Note from BW of Brazil: Recently, Brazil’s well-known exclusion of its African descendant population was once again pointed out, this time by a German newspaper. On October 9th, Germany will host the Frankfurt Book Fair and this year will feature and pay homage to Brazilian authors, 70 of which will represent the country in the fair. The problem? There is only one black author and only one Brazilian Indian author in the group. If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you know this is actually not a surprise; besides a plethora of other areas that makes Brazilian society look like an extension of Europe in Latin America, black Brazilians are also invisible as protagonists in the country’s literature. Thus, in a sense, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they are invisible as writers as well. Perhaps surprising (but then again, not so surprising), is how the Minister of Culture disregarded the issue. Please read the story below to understand the controversy and read comments by BW of Brazil after the article.
Marta Suplicy ‘ethnic criterion was not used in the list of Frankfurt’
Culture Minister praised the criteria from the list of guest writers
by Maurício Meireles
Minister of Culture Marta Suplicy said on Wednesday morning (October 2nd), that no ethnic criterion was used in drawing up the list of Brazilian authors invited to represent the country at the Feira de Frankfurt (Frankfurt Book Fair), the largest book fair in the world. The controversy was raised at the end of last week, by the German press, which highlighted the fact that there was only one black writer among the chosen, Paulo Lins of Rio de Janeiro and author of Cidade de Deus (City of God). The minister’s statement was given in a press conference to announce the numbers of a program of translation scholarships abroad, in which were present the President of the Fundação Biblioteca Nacional (FBN or National Library Foundation), Renato Lessa, and coordinator of the international center of the book of FBN, Moema Salgado.
“The criterion was not ethnic, and I found the criteria used correct. First the aesthetic quality and then authors who had books translated into foreign language,” Marta said. “Every list is always a clipping that causes discussion. Brazil is experiencing a moment of transformation, which will allow that, in future generations, we have a larger number of blacks participating. Today, unfortunately, we do not.”
Moema Salgado said that the criterion of choice of authors whose books have been published abroad was an agreement with the fair.
“I found it even odd the Germans themselves raised this issue. It is a demand of the fair itself. Whoever sees a debate wants to have a book translated to buy,” said Moema Salgado.
At the press conference, the Minister of Culture also released figures of the translation scholarship program. Brazil comes to Frankfurt with 422 scholarships awarded to foreign publishers since 2010, with 110 books published in Germany. 200 other works must be published abroad by October.
Frankfurt Book Fair denies racism in Brazilian list
September 30, 2013
courtesy of O Globo
German newspaper criticizes selection, which has only one black writer, Paulo Lins, among 70 writers
A little more than a week from the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair, which this year honors Brazil, German Jürgen Boos, president of the event, denied in a press conference held last Friday, rumors that racist criteria were used in the selection of writers that Brazil will take to the fair.
About a month ago (now two months ago), the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung published an article highlighting that among the 70 authors named to represent Brazil in Germany, only one is black, Paulo Lins of Rio de Janeiro, and only one Indian descendant, Daniel Mundurukú of the state of Pará. According to the publication, the final choice would not show the amplitude of Brazilian literary production. But Boos rejected this claim vehemently:
“With all certainty there was no racism,” he said. “It has nothing to do with Brazil or with minorities. When a selection is made, it is natural that some get left out.”
The controversy raised by the newspaper echoed, however, in the fact that in 2012, when the fair honored New Zealand, an ethnic proportionality criteria was adopted in the composition of the team of writers who would go to the event.
“Last year, there was a large Maori presence. But this is one of the major ethnic groups in New Zealand, and the country has a tradition of proportionality,” Boos explained. “I don’t know how many hundreds of ethnic groups there are in Brazil. But there are other criteria, such as the recognition that the author has in the country, if (the author) has already been translated, which is important, and how it represents the nation’s language. There are always those who are left out, but this is not racism.
Announced in March, the list of 70 writers who will be in Frankfurt between October 9th and 13th is the result of a curator of journalist Manuel da Costa Pinto with Maria Antonieta Cunha, Director of Livro, Leitura e Literatura da Fundação Biblioteca Nacional (Book, Reading and Literature from the National Library Foundation), and Antonio Martinelli, coordinator of programming of SESC in São Paulo. And Costa Pinto says the central criterion of choice was the relevance of Brazilian authors in the editorial.
