Note from BW of Brazil: A few days ago here on the blog, we featured a story that detailed the experiences of non-Brazilian blacks visiting or living in Brazil. The piece detailed what Afro-Brazilians activists and other non-Brazilian blacks visiting the country have known for years: Brazil has a horrific record in terms of how it treats black people. It may be true that few people know about this connection between racism and non-Brazilian blacks in Brazil, but it has quite an extensive history. Besides African-American experiences as documented in David Hellwig’s 1992 book African-American Reflections on Brazil’s Racial Paradise, there is also Nelson Mandela’s famous early 1990s visit, as well as ongoing discriminatory and xenophobic treatment of African and Haitian immigrants. What is intriguing about the Hellwig book is that it analyzes Brazil’s supposed ‘racial paradise’ through the lens of three generations of African-American visitors. And as the years go by, the paradigm shift from acceptance of the idea of a black ‘racial paradise’ to a deeper analysis/questioning to outright rejection of this mythology.
Today’s feature is perhaps an extension of this history but exactly. You see, another problem that one notes in Brazil is the fact that when Afro-Brazilians complain of their country’s racist tendencies, they are quickly accused of ‘playing the victim’, ‘blowing things out of proportion’ or ‘dirtying Brazil’s image’. Needless to say, it terms of race, Brazil doesn’t need anyone to dirty up its name: the regular incidents of racism throughout country take care of that by themselves! The other point that comes to the fore here, as you will see, is how Brazilians will pick and choose when they will show outrage or concern about someone’s experience with racial discrimination. For some, those who have fame, wealth or prestige, there is a sort of feigned disgust over such incidents; feigned because most of those people will never really get involved in any sort of anti-racism struggle, beyond creating a hashtag or wearing a t-shirt.
In today’s feature, we see that the African-American scientist involved wasn’t actually a victim of racism, although reports of such an incident quickly spread on the internet. And even though the scientist wasn’t actually a victim here, after spending a few days in Brazil, he became fully aware of Brazil’s quasi-apartheid racial structure. The first story below addresses what actually happened when he visited São Paulo and the second were his observations of Salvador, Bahia, a city with an 80% Afro-Brazilian population. To get an idea, here is a brief snippet from one of the interviews Dr. Hart granted to one of the city’s newspapers, A Tarde.
A Tarde: Salvador is the city with the largest black population outside of Africa. Still, we’ve never had a black mayor. How do you see this?
Carl Hart: It is shameful. I perceive that there are very few blacks in leadership positions. Because of this, I think that black people here should protest. They must be educated to say, ‘this is unacceptable’. Until people have consciousness of this everything will stay the same. While there is this lack of inclusion, the entire account will be credited to drugs. There is a silent apartheid going on here!
Black neuroscientist clarifies alleged racist episode in São Paulo hotel
Courtesy of Pragmatismo Político
“I learned from this event that I am no longer an ordinary black man. If I were, no one would care what happened to me.” American neuroscientist Carl Hart comments on an episode of discrimination that he would have been a victim of and that was reported on the Internet
Professor Carl Hart clarifies misunderstanding and says he was not stopped by hotel security
The American neuroscientist Carl Hart denied being barred and suffering racial discrimination at the Hotel Tivoli Mofarrej, where he participated in a seminar organized by the Brazilian Institute of Criminal Sciences, on Friday. The information is from the site Fluxo that did an interview with Hart.
According to the professor it was late Friday night, after his lecture that he discovered that there was an article stating that he had been barred at the hotel. Hart said that after that, he received numerous messages, e-mails and links apologizing for the supposed behavior of security.
“What really happened was this: when I from the US the day before yesterday, I went to the hotel. Immediately after leaving the car, I went straight to the bathroom. And there was no problem. But when I left the bathroom, the conference organizers came to apologize,” said Hart.
“During my lecture, I called attention to the small number of blacks who participated in the seminar. There were two or three, while there were hundreds of whites. It had nothing to do with the episode at the hotel, but the report linked the two. The article was misleading and went viral. I want people to understand that if I had been discriminated against, I would be the first person to talk about it. And Brazil has serious problems of racial discrimination, so the anger they in relation to me they should express for Brazilians themselves. They shouldn’t waste that energy on me,” added the professor.
Also according to the Fluxo, Hart’s statements about the racial gap in Brazil during the lecture at the International Seminar of Criminal Sciences at the Tivoli hotel, weren’t related to any embarrassment he has suffered. But with something in his opinion was even more serious: the Brazilian structural racism. That that doesn’t receive any emphasis, nor public outrage when directed at people without the or the position prestige or the position that he occupies.
In a statement, the management of Tivoli Sao Paulo – Mofarrej reported that “the news published since yesterday indicating discrimination on the hotel’s premises with neuroscientist Carl Hart are untrue” and that “at no time was there any stop of Mr. Carl by employees of the hotel.” Also according to the hotel, “all images of the internal safety circuit confirm that Carl circulated through the hotel’s facilities without having suffered any form of embarrassment on the part of the Tivoli São Paulo – Mofarrej employees.”
