Note from BW of Brazil: In the interview below, poet/musician Ronald Augustus takes on a number of topics that are important to this blog and that have been covered in a number of posts here. Analytical and straight to the point, Augustus minces no words in describing the position and images of Afro-Brazilians in the public mind.
Black Consciousness, Globeleza and the homicide of youth: Interview with Ronald Augusto
by Débora Fogliatto
The preto (black) and pardo (brown) population is historically oppressed in Brazil, being excluded in several areas, such as health and education. In culture, the situation is no different. Since the gentrification of Carnival, passing through the Globeleza “mulata” dancing samba nude on television screens to the killing of youth, black people are stereotyped and thrown to the side in the Brazilian social imaginary.
It is within this perspective that Ronald Augustus, poet, composer and musician, critiques the processes surrounding the representation of black people in Brazilian culture and art. “I think that Carnival, as it is currently, is losing its original condition, which was a manifestation of black communities. Now it’s economically very large, turning itno a sort of extension of that scenography of the Globo network,” he mused on the most famous national festival of the country.
The poet also spoke about the ways in which the black population is represented on television, especially on soap operas, citing the show Sexo e as Negas by Miguel Falabella, which has been especially criticized by feminists and those connected to the black women’s movement, for representing them in a formulaic and hyper-sexualized way.
Check out the interview:
Ronald Augusto – I think they are not well represented, including the government opening up tenders for the production of black artists. Even having a visibility, a production linked to popular culture, such as samba, pagode. But the problem is that it is an open space for the market, with their preconceived determinations that don’t give account to a greater diversity and depth of this contribution of black culture to Brazilian culture. Is still at a very superficial level, that samba “for the English to see” (1). An effort is still necessary so that this diversity that is very broad appears with all its force.
Sul21 – I thought exactly about what you said, of the “samba for the English to see”. Much of what is considered Brazilian culture is actually Afro-Brazilian culture, such as Carnival, the samba. Even so, there is racism. How do you see the fact that whites have incorporated this and made it commercial? Is this something good, natural of miscegenation, or is it problematic?
Ronald Augusto – I wrote a text talking about this, about Brazilian Carnival, without thinking in this sense of sacred feast. The Brazilian Carnival was standardized, with the face of the Carnaval spectacle of the Rio de Janeiro samba school and it became a big business. And when this happens, when something is considered seriously, who takes account of it? Whites. In Rio Carnival the majority of the presidents of the samba schools are all white, I think this is terrible. Not that a white can’t do this, of course he can. It’s part of the aesthetic desire of any person to engage in an artistic manifestation. But I think that Carnival, as it is currently, is losing its original condition, which was a manifestation of black communities. Now it’s economically very large, it’s turned into a sort of extension of that Globo (TV) network scenery. That that appears to be a Globo TV spectacular. I also think that connected people, mainly those knowledgeable of the tradition, must be aware of this. But market forces are very large, so even though many blacks are in this subaltern representation, they prefer this than not participating.
Sul21 – Now that you have spoken on Globo, much is also problematized within feminism the figure of Globeleza, which is always a mulata or negra, dancing samba almost naked on television. How do you see this figure?
Ronald Augusto – The Globeleza (woman) is shamelessly exposed. We hardly see a naked white woman dancing samba in front of the cameras on TV, in the living room of the average Brazilian. But why can a black woman? Because the sexuality of blacks is something that is available to all, it’s still a remnant of the black body as possession of tiozinhos and tiazinhas (old uncles and aunts). It is as if the black body was an animal, not human. So it can appear naked, it’s a part of the white man’s zoo, I think it’s terrible.
Sul21 – Within this aspect of the body of black people, I saw that you wrote about series Sexo e as Negas. Many black women complained about the show because they think it contributes to the hyper-sexualization of the bodies, including one of the first scenes was a black woman having sex on the floor, everything was very criticized. How do you see the representation of black men and women in this context?
Ronald Augusto – I read a very nice text on this show where the author analyzes and notes that all situations of crisis and tension that arise in this narrative there are solved through sexual exchange. Then there’s a scene where one of the women suffers a racist assault by a black security guard of a store and then the guy goes to apologize and they end up having sex. And the same happens to a black man and a white woman, the tension is resolved through sex. This reflects the mentality of (Miguel) Falabella (author and creator), which is a white senhorzinho (master). He thinks that we live in a society in which only because there is mixture there is no prejudice interjected. Miscegenation doesn’t give account of the condensing of the races, it’s an extension of the master’s first rape of the slave. Brazilian mixture started with Portuguese man’s rape of the indian and African woman. Of course I’m not against interracial marriage, nothing like that. But we always have to be aware of this, to this miscegenation because the racial democracy is a fallacy, a lie.
Sul21 – That’s what I was going to ask you next, about Falabella, who is a white man writing about black women. Do this affect the text, making the representation be distorted?
