Media plays a decisive role against racism: interview with Helena Oliveira Silva

Media plays a decisive role against racism
originally published in Diário do Pará


New practices and changes have appeared in the way that the media discusses racism in Brazil and assess how this problem affects the lives of most children in the country: this is the aim of a series of programs that Andi (Agência de Notícias dos Direitos da Infância – News Agency Children’s Rights) and the United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF) have put into action in various Brazilian cities. In Belém (northern state of Pará), the workshop “Media, Children and Racial Inequality” began on May 17 (2011), bringing together journalists and members of representative entities and public agencies.

The effort is crucial: today the 31 million black children and more than 150 thousand indigenous children that live in the country are the most vulnerable in the face of inequalities in access to basic services. The examples come from IBGE [Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics] data itself: over 60% of the population 7-14 years that don’t attend school in Brazil are black. The infant mortality rate among Indians is more than twice the national rate.

Sociologist and manager in the areas of Child Protection Program and of Race and Ethnicity of UNICEF in Brazil, Helena Oliveira Silva, is one of the coordinators of the activities that discuss the topic in Brazil. She ceded an interview to journalists Ismael Machado and Lazarus Magellan.


This workshop is part of a series of actions in the Unicef ​​campaign that started last year …

Helena Oliveira Silva: The campaign is an initiative of UNICEF along with several governmental partners, the federal government and civil society. It was launched in November and is a big umbrella which involves a number of initiatives, in waves of the campaign, the more diverse actors, UNICEF, regional offices in the Brazilian states and their local partners, developed on behalf of a childhood without racism. You have initiatives that will go from releases to the municipal and state adhesions, banks, legislative assemblies in the states. The municipal headquarters of education in Rio de Janeiro is taking on the campaign. Taking on the application of Law 10.639, that defines the mandatory teaching of Afro-Brazilian and African culture and history in the classrooms. In March, we made an important agenda with actor Lázaro Ramos working (on the question of) racism in childhood through the Internet. In May now, we have the agenda with journalists and communications professionals, working on the theme of media, racism and childhood.

With regard to the media and the issue of racial inequality, has any progress been made?

Helena Oliveira Silva: We will do an analysis only after this cycle of workshops, but the idea is to know exactly this profile, this representation. So the campaign has scheduled this dialogue with communications professionals. We understand that in the exercise of mobilization, the mission of the campaign to mobilize and develop new partners, the media, the communications professionals are also important.

black women Brazil
The campaign is part of a very strong assumption, an assertion that Brazil is racist. You even divulge numbers to prove it. Indigenous children are twice as likely to die, black children, 25% more …

Helena Oliveira Silva: It’s not UNICEF that says Brazil is racist. The country is recognized as racist not only by civil society, but by the Brazilian government, which undertakes efforts and forces, structures, and public organisms to face this issue. UNICEF observes and recognizes the existence of racism in Brazil and works from the perspective of reducing and addressing the impact of this phenomenon on the lives of children and adolescents. There is an impact objective, reflected in the numbers, and a subjective impact in the daily lives of children. About the numbers, we could say that in the last 10, 15 years it was said that this was a social dimension, a question of access. Then there was an historic series of at least 30 years of aggregate indicators by color, according to the IBGE [Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics], and the differences between whites, blacks and indigenous men and women remain the same, and we know that in these 30 years Brazil has advanced in the economic and social dimension. There have been changes and improvements, the development really reached the country, only it was not equal for everyone. In some cases, it even increased the distance between these groups of different colors, so it’s in this (area) that we’re calling attention. These differences are striking when we look at the population of 60 million children and adolescents. Most are black and indigenous children, which means around 54.5%.

When we look at education and infant mortality by sector, the numbers are also disaggregating, so it scares us to know that if every child victim of child mortality under the age of one year is white, for indigenous children is doubled. Why does this happen? What is the policy that is not reaching the villages? What is the maternal and child care that is not guaranteed to the mothers of these children in their conditions, in their culture, in their dimension? That’s what we’re talking about.

In a general census, there is a very high resistance to the quota system. What are the ways to avoid the pitfalls or open criticism of these policies?

