Matilde Ribeiro is an accomplished woman. She holds a Ph.D in Social Service, was the Advisor for the Rights of Women in the City Hall of the city Santo Andre from 1997-2001, was part of the Exchange Program “Women in Political Leadership” in the US in 2001, presided over the National Counsel of the Promotion of Racial Equality from 2004 to 2008. These are only a few of the accomplishments on her resume. She is perhaps best known for her tenure under the presidency of Lula da Silva (2002-2010) as the Chief Minister of the Ministry of the Politics of the Promotion of Racial Equality. In February of 2008, Ribeiro stepped down from her post as a result of mounting media pressure regarding allegations that she made excessive purchases with her federal government-issued corporate credit card.
Today she is running for a new position as the National Secretary of the Combat of Racism. As one might note from the aforementioned titles she has held, Ribeiro has a history as a soldier in the black Brazilian fight for racial equality. Ribeiro is known for speaking her mind on controversial topics. In the 2006, she was quoted as saying that she thought it was “better to have resentful whites but blacks in the university than to have happy whites and blacks outside of the university.” In 2007, she was the center of controversy in Brazil due to comments she made in an interview with BBC Brasil in March of that year.
Although Ribeiro responded to several questions in that interview in regards to Brazil’s struggles with racial inequality, when she said that she didn’t think it was racism when a black person revolts against a white person, many in the country considered her remarks to be inflammatory and called for her firing. For several weeks, online comment sections and social media were all abuzz about Ribeiro’s comments. Political analyst Reinaldo Azevedo for example wrote the following on his blog: “If I made up any excuse to say that “it is natural” that there was racism of whites against blacks, I would be arrested. And I would remain under arrest. It is an unbailable crime…It’s not hard to show that the Minister Matilde Ribeiro committed a crime of racism and incitation of racial hate even as she says she didn’t. In an ordinary democracy she would fired and prosecuted.”
Comments throughout the country labeled Ribeiro a racist who had no place in Brazil. But were her comments really all that? Below is the entire interview from March of 2007. You be the judge and feel free to leave a comment.
“It’s not racism when a black revolts against a white”, says minister
March 27, 2007
The Minister Matilde Ribeiro, head of the Special Secretariat of Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality (SEPPIR), says she considers natural discrimination of blacks against whites.
In an interview with BBC Brazil to remember the 200 years of the prohibition of the slave trade by the British Empire, seen as the starting point for the end of slavery around the world, she said “it’s not racism when a black revolts against a white.”
“The reaction of a black not wanting to live with a white, I think it’s a natural reaction. Whoever has been whipped for his entire life has no obligation to like the person who whipped him,” she said.
Ribeiro said that it will still take time until the public policies implemented in recent years begin to give concrete results and reduce the economic and social difference between white and black populations in the country.
“We still have a lot to do,” she says, listing actions that have already begun, as in education and health. She says that although the abolition of slavery came late to Brazil, today the country has one of the world’s most advanced laws in relation to equal rights, but there is still a lack of change in the attitude of society.
BBC Brazil – According to statistics, the proportion of blacks living below the poverty line in the Brazilian population is 50%, while amongst whites it’s 25%. When will this change?
Matilde Ribeiro – Actions at this time are still in the order of the structuring of policies. For example, in the Ministry of Health we are including the color item on the forms. We need to have reference of what sickens and kills the Brazilian population, in order to have specific programs.
BBC Brazil – The department has already existed four years, what can we see as the practical result of this period?
Matilde Ribeiro – In education, a 2003 law requiring the teaching of Afro-Brazilians history and culture for children, from the beginning. The process implementation is ongoing. It is very difficult to get numbers, concrete results. But already there have been some results. For example, the (program) Prouni of scholarships for poor students in schools, has awarded in less than three years more than 200,000 scholarships in Brazil, of which 63,000 were for blacks and 3,000 for Indians.
BBC Brazil – And how long do you think it will take before we have a situation of equality, where people are judged by merit, regardless of race?
Matilde Ribeiro – Brazil has existed for 507 years (note: as of 2007). For nearly 120 years, in 1888, was signed a decree like this that the president signed saying that there would be no more slavery in Brazil. Except that there was a sequence. Today, the fact that blacks and Indians are the poorest of the poor is a result of historical neglect. So it is very difficult today to say how long.
BBC Brazil – How does Brazil stand in the international context? Brazil likes to think that there is no discrimination and it likes to cite itself as an example of integration. That’s how you see the situation?
Matilde Ribeiro – I see it in the following way: the Europeans arrived in a land of Indians, then arrived the Africans who did not choose to be here, were captured and brought here as things. The Indians and blacks were not the owners of the weapons, they were not the owners of the laws, they were not the owners of consumer goods. The way they found to survive was not by explicit conflict. In Brazil, racism is not by law, as in South Africa. This led us to a mixture. Apparently everyone can enjoy everything, but in practice there are places where blacks will not. There is a debate here whether the issue is racial or social. I would say both.
BBC Brazil – And in Brazil racism is also black against white, as in the United States?
Matilde Ribeiro – I think it’s natural to have this. But it’s not in the same dimension as the United States. It is not racism when a black revolts against a white. Racism is when an economic, political or numerical majority abstains from or veto rights of others. The reaction of a black not wanting to live with a white, or not liking a white, I think it’s a natural reaction, although I’m not encouraging it. I don’t think it’s a good thing. But it is natural that it happens, because whoever has been whipped all his life has no obligation to like the person who whipped him.
BBC Brazil – This month, Britain commemorates the 200th anniversary of the prohibition of the slave trade, a thing that only happened in Brazil much later. Brazil is still lagging behind in this area?
Matilde Ribeiro – No, we have followed the international forums. Brazil is one of the most progressive countries in this aspect of legislation and effective action. The legislation in Brazil is extremely advanced. It is not by legal means that racism happens. What is needed is a change of attitude of the people. It’s not enough for the government to do it. Much has already been done, but as you said earlier: have the indexes changed? Not yet, so we have a lot to do.
This article is an update of a piece that was originally posted on November 22, 2011
Interview originally posted in BBC Brasil