Overcoming racism requires more than ‘only’ education

Painting depicting slavery in Brazil (top) and an iconic photo taken in Rio in 1983 (below)

Racism in Brazil is manifested in the construction of places allowed for blacks and whites. School, as a social institution, manifests itself as a space in which these ideas are reproduced

by Dennis Oliveira*

There is a strong tendency in the anti-racist movement to consider that the (path to) overcoming racism is through education. No wonder that two strong banners of the current movement relate to education: Lei 10.639 (Law 10.639) that amended the Lei de Diretrizes e Bases da Educação (Law of Directives and Bases of Education) to establish the theme of the history of Africa and Afro-Brazilian culture into primary school curricula and the implementation of racial quotas in the selection processes of public universities.

I seek to understand the problem of racism from the perspective of Marxism. One of the most interesting ideas of Marxist thought is that men establish concrete relationships with each other based on material production. Racism in Brazil stems from the fact that capitalism here has constructed itself with a basis of the primitive accumulation of wealth obtained by the production method called colonial slavery by thinker Jacob Gorender. “Colonial slavery” was very well conceptualized by Gorender – it sustained mercantilism in Europe for a long time, making possible at a certain time, resources for investment in more advanced modes of production and after the banning of the slave trade in 1850 (Eusebius de Queiroz Law), the resources that were intended for trafficking were directed to investments in productive systems, enabling then, the negotiated transition from colonial slavery to capitalism.

I reinforce this idea of ​​“transition” – there was no break with the previous order but a transition. The Brazilian ruling class is descendant of slave owners. Therefore, elements constructed in social relations of slavery to capitalism are transfigured. “Oppressive tolerance” as anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro called it – tolerating the other to oppress it – served as a legitimizing mechanism of enslavement and, currently, to the over-exploitation of salaried labor. Blacks are tolerated as long as they are in their “proper place.”

Soccer star Ronaldinho and singer Thiaguinho: blacks are expected to excel in sports and music

Therefore, racism in Brazil is manifested on the construction of places allowed for blacks and whites. School, as a social institution, manifests itself as a space in which these ideas are reproduced. The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu developed the concept of “cultural capital” to define the competencies and skills required and universalized by the school institution as mechanisms of symbolic violence, the measure that requires a “framework” of those who want to be successful in this space.

Brazilian society is not surprised by the image of blacks as trash/paper collectors

It’s with a basis in these references that I understand that the fight for Law 10.639 and for quotas are instruments that explain conflicts within the educational institution. The resistance to the implementation or even the distortion thereof is given not by a “deformation” or “misunderstanding” of the agents involved in the institution, but because a more radical conception of the meanings of these norms implies questioning the systems of “symbolic violence” inserted in educational institutions.

It is important to remember that the law changes the LDB (Law of Directives and Bases) 10.639, therefore the content provided there are not “peripheral” but have the same status as any other mandatory content of the curriculum, such as Mathematics or Portuguese. And also it is mandatory for all primary schools, even those in which there are no blacks or that serves a white elite. How important is this reflection? It is that it points out that the contents of the History of Africa and Afro-Brazilian culture will become part of the group of skills and abilities required in schools, re-positioning the figure of the African and the African descent from the periphery to the symbolic center.

Graffiti reaction to the system of quotas at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil: “Negro, só se for na cozinha do RU, cotas não (Blacks, only if they are in the kitchen of the university cafeteria, no quotas)” 

In the case of quotas in universities, the presence of more and more black men and women in universities conflicts with established images of the places that blacks are the subordinates – the peripheries, the precarious jobs, exclusion. Transforming a “monochromic” space into “multicolored” conflicts with symbolic images of places established for blacks and whites.

Cacau Protásio - empregada Zezé, da novela 'Avenida Brasil'
Actress Cacau Protásio plays a maid in the novela Avenida Brasil, another subordinate image

Now, to measure the repositioning of these symbolic places of blacks, there’s also a dislocating of the position of what it is to be white. Being white has established itself as the place of the “universalization” of the human condition (for this reason, many whites do not identify themselves as “ethnic group” and define themselves as “human”, “mixed race”, “mixed” and other definitions that erase the idea of ​​occupying a place built by hegemonic subordination of another). The social condition of being white is configured from “racially acquired privileges” – as, for example, always counting on the possibility of there being a poor black woman to be exploited as a domestic worker or even being chosen in a visual selection of work in which she competes with a black person – which transformed itself into a wider range of opportunities. As the fight against racism goes in all directions, these privileges are being questioned and, because of this, the shouting begins disassembling the entire discourse of the myth of racial democracy in Brazil.

Brazilian society sees homeless blacks as normal

Given this, racism is not solved merely with education, because the school as a social institution reproduces it. The fight for quotas and Law 10.639 has an important function in opening fronts of collision within the school institution, but without creating the illusion that the mere implementation will solve the problem of ethnic relations in Brazil.

School is a place of conflict – demonstrated clearly when you hear a USP (University of São Paulo) professor say in a meeting that “the implementation of quotas could increase violence on campus.” The struggle against racism is an action, therefore, of a political nature and not an educational process.

* – Dennis Oliveira is professor of the School of Communication and Arts at the University of São Paulo

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

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