Note from BW of Brazil: The invisibility of the black population in Brazil is one that has been systematically enforced for decades, even centuries. And as would be expected, within the educational system this is no different. In fact, the educational system, along with the mainstream media, is where the idea of white supremacy is first implanted in the psyche of the society. In both areas, for decades, persons of African descent, when presented at all, have been and continue to be presented as mere footnotes, persons whose history and contributions to society don’t even exist. As such, if a whole people were presented only as slaves in history books covering a period of about 2,000 years and on television, the most popular and opinion forming medium in the media, they were constantly presented in stereotypically meaningless facets of society, how would this affect how such a people saw itself and how others saw them? We’ve already touched on this issue in articles such as “Five things every black child learns in school” and “For centuries Europeans exploited Africa and its people and in Brazil the situation remains the same” as well as its effects on the psyche in “Racism expels the black child from school” and “Invisibility in school curriculum leads to fragmentation and rejection of black children’s identity”.
Today’s piece analyzes yet other aspect of white supremacy within the school system: the delegitimizing of blackness with whiteness acting as the sole gatekeeper of knowledge.
Educational space, identity and the silencing of black women
By Clara Brandão – originally published in Blogueiras Negras
During my experience as a woman and black, I didn’t see presented to me women like me being producers of knowledge, protagonists in positions of power. For women like me, all that remained was the underemployed and clandestinity.
When I discovered myself as black, at around 17 years old, anguish and fear and perhaps even depression came to me. I couldn’t stand people who were not black talking about people like me, black women. I always thought, and still think, that they knew more about my/our own history, than I, than ourselves. And maybe they actually knew.
I say this because it is recurring in a discussion about racial and gender issues, in the university, you – subject – black being asked about its theoretical foundation on the subject. After all, you don’t take history courses to know what you are talking about. I, white, take courses, and I know that I know more about the history of black people than you. You do not take law courses to know about the Brazilian prison system. I, white, take courses, and I know that I know more about you, and so on.
It’s incredible how the experience as a black subject in a racist Brazilian society is ignored in academic spaces. There are examples of works and research carried out within the universities, where researchers on racial issues mostly are white and not able to see how problematic this is. A white researcher/academic has the power to silence the few black researchers who are in the spaces of universities only for the simple fact of being white and being more widely accepted in these spaces than blacks.
I’ll never forget the day when a professor questioned me about the turban I was wearing, this still while in high school. He asked in an invasive and offensive way if I knew what that meant. I responded that no, I didn’t know, but that it good by me. He answered me, said it meant that I would be “working” for Umbanda if I remember correctly, which continued not making sense to me at that time.
Later that day, I discovered that this teacher would give me a sociology class. On the day of his first class, he proposed a short presentation of the students in my class, as most teachers do on your first day of school. I didn’t want for my turn to speak to come, I didn’t like talking to large groups, and still don’t like it. It was inevitable, I had to introduce myself. The questions to be answered were simple: name, age and what’s interesting to me. My name is Clara, I’m 18 and I’m clandestine, I think it was more or less that my answer. He asked me why I was clandestine. I replied in a simple way: black youth are criminalized in our country, teacher. He was not satisfied and wanted me to respond with data, that my statement was unfounded, so it was of no importance. I was delegitimized, which hurt me a lot. It hurt because there were only three black people in a class of 30 students.
At that moment I lost my ground for a few seconds, I didn’t understand how a professor of sociology who said he was “leftist” didn’t understand that, and made of the situation a form of psychological aggression.
But I refuted. I said I didn’t need quantitative data nor conduct a survey to know the condition of the majority of the black population. I said that I was in this condition, clandestine, because at that time there were only three black students in a class of 30 students. I replied that I was clandestine because the cleaning workers of the school were mostly female and black, I responded that the periphery (district/village) that was located behind the school was black and I didn’t have a black teacher. The matter ended after that.
When you assume your identity you are put to test at any time of your existence. At work, when they want to refer to something racist or ask a simple question about black men and women they call me, as if black women have always been available to the demands of whiteness and had to serve them. Because of course, that’s the woman of the Movimento Negro (black movement), stuck up, who knows herself, we will expose her to prove that she doesn’t know about her condition as a woman and black, we whites are who know. When an empowered black woman occupies places that are not predestined to her it’s easier to expose it because they know that she no longer condones situations of violence and disrespect. Thus, doing everything to wear out her stability, patience and, venture to say, even sanity.
It has become easy to say that the black does not know about their condition and history in an educational context in which one only studies blacks in the colonial period, and on the days May 13 and November 20.
They often ask me why I care so much about the representation of black people in the areas of basic and higher education. My answer is always the same: how will a subject will form his/her identity if people like him/her are not presented and represented in teaching spaces beyond an aunt that cleans and that works in the dining hall? These spaces where a student spends most of his/her time and which is central to their formation. This space (even though we know in which mold they were shaped and to whom they are serving), privileged, where we can reach in a positive way if we wish every black male or female student, for a new anti-racist, sexist, homophobic, trans-phobic formation in education.
Now the question remains: how does one make basic and higher education become a tool against racism if we have a rigid curriculum, in all the materials, that does not teach the Afro-Brazilian history and doesn’t speak of the spaces mostly occupied by black people: the periphery, the underemployed, the prisons and prostitution?
We need to train professionals of education who are capable of dealing with the plurality of subjects in educational activities (which are not restricted to school and university). In case this doesn’t happen together
with our representation in these spaces, the theoretical study of white academia about our history will continue speaking louder than the experience of black people, mainly women of the periphery.
Graduate in Geography-Degree from the Federal University of Rio Grande – FURG, constructs the “Macanudos” collective of black male and female students and the collective of black women “Gritaram-me Negra”.
Source: Blogueiras Negras