One black writer among 70 Brazilians at Frankfurt Book Fair highlights historic black invisibility in the world of literature as well as society

Contemporary Afro-Brazilian writers - Top, left to right: Ricardo Aleixo, Nei Lopes, Ana Maria Gonçalves Bottom, left to right: , Conceição Evaristo and Cidinha Silva
Contemporary Afro-Brazilian writers – Top, left to right: Ricardo Aleixo, Nei Lopes, Ana Maria Gonçalves
Bottom, left to right:, Conceição Evaristo and Cidinha Silva

Note from BW of Brazil: This is a follow analysis of the near complete exclusion of Afro-Brazilian writers at the prestigious Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany that recently paid homage the work of Brazilian writers, 70 of whom were invited to to the fair representing their country. The controversy was sparked by a Germany newspaper article that questioned the invitation of only one black writer to the event. Brazilian officials, apparently surprised by the question, dismissed accusations of racism defending the list of invitees as being those who met the criteria for selection. Brazilian officials’ handling of the situation, in reality, is very typical in how the question of race is dealt with in Brazil. First, the question/accusation is dismissed. Second, if the issue is addressed, Afro-Brazilian absence is blamed on a lack of qualified blacks in the specific genre. Third, if black presence is low, it is acknowledged that recent changes in Brazilian society (notably the system of quotas) will change this, but only in the future. And fourth, complete ignorance of the existence of qualified black Brazilians. In summary, business as usual!

The only black writer among 70 Brazilians, Paulo Lins says he doesn’t see racism in the selection at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Author Paulo Lins is the only Afro-Brazilian writer of 70 Brazilians at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Author Paulo Lins is the only Afro-Brazilian writer of 70 Brazilians at the Frankfurt Book Fair

By Raquel Cozer

After appearing in a German newspaper criticizing racism in the list of authors taken by the Brazilian government to the Frankfurt Book Fair, the novelist Paulo Lins said his comment was de-contextualized in the interview.

The text, published on Sunday (6) by the German newspaper Tagesspiegel, reported that for Lins, the selection of authors didn’t represent Brazil. “I am the only black author of the list. How is that not racism?”, he said, according to the newspaper.

On the evening of Tuesday (8), at the opening event of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Lins explained that racism is not on the list, and that it reflects only an issue of Brazilian society.

“In the newspaper newsroom it’s like that, no blacks. How many blacks are in the newsroom of Folha? Also there are few black doctors, engineers, businessmen, it is a reflection of an historic Brazilian problem,” he said. “Racism is prior to the selection of authors. It’s not that the list is racist, it’s Brazil.”

Lins praised the selection of authors made ​​by Manuel Pinto da Costa, curator of literary programming, along with the coordinator of the cultural program, Antonio Martinelli. Asked about other black authors who could be on the list, he cited Nei Lopes, Ricardo Aleixo and Ana Maria Gonçalves (see top photo).

140 tones of brown and the “technical criteria” of the choice of Brazilian authors by Funarte to go to the Book Fair in Frankfurt

by Marcos Romão

(Note from BW of Brazil: An article written by Michaela Metz about racism in Brazil for the German newspaper Süddeutsch Zeitung was later translated into Portuguese by Gilmar Jost and Marcos Romão. Part of this article was translated on a previous post here.)

It was the Germans themselves who raised the topic in August, about racism embedded in the criteria for selection of Brazilian writers participating in this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. The author of the article was astonished by the fact that only one black writer and one indigenous writer were on this list. The author went deep into research, and presented a picture of the reality of racial discrimination in Brazil, published by the renowned daily newspaper Süddeutsch Zeitung.

Meanwhile in Brazil, the Minister of Culture Marta Suplicy justified that the choice of 68 white writers among the seventy notable writers, was just a “technical criteria” and not an “ethnic criteria.”

For lawyer Humberto Adami of IARA (Instituto de Advocacia Racial e Ambiental or Institute of Racial and Environmental Advocacy) in an article published on his blog, “the use of technical criteria only, is unconstitutional and illegal. And it gives rise to international humiliation, as I stated. Using the concept of affirmative action should be applied to all staff in Brazilian public administration, through the opinion of the Advogado Geral da União (General Attorney of the Union), which is binding and obligatory, in order to avoid that ministers of President Dilma Rousseff propitiate experiences like the present, that submit us to the encounter with the most evident face of racism in Brazil, which has been the reason for the denouncement of the Brazilian Movimento Negro (Black Movement), and an affront to human rights.”

