Racial comments over Supreme Court president’s apparent slight of Brazil’s president provide another example of “the place of blacks”

Supreme Court president Joaquim Barbosa greets the Pope during a ceremony in Rio de Janeiro
Supreme Court president Joaquim Barbosa greets the Pope during a ceremony in Rio de Janeiro

Note from BW of Brazil: Here we go again! Brazilians provide yet another example of how black Brazilians are perceived in the nation’s imagination. Here’s what went down. In the past few weeks the Brazilian media has been playing up the coming visit of Pope Francisco to Brazil. The anticipation of the Pope’s visit was intensified given everything that has happened in the past month or so. The Confederations Cup, a sort of warm up tournament for the host of the World Cup, was won by the Brazilian team. During the Confederations Cup, historic protests that took hundreds of thousands of Brazilians to the street rocked the country for several weeks and was followed by the international media. Then, in the middle of the protests there was yet another brutal Military Police massacre in a poor Rio de Janeiro community. What better way to top off the Pope’s visit than the latest incident that provides a glimpse into the racist views that many Brazilians continue to deny even with more than 50 years worth of overwhelming evidence. The key players in this latest riff are Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rouseff, the new pope, Francis or Francisco (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) of Argentina and Brazil’s first self-identifying black president of the Supreme Court, Joaquim Barbosa. Below are a few reports of the incident (see the video below). BW of Brazil will chime in on this piece at the bottom of the page. 

Joaquim Barbosa greets the Pope and ignores President Rouseff

“I’m disgusted by this disgusting preto (black), he should be chained up”, reads comment about Joaquim Barbosa

courtesy of Folha Política

In reaction to the attitude of (Supreme Court President) Joaquim Barbosa in a reception ceremony for the arrival of Pope Francisco in Brazil, in which he apparently ignored President Dilma Rouseff and didn’t greet her, someone posted the following comment on the internet: “this negro should be chained up!! He wants to be a lot of things…excuse me for the ugly outburst but I am disgusted by this disgusting preto (black)…”

After greeting the Pope, Barbosa walked away without greeting President Dilma Rouseff
After greeting the Pope, Barbosa walked away without greeting President Dilma Rouseff

Joaquim Barbosa has already been the target of racism, insults and offenses in general on the part of his opponents. The minister became the primary target of attacks on the part of militants and a parcel of the press above all after electoral research pointed to him as the favorite for the presidency of the Republic.

Comment: “this negro should be chained up!! He wants to be a lot of things…excuse me for the ugly outburst but I am disgusted by this disgusting preto…”
Comment: “this negro should be chained up!! He wants to be a lot of things…excuse me for the ugly outburst but I am disgusted by this disgusting preto…”

What could such declarations represent about Brazilian politics and about the degree of consciousness in such respect and to the coexistence between ethnicities and “races”?  What can one say about the situation of these equals and racism in Brazil?

Former Secretary General of political party tweets that Barbosa acted like a preto (black)

Courtesy of Brasil 247

Kid Neto, former Secretary General of the PMDB (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro or Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) of the state of Goiás, outraged with the treatment given by the President of the Federal Supreme Court (STF), Joaquim Barbosa, to Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff, during a ceremony with Pope Francisco, expressed his dismay by writing a racist message on Twitter. “And to think that Lula appointed him because he was black, the main attribute of his ascension to the STF, now (he) acts like a preto (black)”, said the PMDB member, that deleted the post after being alerted by his followers. To Jornal Opção, Kid Neto said his statement was “only a slightly unfortunate quote.”

Comment: “And to think that Lula appointed him because he was black, the main attribute of his ascension to the STF, now (he) acts like a preto (black).”
Comment: “And to think that Lula appointed him because he was black, the main attribute of his ascension to the STF, now (he) acts like a preto (black).”

Former Secretary General of the PMDB of Goiás, Kid Neto, called chief justice, Joaquim Barbosa, “preto (black)” in a post written (and now deleted) on Twitter late on Monday. Kid did not like the cold treatment that Barbosa dispensed to President Dilma Rousseff when she presented him to Pope Francisco. The PMDB member, who is frequent tweeter, used the social network to show his wrath and came out with the following sentence: “and to think that Lula appointed because he was black, the main attribute of his ascension to STF, now (he) acts like a preto (black).”

Kid Neto was alerted by some followers and deleted the tweet, but internet users had already made a copy of the post. The picture (above) is circulating on social networks and the PMDB is being heavily criticized. To Jornal Opção (newspaper in Goiânia), Kid Neto stated that his statement was “only a slightly unfortunate quote.”

Note from BW of Brazil: This is how the Revista Afro wesbite weighed in on the controversy and a possible explanation for Barbosa’s apparent snub of the president. 

Joaquim Barbosa greets Pope Francisco, but ignores Dilma

Courtesy of Revista Afro

The President of the Federal Supreme Court (STF), Joaquim Barbosa, made a gesture that provoked controversy on the afternoon of Monday, July 22nd. Pope Francisco was received by political authorities during a ceremony at the Palácio Guanabara. All ministers that were present, including Joaquim, greeted the pope, however, he was the only one who ignored the presence of President Dilma Rousseff, who was next to the pontiff.

After the ceremony, the pope greeted one by one some ministers who were present. President Dilma was at his side and announced the name of the minister so that the priest could greet him.

Other ministers such as Marta Suplicy (Culture), Gleisi Hoffmann (Civil House), Paulo Bernardo (Communications), Ideli Salvatti (Institutional Relations) greeted the religious leader and then the President. However, Joaquim Barbosa, Minister of the STF, greeted the Pontiff and left the stage without looking at and greeting Dilma.

