Note from BBT: The episodes of the 21st season of the reality show Big Brother Brasil have demonstrated the many problems and clashes among black Brazilians that must be dealt with before any kind of talk of unity can be taken seriously. In reality, this should have been expected. Living in a black community in the United States for most of my life, I have understood this for a long time.
Contrary to what Western media would have us believe, black people don’t all look and think alike. Just in my perhaps thousands of interactions with black folks growing up in Detroit, I knew black Christians, black Muslims, black radicals and black moderates, black feminists and black women with more traditional values, college graduates and hustlers, intellectuals and thugs. I knew people who didn’t believe anything if it wasn’t on the news and conspiracy theorists, black folks waiting on Jesus or the government to save us and black folks who believe we will never get any sort of justice from either.
In short, a gamut of black thought and personalities.
In my own development, I’ve come to learn that it is difficult to break people of certain beliefs, but I recognize know that that is perhaps not my place. I mean, none of have the complete answer to problems affecting the black community and I would never claim that I have all of the answers nor that all of my theories on the situation are absolutely correct.
I know that there are people out there who would be so offended if I were to suggest that Tupac Shakur was an overrated rapper and that his whole career seems like a fraud that they would want to attack me or worse. All of this to say, black folks are complicated. And this is exactly what I’ve seen in my analysis of the situation on BBB 21. Black folks are complicated. Everyone cheered with seeing the most black faces on any one season of the long-running reality show so much so that I don’t think it even occured to anyone that this could turn out to be a disaster.
I’ve seen it all on this program and that’s just speaking on the black participants. I’ve seen black folks making fun of Afro-Brazilian religions which are already demonized by Brazilians in general and the media. There was a comedian who made jokes about a popular black singer whose health deteriorated after he had a stroke. This same comedian referred to participants in a student’s movement against the re-structuring of the public school system as “vagabonds”.
There’s the black woman psychologist who disagreed with a young black male’s ideals of revolution and self-sufficiency of the Afro-Brazilian population, apparently, because she wouldn’t be the leader of such. We have the mixed-race rapper who can’t see constructing something by and for black people because the most important people in his life were white. Then there’s the black female rapper whose treatment of a black male participant was one of the reasons she became one of the most hated personalities in the twenty-one seasons of the program.
Against a backdrop of black rights organizations that say that all people of mixed-African ancestry are black, I’ve seen black people dispute the blackness of another black participant. I’ve seen a black woman check another black woman, telling her she didn’t have to agree with her simply because she was aso black, which is, of course true. That’s part of the whole point that I’m making here. Black people are complex. And this season of Big Brother Brasil is simply a demonstration of this for all of Brazil to see.
In the piece below, André Santana shares his thoughts on some of the opinions and beliefs of this mixed group of black Brazilians on Big Brother Brasil. The names Lucas, Projota and Lumena are all black participants on the program. In one of the most discussed events about the program on social networks, Lucas Penteado left the show after facing psychological abuse, much of it from other black participants.
BBB: Like Lucas, we need more people who want to be Zumbi dos Palmares
By André Santana
Lucas Penteado has the profile of the main victims of violence in Brazil.
A 24-year-old black man, the actor has been contradicting statistics and avoiding the risks of suffering the consequences of racism that cuts down, more cruelly, bodies like his.
Since he was a child he was involved with art, participated in student movements and excelled in poetry and slam circles. He gained space in the media, starred in a youth novela (soap opera) and was invited to the most watched program on Brazilian television.
Upon entering the BBB 21 home, Lucas was overwhelmed, met other artists and other blacks with whom he identified, such as the idol Projota, to whom he attributed the salvation from depression.
“The lyrics you write saves lives, it saved mine. But I never imagined that you would appear here. Understand? You saved my life and my mother’s,” Lucas said to Projota.
Proposal of a quilombo exposed the false racial democracy
The excitement was great. At the first parties, Lucas drank too much and made inconvenient comments. He thought he was among his closest friends and let himself go. He even proposed a unity between the black participants on the program.
An affront to the ideal of racial democracy illusively propagated in Brazil.
