than the maintenance of the hygienist policy of the last century, that thinks a Brazil with “Euronormative aspirations”. Brazil was forged and shaped by the hands of thousands of Africans who, with their contribution to the formation of Brazilian society, created its culture, habits, knowledge, experiences, religions and the like, in this land that, even today, insists on trying to erase this important contribution.
From 1888 to 1988, we don’t see the history of blacks being told in any meaningful way in textbooks or in universities, which gave us the impression that blacks were extinct during one hundred years of Brazilian history. In this sense, it is important to reflect on the process of the “abolition of slavery” in Brazil, not only from the perspective of May 13 and the whole set of factors that resulted in the signing of the Golden Law, but, above all, it is fundamental that we think about this process from May 14, because it is a fact that this was the day when more than five million black men and women were condemned to live under a slave, racist and excluding Republic that made it impossible to include the black population in the policies designed to structure the Brazilian State.
* Tadeu Augusto Matheus, known as Tadeu Kaçula, is a sociologist from the Fundação Escola de Sociologia e Política de São Paulo (FESPSP), with a Master’s degree in Social Change and Political Participation from the University of São Paulo (USP), national coordinator of the New Brazilian Black Front (NFNB), founder of the Instituto Cultural Samba Autêntico and author of the book “Casa Verde, uma pequeno África paulistana”.