Note from BW of Brazil: Professor Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto is someone whose work I have followed since I first became aware of her. Her name has popped up occassionally on this blog due to some of the very important contributions she has been making to the re-telling of black Brazilian history, shining a spotlight on every day as well as prominent black Brazilians and giving them their fair due in the annals of Brazilian history. A history that has been so often muted, ignored or simply deleted.
I’m sure most of us have memories of what it was like to go to school on a daily basis and only learn about Europeans and their descendants as if African people never existed. The situation is even worse when mention of black people comes up and its always in a situation of inferiority, subordination or slavery. My earliest memory of this was in 7th grade when I attended a Catholic school in Detroit, Michigan. I’ll never forget that year long course, as everyone in the class hated the teacher and I simply didn’t feel motivated to learn about Ancient Greece and Rome. In my high school years, it was much of the same. History classes always seemed to leave far more questions than answers. It was only in my adulthood, doing my own research, that I would learn why history classes were so boring and why they didn’t seem to add up or left more questions than answers.
Real history is not be to shared with the masses, which is why we learn history in such a distorted manner, full of half truths and outright lies. Since I discovered this, I also discovered that learning the history of Africans and their descendants will never be told correctly as long as we continue to expect the very system and people that oppressed, and exploited our people for centuries to teach us about our people.
This is why the work of people such as Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto is so important. For as little as African-Americans are taught about black history, Afro-Brazilians are even farther behind when the subject is knowledge of self and its only been in recent years where enough black Brazilians have been able to somewhat break the stronghold of Eurocentric thought in the academic realm in order to present a side of history that most descendants of Africans in Brazil have never heard.
Besides Ana’s work on a number of important 19th century Afro-Brazilians and Brazil’s black press, I recently learned of another very inspiring project in which she is recovering the history of how Brazil’s capital city was basically constructed by black Brazilians who, again, were left out of the history books. I’ll be getting to that story very soon, but for now, learn a little about the historian Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto, the only black professor of History at the University of Brasília in the nation’s capital.
Only black professor in University of Brasília history department fights for equality Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto seeks inspiration from the past to fight for a more egalitarian future
By Deborah Fortuna
“Every person is always the mark of the daily lessons of so many other people.” This is how Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto begins to tell her story: with the song ”Caminhos do Coração”, by musician Gonzaguinha. At the age of 40, the professor at the University of Brasília (UnB) intertwines her own trajectory with that of other black people, as if their struggle and resistance in the past made her get where she is. “Being here, despite all the challenges, is honoring a collective effort, which means that despite being the only black professor in this (history) department, I don’t feel like I’m here alone,” summarizes the doctor.
Ana devoted her professional career to studying the narratives of black people in the 19th century, and to showing how, from the places of freedom, whether in slavery or post-abolition, these figures existed and defended humanity itself in the world. This is how the professor re-discovered writer Machado de Assis and many other lives that, according to her, were forgotten and altered in a fable always written by white people.
With a degree in journalism and history, and a doctorate and post-doc in history, Ana Flávia likes to look into the past to explain the present day and the future. “Without this large-scale debate, not only within the classroom, but also with the school community, which includes workers, parents and students, we don’t settle the scores that Brazil needs to have with its own history,” she argues.
That’s why the beginning of her trajectory at UnB was so important: despite already studying journalism at a private university and then taking a course in Portuguese letters, which didn’t end with the chance to take a master’s degree, it was there, at the university, that she came to know the collective EnegreSer (which can be loosely translated as ‘blacken’) – a social organization that worked at the federal level fighting and denouncing racism. It was within the movement that Ana began to study and understand the whole historical process that makes blacks have less space within society.
“Where did they say black people can’t be? Because it’s there where we’ll be. What can’t we do inside the university regarding its actions? Is it research? Study? Because it’s in this field that we’ll act”, she guarantees. She was the first member of the group to become the professor of the Darcy Ribeiro campus – an accomplishment achieved in 2018. “All this effort to recognize black thoughts and experiences has been muted over time. This network not only made me believe, but also made me have the minimum conditions to carry it out,” she adds.
With that desire, Ana began her master’s degree, her doctorate and then her post-doctoral degree. She won awards, released the book Escritos de liberdade: literatos negros, racismo e cidadania no Brasil oitocentista (Writings of freedom: black literati, racism and citizenship in nineteenth-century Brazil), and today fights so this history is not forgotten. “It’s very good to rediscover this past,” she says. “Nothing like one day after the other stitching their struggle together.”
Data from the informative Social Inequalities by Color or Race in Brazil, released in November by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), showed that, for the first time, blacks are the majority in public higher education. The document revealed that the proportion reached 50.3% in 2018. The figure, of course, still falls short of the 55.8% of black (pretos/black+pardos/brown) people living in Brazil, but it is a breakthrough. In the case of teaching, however, the scenario is different. “If, on the one hand, we have advanced a lot in the fight to insert black students into universities, in relation to teaching, we still have a lot to do,” she says.
But Ana’s story begins before the university and titles. She was born in Planaltina, of the administrative region of the Federal District, in 1979. In the same city, she grew up in, attended public school, and then, when she finished high school, got a place at a private university to study journalism. Her father, who came from a family of rural workers and was expelled from his own land during the 1960s, left the state of Goiás to try a new life in Brasília. Her mother, literate only at the age of 15, had a different trajectory, which eventually opened the door for her two daughters. She was able to teach, get her degree, and then go on to teach math.
“Like many black men, my father was passionate about studies, but he had to give it up to work. Although we (Ana and her sister) are not the first to do higher education in the family, we were the first to do so as an indispensable strategy. The moment my mother did, things changed a lot,” says the professor.
During childhood, she grew up in a Brazil masked by the racial democracy, although there is no representation in any children’s space. “As with many children, this generated embarrassment. It is also a difficulty from what I was, from my own family and also from affirming myself and having a positive view of my past, and what my future could be,” she says.
However, Ana reinforces that, despite the difficult trajectory, blacks survive Brazilian racism. “This is what I strive to talk about, stories that have not succumbed to these layers of denial of our existence. And we exist,” she says. This is how Ana Flávia understands that today, more than ever, the struggle must continue to conquer spaces and re-tell the history so that it does not fall into oblivion.
So, remembering the past and considering the present, Ana gives the signal for the future: “Despite Brazil’s image of black people, there are practically infinite daily efforts so that blacks don’t succumb and don’t give up their dreams. And my career talks a lot about it.”
Courtesy of Correio Braziliense