The gesture caused many comments, but a spokesperson for Joaquim Barbosa denies that the Minister had ignored the presence of the president and said that he and several other officials were in a room with Dilma before the arrival of the Pope. According to the aide, as the two had already greeted and talked previously, Barbosa probably thought that was not the case to greet her again.

After greeting the ministers, it was time for Pope Francisco to present his entourage to President Dilma Rousseff. Around 7:20pm, pontiff left in a car from Palácio Guanabara and went to the Apostólico do Sumaré (Apostolic Palace) of Sumaré, the official residence of the Archdiocese of Rio, on top of Sumaré road, Rio Comprido, in the north of the state capital.

Known for breaking protocols, the pope rejected all offered helicopters for his transportation, besides the armored pope mobile. The pontiff says that he prefers to be closer to the people.

Note from BW of Brazil: As the controversy over Barbosa’s gesture mounted, Rodrigo Penna, a Dilma supporter and co-editor of the Dilma Rouseff blog in the state of Minas Gerais weighed in on the controversy. Penna is a professor of Physics at the Rede Federal de Ensino (Federal Network of Education) (Cefet of the state of Minas Gerais), Specialist in Science Teaching, Master of Science and PhD in Nuclear Techniques and Nuclear Sciences. According to the Desabafo Brasil blog, Penna worked on Dilma’s 2010 presidential campaign although it is unclear if he is actually a spokesperson for the president. Also outraged over the Barbosa incident, Penna wrote the following:

Message taken from President Rouseff's blog
Message taken from President Rouseff’s blog

Joaquim Barbosa didn’t disrespect Dilma: it was the whole country

courtesy of the Blog da Dilma

Close-up taken from President Rouseff's blog
Close-up of message taken from President Rouseff’s blog

The extreme rudeness and awkwardness of Joaquim Barbosa not greeting President Dilma in front of the Pope and everyone was an attack on the Brazilian people. An unprovoked attack on who the people chose and was elected. It just proves what many think and say openly: he is not up to the job. The president of the highest court of the country, beats woman, assaults judges and reporters, sleeps on the job, accept affectionate gestures, “errs” on trial, travels the globe and buys an apartment in Miami on in the company’s name. This is what should give an example: the justice (judge) wallows in the trash*.

Note from BW of Brazil: Penna’s comments and accusations about Barbosa are all things that have been discussed in Brazil’s media. From the widely circulated photo of Barbosa sleeping during the recent infamous “Mensalão” trials, to the police report of aggression filed by his ex-wife, everything about Barbosa’s life has been scrutinized in the public eye. It was also widely reported (as mentioned in Kid Neto’s comments) that then President Lula da Silva wanted to nominate a black man to sit on the Supreme Court, as if Barbosa’s past accomplishments didn’t warrant his consideration. In regards to this specific issue, isn’t it quite convenient how people will mention this fact as if white people don’t have the advantage of whiteness on their side 99% of time? But getting back to the issue at hand…

What do all three of the reactions to Barbosa’s apparent snub of President Rouseff have in common? Well let’s see. Francisco used Facebook to say “this negro should be chained up”, making a clear reference to slavery, and that he was disgusted by this “disgusting preto (black)”. Kid Neto then tweeted that Barbosa “acts like a preto (black).” Penna chose to post a famous depiction of a scene in Brazilian slavery to go with his comments about Barbosa. So what is that all of them are really trying to say? Actually it’s pretty easy to recognize the reactions as attacks on Barbosa’s racial identity masquerading as mere criticism. In much the same way that many attacks on American President Barack Obama are based on race, the attacks on Barbosa simply reveal that regardless of Barbosa’s stature as the head of Brazil’s highest court, he is still a member of the most disrespected racial group in the country. Similar to the doctor and lawyer who were reminded of their race back in October and November of 2012, the men who were asked “what are you blacks doing here?” at a concert and the daughter of a black governor was beaten because she was thought to be out of place, these comments serve to simply remind Barbosa of “the place” of blacks in Brazilian society.

If this weren’t the case, why would Kid Neto delete his comment? As Professor Lilia Moritz Schwarcz once discovered, Brazilians may be racist but they will never admit it, hence the continuous proclamation that “racism doesn’t exist in Brazil.” One could even argue here that all of Penna’s comments about Barbosa are true (1), but if this were not about race, what was the point of including a photo depicting a scene from the slavery era? If Barbosa were white, would Penna have included this same photo? If this were not about race, why did Francisco and Kid Neto even mention Barbosa being black? What does his race have to do with his actions unless one is insinuating that this type of faux pas could only have been made by a black person? Keep in mind that Brazilians have several sayings and jokes about black people that one would never say about a white person. And as much political corruption that exists in Brazil, no one ever mentions the race of white politicians when they are caught in the latest political scandal (and 91.5-97.6% of federal senators and representatives are white). In reality, beyond all of the denials of the influence of race and racism in Brazil, it ain’t hard to tell. What do you think?

Source: Folha PolíticaBrasil 247Blog da Dilma, Revista Afro


* – This is a reference to Barbosa’s comments to a journalist back in March. After being asked a question by a journalist, Barbosa was heard saying, “Leave me alone, man. Leave me alone. Go wallow in the trash like you always do.” Barbosa later apologized for the comments saying he was tired and experiencing strong pains at the time.

1. After all, only Rouseff and Barbosa would know if the gesture was actually a snub done on purpose. Maybe it is true that Barbosa and Rouseff had just met only a few minutes earlier and neither felt the need to greet each other again, but even so, it’s also true that this whole controversy wouldn’t have even happened had Barbosa simply greeted the president once more, which should not have caused either party any stress.

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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