Guinean immigrant in Brazil: “Rio de Janeiro is a city that very much rejects the African”

Maurício Wilson Camilo da Silva, pesquisador - ‘O Rio de Janeiro rejeita os africanos’

Note from BW of Brazil: Question: If you had to choose another country to live in and after doing your own research on one in particular, you now want to get a personal perspective from someone who lives in that country. Given the choice between an adult who was born and raised in the country and another person who, as you may become in the future, is an immigrant, whose opinion would you most likely trust? In reality, it’s a not a simple question. The person who was born and raised in the country could provide you endless information based on the experience of being a native to the country. But on the other hand, any citizen who loves their country could also distort facts about said country in order to present the best image of their native land possible. Is it possible that a immigrant can see and expose things that native-born citizen can’t or won’t?

Millions of US-born Americans continue to believe that the US is the “greatest country in the world”, but is this perspective actually stand up to scrutiny? Is it actually true? I mean, by what parameters does one measure such a statement? Is it possible that a country could be great in some areas but severely lacking in others? What if were black and you were considering living in another country, would the issue of racism be a topic you might be concerned about in seeking a new country to live in? Would you ask a Brazilian how they thought his/her country treated black people considering the fact that so many Brazilians travel to/live in other countries and deny the existence of racism? Hmmmm….Maybe not.

Although Brazil has been a hot destination for immigrants from numerous countries over the past several years, it would be an understatement to say that there are differences between how a white European immigrant may see Brazil and how a black African immigrant may experience the country. In a number of previous posts, we’ve presented the often times negative experiences of African immigrants as well as Haitian immigrants in Brazil. Recently, another African immigrant shared his opinions of one Brazil’s most well-known cities in an interview with a top newspaper. See what he had to say below.  

Maurício Wilson Camilo da Silva, researcher:  ‘Rio de Janeiro rejects Africans’

Eight years in Rio for his studies, Guinean gives course on history of the great kingdoms of Africa at the Institute of Philosophy and Social Sciences of the UFRJ

By Thiago Jansen

Architect and urban planner, professor of History of African kingdoms, he sees Rio as an unfriendly city for immigrants from his continent

Tell me something that I don’t know.

Unfortunately, most Brazilians only know the image of a poor at war Africa. And if we take into account the fact that Brazil is the second country with the largest Afro-descendant population in the world, the absence of this knowledge is striking. While here African historical knowledge is restricted to the enslaved and free African, there the process is different, and considers the ancestry of the great kingdoms and nobles of the continent.

What changes can the expansion of this knowledge result in the social dynamics?

When the history of Africa connects itself to its descendents, whose knowledge comes down to slavery, this can wake up black Brazilians to the understanding that they are not only descendants of slaves, but also those who were masters and had their civilizations, like any people. And it can contribute to an ideological revolution in Brazil.

You have no training in that subject, but you organize courses in that respect. How did you become interested in the area?

It comes from my origin and the belief that if we don’t know where we came from, it is complicated to understand where we are going. In this sense, despite wanting to do a doctorate on the subject, I am an example that a person need not have a degree in History to seek such life experience, deepen it and pass it on.

How have your eight years of experience in the country been?

Brazil is a very heterogeneous country, but there are many myths built about it that only here you see that they are false. A curious myth is the idea that Carnival lasts months: as soon as I arrived, I saw that it’s nothing like that. Another (thing), more serious is the realization of that, because of being a very African country, it is receptive to this immigrant.

It’s not?

Brazil favors European immigrants more than Africans. Rio de Janeiro, in fact, is a city that very much rejects the African.

You don’t like living in Rio?

Rio can be terrible. It would be my falsehood not to say this about a city where, with frequency, I walk by the disdained people in the streets, and where the number of murders, mostly black and poor, is stark.

Are there good things?

There are, of course. And I believe that living here has been a learning experience. I think, outside my country, this is the only place where I would continue to live. It is a city that gave me the chance, even if through the rejection, of detaching myself from the field of social attention to reflect on myself. And that enriched me ideologically.

Have you been through situations of strong prejudice?

This happens from the moment I leave home. Once, a bus driver asked why I was here. (It was) said jokingly, but not so much, that the African arrived here in chains, helped build the country and today I came free to enjoy it.

Does prejudice extend to the academic environment?

Academia reflects society. So Africa is also seen as inferior in the university, and this is perceived by the relationships and behaviors in the classroom. It’s a more complex prejudice.