In an interview with the Globo, Suplicy, demonstrates a complete ignorance of the intellectual production of black and indigenous people in Brazil and their market penetration of European book, stating that one of the criteria used, “was the choice of authors who had books translated into a foreign language,” Marta said. “Every list is always a clipping that causes discussion. Brazil is experiencing a moment of transformation, which will allow that, in future generations, we have a larger number of blacks participating. Today, unfortunately, we do not.”

Also in the article published in his blog, Humberto Adami underscores, “A quick search on the internet tells us that in 2011, the Fundação Biblioteca Nacional (National Library Foundation) released the collection Literatura e Afrodescendência no Brasil: Antologia Crítica (Literature and African Descendants in Brazil: Critical Anthology), which brings together in four volumes, texts of 100 black writers from the 18th century to the present day (see here).

Afro-Brazilian literary figures. From left to right: Macahdo de Assis (1839–1908), João da Cruz e Sousa (1861-1898) and Afonso Henriques de Lima Barreto (1881-1922)
Afro-Brazilian literary figures. From left to right: Macahdo de Assis (1839–1908), João da Cruz e Sousa (1861-1898) and Afonso Henriques de Lima Barreto (1881-1922)

The National Library Foundation is also under control of Minister Suplicy. Among the authors there are names like Machado de Assis, Cruz e Souza, Lima Barreto, and, among contemporaries, Nei Lopes, Joel Rufino dos Santos and Muniz Sodré. Abdias Nascimento, Cidinha Silva, Ana Maria Gonçalves, can be remembered. I found still the name of Conceição Evaristo, PhD in Comparative Literature at UFRJ (Universidade Federal de Rio de Janeiro/Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), with works published in the United States. Minister Marta can see here.

Contemporary Afro-Brazilian writers Top left to right: Joel Rufino dos Santos, Muniz Sodré Bottom left to right: Abdias do Nascimento (1914-2011), Carolina de Jesus (1914-1977)
Contemporary Afro-Brazilian writers
Top left to right: Joel Rufino dos Santos, Muniz Sodré
Bottom left to right: Abdias do Nascimento (1914-2011), Carolina de Jesus (1914-1977)

Years ago, walking in Washington, stunned, I ran into an exhibition in honor of Carolina de Jesus ( Minister Suplicy can get informed about who she was and how many books she published. Or hire a more efficient consultant.”

Literatura e Afrodescendência no Brasil: Antologia Crítica
Literatura e Afrodescendência no Brasil: Antologia Crítica

The internationally renowned photographer Januário Garcia, reminds us that Moema Parente Augel of the University of Bielefeld in Germany has for many years worked with Afro-Brazilian literature, inclusive of having various books of black Brazilian writers translated into German.” Mamapress (blog) reminds the Minister’s press adviser, that nowadays there is a “robot” called “Google”, accessible even to the white elites of the ministry of culture where one can find out more about the intellectual production of other ethnicities other than European descendants of Brazil. As Guerreiro Ramos (1) would say, “pathological” white Brazilian cultural blindness has already passed, that through its own Minister of Culture, beckons with a wait of over 125 years, to go as intellectuals and writers to Frankfurt. That the minister’s aides take knowledge of “Amazon” because there they will find blacks and Indians around the world that they cannot nor do not want to see portrayed in Brazil.

"Schwarze Poesie - Poesia Negra" - Collection of Afro-Brazilian poetry available in Portuguese and German
“Schwarze Poesie – Poesia Negra” – Collection of Afro-Brazilian poetry available in Portuguese and German

It is for the minister that Humberto Adami asked in his blog: “Why not use affirmative action for blacks and Indians, that the Supreme Court approved by 11-0?”

For the intellectual and anti-racist activist Elisa Larkin Nascmento:

“As highlighted, only Paulo Lins was selected for his work Cidade de Deus (City of God). Lins didn’t participate in the group of contemporary black writers that participated in the so-call ‘combat literature’. ‘His work, however, is a powerful demonstration of fiction and highly acclaimed by critics. No doubt, he could not be left out of any selection. However, the lack of information of the Ministry of Culture sectors, especially the National Library Foundation, makes us think that ethnocentrism guided the whole process of selection of writers and works.” (A. Marcos Romão)

140 shades of brown

“The debate about racism in Brazil is obscured by the politeness and stereotypes of a multicultural joy.” (Michaela Metz)

If cor de café (coffee colored), bronzeado (tanned), meio branco (kinda white), meio preto (kinda black) ou torrado (roasted), the skin color plays a huge role in Brazil. But the debate about racism in this country is masked by politeness and stereotypes of multicultural vitality. This is also the case in Frankfurt, where the country is presented in the Book Fair in October.

