Brazilians accused of distributing racist pamphlets
In recent campaign news for the American presidency, a sudden topic of the debate has surfaced concerning Paul Ryan, Republic Vice-Presidential running mate of Mitt Romney, and his past relationship with a black woman. Many Democrats have voiced the opinion that Paul Ryan’s views on race would be detrimental to African-Americans if he and Romney were to win the election in November. Thus, the question has surfaced, if Paul Ryan did indeed have a black girlfriend once upon a time, does this exonerate him from the charge of being a possible racist?
The point here is not to accuse Ryan of being a racist, but to address the general question. We all know that former slave owners throughout the Americas freely had sexual relations and some even had families with black women all the while upholding the standards of white supremacy. We also know the famous story of James Strom Thurmond, a 1948 segregationist Dixiecrat presidential candidate who ran on a platform of the continuation of segregation of the races in the US and continuously denied equal rights to African-Americans throughout his political career. Six months after his death, his mixed race daughter Essie Mae Washington-Williams, a result of Thurmond’s relationship with Carrie “Tunch” Butler, the family’s black maid in 1925, became known to the American public. Washington-Williams confirmed that Thurmond supported her financially for many years although neither of them spoke publicly of their connection.
Below is a story from Brazil from 2006 where the same question was posed.
Accused of racism, man affiliated with White Power group was married to a black woman and has mixed children: Emerson Chieri, 34, was arrested for divulging racist propaganda in October of 2006, below is the story behind the story.
Housewife Maria das Graças Almeida Bastos said goodbye to her son on the night of October 23 (2006). Two friends with shaven heads came looking for him on this night in São Paulo. A few hours later, the phone rang in the humble home of Cidade Vargas, in São Paulo’s south zone, and Maria das Graças received the news of the arrest of her son for the crime of racism. “It was a shock,” she recalls.
The graphics vender Emerson de Almeida Chieri, 34, was caught with designer Eduardo Brandão Jarussi, 26, and Rogério Costa Andrade, 28, that night in Vila Mariana, in the south zone of São Paulo. The three friends were caught putting up posters with racist slogans against the system of quotas for blacks in public universities. The leaflets bore the signature of the group “White Power” (written in English).
Copies of pamphlets the men were distributing
On Nov. 8, the Public Prosecutor of São Paulo filed a complaint against the group in the Criminal Forum with the same complaint: “practicing, encouraging or inducing, by the media or publication of any kind, discrimination or prejudice of race, color, religion, ethnicity or national origin.” The penalty is two to five years in prison.
The news surprised Emerson’s family, and along with it, the entire Cidade Vargas neighborhood. Besides being taken by friends as “good people” and hardworking, Emerson is the father of two young children of African descent. For eleven years, he was married to a black woman and now has custody of the children, aged 9 and 15 years.
“I asked him: ‘How can you be against something that can benefit your children in the future?’” said his mother during visits to the Centro de Detenção Provisória Vila Independência Provisional Detention Center of Vila Independência) where Emerson had been jailed for almost a month. Maria das Graças spoke about the arrest of her son with reporters in the front door of her home and throughout the conversation, Emerson’s eldest son listened to everything.
Emerson declined to be interviewed. Through lawyer Maria Ângela Campos, he argued that he protested against racial quotas and denied being a racist or a member of a White Power group. The movement preaches the value of the white race and bigotry against blacks, Jews, Brazilians of northeastern origin, illegal immigrants and homosexuals. The group’s website logo has a photo of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler on the frontpage
The recollection of Maria das Graças, who gets emotional when speaking about the case contrasts with the message propagated on posters by her soon. “Today, they steal your place in public universities. And they call this equal rights. If you don’t act now, who will assure us that they don’t steal vacancies in public positions? We must secure the existence of our race and the future of our white children.”
“He acted on impulse, by the influence of friends”, explains brother Evandro Chieri. According to his mother, Emerson is sorry. At home, he never discussed the racial quota system, according to family members, who do not hide their disagreements with Emerson. “Here we are Lulistas (supporters of former president Lula da Silva) says Emerson’s mother.