“Paulo Lins, author of Cidade de Deus (City of God), would have to be present at the fair regardless of his color. Our curators did not render themselves to extra literary criteria. It did not use quotas. It is important to note that blacks and Indians will be represented there with at least one author.”
Note from BW of Brazil: There’s a lot going here so let’s get right down to the main points here. First of all, for those of you who don’t remember, several months ago Minister of Culture Marta Suplicy expressed outrage in the fact that ordinances and grants totaling US$4.5 million being devoted to black cultural producers were overturned because such ordicnances were deemed “racist”. Suplicy regarded the decision as being “racist”, after all, the exclusion of black Brazilians in so many areas of Brazilian society was the very reason that such an ordinance was necessary in the first place. But in this case, the very same Marta Suplicy, who made herself appear to be a fighter for the inclusion of Afro-Brazilians in society, adopts the exact same stance that Brazilian elites have long used to explain black exclusion.
In this instance, Suplicy made use of the tried and true excuses of 1) race/ethnicity was not a qualifying criteria and 2) there is a lack of black Brazilians in this area. Suplicy’s stance goes to show 1) that one cannot depend on persons affiliated with government to always do the right thing and 2) the consistent flip-flop of government officials. Suplicy’s flip-flop highlights similar arguments that one can hear when the debate is about affirmative action and quota policies. The bottom line is that 1) if the status quo remains the criteria, minorities will always be excluded and 2) if officials don’t make an issue of racial diversity, the status quo is never challenged. Why was Suplicy not “outraged” about this latest form of black Brazilian exclusion?
Three other issues to mention here.
First, Isn’t it funny how it took a German newspaper to call out Brazil for its lack of ethnic diversity? After all, Germany racial history is one of the main targets often pointed to when a country like Brazil wants to make itself appear to be a leader in terms of racial diversity. In this logic, as long as there is American, German, and South African history to point to, Brazilian elites (and often times citizens) will argue that Brazil is a “racial paradise” where there is “racial harmony”. Second, FBN coordinator Moema Salgado says that she was surprised that the Germans brought the issue up. Could this be because Brazilian elites and society are generally accustomed to Brazil being presented as a white country. So what if 51% of Brazilians define themselves as non-white, why would Germany question Brazil’s normalized representation of itself as a white nation? In other words, “what’s the problem?”
The last issue is that concerning the German president of the book fair, Jürgen Boos, and his comment that there was no racism in the selection process. Well, this may or may not be so. Racism doesn’t have to include implicit statements or signs proclaiming “no blacks allowed” for racial exclusion or under-representation to be present. Racial/ethnic exclusion is part of the structural system of racism. Also, why would he even make a point of speaking of the situation of the Maori peoples of New Zealand (they make up 15% of the New Zealand population)? First, he makes a point of explaining that New Zealand has a “tradition of proportionality” which makes it appear that he clearly knows the New Zealand situation but then turns around and says he doesn’t know how many ethnic groups there are in Brazil. If he didn’t know the facts of both countries why make such a statement? By making a statement in which he freely admits not having information about both sides, he comes across as uninformed which in turn discredits his statement. In the end, both sides are unwilling and unprepared to really deal with the issue. So what’s the bottom line about Brazil’s ethnic representation at this international event? Business as usual!
Below is more from the Süddeutsche Zeitung article (translated in English with original German beneath)
Segregation and the colonial burden
by Von Michaela Metz
“Quite as accurate as ever also, it doesn’t say, because there are in Brazil over 140 different names for skin colors (1), including: coffee-colored, coffee with milk, cinnamon, chocolate, tan, Galician, half-white, half-brown, half-black, or toasted. Many of these terms are intended to make the skin color sound a little white. Even everyday Brazilians tend to classify their counterparts as lighter – out of politeness. Because the skin color is not named in Brazil as in the United States by ethnicity, but only according to appearance.
“Behind the politeness, however, conceals a brutal reality. Journalist and author Luiz Ruffato, he will give at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the opening speech of the host country Brazil, which described in the international literature festival FLIP, Paraty: “We have in a very unjust Brazil, we live in a segregationist society. There are Indians and . . blacks. And there is an elite in society without any responsibility for the country in which they live.” The Brazilian society still wears the burden of colonial period, Ruffato said.
1. The usage of more than 130 terms used by Brazilians to define their skin color has been cited in countless studies. In reality, another study shows that the number of these terms actually breaks down to only a handful. For more, see the first footnote in this article.