Helena Oliveira Silva: I would say that there are traps and there are not. There’s a right way in the construction of a universalization of an equal right to everyone and each one. First distinction: we have always lived with affirmative action policies in the country. Bolsa família (1) is one example. You prioritize a particular group within the policy to ensure equivalence of the right of what is due. A little further back was the agenda of affirmative action policies for women in power…There is a distinction between quotas and affirmative support. Quotas are a form of affirmative support. We first need to affirm these differences, ensuring that everyone has equal rights. Affirmative action helps balance that. Enact it for a time, a determined period, with a very specific purpose: to balance and make an equivalence of rights so that in fact we affirm equality.

Some people say that through the consumer protection you can come to citizenship…

Helena Oliveira Silva: This is a fallacy, because you can have a black middle class with access to rights, with very clear consumer rights, claiming, conquesting by buying what it pleases, and living very well in the consumer market. Who can assure for you that this is the passport for not be discriminated against? Citizenship does not pass through the market, never has and it will not be now, with the discussion of racial equity, that it will go through.

Interestingly the image of blacks has advanced in advertising, but it has not advanced in the labor market…

Helena Oliveira Silva: Exactly. In a mall or on the street, if you have a situation in which two young women, appearing to be 28 or 29 years old, one black one white, with equal clothing pushing a baby stroller…Who would you say is the intern of a public service sector, and who would you say is the nanny? We need to in fact deconstruct the imaginary. This is an unspoken racism, subtle, as it is anywhere. South Africa was the last country to abolish racism according to law, which is the dimension of Apartheid. There is not another country in the world where racism is something assumed by the state. So Brazil is like anywhere else in the world. It has a subtle dimension of racism, this symbolic dimension, evident, be it xenophobic or be it by generations.

The workshop cited the need for division of responsibilities in the face of this problem, and obviously one of those responsible is the media, which legitimizes, or perpetuates or can change discourses. How is it in Brazil today?

Helena Oliveira Silva: We are doing these workshops to learn how the press goes in Brazil in the area of ​​childhood and racism. The response is still open.

Is there is an impression?

A: The communications industry is an interesting sector to have dialogue about. So, we want to review some concepts and reconstruct. It’s not to say that the press is misguided. We want to dialogue precisely to construct this. The workshops show a series of internal concepts, speaks of the construction of writing manuals, discusses how to use a particular term, which recommendation that the leadership of the Movimento Negro (black movement) makes about how to use it and so on. It is a process of joint construction. One of the products of this workshop will be the construction of a media guide with some tips and guidelines on this sort of thing. We want to contribute in the best way and even expand, leave the field of journalism and advance to the field of advertising. Speak of images and the construction of the imaginary.

In these meetings, you comment on the need for better training, but now a journalism degree it is no longer mandatory…

A: I think it is important to have someone with a degree exercise the profession. And from the point of view of preparation, for dealing with these concepts, to combat racism, with or without a diploma, it is fundamental. Especially on racism and sexism, further attention is needed, because they are two structural axes of Brazilian society, and I would even say Latin American society. The structural development processes are permeated by racism and sexism. Not just for black people but also for the indigenous population, of the different countries of the region.

What’s ahead? Should there be a publication with the results of these meetings with the media?

A: This is an first exercise with communications professionals, trying to build an agenda of perspectives, of looks at the phenomenon of racism in the vehicles. We have over two agendas in Porto Alegre (state of Rio Grande do Sul) and Recife (state of Pernambuco). It is a first trial. In the first phase, we want to have as a guide of sources that orientates, that helps the work of the professional with regard to the issue of racism. In a second phase, yet to be built, we want to observe the continuity of these workshops, upgrade the methodology to other cities and possibly create an agenda with entrepreneurs of media companies. They are fundamental because they determine. If they are organizing themes, as much racism as sexism, we need to have dialogues with strategic players at that moment, actors who truly want a society and a democratic state of rights.

1. The Bolsa Família program is a program designed to transfer income to benefit families in situations of poverty and extreme poverty throughout the country

About Marques Travae 3707 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. I would love to know her thoughts on the secessionist movement in the USA. While the States has more media images of multiculturality, the reality away from the cameras is as seperate, if not more so than in brazil.The difference being that now, talks of breaking up the USA is coming forward. if anyone responds please notify me on my wordpress

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