At the Frankfurt Book Fair seventy Brazilian authors are invited this year, which should give the German public an impression of the host country of this year and its literature. “The list includes representatives of indigenous culture, as well as descendants of Africans and Europeans,” Galeno Amorim, president of the Brazilian organizing committee.

At first sight, however, is only one part of the delegation Afro Brazilian author Paulo Lins, who grew up in the slums of Cidade de Deus, in Rio de Janeiro, and became known for his bestseller Cidade de Deus (City of God). The book spawned a movie in 2002 was nominated for four Oscars. The only indigenous representative of Brazil at the Book Fair is the philosopher Daniel Costa Monteiro of Belém in the state of Pará, in the north (region of Brazil). He belongs to the tribe of Mundurukú. In 2004, he was awarded the prestigious Brazilian award, the Prêmio Jabuti, for his book Coisas do Índio (Indian Things or Things of the Indian).

Segregation and the colonial burden

In Brazil there are more than 140 names for different skin colors, including: cor de café (coffee colored), café com leite (coffee with milk), canela (cinnamon), chocolate, galego (Galician), meio branco (kinda white), meio marrom (kinda brown), meio-negro (kinda black) or torrado (roasted) (2). Many of these terms are intended to give the impression of black skin being a little whiter. Even ordinary Brazilians tend to rank their fellow blacks closer to lighter skin – just out of politeness. Because skin color is not, in Brazil, and the United States, characterized by ethnicity, but by appearance.

Behind the politeness, however, lurks a brutal reality. Journalist and writer Luiz Ruffato that will make the opening speech of the Frankfurt Book Fair: “We have a society in Brazil very unfair where we live so segregated. There are Indians and blacks and there is a white elite in society without any liability to the country in which it lives.” Brazilian society still uses the criteria of the colonial period, said Ruffato.

We use futebol (soccer) as an appropriated image. For example, in the final of the Confederations Cup in Maracanã Stadium, Brazil against Spain in late June: “At the top of the bleachers and the rich and whites sat down to see on the field, blacks playing, blacks sweating to provide a spectacle for the whites.”

Paulo Lins and Daniel Mundurukú however, these are the chances of two minority men? Not a even a little. Although the Indians being only 0.4 percent of the population, because from the 16th century they have been systematically massacred. The Afro-Brazilians, however, are the majority in the country. With the last census in 2010, for the first time money was defeated. Of the nearly 191 million Brazilians as 47.73 percent are designated as white, 50.74 percent as preto (black) or marrom (pardo or brown).

Respondents had to choose between five options, branco (white), preto (black), marrom (pardo or brown), amarelo (yellow) and indígena (indigenous). The term pardo is the attempt to find a general term for the many shades of skin color. Pardo is also “gray, doubtful.” Pardo (brown) is not the color of people, it is a color of cats or wrapping paper,” said historian Wania Sant’Anna. Moreover, the Movimento Negro (black civil rights movement), rejects the word pardo from the category for skin tones.

White the first to be served

Since 1988, racism and discrimination is a crime in Brazil. The everyday looks different. Black lawyers, soccer players or politicians are regularly inspected by armed police when they are driving a car. They are barred in office buildings or restaurants (also by a black porter). Waiters serve whites first and then the dark skinned guest. The models on the covers of Brazilian magazines are white, as white as Gisele Bundchen; just like the stars of the popular novelas (soap operas) are blonde and white. The blacks are given lighter roles, like maids, drivers or bad people.

Cruel racial theories that white elites in the 19th century, planned resettlement, deportation, sterilization and extermination of blacks, were original products from Europe.

In response to the dark years Casa Grande e Senzala by Gilberto Freyre (3) released in 1938 as a sociological work was considered basic reading about the myth of racial democracy in Brazil. He saw collaboration of whites, blacks and Indians as an opportunity for Brazil, which should be based on the harmonious coexistence of ethnic groups. Today, his theories are criticized, since this supposed harmony prevented a debate on the real problem.

Prohibition of Carnival for blacks

Getúlio Vargas, who ruled Brazil from 1930-1945 as a dictator, needed a strong national feeling in his centralized state. As quickly as possible, he sought to characterize a Brazilian identity behind this huge country. At this time, Afro-Brazilian culture with its Samba, Carnival parades, the martial art Capoeira and the Candomblé faith gave identity to the Brazilian nation.

What today is considered the epitome of Brazil, was previously forbidden under punishment. Capoeira and Candomblé were banned, their teachers, and priests were persecuted, Carnival was a taboo for blacks. Samba was regarded as “música negra (black music)” of the uncivilized.

