Black Women and Power: We can too!


Photos: Left to right, top row and bottom row: Benedita da Silva, Federal Deputy and first black woman to serve as governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Célia Sacramento, first black woman vice-mayor of the city of Salvador, Bahia, Tânia Terezinha, the first black woman mayor of the city of Dois Irmãos, (state of) Rio Grande do Sul, Judite Botafogo Santana da Silva, first black woman elected mayor of the city of Lagoa do Carro in the state of Pernambuco, Rilza Valentim, first black woman elected mayor of the city of São Francisco do Conde, state of Bahia, Eunice Aparecida de Jesus Prudente, first black woman Secretary of Justice and Defense of Citizenship of the state of São Paulo
By Luana Soares

The empowerment of women can be considered one of the most difficult tasks. This task is difficult because of the barriers faced by women in access to positions of power. This access is complicated because of a sexist structure, which ends up sculpting these spaces to be occupied by men, especially white men.

In the Brazilian social hierarchy, women occupy the worst positions in relation to indices of education, health, the job market, among others, however, this social pyramid, is not only defined by gender (understanding that gender is how we determine what is a masculine/ feminine in our society), this pyramid will also be interspersed by issues of race and sexuality.

In a country that has experienced more than three centuries of slavery, racism is still a social ghost, which is inserted into the structure of the Brazilian state. Inserted mainly in its formation, the black population was the support of Brazilian socio-economic development, making racism not just a “feeling” or “aversion” and also not only being linked to having or not having “black friends”. Racism is an ideology, guided by the hierarchy of races (which is) based on the ideas of the superiority of one over the other. On the historical level, this fomented a slave process that produced racial differences, which began to express themselves in social inequalities.

Capitalism as a system of oppression, counts on these inequalities and discrimination to continue to be based (in the system). Therefore, racism, sexism and homophobia go hand in hand with the capitalist system, in a relationship of mutual reinforcement. For us to experience an egalitarian society, however, it’s not enough just to fight for a new system, we must also fight for the overthrow of these ideologies. It is repeated by social movements, that “There is no socialism without feminism”, I say that there will never be a truly egalitarian society, as long as we have not abolished sexism, racism, homo-lesbo-transphobia.

We need to understand that these inequalities do not walk alone, but intersperse themselves generating specific oppressions that are experienced by different social groups. So someone will be at the base of the social pyramid, and the group that occupies this base is black women. The last Retrato sobre a Desigualdade de Raça e Gênero-2009 (Portrait on Race and Gender Inequality-2009), conducted by the IPEA (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada or Institute of Applied Economic Research), and conducted in partnership with UN Women, Secretaria de Políticas para as Mulheres (Secretariat of Policies for Women – SPM) and the Secretaria de Políticas de Promoção da Igualdade Racial (Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality – SEPPIR) demonstrated that black women are among the minority in higher education (The enrollment rate for white women in higher education is 23.8%, while among black women, the rate is only 9.9%), demonstrating that despite the entry of women in universities, we still have a large disparity between the number of black women and white women who are able to enter this space.

It has also been shown that black women are the minority in access to social security, are the majority of the unemployed, the majority laboring in informal work, ie, unregistered/no formal contract, and the majority in domestic work, and representing a contingent of about 30 thousand women in slave labor. The IPEA also assessed the situation from a historical flag of the feminist movement, which is the salary issue, we know that in the XXI century, women earn less than men, although exercising the same function. In this regard, it was estimated that the average salary of white men was around R$1,491.00 (about US$750), that of white women R$957.00 (US$479), further down in this ranking, black men received R$833.50 (US$416) and at the bottom, receiving the lowest salary were black women with R$544.40 (US$272). That is, despite the struggle of the feminist movement and developments relating to equal pay; white women, even receiving less than white men still earn more than black men and black women. Obviously to see this in an official organ is important, but the Movimento Negro (black movement) and the black women’s movement had already denounced this problem some time ago.

Although we are united in terms of gender oppression, the oppression of race and class divides us. Philosopher/activist Sueli Carneiro, in her now classic phrase, says that “it’s necessary to blacken feminism.” I think it’s necessary to blacken feminism, socialism, and all other ideologies fighting for equality. In addition, it’s necessary to know other ideologies that were born in the black breast, also preaching a world free of social differences such as Quilombismo (1) and Africana Womanism (2). White women are very important partners in the fight against sexism, but they are also included in a system that protected them all the time, not tossing them in the streets to get the bread from day to day. In many instances they are revealed as oppressors.

Black women even today experience the intervention of racism in the most cruel form, as Thereza Santos put it so well, the black woman was the “support of the family” in Brazil, in our hands were put the care of the white women’s and our children, besides handling the family sustenance, (the IPEA also showed that black women are among the majority of family heads), seeing that we were in the streets, working, toiling, while white companions were relegated to private space.

Sueli says: “When we talk about the myth of female fragility that historically justified paternalistic protection of men over women, of what women are we talking about? We, black women, we are part of a contingent of women, probably a majority, who never recognized themselves in this myth, because we have never been treated as fragile. We are part of a contingent of women who have worked for centuries as slaves in the plantations or in the streets, as venders, sellers of sweets and delicacies, prostitutes … Women who don’t understand anything when feminists say that women should take to the streets and work.”

