Note from BW of Brazil: In the news lately have been reports of confusions on some of Rio de Janeiro’s world famous beaches. The controversy surrounds the confusion caused by the infamous “arrastão”, which has been translated has “dragnet”. This article will consistently use the term arrastão (plural arrastões). An arrastão can be described as a practice in which a gang of people on a beach suddenly begin to create confusion by grabbing personal items of strangers and quickly escaping from the area. This beach facet of beach life is not new and has been regularly featured or reported in the Brazilian media since at least 1992. Last week, the American but failed to touch upon a number of important elements in explaining the social implications that come along with the arrastão. This report features elements of a study by Livio Sansone and Carlos Nobre (2000).
“People think that blacks on the beach will do an arrastão. They call blacks from the subúrbio farofeiros (1) and thieves that are going to do arrastões, and what happens? This exchange of offenses begins to happen (…) how will the people from Zona Norte react? They say like this: the lady has to back off because the beach is for everybody (…) sometimes, when things take a particular shape, the two groups, Zona Norte and Zona Sul (North and South Zone), throw sand at each other.” (officer of the Batalhão de Policiamento Turístico, Bptur or Battalion of Tourist Policing)
Note from BW of Brazil: Life in Rio de Janeiro is strongly segregated along lines of class and race; not in the legal means such as that practiced in apartheid era South Africa or Jim Crow America, but socially enforced segregation with strong meanings associated to race and color. As has been covered in previous articles here dealing with class, one must first understand the term suburbio in the Brazilian context means “outskirts” of a city; the poorer areas of cities, the periferia (periphery) (including favelas or slums) where the city’s poorer residents live. There are strong, negative connotations and stereotypes associated with persons who live in the suburbio/periferia/favela.
When speaking geographically of Rio de Janeiro, people normally speak of zonas (zones) and different zones bring to mind different images of persons who live in these regions. Nieghborhoods such as Mangueira, Jacarezinho, Vaz Lobo, Sampaio, Costa Barros, Parada de Lucas and Vigário Geral, for example, are six of the ten poorest areas located in Zona Norte (North Zone). To have an idea of poverty levels, average monthly income in Manguiera is under R$500 (US$213). 63% of residents in these neighborboods define themselves as preto or pardo. On the other hand, Copacabana, Leblon, Ipanema, Lagoa, Botafogo and Flamengo are located in Zona Sul and these areas have the largest number of residents that earn R$16.350 (or US$6,960) per month. These areas are overwhelmingly white.
Persons of Brazil’s middle and upper classes associate favelados (slum dwellers) and persons from suburbio/periferia areas with crime, drug trafficking, low social morals, murder, lack of education and the musical style known as funk (2). It goes without saying that this image is mostly associated with persons of varying degrees of brown skin (pretos/blacks and pardos/browns, also known as negros or afrodescendentes). Being isolated from the prime areas of the city, residents from the suburbio are often harassed when they attempt to access the chic, modern areas of the middle classes, such as malls and beaches. As one could expect, while they are generally denied access to such areas, it doesn’t mean they completely accept this social exclusion. Speaking of young people from these areas, Sansone and Nobre report:
This young public – between 13 and 18 years of age – who took the scene of leisure on the beaches refused go without leisure options of the subúrbio, roasting in the summer in the streets, in the squares and tiny rooms their houses. They wanted to take advantage of the best in the public sector and have the same behavior of the identical public of their life and age, ie, they wanted to have the same behaviors of consumption and use of public spaces as the youth from Zona Sul. They were people who did not bring the sophisticated, educated and stylish profile in the strictest sense of these categories of social identity. They descend from the overcrowded bus terminals of Zona Sul, dressed in shorts/modest swimsuits, and arrived on the sand and in groups and in general eat soft drinks and hot dogs. These “new” beach-goers, are mostly negros (blacks) ou mestiços (pardos or mixed race).
This public has become adept at a kind of entertainment called “baile funk” that, on the weekends, brings together in the metropolitan region of Rio, thousands of young people who will dance to the sound of a strong and very rhythmic musical style. They’re called “funkeiros” or “funk groups” by the population. Bold in their actions, in particular their objectives, deprived in relation to public spaces, and they, at times, are engaged regularly in violence as provokers or as victims. In 1992, they definitely gained a reputation that persecutes them even today – practicing the “arrastão” (dragnet) on the beaches – a model of widespread theft against sunbathers on the sand – when they were filmed by television running in the middle of bathers practicing robberies in groups of 20-30 people.
Note from BW of Brazil: Matters of class and race are often intertwined in studies of a socioeconomic nature but those who continuously argue against the existence of racial associations with issues of class often simply ignore the belief systems that clearly connect physical appearance with class membership. In this next section, the authors provide evidence contrary to the widely disseminated idea that only social class matters in Brazil.
According to the praças (officers or sargeants) of the two units (of Copacabana beach), “the people of Zona Sul don’t like to mingle with people from the Zona Norte.” IE, the rich, the successful, in view of the praças, don’t want to share a much revered public space (the beach) with members of other worlds of the city. In this sense, it is possible to perceive in the discourse of Zona Sul – in a translation by a black police officer – racial and geographic bias that are becoming clearer every summer when the flow of subúrbio residents increases to the beaches. Praças and officers end up being complaint counters of beach residents against the subúrbio presence. These (from the suburbia), according to police who work on the waterfront, are mostly blacks and mestiços. And the complaints end up coming out openly in several manners. One is clearly visible in the evaluation of the police: the resident does not want the presence of the black suburbanites and accepts the white suburbanites as summarized here by one of our interviewees:
“What are they doing here? Why not build a pool in the neighborhood where they live? These people can not come here dirtying up our beaches, our environment, our peace. This is told to us with clarity and much intensity. I’ve already heard this several times and there is a very important racial data given because suburbanites are visibly black people (…) because the locals aren’t bothered with the presence of white suburbanites ( … ).”
