Rich, powerful white men being cuffed and taken to prison is a common sight in Brazil, so why is it that black people are deemed the criminal element?


Note from BW of Brazil: It’s a question I’ve been asking for years but no one wants to answer. Think about it. In Brazil, as in many countries around the world that have black populations, black people, particularly black men, are judged as being suspicious, dangerous, corrupt, lacking in moral values, criminals, thieves, etc. This blog has numerous examples of black Brazilians being followed around stores, harassed for merely frequenting shopping malls targeted at the middle class, being beaten or even killed by police, security or even every day citizens because they were suspected of criminal activity. One report even went as far as to show how black people dressed in the same clothes and in the same settings as white people are seen in a different manner. Another report even showed us how the media openly give whites a pass in the manner that they are depicted even being drug addicts, caught dealing drugs, committing crimes, etc. To top all of this off, it’s no secret that Brazil has ALWAYS been a very corrupt country. For those who read Portuguese, a good example of this corruption can be found on a Wikipedia page listing numerous political scandals in Brazil divided by decades starting from the 1960s to the 2010s. And just in the past five years or so, Brazil has been rocked by a number of political scandals that have gone on to make international headlines. The Mensalão and Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash) are just two of a list of 105 scandals on the list of scandals happening just between 2010 and 2017.

With all of these scandals, and black representation being, for the most part, minimal in politics on a federal level, a fair question would be, why is it that black people continue to be treated as or perceived to be criminals when white men (and women) behaving badly could be the basis for a top-ranked TV novela (soap opera)? I still vividly remember seeing the 2010 CBS news program 60 Minutes report on a rising Brazil whose economy was exploding, set to surpass the economies of Britain and France and finally beginning to look like the country of the future it had always dreamed of being. In that report, one of the prominent figures featured was billionaire businessman Eike Batista, who at the time was the country’s richest man. What a stunning turnaround of images it was to see the Playboy image of Batista on 60 Minutes compared to the images of a shaven Batista being led away in cuffs in January of 2017 due to his involvement in corruption and money laundering in the Lava Jato scandal. Batista’s story is pretty much the norm when the topic is money, business, politics and corruption in Brazil. 

Eike Batista, once Brazil’s richest man. Left, in a 2010 ’60 Minutes’ feature and at right being taken to prison on corruption charges in 2017.

So then why are black people constantly harassed and deemed to be criminal elements in Brazil when we can turn on the television and constantly see images of mostly white men in suits being handcuffed and led to prison surrounded by a bevy of police agents? Of course there are black criminals, no one denies that, but the crimes of these white men when added up involve somewhere in the trillions of reais (Brazil’s currency), but yet it’s black people who are always seen being humiliated, attacked, beaten, shot, killed and being suspected of having stolen something like a bag of Doritos. Why is it that white men can enter shopping malls, banks, buildings, etc., and no one will suspect them of being potential criminals? I’d say it’s a fair question, wouldn’t you. In a piece below, Amauri Eugênio and Pedro Borges also ask this question and offer a few answers. 

Lista de políticos investigados na Operação Lava Jato
“The 49 of Petrolão”: 49 people accused of involvement in the Petrolão scandal, centered on Petrobras, Brazil’s multinational oil company based in Rio de Janeiro. Where are the black faces?

Where are the blacks in corruption?

Even associated with criminality, blacks remain outside of the main corruption cases in the country. For researchers and activists, blackening politics is necessary, but it does not solve the problem of corruption

By Amauri Eugênio and Pedro Borges

Black women and black men, seen as marginals and criminals by society, are outside of the main corruption cases in the country. For researchers and activists, blackening politics is necessary, but it does not solve the problem of corruption.

lista-Lava Jato
List of those accused of corruption in the Lava Jato scandal. Do you see any black faces?

The Brazilian news has been taken over by the corruption theme for years: first, with mensalão; then, with the Lava Jato operation of the Federal Police. Among the many similarities and innumerable differences between the two cases of corruption, something stands out: the absence of blacks.

Faced with this fact, the Alma Preta (website) then decided to investigate the reasons for this.

The operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash) has hundreds of prisoners, among them politicians, black market currency dealer, employees of companies like Petrobrás, among other positions. As a small sample of what goes on on the open television network, of the 13 politicians arrested in the operation, all are white men.

Those condemned in the Mensalão scandal. Do you see any black faces?

More recently, other cases have also taken hold in public opinion. One of them refers to the future Minister of the Casa Civil, federal deputy Onyx Lorenzoni (DEM-RS), who admitted having received $ 100,000 of “caixa dois” (slush fund) from JBS.

The other deals with state deputy Flávio Bolsonaro (PSL-RJ), whose driver handled R $ 1.2 million in his bank account for a year and deposited a check of 24 thousand reais to the wife of then President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, Michele.

Flavio Bolsonaro
Flávio Bolsonaro (left) with his father, President Jair Bolsonaro

Blackness, whiteness and criminality

Corruption and the supposed misuse of character, however, are not part of the imagery about branquitude (whiteness) in the country.

João Vaccari Neto curitibi
Banker João Vaccari Neto arrested for involvement in Lava Jato

For Valéria Alves, a doctorate in anthropology at USP, white men and white women have always been placed as models of beauty, intelligence and moral conduct, factors that allow another approach and social evaluation when they make a mistake.

