Dionária da Silva Santos
Educator and militant of the Movimento Negro in Jequié, Bahia.
Brazil was the last country to formally abolish slavery and today it has the second largest population of black people in the world after Nigeria. This reality demands of all Brazilian society a reflection on the condition of the black population in the country. In this interview, with online journal Mundo Jovem, teacher and militant of the Movimento Negro, Dionária da Silva Santos, of Jequié, Bahia, brings elements to this debate.
Mundo Jovem: How did black people live in Brazil and how do black people live in Brazil?
Dionária da Silva Santos: At the time of slavery, during the slave regime, the blacks lived in subhuman conditions, treated like animals. It was not a boss-employee relationship. Blacks were treated with total indifference. After abolition, not much has changed this reality, because the black population has been marginalized, was left to their own devices, without any proposal for inclusion in society.
Today there is in the neighborhoods of the periphery, in small, medium and large urban centers, a concentration of black population. And from there comes the highest rates of unemployment, low education, illiteracy, which is among the black population. If we look at the prisons, the largest number of inmates also comes from the black population. If we look at the victims of the massacres, the profile is also of young people from 14 to 25 years, and also from the black population. So, the situation of the black population in Brazil is one of total disregard, in a state of marginality.
MJ: And the issue of racism, you see it as a cultural issue?
Dionária da Silva Santos: Yes, absolutely. Racism was built and, within this process it has been going through various elements. Here in Brazil we have racism as a more specific question of religion. The black population suffers a lot of discrimination in this regard. We know that African religions have suffered and still suffer from a process of demonization. They are seen as demonic cults and a total disregard for the African culture, of not accepting a particular people when it denies the cultural habits of those people. But we see racism in Brazil is also the question of color.
Some people say that there is a social problem. But the social issue is only one aggravating factor, because what really exists is a bias in relation to the physical aspects, that involves color, hair (because the natural thing of black people is to have kinky/curly hair). When a young man goes to a place, for example, job hunting, he is denied entrance. He is soon seen as an outcast, outlaw…Often he ends up becoming marginalized, because that’s how he is viewed by society.
In fact, our society sees the poor as more susceptible to producing bandits, thieves, because of the social condition. And then blacks, by the condition of being in a marginal situation, end up being associated with this image of being a thug and this bias is connected to the physical aspect of the black population.
MJ: But this racism is a veiled racism? Why is it said that racism doesn’t exist in Brazil?
Dionária da Silva Santos: Sure. There is statistical data that say this and the society insists that there is no racism. Even if the myth of racial democracy has been overthrown, still they insist in discourse that there is no discrimination in this country, we live in a mixed-breed country, where various races live. But we know through research and statistical data, that there is still a high percentage of the black population in a state of illiteracy, unemployment and a number of things.
The issue of racism being veiled is the greatest hindrance to the fighting it. There are in the Movimento Negro black intellectuals engaged in combating racism, but racism does not exist in the open. We’re realizing how racism happens, whether in the educational context, or in health, and often times the black population itself ends up not realizing it and that helps to reproduce racism.
MJ: The black consciousness is growing in the country?
Dionária da Silva Santos: Yes, the black struggle of these various entities throughout Brazil, the intervention of black thinkers, have managed to expand the level of black consciousness. At the same time, we realize through the statistical data, by the indices of the IBGE, that the percentage of the black population increased. The reading one gets from this is that people are beginning to accept, accept their black identity. Surely this is the result of movements, thinkers and public policies of affirmation, be it education, health, housing, or what we call affirmative action policies or politics of social reparation. These initiatives attempt to repair the traces leftover from the slave era in the country.
The issue of quotas, for example, has been a great fight. Many universities have already adopted this system and our great struggle is this being adopted in public universities in all courses. Through the power of the struggle of black youths, many people today are beginning to revise their views.
MJ: What arguments would you use to defend the quota system?
Dionária da Silva Santos: First, the quota system is an affirmative action of social repair. The main argument that people use to defend the quota system is based on statistical data showing that the number of black people in the universities is very small. In regions where there are universities, the number of black students was 0.1% to 1%. Hence a study was done to address the reason for so few black people in the university. They came to the fore those elements of the social condition in which black people find themselves.
We know that from the time that the population has access to school, has higher levels of education, their social condition and the context in which they live improves, because this way the person has increased their critical consciousness. The quota system would be one way to include a population that has been historically penalized, robbed of their human rights as a citizen. It would be a way to return the dignity, the payment of a debt that the Brazilian state has to the black population.
We also understand that the quota system is a more immediate way to increase the number of black people within the universities. There was a disbelief among young black students, and today there is an expectation of attaining a higher education, of feeling included.
MJ: Is there already a reason you can celebrate some results in this sense?
Dionária da Silva Santos: Absolutely, because the people who fought the system of quotas argued that it would diminish the intellectual level of the universities, because the people that would enter through the quotas would have a inferior level of knowledge than the other. But this is not true, because the person who goes through the quota system goes through the same process of selection as the others, is evaluated in the same way. The difference is that there is a reserve for those entering through quotas. They compete amongst themselves which increases the degree of difficulty.
Anyway, there is research showing that the universities that have adopted the quota system have shown the same level of performance and development. There are even data showing that some quota recipients make more progress than the non-quota students. So, this myth has been debunked and it was observed an increase in the black population in universities, as well as an increase of young people involved in the public policy of inclusion. We consider this a victory.
MJ: The struggle of black consciousness is not only a struggle of black youth. What would you say to white youth on the fight against racism?
Dionária da Silva Santos: I would say just this: that the fight against racial discrimination is a struggle of all of us Brazilians, of all citizens, because it is a struggle for the rescue of Brazilian culture, since our culture is also formed by all these elements that form Brazilian culture. This will contribute to the intellectual and social development of the whole society and for our own humanization.
Source: Black Women of Brazil