Note from BBT: How fitting it is that the 2022 World Cup is starting in the month of November. I say this because, for those of you who don’t know, November is celebrated as the Month of Black Consciousness in Brazil. Somewhat similar to Black History Month in United States, throughout November across the country, there are perhaps thousands of events happening that emphasize and focus on the contributions of Afro-Brazilians, Afro-Brazilian history, the legacy of the struggle of this population and its importance to the construction of Brazil as well as recognition of other African descendant populations throughout the world.
In my own experiences with Brazil, after having spent the first seven years of my travel back and forth to Brazil in the northeastern state of Bahia, in 2008, I spent nearly a month in the southeastern city and state of São Paulo, the country’s largest city and the economic engine of the country. In my first extended stay in São Paulo, I participated in the yearly March of Black Consciousness after having met a number of great people on the then popular social network known as Orkut.
During that trip in November of 2008, I saw all sorts of seminars, presentations, cultural events as well as the yearly Troféu Raça Negra award ceremony, a sort Brazilian Essence/NAACP Image awards ceremony that recongized the achievements of Afro-Brazilians or those who made some sort of contribution to the struggle. My immersion in Brazil would also introduce me to the sport that is a national passion in the country, soccer, or futebol, as it is called in Brazil. Mind you, it’s not that I wasn’t familiar with the sport, it was simply never a sport that I followed as, in the US, the big three sports were and continue to be American football, basketball and baseball. I must say American football, or futebol americano as Brazilians call it, because outside of US borders, what we call soccer is known as football.
Being introduced to the world of futebol, I came to learn that Afro-Brazilians were some of the greatest stars of the sport in Brazil. How fitting it was that, just two years after I started to explore “all things Brazilian”, the 2002 World Cup would see Brazil win its fifth World Cup title, the only nation in the world to win that many. It was that year that I became aware of superstars such as Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, all players who would win the FIFA futebol player of the year in the late 90s and early 2000s. Even having visited Brazil for about 40 weeks between 2000 and 2012, and having lived there for none years, I still can’t claim to be a big soccer fan, although living there and being surrounded by soccer fans, I watched more there than in all of my years living in the US.
As my blog and now YouTube channel have long been focused on analyzing Brazil rom the perspective of race, the history of the black Brazilian athlete on the soccer fied was far more intriguing than what actually happened on the field. Having learned from the very beginning that Brazil indeed had a racial problem, it was long before I discovered the discrimination that black players faced in the country. Direct exclusion, the necessity of wearing white rice powder on the face to hide one’s blackness, the stigma of having black goalies and the near invisibility of black coaches in Division A Brazilian soccer leagues are just a few of the discriminatory practices I discovered along the way.
With this in mind, how fitting it is that the 2022 World Cup should begin on November 20th, the Day of Black Consciousness in Brazil. For some soccer critics, Brazil’s 2022 squad may have the best chance of bringing back the cup in several years. This year’s team is loaded with talented players who are earning big money in European leagues. This year also represents 20 years since Brazil has raised the cup in victory. The second longest drought since the period between 1970 and 1994, the latter year being the one that Brazil won in the Rose Bowl in the United States.
Will this be the year that Brazil brings home an unprecendented sixth World Cup title? Only time will reveal. For now, let’s understand more about the connection between this year’s World Cup and the Day and Month of Black Consciousness in Brazil.
The piece below is brought to you by Paula Pimenta and Daniel Teixeira
The World Cup on Black Consciousness Day revives memory of anti-racist struggle
There is a symbolic convergence between the beginning of the 2022 World Cup, on November 20th, and Black Consciousness Day, celebrated on the same date. Black Brazilian players are responsible for much of the success of the five-time champion team, in addition to being featured in the most important soccer clubs in the world. Despite all the talent with the ball at their feet, they still face recurrent practices of intolerance and racial discrimination in soccer, on and off the fields.
