“A black is gonna get burned and shot”: Popular page of Afro-Brazilian pride, Afroestima, hacked, creator threatened by profile with KKK photo
“There are people comfortable adopting hate speech,” says black activist who had his social network page hacked. Owner of the ‘Afroestima’ page, anthropologist Mauro Baracho lost access two weeks ago and has since received profile messages with a photo from the KKK
By Marques Travae
I said a few several weeks ago that it seems in Brazil that the racists seem to be taking the gloves off. Again, racism has existed in Latin America’s largest, most populous country since the beginning, but there seems to be a slight difference in the strain of racist behavior I’ve been noticing lately.
At the beginning of this month, anthropologist Mauro Baracho denounced that his Instagram page, Afroestima, had been hacked and invaded and that was followed by a racist act and even a death threat against him. Afroestima, a play on the word autoestima, which means self-esteem in Portuguese, is a reference to the rising self-esteem of Brazil’s African descendants.
On his page, which had over 200,000 followers, Baracho talks about black culture and posts inspiring messages and photos about black people. Hailing from the capital city of the state of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, the network influencer’s page was taken over on January 26, and a few days afterward, he received a message from a fake profile that used images of US-based white supremacist organization the Ku Klux Klan acknowledging being responsibility for the cyber attack.
Besides calling Baracho racist terms, the profile also made the suggestion that he “disappear” because “mommy won’t like to see her son shot”. The anthropologist took the threat seriuosly and immediately filed a police report in two different local police precincts to get to the bottom of the virtual and racial crimes. What he would discover is that, because of the difficulty of tracking the source of exactly where the threats and hack came from, the investigation would move forward slower than expected.
The Afroestima page was removed from the air and even after trying to pick up where he left off before the hack, he learned that the page account had been disconnected from the e-mail address he had used, thus impeding him from being able to recover through the Instagram settings.
Two more days would pass before he would receive messages from the fake account in which the image of a member of the KKK was used as the profile image. Besides the racist taunts and threats, the person behind the profile also told Baracho that “there will be a black burned and shot”, making the threat even more troubling by claiming that the hacker knew where the Afroestima creator lived with his family. “My guys are watching you and your steps,” read the message.
In many ways, the threat sounded similar to a threat made to a black politician living in southern Brazil a few years ago. In a country that for so many decades denied being racist, the number of adherents to KKK, Nazi and neo-Nazi ideologies is quite common in Brazil. So common that one anthropolist has been tracking such activity across Brazil for years.
After having spoken to lawyer Gabriel Alex Pinto de Oliveira, president of the OAB-SP Racial Equality Commission in Barueri, São Paulo, Baracho registered the incident at the Specialized Police Station for Investigating Cyber Crime in Belo Horizonte and then went to the 3rd Civil Police Station, east of Belo Horizonte, for the investigation of racist crimes and death threats.
Having seen the complaint via a social network, Oliveira contacted the anthropologist to offer guidance on the situation. According to Oliveira, the process adopted by the police heading up for the investigation will first seek the source of the threat, identifying the responsible party for the hack, messages, and threats, and then deal with them as criminal activity. Cases such as these must be processed with the assistance of the Minas Gerais Security Secretariat and the State Public Ministry.
“It is an extensive process due to the need to locate the offender, which requires a long investigation. I don’t see the inquiry being resolved in less than a year,” said the lawyer.
According to Brazilian Penal Code, the penalty for such crimes carry a term of imprisonment of one to three years as well as a fine for racial injury, detention ranging from six months to one year for threatening Baracho with death as well as three months to one year of detention for the invasion of virtual privacy, if the guilty party is positively identified and found guilty after the end of the investigation.
The ordeal continued when Baracho was also alerted by Facebook that someone in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, had tried to hack into that Afroestima account on Friday, January 31st, which led to suspicion is that the original attack may have come from there. Niterói is a city located in Rio de Janeiro state across the bridge from the city of Rio. In taking action on these attacks, the Afroestima creator revealed that he was having problems trying to find a lawyer to take on the case in Belo Horizonte specifically because it was such a challenge to find the person behind the messages.
