Note from BW of Brazil: The question of racism is a topic that we frequently approach on this blog and for a number of reasons. 1) Many people outside of Brazil continue to believe that a country with such a history of miscegenation must be free of racism, 2) Many Brazilians themselves continue to insist that racism is not a problem in the society (even with piles of evidence so readily available), 3) Through this prism of race and racism, we can begin understand the complexities of understanding the contradictions with which millions of Brazilian citizens co-exist and thus it helps us in the 4) Understanding of what it is to be a black Brazilian woman and 5) Why a blog such as Black Women of Brazil exists in the first place.
Futebol, or football or soccer (depending on where you live) is thought to be a national passion that unites all Brazilians regardless of race, gender or social class. According to this train of thought, in a racist society (even in denial of the fact), the social ills of the country suddenly disappear on the futebol field when all one cares about is cheering for their favorite team. The truth, however, is quite different. We’ve already documented various cases of racism in Brazilian futebol, be it on the field from fans, on international fields involving Brazilian players (and their reactions to it) or the history of racism and exclusion in popularizing of the sport. The logic here is that if Brazil was constructed on racism and racial inequality, why would this be any different in the world of futebol?
The ambiguous trajectory of racism in futebol in Brazil
Understanding racism and the trajectory of black Brazilians in futebol
By Denaldo Alchorne de Sozua
Copa Libertadores 2014. Cruzeiro and Real Garcilaso face off in the Peruvian city of Huancayo. When the Cruzeiro midfielder Tinga touches the ball, the home crowd imitates monkeys. A more optimistic Brazilian could assess such an attitude typical of foreign or underdeveloped nations.
Shortly after, the scene is repeated. This time, the Santos (currently Palmeiras) defensive midfielder Arouca, in a match against Mogi-Mirim, heard from a fan that he should seek an African team to play for. To end this unfortunate sequence Paulão defender of Internacional, was called a macaco (monkey) by a group of Grêmio fans.
Maybe Arouca’s statement shortly after the incident was sensible when he said: “Futebol is a mirror of our reality, and this is not just down to racist name-calling.” Sport is part of society and therefore is permeated by its contradictions.
The latest events and that of the World Cup make possible a privileged moment to discuss the complex and ambiguous trajectory of the history of futebol and racism in Brazil.
Futebol emerged in Brazil in the late nineteenth century. It was practiced by youth of a prominent social level who gathered in the intervals of their activities to practice “sport for the sport.” They themselves paying for the expenses of the fun and within the purest amateurism. Only those who were club members could play. It functioned as a symbol of status quo, as a differentiator of classes and races, a benchmark for those wanting to self-affirm themselves as brancos (whites), or “embranquecidos” (whitened) and being accepted in high society.
In Brazil, it was believed that mestiçagem (miscegenation) would eventually whiten the Brazilian people. Blacks were considered biologically less evolved, and interracial crossing would perpetuate only the white genes.
It was not only among intellectuals like Oliveira Viana that these ideas were accepted. In fact, values were consolidated by a broad spectrum of Brazilian society. Many blacks assimilated prejudices, social and moral values of whites. In this context, Brazilian racism was peculiar because the victim himself assumed the role of executioner.
This is the time of Arthur Friedenreich, the first great playmaker that Brazilian futebol produced. Despite his name, he was a light-skinned mulatto, the green-eyed son of a German with a black Brazilian woman.
He was one of the greatest strikers in world futebol. His greatest achievement was scoring the goal that gave the Brazilian team its first continental title, that of the Campeonato Sul-Americano (South American Championship) of 1919. Fried symbolized the period in which futebol honored mulato players since they could disguise their blackness (1).
Despite the elitism, gradually futebol was conquering popular preference. Negros, mulattoes, workers and the unemployed began to look with more interest at the novelty. They might have found strange, at first, the spectacle of 22 people running after a ball.
However, there was something manly and dramatic in the game that led those people, of suffered lives, to overstep their grudges and disappointments in a game.
If negros and mulatos began to adopt it as playful practice in their leisure time, very different was their introduction as athletes in major clubs. Such a barrier was implemented gradually and, according to the city, in different paces. Probably the first club to accept negro and mulato players was the Bangu Athletic Club.
The club was established in 1904 on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro by British bosses and employees of the Companhia Progresso Industrial fabric factory. Thanks to the small number of white players gradually, negro and mulato workers were asked to compose the team.
Pure amateurism, playing for “love of the jersey”, as advocated by the first players and managers, started to be questioned. Already one heard reports of an undercover professionalism. They received the “bicho”, an allowance to pay for their passage or stay, always greater than necessary.
The “bicho” led to the introduction of athletes from the lower classes into futebol. Many didn’t accept these false amateurs and conflicts arose with the aim of limiting the access of “mercenaries”.
It was the time of Vasco da Gama, the carioca (Rio de Janeiro-based) champion in 1923, formed by the taxi driver Nelson Conceição, by the wall painter Ceci, by the stevedore Nicolino and the truck driver Bolão, all negros and mulatos. The following year, the directors of the major Rio clubs decided to create a new futebol league, without the presence of Vasco.