Bringing other reflections on the relationship of black women with white women and feminism, Jurema Werneck brings the reflection that: “The original feminism had no palpable differences, of social class, (or) of race. There was only the question of gender. Not confronting these conflicts that existed due to these differences, then the racial discourse, black feminism embodies the racial discourse. It is a feminism that speaks of this thing of being a black woman. I think this is the main difference, I mean, that defines all the rest. And the insertion of the black woman in the world, in Brazilian society will provoke all the other subsequent differences.”

Therefore we emphasize that we start from different social and historical contexts, where black women needed to build specific spaces for their militancy, giving birth to the first collective of black women starting from the 80s such as the Coletivo Nzinga (Nzinga Collective) (3), GeledésCriola, among others. These different historical contexts lead to different agendas, where black women bring for themselves the fight against racism, exercising their militancy also mixed in with the spaces of the Movimento Negro.

What we call “political under-representation  of women, affects black women in a crucial way. One example is our Congress. If we already have few women representing this space, when we do the racial outline, the number drops dramatically. Therefore, as much space as there is inside the parliament, as within social movements, black women come to fight for their political affirmation as a political subject capable of being IN FRONT of spaces of power. IN FRONT being emphasized due to the perception that, in many areas, black women end up “carrying the piano”, ie, fulfilling functions that underlie the leaders, but are not treated as such.

Because of this, there is a reduced number of black women candidates, women “presidents” of associations, collectives, political groups, occupying the front line. Based on this framework, I believe that the spaces of black women, should be directed by black women because these spaces that were born from this articulation realizing that these feminists spaces did not comprehend the complexity of our experience, driven especially by black women who have an understanding of what it is to be a black woman in this country.

I consider it important that black women are in all areas of direction, but I believe even more that they make the racial debate in this space. Contrary to what one thinks, this is still a problem that needs to be discussed in academic and political spaces, since we still hear mistaken arguments regarding the issue of race. Famous arguments like we’re being “racist” and that they continue to permeate common sense. Carlos Moore, historian, author of several books on racism, brings an interesting reflection on the idea of ​​“reverse racism”. In an interview when asked about this matter he said: “I’m not even talking about this! Because racism is a system of power. Blacks have no power anywhere in the world. Even in Africa, it is whites who command and if the leaders are opposed (to this) they are murdered. The black has no power to be racist in any place, even if it were possible. Black racism is not even possible because blacks cannot reinvent history. Racism emerged only once. I can’t comment on something so absurd, because I would be on the defensive and that is what the racist wants: throw out this accusation in order to defend yourself. I don’t waste time with this question, I put all my time in attacking racism.”

Therefore blackening the deliberative spaces of our society, empowering black women becomes increasingly necessary. Especially if these women come from the periphery, from our urban quilombos (4) or rural areas where we were thrown in post-abolition without any assistance.

To see a black woman in power, a black woman president, a black woman “direction” certainly stirs up the psyche of an entire excluded black nation. It stirs me up. It stirs you up.

Luana Soares is a black woman, history student at the Universidade Católica de Salvador (Catholic University of Salvador), a member of Candaces (collective of black women) and a militant of the Coletivo Quilombo (Collective Quilombo).


1. In the 2nd Congressional Black Culture of the Americas (Panama, 1980), Afro-Brazilian activist Abdias do Nascimento presented his thesis quilombismoQuilombosare one of the first experiences of freedom in the Americas. They had a community structure based on African cultural values. Its political organization was democratic. Its economic model was the opposite of the colonial model. Instead of producing an item for export only and depending on the imperial matrix, it had a diversified agricultural production that provided their own support and maintained trade relations and exchange with the surrounding population. Quilombismoproposes that legacy as a basic reference for a proposed political mobilization of people of African descent in the Americas based on its own historical and cultural experience. It goes even further, and articulates an Afro-Brazilian proposal to the contemporary national state, a multiethnic and multicultural Brazil. Source:

2. Africana Womanism is a termed coined in the late 1980s by Clenora Hudson-Weems intended as an ideology applicable to all women of African descent. It is grounded in African culture and Afrocentrism and focuses on the experiences, struggles, needs, and desires of Africana women of the African diaspora. It distinguishes itself from feminism, or Alice Walker’s womanism. Source: Wiki

3. Founded in 1983 in Rio de Janeiro, Nzinga – Collective of Black Women, was an initiative of Lélia Gonzalez and fellow black female activists in the struggle of the Black Women’s Movement
4. A quilombo is a Brazilian hinterland settlement founded by people of African origin including the quilombolas, or maroons. Most of the inhabitants of quilombos (called quilombolas) were escaped slaves and, in some cases, later these escaped African slaves would help provide shelter and homes to other minorities of marginalized Portuguese, Brazilian aboriginals, Jews and Arabs, and/or other non-black, non-slave Brazilians who experienced oppression during colonization. However, the documentation on runaway slave communities typically uses the term mocambo to describe the settlements. “Mocambo” is an Ambundu word that means “hideout”, and is typically much smaller than a quilombo. Quilombo was not used until the 1670s and then primarily in more southerly parts of Brazil. A similar settlement exists in other Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America, and is called a palenque. Its inhabitants are palenqueros who speak various Spanish-African-based creole languages. Quilombos are identified as one of three basic forms of active resistance by slaves. The other two are attempts to seize power and armed insurrections for amelioration.[1] Typically, quilombos are a “pre-19th century phenomenon”. The prevalence of the last two increased in the first half of 19th century Brazil, which was undergoing both political transition and increased slave trade at the time. Source: Wiki

Source: Quilombo Coletivo

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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