“For now, I’m going after him myself,” said Baracho. And as if he didn’t have enough problems with the attacks from a cyber agressor, Baracho also says the offender managed to get access to private conversations he’s had through his profile and is threatening to blackmail him into retracting the complaints he filed. “It causes a disturbance because the family doesn’t rest during the day until I get home,” he says. According to the lawyer Gabriel Oliveira, the messages and threat on Instagram can be used by the courts to ascertain the location of the fake profile.
“They hacked my Instagram account and simply deleted everything, including the account. Texts, videos, post, papers, research papers. An account of 207,000 followers simply deleted by racists. Even my personal account was deleted. Discouraging.” – Afroestima (@ maurobaracho1) January 27, 2020
Baracho holds a bachelor’s degree in administration as well as a master’s degree in anthropology, which he earned with his research on the theme of black masculinity. His Afroestima Instagram page played a key role in some of the research he conducted for his thesis. “I was invited to several events on account of Instagram and closed some deals there,” he says. Mauro remembered that he had recently seen someone make a comment and including a monkey emoji in a post on the Afroestima page, but said he had never been a targeted with such alarming threats as the ones he’s received at the center of this case.
Like others, Baracho thinks what is happening to him is directly connected to Brazil’s current political climate. Racism is nothing new in Brazil, but under right-wing extremist President Jair Bolsonaro, it seems that racists are becoming bolder with their expressions of racist sentiments and taking their sentiments even further by actually attacking people who they see as opposition.
“When you have a Secretary of Culture quoting a Nazi official and people who are not ashamed to wear a swastika on a walk in the mall, you realize that there are people comfortable with adopting a hate speech,” he says.
Baracho speaks of a controversy from a few weeks back that led to the dismissal of the government’s Secretary of Culture. In that post, I explained my view that there’s probably more going on behind the scenes of that case, but it doesn’t negate the fact that there are certaintly elements of racist ideologies, not only in government, but in nearly every facet of Brazilian society.
What I see going on here is that Brazil has always promoted itself as a nation of racial harmony, even with centuries of evidence of racism and racial inequality. In my view, Brazil hasn’t exploded into outright conflict between white and black Brazilians up to this point because black Brazilians have never really taken a strong stance against racist attitudes and behavior and this lack of reaction is in turn used as evidence to claim that racial hostility doesn’t exist in the country.
The fact is, looking into Brazil’s history, it’s difficult to see how the country has managed to maintain such a clean image for so long. How are we to believe that a slave regime that existed for three and a half centuries and was based on the supposed inferiority of black people can possibly be non-racist? I conclude that it is not that Brazil hasn’t always been racist, it’s just that people have always been made to feel ashamed of openly assuming their racism. In recent years, it seems that is changing.
This reminds of a quote made by Monteiro Lobato. Lobato was perhaps the most influential Brazilian writer of children’s literature. In recent years, Afro-Brazilian scholars and activists have labeled his works featuring numerous stereotypical depictions of black Brazilians, as racist. Lobato was apparently an admirer of the notoriously racist American organization as he seemed to lament that whites in Brazil didn’t have force to organize a KKK.
I’ve argued for years that the non-existence of KKK-like organizations in Brazil doesn’t prove that the country is any less racist than the US. The way military police and death squads murder black people in Brazil, a KKK isn’t even necessary. In fact, I would also argue that, like in the US, white supremacists in Brazil that see the necessity of harassing and eliminating black people don’t wear hoods; they wear police badges. And with the rise of Afro-Brazilian pride, demands and protests, we are seeing more blatant acts that show that certain segments of Brazilian society want to see black Brazilians remain “in their place”.
Mauro Baracho created the Afroestima page in 2018 with the intent of bringing positive aspects about black pride to Brazilians of African descent. “I started to increase the self-esteem of black people, but it has become a place for reflection on racial issues in general in Brazil. Racism is something cultural in Brazil and now they [racists] are more empowered,” he opines.
In reality, they’ve always been there, it’s just that, again, like in the US, it just took the right president to bring them out.