The Lula government supports the bill reserving spaces in federal and state universities for students from public schools, based on the percentage of blacks and Indians in the states. The proposal is ready to vote on the House floor. According to the family, Emerson has no party affiliation, but friends recall that he attended conferences of Prona, a party of the far-right.
Controversy in the neighborhood
The charge of racism became a topic of discussion at Seu Waldir’s bar, a traditional meeting place of the neighborhood. Some neighbors were offended by Emerson’s attitude. But in this territory, the accused has the faithful defense of the bar owner, who knew him from childhood. “I’ll tell you something: who created all this was the media, which blended the content of that site (White Power) with Emerson’s arrest”, said Seu Waldir.
The merchant, who came to see the posters in the hands of Emerson, advised the boy not to disclose them. “How can someone who was married to a black woman and has mulatto children can be racist?” Emerson’s attorney intends to use the client’s family ties as evidence for the defense. Emerson, who remains in the Provisional Detention Center, was indicted on charges of the crime of racism. Also indicted were friends Rogério and Eduardo, who got three weeks of jail time without bail. Unlike his two friends, Emerson did not have a criminal record – burglary, theft and possession of narcotics.
By distributing posters with racist content, Eduardo also didn’t seem to look at his family tree. The Jarussi family confirmed to lawyer Maria Ângela Campos that the accused has black ancestry. However, they didn’t know to what degree. “He claims that he was only speaking out against quotas for blacks”, said the lawyer.
On the skin
The defense of Rogério also attempted to prove that the accused is not racist. “His sister dates a black man. He even told me, ‘Doctor, I am not racist. I’ve played in rock bands with a black singer’”said lawyer José Miguel da Silva.
Despite denying that he was part of White Power, Rogério had the movement’s symbol tattooed on his back, reported the assistant police chief of the 36th Police District, Rui Diogo da Silva, who collected the testimony of the accused. On his right arm, he even has the inscription “88” – a reference to the eighth letter of the alphabet, “H”. In this movement, 88 or “HH” is a password for the salute to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. On the same arm, is the word “skins”, alluding to the Skinhead movement.
For decades there has been a common argument/belief in Brazil that because of a relatively high rate of interracial marriages, it is not possible for Brazilians to be racist. What I would like to impress upon the reader in this case is that it shows that a person can go as far in their intimate relationships as to marry and procreate with a person of another race but maintain a belief that the group to which he/she belongs should remain that society’s dominant position. Simply because someone loves/marries a person on a different group doesn’t automatically exclude this person from possibly harboring negative or racist views against the group to which his/her partner belongs. The person could simply give his/her partner a “pass” because, in their mind, their partner is “special” or “different” from other people of the group to which said partner belongs.
In this story we see a few classic defenses of why an accused can’t be racist. OK, so “his sister dates a black man”, what does his sister’s relationship have to do with the accused personal feelings? “ I am not racist. I’ve played in rock bands with a black singer”. And? One of the funniest relationships comedian Michael Richards helped develop on the 1990s TV show Seinfeld was with actor Phil Morris who portrayed his black attorney Jackie Chiles. But this relationship was the furthest from Richards’ mind when yelled the word “nigger” several times in the direction of black men in the audience who watched his stand-up routine. In the 1950s there were millions of white Americans who adored the music of black artists like Little Richard and Chuck Berry, but was this a signal of the absence of racism? I would also argue that racism has various levels depending on the particular case and the person. In a similar vein, men and women have lived together, married and had children together, but would anyone realistically argue that men who marry or live with women cannot possibly be sexist?
All this to say, Paul Ryan’s association with the Republican party, its policies and ideologies doesn’t automatically make him a racist; but his having dated a black woman doesn’t automatically eliminate the possibility either.
Racist grafitti and Neo-Nazis in Brazil: The evidence that can’t be denied