“When they fail or commit a crime, it is seen as something individual and is generally mitigated. The white population has built and carries the stigma of brancura (whiteness), purity and good character. “

Antônio Palloci
Politician Antônio Palocci arrested under corruption charges during Lava Jato investigation

For the black, the opposite is the case, as explained by the eugenics theories of César Lombroso and Nina Rodrigues, who describe the black subject as prone to crime. Another mark of racism, which homogenizes the black population and removes the uniqueness of each individual, also contributes to the criminalization of the group.

“When a member of the black population commits a crime or a serious fault, this error automatically becomes something inherent in this group. When one errs, in general, it is the black population that errs,” explains Valéria.

Presidente do STJ mantém prisão de Eduardo Cunha
Politician Eduardo Cunha arrested for involvement in Lava Jato

Despite the different value judgments, one finding is important to understand the absence of blacks in cases of corruption: the absence of blacks in politics.

In the state of São Paulo, for example, of the current 94 parliamentarians of the Legislative Assembly, only four are black, equivalent to 4.2% of the elected.

ex-governador do Rio de Janeiro Sérgio Cabral (PMDB)
Sérgio Cabral, former governor of Rio de Janeiro, arrested for money laundering during Lava Jato investigation

Juninho Junior, state president of the PSOL and member of the Círculo Palmarino, says that the absence of black politicians in public positions is a reflection of the Brazilian historical inequalities and that the executive and legislative powers represent the elites of the country.

José Antunes Sobrinho foi preso na 19ª fase da Operação Lava Jato
José Antunes Sobrinho, businessman, arrested during Lava Jato investigation

“You have a parliament that is formed by 80% white men, representatives of the elites, whether from the agribusiness, the financial sector, industry or any other segment. The other groups – women, blacks, indigenous people, workers, – are underrepresented in these spaces.”

Alberto Youssef quando foi preso pela Polícia Federal (Lava Jato)
Business Alberto Youssef arrested for involvement in the Banestado and Lava Jato scandals

To solve the problem, is it just blackening politics?

For social scientist Jaqueline Conceição, no. She thinks that corruption is part of the Western political model in which we live, inserted in a capitalist society.

Prefeito de Niteroi - Rodrigo Neves, do PDT, teria recebido propina de empresas de ônibus.
Rodrigo Neves, mayor of Niterói (Rio de Janeiro state), arrested during investigation of Alameda bribe scandal

“The state, the bourgeoisie’s business counter, will always negotiate much more peacefully with this social group. The blacks who arrive there will have to negotiate with the bourgeoisie because of the model of political organization we have,” Jaqueline explains.

Eike Batista preso na operação Lava-Jato chegando à sede da Polícia Federal no Rio
Eike Batista, multi-billionaire businessman, once Brazil’s richest man, arrested under Lava Jato investigations

One of the examples cited by Jaqueline Conceição is the case of Celso Pitta, former mayor of São Paulo.

“Former mayor Celso Pitta, a black man, married to a black woman and father of black children, is one of the most corrupt people in the history of the city of São Paulo,” she says.

Pitta accumulated some cases of corruption throughout his life. The two main ones are the scandals of precatórios and operação Satiagraha.

Celso Pitta
Celso Pitta, former mayor of São Paulo, was investigated under corruption charges

At the time he was convicted and tried, Pitta was also the victim of racist persecution, as the former mayor himself and black movement activists of the day said.

“Being from the black community, we revive the feeling that is forgotten, hidden and always left in the background, which is discrimination in this country,” said the mayor at the time.

Manifestations were made in that period in support of the former mayor, with the presence of black movement militants.

Who loses with corruption?

The Government of São Paulo issued a public notice for the construction of three hospitals with 646 beds and one thousand outpatient visits per day, with a budget of R $ 772 million. That is, the approximate value of a hospital, according to the numbers of the São Paulo government, is R $ 257 million.

Through investigation and a process that lasts four years, Lava Jato has already recovered 11.5 billion reais, the equivalent of 44 hospitals.

It is worth remembering that corruption is not restricted to the political world, as the study of the Tax Justice Network, which describes how in 2010 the wealthiest Brazilians had deposited in tax havens in the order of US $ 520 billion, equivalent to more than R$ 1 trillion. The value is equivalent to the construction of 3,891 hospitals.

An IPEA study, in 2003, pointed out that SUS (Sistema Único de Saúde, pubic health care system) was responsible for 63.5% of the visits and 69.3% of hospitalizations in the country. When analyzing the numbers by race, it is seen that the numbers for whites are 54% attended and 59% hospitalized, while for blacks they were 76% and 81.3%, respectively. Official data show that almost 80% of public health users in the country are preto (black) or pardo (brown).

Blacks are also more vulnerable to problems in the area. The Ministry of Health showed that in 2016, 58% of the deaths caused by AIDS affected black people, while that number reached 40% among whites. The disparity is repeated among women, as 59% of women diagnosed with syphilis were black, while that figure falls to 30% among white women.

Among the richest in the country, there is also an absense of blacks. In the world list of the 2,043 people that add up to the mark of more than US$ 1 billion, there are only 10 blacks. In Brazil, the discrepancy remains: among the richest 1% of the country, only 17% are black, compared to 79% whites.

Source: Alma Preta (1), (2)


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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