The expression of racist opinions: freedom of expression or hate speech?

zero hora vamos falar de racismo q
zero hora vamos falar de racismo q
Reader comment from Zero Hora newspaper
Reader comment from Zero Hora newspaper

Translation of comment above

“I can’t understand how he (the columnist) can approve of the coming of Haitians, Senegalese and the like, not in color, but by the cultural index that according to the press is in 90% of the cases very low.

(…) it’s proven that people that have little or almost no professional and cultural formation have a tendency to fall into the side of crime, robbery and drug trafficking and will fatally occupy spaces in the prisons.

The proof of this was the slaves that came to Brazil (blacks) that arrived with neither formation nor culture and proportionally today occupy the majority of the spaces in the prisons.”

Note from BW of Brazil: The existence of prejudice and racism have existed for centuries, but with the advent of the horrific Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, racism  based on skin color it became explicit and institutionalized. And here it is five centuries after Europeans began the colonization of lands inhabited by Native Americans and consequently began to transport enslaved Africans to work this land. With this enslavement, the African and his descendant became objectified and labeled as “non-human” and thus slave owners felt no remorse in brutalizing his property, working him/her to death, sexually exploiting them and then discarding them in the same way that one throws away the trash.

But even with this brutal history, there are still those who insist that an inhumane practice that was legal for around four centuries has no bearing on the lives on the millions of descendants of those enslaved people today. An absurd, irrational idea. Ghosts of the slavery era can still be seen everyday in the relations, ideas, imagery and beliefs of inferiority and superiority according to race within multi-racial populations. The belief and the open expression of this belief is at the heart of a recent comment posted by a reader of a newspaper based in southern Brazil. 

In reality, such a comment shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. In a society in which everything about black people carries certain negative connotations, this is actually the norm. These types of comments are a direct legacy of classified ads announcing the selling of slaves that were carried in 19th centuries newspapers, ads seeking child labor and those same journals that openly declare what types of people are “acceptable” for certain jobs. The evidence of the existence of this type of ideology continues and will continue; the question is should opinions be accepted openly in the media? The comment we read below is a perfect example of why Law 10.639/03 and the new college course in the state of Maranhão focused on African and Afro-Brazilian Studies is no necessary. 

Zero Hora, let’s talk about racism?

By Djamila Ribeiro

What makes a press vehicle disseminate the prejudicial and offensive opinion of one of his readers? Would this be freedom of speech or discurso de ódio (hate speech)?

Comment published in Zero Hora, a newspaper based in the state of Rio Grande do Sul

I was extremely shocked by a review published in this Sunday’s, May 31st edition of the newspaper Zero Hora, a newspaper based Rio Grande do Sul. In it, the reader is clearly racist and uninformed.

The review itself does not shock me. As black women I’ve heard and read many horrible things; what shocks me is the fact the newspaper had published something explicitly racist. To what extent does the newspaper go into hiding on the grounds of freedom of expression? It is known that racism is a crime, right? So posting something racist is equally a crime, or isn’t it? The comment in question was published in the print version, thus it was read previously and selected, unlike when you are on an internet portal, which makes the fact even more serious.

In the commentary, a man says it is well known that black people have a natural propensity to crime and are less qualified and that this is precisely why they fill the prisons in Brazil. This natural inferiority attributed to the black population was used in the story as a form of oppression.

Studies of biological evolution of the nineteenth century that applied the concept of biological racism marking the relationship of superiority and inferiority between settlers and the conquered, more precisely in America, legitimized the relations of European domination, attributing to blacks a “natural inferiority” due to color and size of the brain. Authors such as James Watson and Nina Rodrigues used this biological racism in their research, and today it is considered something totally delegitimized and archaic.

The review of this man shows that he ignores the constructions of racism in our society. There were 354 years of slavery and, later, in the post abolition, mechanisms weren’t created for the inclusion of the black population, as they were created for immigrants who came here in the industrialization process. These also came, as you say, “with no training” but received job opportunities and land to start their lives here.

If today they enjoy a different reality from blacks it was because they received aid from this country for this, which did not occur with the black population, that came here as slaves and much more inhuman condition therefore. Power has always endeavored to conceal the origin of social inequalities, as if the disparities were natural, meritocratic or providentially set. What it is, for example, that this guy doesn’t realize or doesn’t want to realize is that denied rights and the situation of poverty of the majority of the black population are due to a legacy of a slave-based social structure.

But the most shocking here is a press vehicle disclosing this racist and therefore offensive opinion. What is the limit of liberdade de expressão (freedom of expression) or would this be it discurso de ódio (hate speech)? As the American philosopher Judith Butler said, in Excitable Speech: “The oppressive language of hate speech is not a mere representation of a hateful idea; it is in itself a violent conduct, which aims to submit the other, deconstructing their own condition as subjects, tearing it from its context and placing it in another where the threat of actual violence being committed hangs – a real threat, for certain.”

After the publication of the article, the direction of the newspaper Zero Hora sent us this note:

The comment in the space Informe Especial, on page 4, in the 5/31 edition, reader Roberto Froes Peña, refers to the 5/23 column by Tulio Milman, Haitianos, um racismo camuflado (Haitians, a camouflaged racism). The readers’ comments do not reflect the opinion of the newspaper or columnists. ZH expresses its position on the subject in the editorial of May 21st. Readers who want to send opinions to be published can write to with name, address and profession.

Source: Carta Capital

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 LOVE how white people conveniently forget the “white collar” crime (mensalao / petrolao/ general governmental and commercial corruption) -which is harder to pin on individual participants, and which has devastated the country since it was started and continunes to do so – that THEY are almost solely responsible for! I wish they would spend more time talking about how WHITE Brazilians are almost completely responsible for the chronic lack of insfrastructure, healthcare, and education that has plagued Brazil for centuries now. I wish they would spend more time talking about how BLACK Brazilians are the only ones with the actual manual skill to create and build – they just dont own the businesses!! Of course, after having spent time with “rich” white Brazilians – who have no deductive reasoning/logic skills, and who can barely tie their own shoes – I am not at all shocked that one of them would come to the conclusions stated in the article!

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