Racial Democracy or Informal Apartheid? South Africa and Brazil: Two historical, cultural contexts and different times, the same segregation

South Africa 1965. Rio de Janeiro 2015

Note from BW of Brazil: Over the years, there has been a long running debate as to which nation is/was the most racist against black people. Traditionally, in comparison with the United States and South Africa, both countries in which legalized segregation between blacks and whites existed, Brazil’s elites have always defended themselves against accusations of deep seated racism by the very non-existence of such laws. But as we have shown time and time again on this blog, regardless of the non-existence of segregation laws, Brazil’s particular brand of racism could actually be seen as even more efficient than that of the other two countries because of the fact that for decades, black Brazilians, the victims of the country’s sophisticated method of denying the existence of racism while simultaneously practicing it subtly and blatantly, often bought into the idea that Brazil was in fact a ‘racial democracy‘. 

But rejection of this mythology has spread far and wide, from academic studies starting in the 1950s to consciousness-raising campaigns by Afro-Brazilian activists over the past several decades, to the battle over affirmative action policies over the past decade. And while most reject the idea that racism doesn’t exist in Brazil (although they stop short of taking personal responsibility), we must also put to rest another common belief about the country: the idea that racial groups have always freely mixed and mingled socially without the racial hostility/segregation associated with the other two countries. In fact, while it remains true that segregation never existed by law in Brazil, socially-respected/enforced segregation did, and in many ways, still does exist. We’ve seen examples of this segregation in the memories of one woman who vividly remembers blacks having to sit in separate areas in movie theaters in Rio Grande do Sul. We’ve seen examples of social clubs in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro where blacks were either barred completely or treated with hostility. We’ve seen what’s been called “Apartheid Baiano” during Carnaval in the heavily Afro-Brazilian city of Salvador, Bahia. 

We also know that in 1940’s São Paulo, according to Brazil’s most well-known Afro-Brazilian activist, Abdias do Nascimento, business owners in the important commercial downtown district rebelled against black presence and black social events on Sundays in their territory. The chief of police prohibited these events that took place on Rua Direita (street) (1). In an interview, well-known Afro-Brazilian activist Carlos Alberto Medeiros also shared his memories as a youth in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul where he remembers that:

“there was a clear line of separation. Blacks and whites could co-exist at work, they could even, suddenly, root for the same futebol team, but what people call social life – the parties and the clubs – it was absolutely segregated. Ie, I didn’t learn about segregation reading something about the United States. I experienced segregation. You had black clubs, like Floresta Aurora, Marcílio Dias, Satélite Prontidão, and, at parties, at home and in the clubs, I didn’t see whites. They didn’t go. They weren’t invited, just like blacks didn’t go to clubs of whites, nor were they invited. It was not by class, it was by race. because even in the favela there were parties for blacks and parties for whites. And even in the (labor) unions. It was absolutely segregated.” (2)

So much for the “We Are the World” racial harmony myth! Fast forward to 2015 and we still see access to the beautiful beaches of Rio de Janeiro being basically off limits for poor Afro-Brazilians who simply seek leisure-time activity. So please keep all of this history in mind the next time someone tries to pass Brazil off as some racial paradise. If you’re still not convinced, check out the piece below submitted by the social network community Pense, é grátis, meaning “think, it’s free.”

Racial Democracy or Informal Apartheid?

Two historical, cultural contexts and different times, the same segregation.

Courtesy of Pense, é grátis

In spite of racial segregation having been made official through legislation in South Africa’s National Party, which conventionally was called apartheid, the mere fact that post-slavery Brazil never had a system of discriminatory laws does not make a country less racist, as some advocates of Racial Democracy say.

In the first image, black miners going through vexatious searches in the African country. In the second, young people from the periphery being searched for the mere fact that they had gone to the beach. If South African Apartheid was legalized, in Rio lands apartheid has an informal character, but is just as effective.

Another sunny weekend of sand and sea; of exception, segregation and racism. War is declared the presence of black and poor people, residents of the peripheries, suburbs and favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro on the beaches of the South Zone, a prime area of ​​the city.

While whites circulate freely, blacks can’t enter (and when they come, it’s to work and serve whites). Racialized boundaries were erected and the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro State serve their function of controlling them with full endorsement of governor Pezão. A dystopian police, shall we say, because it has the amazing ability to “predict” the crimes before they happen.

In addition, several cuts in (bus) lines that connect the city to the South Zone were announced, which would further hinder access to the area. Nevertheless, the pacification and real estate speculation in the slums near the tourist areas of the city initiated a true “white removal” where original residents are forced to move to the suburbs because they cannot afford the inflated rent prices.

Everything to ensure and accelerate the socio-spatial segregation in the “cidade maravilhosa” (wonderful city) to keep poor and black population in the suburbs and slums, deprived of leisure, the most basic infrastructure and the right to go-and-come, whose circulation is permitted only just to exercise their function as precarious workers, that is, serve whites. These whites that increasingly isolates themselves in their paradise endowed with luxuries and amenities, increasingly restricted to anyone with a blackish tone.

The challenge of the anarchist movement faced with these issues is the challenge so-called of post-colonial. For its great canonical references are still European men and white thinkers. Such myopia makes the anarchist movement incapable of enegrecer (blackening), unable to leverage. The white militant remains the representative of a lead role that is not theirs, continues to mobilize temporal and regionally, de-contextualized Eurocentric theories of the drama of black Brazilian man and woman and the Latin American Indian.

Therefore, remember: anarchy is much more than your western facet. There is evidence of its expression across the globe being practiced by non-Western people, even if under other formats and names.

Modern racism is the racism of the colonization of the white man, either bodily or mentally, perpetuated under control of the state, the nation and the capital. Never otherness, the Other was so subjugated to the point of transforming into structural inequalities, a process that ensures the systematic exploitation of minority groups by a dominant group, all in order to ensure the maximum profit possible. The identity difference transformed into racial inequality is another effective means of Capital ensuring a cheap and abundant labor force.

For these and others, the struggle against the state is also the anti-racist struggle and the anti-racist struggle is the struggle against the state. One is not done without the other.

For the city suffers from the black blood under its feet that permitted the construction of its skyscrapers. The city is pressing for insurrection to take the streets and avenge their sisters and brothers. Faced with this emergency, anarchism needs to se enegrecer (blacken itself), Anarquismo Negro (Black Anarchism) will teach us.

Source: Pense, é grátis Facebook page, Redes de Informações Anarquistas (Anarchists Information Networks)


  1. Nascimento, Abdias and Elisa Larkin Nascimento. Africans in Brazil: A Pan-African Perspective. Africa World Press, 1992.
  2. Verena Alberti and Amilcar Araujo Pereira. “Possibilidades das fontes orais – um exemplo de pesquisa.” Anos 90, Porto Alegre, v. 15, n. 28, p. 73-98, December 2008.
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. I was told that the Dutch once tried to implement the apartheid system in Brazil even before they did it in South Africa.

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