Source: O Globo

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. Because there was no open segregation like there was in the United States or South Africa between whites and blacks, blacks in Brazil were fooled into thinking that there was no racism against them by whites in Brazil. White Brazilians created a culture that looked down upon the Native Indians and Africans in Brazil. Why do you think whites only allowed fellow whites on television and in the media? The whites in Brazil want to celebrate only white European culture. Whites in Brazil have done everything in their power to make brown and Black Brazilians ashamed of their race and their culture.

    Black Brazilians need to look to the United States and South Africa for inspiration in their struggle against white racism!

  2. Because whites in Latin America were a racial minority, they encouraged the Native Indians (Aztecs, Maya, Inca, and etc.) and black African slaves to intermarry with them. Whites in Latin America believed that through intermarriage, they could “whiten” the population. Mexico once had a significant black population that disappeared through intermarriage.

    Whites in North America did the opposite. They promoted segregation and opposed race-mixing. In Latin America, if you are 1% white, you can call yourself white. In North America, if you are 1% black, you can only call yourself black (the one drop rule).

  3. I get the authors point but I also feel he misses the nuance of Brazilian society. Of course there is a deep seeded racism throughout Brazil and Rio is no different.

    Despite that, there are many aspects of Brazilian culture that are interwoven and infused by African culture and it widely recognized and appreciated. I think a major difference between the North (Bahia) and the South (Rio) is where in the north African culture is viewed as more external to Brazilian culture where in Rio it is completely embedded.

    So when you listen to people like Nei Lopes and others, we understand that to be Brazilian is to be African and there is nothing more African in Brazil than to be at a pagode in the zona norte of Rio. The music, the community the entire scene of a pagode is a wonderful display of Afro-Brazilian culture. To be at a monday night party of the Renascença Club, is a display of African culture in Brazil.

    Not to mention the fact that there are probably more condemble’ houses in Rio than Salvador.

    But we are too often in our search for an “authentic” Afrocentricity looking for those cultural elements that are most outwardly visible and direct replicas of practices and displays found on the African continent.

    But if one were to visit Africa, pagode and social clubs are a very common element to all of our societies and it is these everyday practices that are not necessarily defined as “African” where we will find the deepest and purest presence of Africaniety in the west.

    It is similar to New Orleans were we also have social clubs and on each Sunday celebrate with a 2nd line parade which is essentially a pagode that moves through the streets. Yet we will not see the Dashiki dressed Afrocentric people at many of these events as they lack the specific cultural authenticity they require to designate something as “African”.

    But again it is in the common culture of the people, not the derived culture of Afrocentrism that we find the most authentic embrace of African heritage.

  4. I like how this article starts with a strong question about views of the city from whether someone who grew up there, or from an immigrant who moved there. Who would you believe? I think that a huge contribution to negative myths about certain cities is due to the media. Media always has been, and will be toxic; leaving out large parts of stories to make someone/something look worse off. It’s sad that Rio de Janerio was a place that Mauricio states to be so dreadful at times. It’s still so ironic that Brazil has the highest population of Afro-descendant’s, yet there is still so much discrimination that goes on. I like Mauricio’s idea of “If you don’t know where you came from, it will be complicated to know where we are going.” Definitely puts a emphasis of how important it is to acknowledge history, especially when it comes to the extent of discrimination and segregation that once was in Brazil. It was nice to read someone’s personal experience and hear from their mouth exactly how they felt about Rio de Janerio.

  5. I was very surprised in reading this article that Brazil is not very receptive to African immigrants, considering it has the world’s second largest African population. I remember from the documentary we watched in class last week, how it mentioned that the Brazilian government actually paid people from Europe to go to Brazil so that they could have a more ‘white’ country. This post reminded me of that, and how in Brazil the notion exists that it is not a racist country, and yet it favors those with a lighter complexion. Seeing that the professor is not a native Brazilian, he can more easily pick up on social nuances and mannerisms of Brazilian people when it comes to race, that native Brazilians can not see because it is all they have known. They dynamic of why the favoritism exists in Brazil for whites over Africans would be an interesting thing to further explore, but this professor’s insight was really interesting to see, especially because he is not a native Brazilian.


  6. This article was very interesting, I like it when the author start to question “Given the choice between an adult who was born and raised in the country and another person who, as you may become in the future, is an immigrant, whose opinion would you most likely trust?” It is true that is not a simple question unless you went there and experience it, what it feels like to live there. Moreover, I can’t believe it that they’re still a huge rejection for African immigrant. Even if they are the second largest African population. And I think there’s no a perfect country to live in, because they’re always a something lack of with different countries. It just depends on how you accept those flaws on that country.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.