Racism in futebol was not restricted to club directors. The federal government was aware of the popular appeal of the sport. In 1920, the Seleção Brasileira (Brazilian national team) playing in Buenos Aires did not have the most friendly reception. Argentines seemed to have never seen so many black people on one team.
The newspaper Crítica, of the capital city of Buenos Aires, published a photogravure representing the entire Brazilian team with the face of monkeys. In subsequent years, the presidents Epitácio Pessoa in 1921, and Arthur Bernardes, in 1925, granted the Brazilian Confederation of Sports dozens of stories to participate in the South American Championships of respective years.
In return, they determined that only strictly white athletes were summoned for reasons of “paternal prestige”.
But the most impressive was the racism of the negro or mulato athlete himself. A story told by sports journalist Mário Filho illustrates the contradictions.
Players Robson and Orlando, of Fluminense, were being led their club in a car club when a black couple hurried across the street, just missed being hit.
Orlando, angry, shouted: “Seus pretos sujos” (You dirty blacks). Robson tried to reassure his companion, “I’ve been black and I know what this is.” There is no way of knowing about the veracity of the narrative. However, the sentence portrays as few dilemmas of Brazilian society at the time.
During the first government of Getúlio Vargas (1930-1945), professional futebol became official. Also there was a redirection of racial discourse, having as a landmark and symbol the work of Gilberto Freyre and the figure of the racial democracy.
The main objective of his book Casa-grande e senzala (The Masters and the Slaves in English, 1933) was to present the characteristic elements of the three races that supposedly formed Brazilians, putting them on the same level.
The junction of the cultural characteristics of these three elements would provide the emergence of a more original national type, capable of softening the conflicts in Brazilian society.
Mário Filho agreed with all this interpretation. In his 1947 classic, O Negro no Futebol Brasileiro (The Negro in Brazilian Futebol), wrote: “Branco, negro or mulato (white, black or mulatto). Because in futebol there was no longer even the slightest glimmer of racism.”
For the journalist, the influence of the racial democracy was not restricted to the players. It also extended to all fans and society: “And who is in general, in the stands, belongs to the same crowd. The passion of the people had to be like the people, of all colors, of all walks of life. The black equal to the white, the poor equal to the rich.”
In spite of Freyre and Filho, social and racial contradictions continued. In the 1950 World Cup, when the Brazilian team lost to Uruguay by 2-1, racism was updated.
All involved were considered guilty. Most of the allegations, however, were directed at two black players: goalkeeper Barbosa and defender Bigode.
In the 1950s a worsening of such issues was produced. According to some theorists of the period, such as Florestan Fernandes, racial discrimination in Brazil was temporary: to the measure that the black element was inserted into the capitalist industrialization process, he would be incorporated into Brazilian society, leading racial prejudice to its eradication and replacement by classist relations.
The interpretations of Freyre and Fernandes were visions of Brazil and of the hegemonic Brazilian people. They had reached the common sense of society at the time. The ideas of racial democracy, without prejudices of race, and that it was possible in an industrialized country, the economic and social advancement of workers and, specifically, blacks were shared by large segments.
There was a lack of proof of consistency for such hegemony to consolidate itself. Doubts persisted: how could Brazil be a racial democracy if, visibly, the social and economic differences between whites and nonwhites were huge?
It’s in this context, in the achievement of the 1958 World Cup, that Pelé emerged. His myth seemed to be proof of these theories. He showed that it was possible, in a society increasingly urbanized and industrialized, for a black to ascend socially and economically.
However, the same success of Pelé showed the contradictions of his myth and racial identity. Many of his statements were annoying, always emphasizing that in his life he never suffered racist attitudes, as he stated in the Veja magazine of July 14, 1971: “I don’t have a way to respond. But the truth is I’ve never felt anything that could motivate me to take any action in defense of color.”
Denying the existence of racism in Brazil can be considered a form of racism, or, more specifically, a racial prejudice of mark. For the intellectual Oracy Nogueira this concept, unlike the dominant source of bias in the United States, depends on the performance mode of the individual.
If you have specific skills, or if one guy shows himself to be intelligent, or even persevering, he may have discriminatory treatment eased by these particularities presented.
Thus, in contradiction of contradiction, the history of racism in Brazil is revived. Prejudice and racial discrimination are not mere survivals of the slavery past.
Contrary to Florestan Fernandes, they acquired new functions and meanings in the industrialized, capitalist society, hindering blacks’ access to material and symbolic benefits through their disqualification.
The futebol world itself is not without its reproductions of of old prejudices. The episodes involving Tinga, Arouca, referee Márcio Chagas da Silva and Paulão show that it is far from a more racially just society.
In the country of unstable and slippery, if not hypocritical racism, it is imperative that we, educators , always be attentive to the prejudice of everyday life so that we can work with students, not the racism of others, but our own.
* Denaldo Alchorne de Souza is a postdoctoral fellow in History from USP, Professor of History at the Rede Federal Tecnológica and researcher at Ludens-USP
Source: Carta Educação
- See also how negro and mulato players once wore rice powder on their faces to disguise their blackness. The story here.