Note from BW of Brazil: For Afro-Brazilian activists, the black population of Brazil is considered the combination of persons who identify themselves as pretos (blacks) and pardos (brown), which together make up about 53.6% of the population or about 109 million people out of a country made up of 205 million people. Using this concept to declare that Brazil has the largest population of black people outside of Africa is true but it also a bit misleading. Why? Because the fact is that not all persons defining themselves as pardos define themselves as negros, or blacks and these pardos compose 84% of that 53.6%. If one were to talk to any pardo in the streets of northeastern states such as Bahia or Ceará, a southeastern state such as São Paulo or a southern state such as Rio Grande do Sul, there is no guarantee that said person would self-define him or herself as a negro or negra. This person may define him or herself as parda/pardo or morena/moreno. And as the terms negro/negra (two terms that are not officially used on census forms) are thought to have some sort of political meaning, in some ways, calling Brazil the second largest black population in the world can be misleading.
Some have suggested the use of the term afrodescendente, meaning person of African descent, instead, as a person may in fact deny or prefer not to define him or herself as negro/negra but African ancestry cannot be denied. Much of this complexity has to do with Brazil’s long history of miscegenation, or race mixing, that had (and still has) as its ultimate goal the disappearance of all vestiges of a black physical presence through this process. The other reason is that due to the social invisibility and negativity associated with blackness. Without the proper representation and knowledge of self and the historical struggle against elimination, untold numbers of Brazilians can pass through their whole lives without ever seeing themselves as negros/negras. This writer hears these stories everyday and some of those people who went through a transition of racial identity are even posted on this blog (1). With a shift in recent years as a result of many years of consciousness-raising projects, more and more people have gained access to a story and history that have long been denied to them and in turn these people come to strongly identify themselves with this struggle. Consequently this knowledge often leads to thoughts such as the one we bring you below.
I am a pérola negra, a black pearl, proudly a brasileiro afrodescendente (Brazilian of African descent)
The maintenance in the fight against racism must be constant
By Natal Alves França
The teachers taught me to see the history of the liberation of slaves in Brazil in a way that led me to believe in a benevolent gesture of Princess Isabel, like a favor of whites to blacks. At the time I didn’t understand what actually happened. Reviewing history, today I understand that that abolition without giving conditions for the dignity to blacks, began the marginalization of those previously enslaved, who were brought from their land and were kept in captivity, only to work without pay and without being able to study, and, suddenly found themselves free from the shackles, but homeless, uneducated and jobless. The truth is that the end of slavery was achieved by the slaves themselves, that at no time during the colonial and imperial period stopped fighting against slavery, the conquest of liberty is the result of a lot of struggle and sacrifice.
Zumbi dos Palmares, who died on November 20, 1695, is one of the greatest symbols of black resistance against black slavery in Brazil. The fame and the symbol of resistance and strength against slavery shown by palmarinos (inhabitants of the quilombo Palmares) made it so that the date of Zumbi’s death was chosen by the black Brazilian movement to represent the Day of Black Consciousness, and is dedicated to reflection on the insertion of blacks in Brazilian society, characterized by the intention to seek to avoid the development of self-prejudice, that is, inferiorization in society. It’s good to remember that the resistance of afrodescendentes (African descendants) is not only done in direct confrontation against the masters and military forces, it also occurred in the religious and cultural aspect, as in Candomblé, capoeira and music. Remember these cultural characteristics are a way to show the importance of enslaved Africans and their descendants in the social formation of Brazil.
Throughout history, blacks were not treated with respect, going through great suffering. They were enslaved to provide heavy services to white men, having to live in inhumane conditions, crammed into senzalas (slave quarters). Living in sub-human conditions they had to adapt to survive, practiced their religious worship in secret, developed remedies for their physical ailments and were able to express their joys with their own songs and dances, which are still practices in this country.
Blacks and their descendants continue being the majority in this struggle for better living conditions. Unfortunately racial discrimination is a fact of Brazilian society that bars the development of blacks and destroys their capability of realization. We are in the twenty-first century, it is no longer possible to accept the conditions in which the black man lives, being discriminated against in the social life of the country, living in unemployment, underemployment and in the favelas (slums). We cannot allow that blacks suffer constant harassment from the police without making a response. Prejudice and discrimination persist in Brazil and as we can prove its indisputable masked, disguised and subtle existence, it is clear that Brazilian racism is the hardest form to be combated, thus it is imperative the necessity of a critical consciousness capable of unmasking it once and for all.
Blacks are also capable, they are not coitadinhos (poor things), despite the historical debts of Brazilian society, they don’t need favors, they need to be treated with respect and justice in order not to be thrown in the favelas (slums), cortiços (tenements), wetlands and invasions, pushed into marginality, prostitution, begging, prisons, unemployment and underemployment, and taking upon themselves, still, the inhuman burden of violence and police repression. Therefore it is necessary, in all of the society, the maintenance of the fight against racism and all forms of oppression existing in Brazilian society, for the mobilization and organization of the community, aiming at a real political, economic, social and cultural emancipation. Because of all of that, my desire is to shout: “Sou pérola negra” (I am black pearl), proudly brasileiro afrodescendente (Brazilian of African descent).
(Natal Alves França Pereira, a civil servant, graduate in Accounting, affiliated to Associação Goiana de Imprensa – Goiana Press Association)
- There are numerous stories of how persons “became black” posted in the archives. See here, here, here or here for just a few examples.