Ronald Augusto – That which I didn’t like when I read Elisa Lucinda’s text because she said that he has a “feeling of the community”. He may even have a feeling for it, but the fact of being close to the community does not impede him from being either prejudiced as much in relation to women as with blacks. We know that even within the community there is racial prejudice. We know that it’s inside a tone of color that goes from lighter to darker, whoever is lighter feels superior. As Muniz Sodré said, the color of the skin is an asset also in Brazil, it’s a good asset when it is for the lighter. The fact of being from the community or empathizing with the community does not mean they don’t express their prejudices. (Ronald Augusto wrote more about it in this column)
Sul21 – On television in general, black people have always been presented as a maid or girl from the slum, the poor guy. Do you think it has improved or are black people still stereotyped in Brazilian television?
Ronald Augusto – I think it has slowly changed, but we have this example of Sexo e as Negas, that was supposedly a television production with another view of blacks, but proved to be a hell of a scam because it repeats the same patterns. For these to be any changes, we need to have at least some black writers with critical consciousness in relation to this. Because there are black people who think there is no bias, this Morgan Freeman meme of that we cannot talk about racism, that we have to have a day of universal consciousness…universal human consciousness is white consciousness. This is a weak idea of discussion of racial prejudice coming from the denial, it has to be discussed frankly. It’s necessary to have black writers and directors. Director Joel Zito Araújo made a really nice documentary about the presence of blacks in Brazilian television (A Negação do Brasil, in English Denying Brazil, 2000, 90min) and he is one of the directors concerned about it.
What further complicates a detailed discussion on racial prejudice is that it is naturalized and is within the structure of relations, blacks also interject this. Blacks watch this show and think, “at least we’re in the display case,” but it’s in the same way, in a subordinate way. There is still the body that speaks louder, it’s not discourse, the intellect. As if this was eternally denied, the reflection of blacks. And that is a tremendous injustice because one of the greatest Brazilian writers, Machado de Assis, was black. To keep reinforcing only the aspect of ginga (2) is terrible. This play by Daniel Alves (Barcelona right-back player of the Brazilian National Team) having eaten a banana, for example, is not the answer. The answer is to denounce it and that’s it.
Sul21 – It generated this campaign Somos Todos Macacos (We Are All Monkeys), which was terrible and had many whites opining about what was right and wrong.
Ronald Augusto – I was very happy with one thing (about) that “We Are All Monkeys”, that I said that it seemed to me an advertising slogan and some people started giving it a political connotation. And later it really revealed itself, (it was) totally empty. I was very happy for having anticipated this stupid celebration. It’s just that, the race issue ends in a joke, humor. This is very serious. Currently what has me most angry are these homicides of young black men. Even Amnesty International launched a campaign called “Jovem Negro Vivo” (Black Youth Alive). This is the greatest example of that Brazil is a violently racist country. Public security institutions continue not only being racist, but practicing extermination. The police and extermination militias get confused. Of course we are in a process of marginalization and violence. Even though many are criminals it’s not in this way that it will be resolved practicing capital punishment covertly. Brazil does not have the death penalty officially, but it does. That to me is very sad. I heard someone say to not to have the Week of Black Consciousness as long as there is this process of murder, that this week be not only a commemoration. We have advanced a little but there is still a ways to go.
Sul21 – So do you think that dates like this fulfills its role so that there are advances in rights?
Ronald Augusto – It has to serve as an instrument of protest and reflection. These dates are important, this is a date established by the poet Oliveira Silveira, who besides being a poet was a great black militant. I think it’s a great victory and this issue becoming a holiday in some states. Here it’s still not, but at least we have this Week of Black Consciousness and it would be important, it would be a nice holiday too. Symbolically it would be very important.
Sul21 – Many of the commemorations are related to culture, dance, music, art.
Ronald Augusto – All that has to be in the arena of debate, discussion and affirmation. It’s really nice and I think it is always good to encourage meetings where there is the discourse of blacks, not only in the aesthetic sense, but also the discourse of blacks, the intelligence of blacks. There are many that are not known. In Rio de Janeiro itself there was André Rebouças, who was a great black engineer that most people don’t know was black. Same thing with the poet of Cruz e Souza, from Santa Catarina, considered one of the greats of world symbolism. And a lot of people that we need to reveal, that people need to know were black.
Source: Sul 21
1. “Pra inglês ver” is an expression originating from around 1830, when Britain demanded that Brazil approve laws that would prevent the slave trade. However, everyone knew that these laws would not be respected, so these laws were created only “pra inglês ver”, “for the English to see.” Used in other situations, it refers to doing something superficially without any substantial content in order to not show incompetence.
2. Literally refers to the fundamental movement in capoeira in which one swings back and forth. Figuratively, it defines a certain swing or swag.