Real Madrid star Vinicius Jr. has faced numerous racist attacks at games in Spain. Recently, the player Richarlison, of the Tottenham club, one of those called up for the Brazilian National Team, had a banana thrown at him after celebrating his goal scored in Brazil’s match with Tunisia, ending in a 5-1 score. On social networks — where he has also been attacked — he posted: “As long as they are blah blah blah and do not punish, it will continue like this, happening every day and everywhere. I don’t have the time, brother! #racismonão”.
Throughout history, great names of the Brazilian National Team, such as Pelé, Mané Garrincha, Leônidas da Silva, Didi, Djalma Santos, Carlos Alberto Torres and Jairzinho made history and, with undeniable genius, faced racial discrimination. The representation of Brazil has always attracted the attention of the world because it is strongly marked by ethnic diversity and the remarkable skill of its players, many of them black. But not even Pelé, the King of Soccer, considered the “Athlete of the Century”, was immune to racism, whether of the open variety or veiled.
In the recently called Brazilian National Team for the Qatar Cup, several players have come across comments and acts of this nature. In the current list of those called to the team, in addition to Vinícius Jr. and Richarlison, established names such as Daniel Alves and Neymar are among those who have experienced some kind of discrimination or racial injury, often during matches.
As an initiative to curb this practice, in the Senate the expectation is that the bill of the General Law of Sport (PL 1.153/2019), which establishes more severe punishments for the crime of racism in sport, will be voted on soon.
Former Minister of Racial Equality and former president of the Palmares Cultural Foundation, and linked to the world of soccer, Eloi Ferreira de Araújo states that all black athletes have already been the target, in some way, of racist offenses.
There is no way to dissociate the achievements in the World Cup and other championships from the contribution of black athletes who acted in these editions. Certainly, all the great black soccer players went through some racist demonstration. Humanity has not yet been educated to love each other as if there were no tomorrow. Loving instead of discriminating or hating depends on changing values.
For Araújo, “racism is all the same”, whether in Brazil or anywhere else in the world:
“It is discrimination, it is intolerance, it is inhumanity, lack of civility. Racism is all the same, from a knee to the neck, to when you throw a banana at the soccer player or when you pay a black man or woman less, who is occupying a position in equality, responsibility and skills with a non-black.”
Data from the Observatory of Racial Discrimination in Soccer indicate 64 complaints in 2021. Since 2014, the beginning of the history series, there were 399 records, according to Senator Paulo Paim (PT-RS), author of the Statute of Racial Equality, sanctioned in 2010 by the then president Lula.
Paim says he hopes that, during the World Cup, the International Football Federation (FIFA) will promote actions to combat racism.
“Brazil is the only team to have played in all competitions and is the greatest champion with five world titles. The World Cup is an extraordinary event that can bring together people of different nationalities, colors, races, religions, sexual orientation, socioeconomic, age and others, for the sake of love for sport, soccer. But, despite so much union and emotion around this beautiful event, we are faced with the crimes of racism,” said Senator Paim.
For Senator Romário (PL-RJ), ex-ace of the Brazilian National Team, racism in soccer exists because it reflects the same practice of society.
“What we see today is an increase in complaints, because there has been more discussion in society about it. It’s a really sad situation. Sport should set an example of respect and racism stains the image in sport.”
In May of this year, the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol) announced the launch of the Enough campaign! — No more racism in soccer, after recurrent acts of racial discrimination in the Libertadores and South American championship tournaments.
“Conmebol considers absolutely any manifestation of racism and other forms of violence in its tournaments unacceptable. Awareness raising, aimed at players, referees and soccer fans, will be visible through all the media available as a permanent campaign”, said the campaign’s announcement.
Yes, even though Brazilians continue to deny the depths of racism even on a field in which all are said to be equal, racist sentiments persist. This is the reason that we cannot simply ignore the facts and just ‘play ball’ as many have suggested in sports. Many years ago, rarely did anyone say anything about the racist experiences of black Brazilians on the soccer field, but nowadays, with the rise in black consciousness in Brazil, there is simply no way to ignore it.
