Some, like the Ilê Aiyê, right, only accept blacks
Aldermen investigate cases of racial segregation in the Carnival blocos of Salvador
At first glance, the Carnival of Salvador seems an example of racial democracy and happy coexistence between people of all races and social classes. A CPI (Comissão Parlamentar de Inquérito or Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry) initiated in the city of Salvador is showing otherwise. Since March, the councilors collect countless stories of racism in the Carnival city.
|Venusemar Silva Andrade|
College student Venusemar Silva Andrade phoned the headquarters of bloco (1) A Barca on the eve of Carnival this year. She was informed that there were still vacancies. To participate in the revelry, one need only pay the abadá, the official t-shirt which entitles one to participate in the parade behind the trio elétrico (2) of a bloco with the support of the cordão de isolamento (rope separating official bloco participants from the rest of the thousands in the crowd). Venusemar, black, went to the scene with two white friends, Adriana Marambaia and Roberta Macedo. The three filled out applications, submitted photos and waited for “approval of the director.” To accelerate the process, Adriana tried to talk to one of the directors of the bloco, Vicente dos Anjos Filho, known as Boko. “Are you crazy? Blacks don’t get in A Barca, no. Are you wanting to dirty up the bloco?”, said Boko. “This application will never be approved.”
In the applications the candidates to “members of the bloco” fill out, there is the warning that in case of refusal, the bloco’s directors don’t have to disclose the reason. Teacher Léa Virgínia de Jesus Santiago even today doesn’t know why she and six friends, all black, were refused by the Pinel and Beijo blocos. But she’s skeptical. “My friend is blonde and gaúcha (3), that lives in an upscale neighborhood here in Salvador, and she did not need nor submit a photo”, she says. “She was approved at the time.” Léa never saw herself as being black because of her light skin, wavy hair and European features. “I’ve always suspected they discriminated. When you watch from high up in the stands, you can see that there are whole blocos without a single black face.” Santiago affirmed that this incident taught her a lesson about how racism worked in Brazil.
The black students Adriano da Silva and Bruno Pinto were not accepted by the block Nu Outro Eva. “The selection methods used by the blocos are a smorgasbord of prejudices, in which one looks at the address, the school, the color and appearance,” complains Councilman Juca Ferreira, of the Partido Verde (Green Party), President of the CPI. “We’re investigating something that everyone knows exists but no one has stopped to discuss.”
It’s enough to just look at the street party in Salvador’s Carnival to see that, there, racial democracy is not as great as you think. There are blocos of only whites, others just for the upper upper middle class and those restricted to blacks. The traditional bloco afro Ilê Aiyê, for example, does not accept whites. Only blacks can parade. “Carnival reflects the racism that is embedded in Bahian society,” says anthropologist Anthony Risério. “Here we have an intense coexistence between different races, but we also have mechanisms that put everyone in their place.” Besides the CPI, the prosecutor Lidivaldo Brito opened a civil investigation and filed a complaint of racism against Boko and Carlos Augusto Mello, partner of bloco A Barca. “The relationship between the blocks and the revelers, pertaining to the law is consumption,” said the prosecutor. “To refuse adherence of a reveler is a crime, equivalent to the attitude of a vender who refuses to sell a store’s product because the customer is black or white.” If convicted, the directors of the bloco could receive from one to three years in jail. Mello, partner of A Barca, attributes the assault to the great confusion of the eve of Carnival. “There were over 100 people at the headquarters,” he argues. “It was impossible to maintain good service.”
Source: Veja, Astor, Michael. “Racial democracy a myth: Carnival reveals cracks of Brazil’s racial divide”. Associated Press. Febraury 7, 2000. Available online April 21, 2001 (no longer available).
1. Street bands and groups that perform on huge bandstands and are popular attractions for participants of Carnaval
2. Trio Elétrico (or electric trio) is a kind of truck or float equipped with a high power sound system and a music group on the roof, playing for crowds during Carnaval.
3. A gaúcha is a woman from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, where 81.4% of the population considers itself white with the state being one of Brazil’s most European influenced culturally. A gaúcho is the masculine version of the word representing a man from the state. International soccer star Ronaldinho Gaúcho is also from Rio Grande do Sul.
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