Note from BW of Brazil: It sees that Brazil’s only majority black college, Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares (UniPalmares) is making some moves. A few weeks back I brought you a report about a campaign that the college was promoting to present Brazil’s greatest writer, Machado de Assis, as he really was: black. You see, the image of late 19th/early 20th century writer had been whitened in many of the images seen by most people to the point that many still don’t know that he was actually black.
Now the college is taking another important step releasing a book that seeks o introduce people to some of the facts of black history that have been “blacked out” of mainstream history books. The effects of this historical deleting have been detrimental to the psyches of hundreds of millions of black people throughout the world, a large percentage of whom still don’t know of the great achievements of Africa and her people.
The school and a number of prominent Afro-Brazilian historians such as Carlos Machado are heeding the words of the great John Henrik Clarke, who said that “if you start your history with slavery then everything else will look like progress”. The book Black Box seeks to offer an introduction to some of those lost pages of African and African descendant history that most of us never heard in school. Needless to say, I look forward to being able to get my hands on this book.
Five young black people pose side by side, while the one in the center showing the book “Black Box”
Book brings out great feats of black people made invisible by history
Courtesy of Hypeness, with contributions from Karla Dunder of R7 and LBBOnline
“After 300 years of slavery in Brazil, it is urgent to change the mindset that permeates a hidden past fundamental to regain self-esteem and correct crucial historical omissions that were the basis of racism in Brazil. We chose this path, through education, because we believe that is the right start. Correcting the past we can create a different future with more justice and opportunities” says Danilo Janjacomo, creative director, and Talita Cardozo, head of art at JWT Brazil.
Developed by Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares, Brazil’s only black college, in conjunction with J. Walter Thompson Brasil, the Black Box project tells the achievements of black people who have been forgotten by history. After all, Africa is not only the cradle of civilization, but also the place that created the basis for what would become cubismo (cubism), the scene of inventions such as the telescope and also the place where the first cesareans were done.
That some of these Africans were brought as slaves to the Americas should not erase these achievements. On the contrary, in a country where more than half of the people are black, this should be a reason for us to reflect more and more on the erasure of their history.
“History is told starting from slavery, which is a moment of erasure, when everything that was produced, feats of mathematics and astronomy, for example, were left aside,” says Danilo Janjacomo, Creative Director of the project. “The research opened a new world, we discovered great things that changed the history of humanity and that need to be told.
To redeem the cultural and historical legacy of the black population, 15 professionals from different areas were involved in the project. “Every time we checked information, we always found something new to include.”
With over 15,000 hours of research involving historians, journalists, teachers and activists, the university-led study gave rise to a 200-page book that seeks to portray the cultural and historical legacy of blacks. As you flip through the pages, readers will come across translucent sheets of paper that omit parts of the text with black boxes that do not allow you to know the achievements of the African peoples.
When we turn the page, we can see what lies behind the “official” story: it is historical information and names of black heroes that have been omitted over the centuries. “When the idea of writing this book came up, we had no idea it would have so many subjects. But when we started researching, a whole world opened up before us, with discoveries we could never have imagined,” said Ariane Polvoni, editor-in-chief, and Thamara Pinheiro, content researcher and writer of the project.
After the research, the first step was to select subjects to organize a book. Each chapter has a theme that goes through the discoveries of astronomy, medicine or even gastronomy and feminism among others. “Inside each point we have a series of related stories, which can and should be expanded, we open a black box to discuss history through the lens of African culture.”
To illustrate these achievements, a map of the area where the Palmares quilombo was located was used. The maroon society is a symbol of resistance to slavery in Brazil. Through generative design, small versions of this map were assembled to form several images, leaving the DNA of história negra (black history) printed on each illustration.
The book, which is being distributed free of charge as an e-book or PDF, is the seed of a larger project. “There is the possibility of making the book on paper,” says Janjacomo.
The university went further and took these achievements into the classroom. Each chapter of the book has been integrated into the curriculum and will be present at different university levels as a way of repairing the erasure of black culture.
Black Box was given to Graça Machel, widow of African leader Nelson Mandela. “The book will be part of the Institute’s collection that she is leading and is one of the pioneers in the world to carry out this type of research,” says Janjacomo. “Delivering the book and knowing that it will be used for research has been very rewarding for all of us,” said Janjacomo.