Black Consciousness Day: What does this date mean?
Black Consciousness is one of those dates established to preserve the memory of the fight for ideals, even if bathed in blood and sedimented by deaths.
After commanding the Quilombo dos Palmares for 15 years, Zumbi was killed on November 20, 1695, in a territory that today belongs to the state of Alagoas. He led the largest stronghold of resistance to slavery in the colonial period, which reached the size of Portugal and had 30 thousand fugitive slaves from plantations, slave quarters and prisons.
When he was killed, Zumbi dos Palmares had his head cut off, salted and exposed in a public square. The Portuguese authorities wanted to disprove the legend that he was immortal. That year, Pedro II of Portugal awarded 50 thousand réis to the captain responsible for the murder.
Since 2011, the date of the quilombola leader’s death has been celebrated as Black Consciousness Day. The date was written into the national calendar on this specific day after the struggle of many people, from activists to intellectuals, who wanted to make Brazil reflect on how it treats the black population and sought to establish their own temporal milestones and references.
What is black consciousness?
The idea of “black consciousness” is related to the valuing of cultures of African origin and the self-esteem of black populations, both of which have been impacted in various ways by processes of racism.
In this way, this permission is connected to “orgulho negro”, “black pride”, a movement for the legitimization of black aesthetics and the recognition of cultures from the African continent that were suffocated by the European colonization process and the forced displacement promoted by slavery.
In addition, the term suggests awareness of racial issues, in opposition to the idea of the superiority of white identity.
Black consciousness: when did it emerge?
There are references to the idea of Black Consciousness in the work of thinkers such as Martiniquan-born psychiatrist, political philosopher, and activist Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) and American sociologist, historian, and activist W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963). In Brazil, intellectual Manuel Raimundo Querino (1851-1923), the “father of Afro-Brazilian history”, highlighted Africans as the civilizing force in Brazil carrying out studies on African culture, customs and tradition in the heavily Africanized state of Bahia.
As a movement, the concept took shape with the struggle for independence in the countries of the African continent. In the 1970s, at the peak of apartheid, the racial segregation system that ruled South Africa for almost five decades, the Black Consciousness Movement emerged in the South African country, led by Steve Biko, a black activist who was arrested, tortured, and murdered at the age of 30.
Biko’s group organized strikes and actions that sought to expose and undermine racist politics in South Africa. The movement also defended the self-esteem of the black population with the premise of “black is beautiful”, translated as “o negro é lindo” in Portuguese.
In the same period, the MNU, meaning the Movimento Negro Unificado or Unified Black Movement, was born in Brazil with the goal of acting together to confront violations of the rights of the Afro-descendant population, such as violent and disproportionate police actions that lead to death.
There, the MNU also began to discuss the creation of a date to symbolize resistance to racism in the country and to oppose May 13th, the date that marks the signing of the Lei Áurea, or Golden Law, which extinguished slavery in the country. Activists consider the abolition incomplete, since the freed black population did not receive government assistance or support for access to land, education or work.
Brazil instituted Black Consciousness Day in its official calendar ten years ago. Celebrated on November 20, the date seeks to reflect on the effects of racism and to raise the self-esteem of the black population.
Is Black Consciousness a holiday?
The date was established by Law 12.519, 2011, to draw society’s attention to structural racism and proposes to reflect on its consequences for the black population – such as wage inequality and access to education. In addition, it seeks the recognition of the influence and presence of the culture of African origin in the country.
The holiday, however, is optional and is at the discretion of the states and municipalities. Only five states have adopted the date as a local holiday: Alagoas, Amazonas, Amapá, Mato Grosso and Rio de Janeiro.
Why is November 20th Black Consciousness Day?
The date was chosen to celebrate the memory of Zumbi dos Palmares, who died on November 20, 1695.
Zumbi was the most important leader of the quilombos of Palmares, the largest and most important community experiment formed by escaped, enslaved people. The population of Palmares was estimated at over 30,000 people.