Racial democracy is a myth linked to the idea that Brazilian cordiality would enable harmony and equal opportunities and rights for whites and blacks. It was used in response to the eugenic ideals of the early 20th century, which predicted the extermination of the race considered inferior. But it continues to this day as a strategy to erase racial tensions and violence suffered by black people in the country.
Lucas’ proposal was very daring for putting his finger on a covered wound, disguised especially in the media, which preferably represent blacks as happy, smiling and grateful for the pious treatment received from society.
“My revolution is to put my face in this mess and smile, and be happy,” said Projota, who made fan Lucas the subject of jokes that make other participants happy.
In addition to becoming the main target of criticism from the residents of the house, Lucas received a disapproval from the idol Projota, who told the young man that he could not embark on that strategy since the people he loved most in life were white. As if the personal story of the rapper, who has a white grandmother, mother, wife and daughter, lessens the racial segregation that the two artists know up close.
Projota knows very well that, outside of family life, prejudice acts perversely on him, including curbing his opportunities as an artist. Racism cannot be reduced to personal relationships, it is a structure of power and domination.
“I don’t want to be the stage for you to be Zumbi dos Palmares”
The strongest and most unfair framework that Lucas has received in the program so far came just after one of his most impactful speeches:
“A lot of people when they hear quilombo think that quilombo is the war. No, quilombo for us is the struggle for life. The war was for them who were waging war against the revolution,” said the actor.
It seemed that he was reciting passages from the film Orí (1989), in which the historian Beatriz Nascimento presents the relevance of the quilombo idea to understand the resistance strategies of the black population in Brazil.
Lucas’ speech could also have been taken from the writings of Abdias do Nascimento or Lélia Gonzalez, intellectuals who developed theses in defense of quilombism or squatting as a guarantee of life, in the slave regime and in the post-abolition period.
Quilombo is the denial of slavery. It is the awareness of dignity as a human being and the right to freedom. Quilombo is the struggle not to be property, or anything, or a reason for mockery or humiliation. In Brazil, the greatest symbol of this concept is the experience of Quilombo dos Palmares, led by Zumbi dos Palmares.
This is why the repulsion of psychologist Lumena Aleluia, who claims to be a black movement activist, sounded so strange in relation to Lucas’ words. “I don’t want to be the stage for you to be Zumbi dos Palmares”, she repeated a few times, pointing her finger. Lucas didn’t understand and said he was lost.
Lumena’s speech, charged with resentment against Lucas, expresses the arrogance of a type of activism that wants to be the only voice. It also reveals a lack of humility and welcoming to the youngest who try to appropriate the speeches of consciousness.
I wish we had more young people breaking barriers and going against statistics, looking for the stage to be Zumbi dos Palmares (see note one)
Observing the protagonism of black participants in the fights of this edition of BBB, it seems that the choice of these people took into consideration the desire to undo the speeches of black militancy, to weaken the struggles for rights so evident in recent years and to remove hope in the collective.
It looks like a project to deconstruct the demands and attempt to reverse the places of victims and executioners. BBB thus becomes an extension of the proposal presented by the series A Cor do Poder (Noughts & Crosses), which didn’t happen by chance before the premiere of the reality show. A fiction and a mediatized reality to make it appear that the problem is among black people.
The black population is diverse, with contradictions and disagreements. Like all human groups, blacks fall out, fight, strategize and dispute. BBB has shown this in a superlative way. But no shack or BBB cancellation will erase the historic fact of how the unity of black people allowed resistance.
If there was no unity, the slave quarters would not become a quilombo. Without the collectivity, the favela would not generate samba schools, blocos afros (black Carnaval groups), candomblé terreiros (Afro-Brazilian religious temples), religious brotherhoods and capoeira circles. Without the unity of blacks, samba would not be born. One of the most important contemporary social, artistic and political movements would not be created: Hip Hop, which allows Brazil to know the talent of artists who today shine on the screen and reject the proposal for unity.
The program continues and Brazil will follow as far as Lucas Penteado’s suggestion is utopia.
- 17th century quilombo (maroon society) leader Zumbi dos Palmares is generally regarded as Brazil’s greatest black leader. More than three centuries after his death in 1695, numerous organizations, movements, schools, etc. bear his name with the date of his death, November 20th, being a national holiday.