Note from BW of Brazil: This point is of great importance. Here, according to police registering complaints from residents, inhabitants of Zona Sul have no problem with lower class persons who look white. It is the group of lower class blacks that attracts their hostility. In the opinion of another officer:
“The police know that if white people come to the beach – with the European standard of beauty – these people do not suffer any harassment by the residents of the Zona Sul.” (Bptur officer)
An officer who participated in the discussions on a proposal (to create barriers to impede suburbanite access to the beach), explains:
“They (the residents of Copacabana) incisively want barriers to be created so that these subúrbio people don’t come there (…) there hovers a desire of this white population of Zona Sul, a clear desire of suburbanites not to come to the beach (…) this culture of veiled racism does not allow them to clearly say: we do not want blacks here. Nobody says that. They say they do not want troublemakers, farofeiros.”
Note from BW of Brazil: In the comments below, another interesting aspect of race relations in elite areas comes to the fore: discrimination by black residents against blacks who come to the beach from Zona Norte.
One of the officers – a Major with a Masters in Criminal Justice observed that most observed the strained race relations at the beach reported with no doubts that blacks from Copacabana also want black suburbanites to be excluded from the sands. With this behavior, the black Copacabana resident joins local groups because he is not discriminated against like the suburbanites and is even included in the white world of his neighborhood. In the testimonial of our informant:
“( … ) The black local, even living in a favela, is in Zona Sul. It’s another geographical, social situation. So, because of living in the south zone, he incorporates the vision of the whites…he with others starts harassing suburbanites. “Blacks who live in the south support the segregationist attitudes of whites because they want to be included in that group. Because they demonstrate in a a clear way, that they want to participate, they want to be included in the mundo dos brancos (white world), not of the rich whites, but the whites of Zona Sul ( … ) this gives a him certain status, he feels included, (that) he is not left out.”
In truth, blacks in Zona Sul do not want to maintain the traditional profile of the black Brazilian: poor, from the favela, humiliated and without important padrinhos (godfathers or sponsors, usually white) (3) to open their paths to well-being. What would happen in case they stood against the segregationist measures and opted for a democratic discourse of enjoyment of the beach by all social classes? In our view, he, the black Zona Sul resident, would suffer a process of divestment of the close relations that he maintains in the neighborhood, as it is he was already was against the very community to which he belongs and placing priority on the racial identity of his worldview. He substantiates an “alliance” in the neighborhood, which, in a sense, already allows him to exert some positive aspects of citizenship as being on the beach and not be repressed as a “stranger” in the Zona Sul group. In this sense, in group and region conflict, the defense of a racial identity on the part of the black Zona Sul resident tends to become ideological weapons against themselves, as this is an essentially politicized racial identity. That is, under these conditions, in this climate and environment of this mutual distrust and rejection, assuming one’s blackness increases conditions of conflict between the various groups that are vying for territory leisure. Whoever ends up also being in a difficult situation is the black cop of ostensible beach service when bathers require him to remove the suburbanites from the beach on the grounds that they, the outsiders, are participating in vandalism and hooliganism on the sand.
Note from BW of Brazil: As we can see here, there is a strong current of black Brazilians who align themselves with white ideologies even not being white or rich. This substantiates the view of many Afro-Brazilian militants who believe that black Brazilians (because of racial denial and the interiorizing of white supremacy) are often their own worst enemies. This question of allegiance is not only an issue of those blacks who frequent the beach in hours of leisure but presents black policemen with a challenging dilemma as well.
As one officer said, the police realize that the occurrence is not criminal but racial.
“And the black cop, in such a situation, is extremely vulnerable because if he abides by the law, he is not doing anything against people who use their constitutional right to go to the beach, it is because he is black and blacks don’t combat blacks. Then there are situations where people say this: we’ll call the white officers to see if he resolves this (…) the black cop wants to fulfill the law, but the problem is he also identifies himself as part of the black racial group.”
“One thing I can figure – and for the fact of my being black and sometimes having gone there to help in these conflicts – that white population says: Hey, if these guys are not from here, why don’t you boot them out? And when they ask why I did not put the blacks from Zona Norte out, they want to say this: you didn’t boot them out because you are black and blacks don’t put blacks out. I say: I don’t put them out because they are people who enjoy a constitutional right to be on this beach that is quite public for common use. Now, whether from Zona Norte or Zona Sul, they could do things wrong, and be arrested if they commit crimes. They will never be arrested for not committing crimes and never will have their freedoms curtailed if not for reason of strict legality” (Bptur officer)
Source: Ad Vivo, Sansone, Livio and Carlos Nobre. “O Negro na Polícia Militar fluminense: ascensão social e relações raciais dentro de uma das principais empregadoras do estado do Rio de Janeiro.” ANPOCS, 2000.
1. Groups of people that arrive on the beach generally in buses or vans.
2. A number of articles on this blog touch on “funk carioca“, and the image of favelas, periferias and the suburbio. These concepts are discussed in greater detail in a review of the 2012 television series Suburbia.
3. A reflection of a long standard of racial relations in Brazilian society. Back in 1955, writing about relations between blacks and whites in São Paulo, sociologist Roger Bastide wrote that “there was the necessity of the interference and protection of an influential, white godfather/mentor for the negro to obtain a good job” and to overcome society’s barriers.