“The worst moment of school was when they talked about slavery. I felt humiliated”: The embarrassment of black children in classes about slavery and abolition

o constrangimento das crianc3a7as negras nas aulas sobre escravidc3a3o e abolic3a7c3a3o
o constrangimento das crianc3a7as negras nas aulas sobre escravidc3a3o e abolic3a7c3a3o

O constrangimento das crianças negras nas aulas sobre escravidão e abolição

If you start your history with slavery then everything else will look like progress ~ John Henrik Clarke

Note from BW of Brazil: Reading this story reminded me of a school memory that a dear friend of mine shared with me some years ago. He told how when he was in sixth grade in a neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan, one particular day his regular history teacher didn’t come to class and was substituted by another (white) man. He reports how his history class, like that of so many other black children, only spoke of European/white history. Napolean, Abraham Lincoln, Socrates, Julius Caesar, etc. One of his classmates raised his hand and asked the teacher, “Can you tell us anything about black people in history?”, to which the substitute teacher quickly quipped, “Oh, you guys were slaves.”

This type of attitude is what millions of black children around the world are subjected to when dealing with the place of African and its people in World History. No mention of iron smelting and forging technologies that have existed in Nigeria as early as the sixth century BC. No mention of African emperor Mansa Musa I of Mali, who is thought to be the richest person of all time in the 14th century. And no mention of Great Zimbabwe, which showed ‘an architecture unparalleled elsewhere in Africa or beyond’. In a Brazil that refuses to teach anything about Africa or Black History, can you imagine what the effect must be on the mind of the black child? Well, studying Brazil’s history, I would say that is the exact objective!

Photo from the Fundação Negro Amor foundation at Escola Aberta do Calabar school in Salvador, Bahia

The embarrassment of black children in classes about slavery and abolition

By Silvia Nascimento

All eyes on me and I didn’t know where to look. The teacher talked about negros escravos (black slaves) (not enslaved), the whip, deaths, separated families, until a white princess named Isabel, signed the Lei Áurea (golden law) and liberated my ancestors, on May 13, 1888.

A white savior, like all my dolls.

And I, the only black girl in the room, was the depiction of this tragedy, the embodiment of a people who only suffered, according to my teachers. Some looks were pitiful, others intimidated me, but they all made me uncomfortable.

The period from slavery to abolition was the only mention of the black population in most of my school life during the 1980s and 1990s. What it’s like being black if everything I learned in school about my ancestors was tied to the greatest terrorist act of humanity, which was escravidão negra (black slavery), which lasted longer than the majority of wars?

Photo from the Fundação Negro Amor foundation at Escola Aberta do Calabar school in Salvador, Bahia

On May 10th, Globo TV’s Conversa com Bial (Talk with Bial) program had as its theme abolition, and at the very beginning of the chat of the highest quality, which had the professor Doctor Hélio Santos, the Ph.D in Physics Sonia Guimarães (the first black woman with that title in Brazil) and the rapper Emicida, the way the schools approach abolition was discussed by all of them.

O constrangimento das crianças negras nas aulas sobre escravidão e abolição 2
Hélio Santos, Sonia Guimarães and Emicida on the ‘Conversa com o Bial’ program (Photo: Divulgação)

“The worst moment of school was when they talked about slavery. I felt humiliated, little (as) protagonist,” describes Professor Santos.

“It was unpleasant (talking about abolition), since the lead role of our history was not ours. It was common for us to be the targets of jokes and insults,” Emicida explained.

Emicida revealed that he had sought to learn about the history of blacks in the country on his own. “The princess [Isabel] receives all the laurels, but she was very much there by chance, she wasn’t involved with the militancy. I discovered that she had a real distancing from the political question. It is curious how a person who was there happens to be an icon of such an important moment and transforms all these giant characters who fought for so many years for the liberation of the blacks into invisible beings,” he said.

professora sonia
Professor Sonia Guimarães

Sonia Guimarães only discovered the contributions of blacks to the sciences, her area of activity, a few years ago. “I only found out about the riches of Africa recently, only in the 2000s.”

Professor Guimarães went to make a complaint about the prejudice she suffers from her students and colleagues at the Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica (ITA or Technological Institute of Aeronautics), in São José dos Campos, São Paulo (SP), because of being black.

Despite teaching at the institution for 25 years, she said that she is not always accepted.

“They hate me, [including] my peers on the same level as me. After this sacrifice to take such a complicated vestibular (college entrance exam), they enter a classroom and I am going to teach, in which I will give a grade, which I will correct. It’s me who says ‘no, you’re wrong’. You can’t correct them, because they are the most intelligent people in Brazil,” she quipped.

She added, “There’s no Ph.D written here [on the forehead]. My authority needs to be said every day, every minute, every correction, every low grade […] But they have to swallow me because I am a teacher of experimental physics. They have to accept me. Otherwise they will repeat for the year. And you can’t repeat the year in the ITA, it’s forbidden.”

Photo from the Fundação Negro Amor foundation at Escola Aberta do Calabar school in Salvador, Bahia

A light at the end of would be if the sanction of the Law No. 10.639/03, that turns 15 years in December, had come out of the paper. The first paragraph of the document states that “The programmatic content referred to in the main section of this article will include the study of the History of Africa and Africans, the struggle of blacks in Brazil, black Brazilian culture and blacks in the formation of national society, redeeming the contribution of the povo negro (black people) in the social, economic and political areas pertinent to the History of Brazil.”

Many initiatives have appeared in recent years to fill this gap left by non-compliance with the law. The EMEI Nelson Mandela (school) (see note one) and Afro-Education in São Paulo, the Quilombinho project in Espírito Santo (state), and hundreds of books that tell other black narratives for the little Afro-Brazilians of school age have made the difference.

These last generations of black parents, more empowered and conscious, are already responsible for a positive change. We see the little ones loving their hair, wanting toys with representation, naturally, liking ourselves more.

It remains now for educators to prepare themselves to teach about black people, not only about their pain, but about their contributions to humanity, for students of all ethnicities.

Source: Mundo Negro


  1. FYI, this school changed its name to Emei Nelson Mandela after an incident in 2011 in which graffiti was written on a wall that read “Let’s take care of the future of our white children“.
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. This was really good, over here in the states we have that problem also Brazil, so you guys are definitely not along on this subject about slavery being taught in our schools whether its public or private. I dislike the fact that when black history is taught here in America during the month of February they always seem to start with slavery as if we were nothing else but slaves. We as Black Americans know that is not true our history is rich with great and fascinating people from all over the world that made great impact on the societies of the past. However, I believe it is up to us to teach our kids their true history before we reached the shores of Brazil or America as free labor and other sorts of extreme brutality. We can make a huge difference in young peoples mind that would ultimately change the course of their future otherwise it will be bleak.

  2. The history of Mansa Musa is not Brazilian history. Mansa Musa was a Black African man who also had black slaves himself..nothing to brag about. In America it’s the same a lot..truth is we are a product of slavery..the same as brazil..my history isn’t Nigerian history as an example “but” my people built this country and many of our greats are not mentioned in the public school which should change.

  3. WHY should you feel shamed. you did nothing wrong. THEY SHOULD FEEL SHAME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Always be proud know who you are never shame. all they did and you still here beautiful wise and strong. Where is the shame coming from.

  4. We built all of it. everywhere you go we had a hand in it know your history and never be shamed again. they love to keep you shame and simple. We are not a product of slavery but of warriors, Gods, scholars, scientist, great mothers and wise women. Tell them your truth!

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