The neuroscientist is a professor at Columbia University, where he conducts research and teaches neuroscience disciplines, psychology and pharmacology. Hart is known for studying the interactions between drugs of recreational use and neurobiological factors and the environment that mediate behavior and human psychology. The neuroscientist’s lecture held during the 21° Seminário Internacional de Ciências Criminais (21st International Seminar on Criminal Sciences), was entitled “Criminalizar o uso de drogas para marginalizar ainda mais “ (Criminalizing drug use to further marginalize).
In Salvador, “blacks seem to be in the hands of white people,” says Carl Hart
Neuroscientist was in Salvador this week in the Iniciativa Negra (Black Initiative) event for Nova Polícia Sobre Drogas (New Policy on Drugs)
By Diogo Costa and Thiago Freire
Researcher came to Salvador for debates
A researcher on drugs for over 23 years, the neuroscientist Carl Hart, 48, was in Salvador last week for a series of discussions with the Iniciativa Negra (Black Initiative) for a Nova Política Sobre Drogas (New Drug Policy) (INNPD). Born in Miami, a city located in the US state of Florida, he became a professor at Columbia University in New York (USA), where he developed much of his research on the subject. Away from the binary thinking that relates the issue of drugs to public health and safety, Hart believes there is another bias, which he says in an interview conceded to Correio (newspaper) during his visit to Salvador. About the city, his sentiment is ambiguous.
You have studied drugs for more than 23 years. How did you get interested in studying them?
The interest was to understand how the brain works. And drugs were an instrument to do such manipulation, the cells of the brain. That’s how I became interested.
How is it possible to make a conscious consumption of drugs?
Some people drink to get drunk, there’s no problem with that. The same thing is with drugs. There are people who use drugs, and I am one of those people, and they work, and deal with their everyday possibilities.
Are drugs a matter of public health, public security or racism? What is your perspective on this issue?
Think of driving a car. Most people who drive a car do it with no problem. Most people who use drugs, do it without problem. They go to work, take care of their family, are part of our spheres of government are spread throughout society. There are some people who have problems with drugs, and may be a health issue, but this is a small number of people. But there are also people who act badly, and that also make use of drugs. But the vast majority of these people have no problems. So the problem is not drugs, it is not a drug problem.
In one of their studies you estimated 80% to 90% of people who consume crack, heroin, marijuana are not addicted, unlike people who consume so-called licit drugs daily. How did you come to that conclusion?
It was not just me, this is axiomatic, is a common scientific knowledge. There are dozens of scientific journals that make this argument.
In Bahia, as well as throughout the country, most prisons occur due to the trafficking or involvement with drugs. Do you consider that there is a prejudice on the part of the state about this?
I think what we have here is a situation of racial apartheid. Prejudice is something that’s in people’s minds, it’s something thought. Apartheid and discrimination is something that is done, that is perpetrated. You’re putting these black children and youth, incarcerated in large part because of their racial belonging. So it’s not racial prejudice, it’s racial discrimination, racial apartheid.
Currently, here in Brazil, in the political and social spheres the decriminalization of drugs is being discussed. In what way can decriminalization be a tool against the war on trafficking and deaths of black youth?
Decriminalization will do nothing around the issues raised. Decriminalization does not have this objective. Decriminalization aims to make sure that people are not imprisoned for possessing or carrying drugs; drug trafficking remains illicit. Decriminalization will do nothing to regulate, for example, the police that are so unregulated. We must have the criminalization of the police force if we are to take any action in relation to the murders.
In February this year, here in Salvador, 13 black youths were killed in a police operation in an outlying district of the capital. At the time, the State said that those killed had involvement with the drug trade, information that was later disputed. Do you believe that the state uses the drug war to kill young black men?
I don’t believe this to be the case. I’m sure that this is issue.
Has the policy of the US war on drugs caused consequences in Brazil? What are these consequences?
In the US, we told people that crack was something so addictive that it was enough to be used once I order for people to remain addicted automatically. And we now know that that’s a lie. But it seems that in Brazil there is no such understanding. The people here, the Brazilian authorities are doing what the US authorities did in the ‘80s. The approach was incorrect and resulted in the fact that we arrest, imprison many black people. At the moment, 1 in 3 black men have the possibility of being imprisoned in the US, mainly as a result of these policies on drugs. Brazil at the moment, is acting in a similar manner, because politicians who are less than intelligent, here in Brazil, believe that the measures taken in the United States were appropriate.
Given what you have seen, read and heard, what are the first impressions that you have of Bahia?
My initial impression is that I am very proud to see these black, beautiful people, but on the other hand, I’m sorry to see that black men and women here have such a reduced political authority. The fate of black men and women, here, seems to be in the hands of white people, who have little understanding of black men, black women and their culture. So to conclude, I would say I have mixed feelings regarding Bahia. I am intensely proud, and at the same time, deeply sad.
Note from BW of Brazil: And as we have emphasized throughout the posts on this blog, Afro-Brazilian activists very much agree with the declarations of Dr. Hart. Apartheid is a term that has been used often to describe the situation not only in Salvador, Bahia, but in Brazil as a whole. For example, the following is what one woman thought on the topic.
“On the comments of Carl Hart: It’s not only in Bahia that blacks are in the hands of whites. It’s in all of Brazil. They’re on their hands and knees in front of whites. Some of them flounder alone, disunited. Whoever goes there soon destroying the other, wanting to be the only one in places restricted to us. Soon they marry a white woman or white man that has nothing. Others merge themselves with whiteness. This is also being in the hands of whites.”