However, the appropriation of their culture did not protect Afro-Brazilians from discrimination. Even 125 years after the end of slavery, “coloreds” and Indians today attend worse schools than schools attended by white children, earn less (money), cannot afford medical treatment and statistically die earlier; often by police violence.

Gilberto Carvalho, head of the Presidential Cabinet in Brasília, recently complained: “The violence against black youth increased considerably. It’s like a plane crash every week with over three hundred youths of heaven.” A total of almost 35,000 blacks were murdered in 2010 in Brazil. In comparison, in the United States, whose citizens have no qualms about dealing with firearms, about 13,000 people died violently in 2010.

The only way to escape this poverty is education. 15 percent of whites get a place at a state university in Brazil. However, only about five percent of Afro-Brazilians achieve the same. Brazil’s public schools are terrible and whoever cannot afford a private school is disadvantaged. Many drop out of school after four or five years.

“Belindia (a mixture of Belgium and India)” many Brazilians call their country. Whoever has money and the right skin color, lives a life of European standards. All others struggle with the problems of a developing country like India. And racism is not only in the day-to-day life in Brazil, it is institutionalized: Of the 513 deputies in the Brazilian Congress only 30 are described as dark-skinned.

However, there are positive signs: A breakthrough was the election of Joaquim Barbosa, the first black president of the Supreme Court in Brazil last year. His success has symbolic power. Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is now planning quotas for black and indigenous people in public office. The recipe for success is the program “Bolsa Família” created by former president Lula da Silva, who is at the center of its social policy. The scholarship supports families who send their children to school regularly and for vaccination.

After a constitutional change in March, maids, mostly black, who take care of white families all the time, wash and look after the children have the same rights as other workers. Until now, domestic workers were regarded as quasi-private property of the employer, without rights, and always available, housed in a chamber without windows next to the kitchen. In the Senate debate, the importance of this new law was compared with the abolition of slavery in 1888.

How much more successful would the país maravilhoso (marvelous country) be if blacks, the majority of its citizens, were not degraded as second-class citizens?

Source: Folha, Mamapress


Sociologist Alberto Guerreiro Ramos (1915-1982)
Sociologist Alberto Guerreiro Ramos (1915-1982)

1. Alberto Guerreiro Ramos (1915-1982) was a Brazilian sociologist and politician. Figure of great relevance of social science in Brazil. In 1956, Pitirim Sorokin, analyzing the situation of sociology in the second half of the twentieth century, included Guerreiro Ramos among the authors who contributed to the advancement of the discipline. Source. An outspoken critic of the racial situation in Brazil, in his classic 1955 essay, “Patologia social do ‘branco’ brasileiro”, Ramos argued that the problem of blacks exists only if we think that society should be white. Blacks are a normal ingredient of the Brazilian population. Blacks are the people and are not a strange component of our demographics. To the contrary, they are the most important demographic matrix. Ramos denounced the pathological character of the attitudes of whites and of the alienation blacks themselves for assuming the same attitudes. Source

2. Over the years, much has been written about the more than 130 terms that Brazilians use to define their skin color. In reality, the list of terms is not quite as complex or diverse as it appears to be. See the notes sections of the this post for a closer analysis.

3. In any study of race relations in Brazil, Freyre’s seminal work, translated as the Masters and the Slaves in English, will certainly come up. The book laid the groundwork for the belief that many Brazilians continue to harbor that Brazil is a “racial democracy”. Since the World War II era, Freyre’s work has been studied, scrutinized and vehemently rejected by activists in Movimento Negro circles who argue that Freyre’s influential work has blinded the Brazilian population into accepting the non-existence of racism in Brazilian society even with the overwhelming evidence that has been recorded over the years and continues to exist in the fabric of society.

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. the Most Important Brazilian writer is Machado de Assis a black man from the 19 century.

    An errata he is not called afro writer. He is called Brazilian writer. He created the Brazilian Academy of Literature and was elected the President of it with unanimity of votes from the other white writers. Tell me which black man had done that in any Latin American country or American country?

    Tell me who is the most important writer from any country in Latin America or Americas? I am sure in their list of the most important wont be a black man.

    Brazil has a different experience of mixing then other countries in Americas. It doesnt mean it is not a racist country.

    But please stop with the Afro Brazilian History, this is americanism. THe african history is part of the Brazil history and should be told inside not as an separated thing! the fight should be about inclusion not about exclusion.

    The second thing I would like to say fromalmost 200 millions of people we had only 70 writers – just show how westerns are not interested in our literature expect if we write in the way please their western audience.

    What Lins is saying it is very important. Most of black people had being excluded from the civilizatory western process of education.

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