Note from BBT: When I came across this piece by the photographer and social influencer Roger Cipó, from the title alone, I knew needed to read it. It took a few days to get to it, but it was definitely worth it. I’ve known of Cipó for a few years now and most of the things I’ve seen him write or post about are thought-provoking pieces that someone needed to say.
I first came across his name when he did an analysis of interracial unions in Brazil as well as the term palmitagem, which is what activists and online communities have labeled black people who seem to prefer white people for long-term relationships. Analyzing what often drives these unions and Brazil’s drive for the disappearance of black people through these types of unions, Cipó boldly stated in another article that ‘’black love was the worst nightmare of whiteness’’.
As I’ve beat this topic up sufficiently on this blog as it is, I don’t think I need to say that what he says makes all the sense in the world. I’ve never stated it that way, but from a Brazil that has long desired a European phenotype for its population, how could anyone dispute that statement?
Cipó went even further into the subject by creating his own platform as a manner of bringing black men and women together, a service he calls ‘’Tindó’’, a combination of the word Tinder, the dating app and his online name, Cipó. In his writings and posts, Cipó is stimulating conversations that have long been avoided within Brazil’s black community: the necessity of black love, couples and families being just one of them.
In the piece I just read, he touches on another of the almost untouchable topics: the lonely deaths of black men. Again, a necessary conversation. Similar to a piece by Maicol William, the topic is black men, dark-skinned black men, that society doesn’t really seem to care about. In William’s piece, he alluded to numerous homeless dark-skinned black men that society seems to just ignore. In my own time in Brazil, it’s something I’ve noticed, but no one ever mentions.
In the city of São Paulo, jet-black black men are simply a rarity, but even without having any official numbers, I can guarantee that the percentage of dark-skinned black men living on the streets of São Paulo is far higher than their percentage in the overall population. I also note how often it is I see dark-skinned black men doing the type of labor that most people wouldn’t want to do. Like the street workers who pull the heavy carriages of garbage and cardboard from location to location throughout the city, or selling bleach, disinfectants and other odds and ends in the streets.
Many of these men I’ve come across look as if they haven’t had a bath in perhaps days, weeks or even months or a good meal. They strike me as the leftovers of the black population that Brazil simply left to their own resources with the transition into capitalism and free labor in the post-abolition period. While millions of black families still managed to survive, there were untold numbers of people who simply didn’t make it. Disappearing, dying and fading away, completely forgotten by the society.
A cruel fate that was put in motion, realistically since the first Africans began arriving in the land that would later become known as Brazil to work as slaves. The situation of the black population today has improved in some ways, with hundreds of thousands managing to attain college degrees, opening businesses and entering the middle class. But, as it’s only been a few decades since programs such as affirmative action have been implemented in Brazil, these improvements haven’t been widespread enough to affect the overall population of millions of black and brown people. As such, the structure that created the path to black poverty, unemployment, hunger, illness and death continues to affect a population that many prefer to pretend doesn’t exist.
But it’s still there and there are plenty of black families who have seen the effects of the disregard of the lives of black men up close.
The loneliness of black men who, alone, meet death
Tragedies so common to life are not only fatalities when they happen to a part of the population stigmatized in society
by Roger Cipó
The other day my ex-girlfriend wrote to tell me that her uncle had passed away. Sadder than the death itself, the circumstance: he, a dark-skinned black man, was found dead, inside his house, alone. Family members found the lack of contact strange, for days, and went to look for him.
After that message, I froze for two long minutes and, after answering with my condolences, I told them that my uncle, an equally dark-skinned black man, was found dead and also alone. We lived in the same backyard.
It was a Monday, April 2020. My older brother came to see my mother, as he does from time to time. That day was strange. When my brother arrived, he talked to my mother, had some coffee, knocked on my bedroom door and said he would be right back, because he was going to the back to see my uncle. And he did. He knocked on the door, shouted and nothing happened. He says that when he tried to open the door, he saw through the crack that my uncle was lying against the wall, as if trying to ask for help.
No heartbeat, no color, and that was it… He died alone.
On that day, a terrible hole opened up in us, because we all wondered: “Did he call for help? Did he call out and we didn’t hear? Why was he like this?” and other heartbreaking questions. I was silent, I didn’t go to the burial, and to this day I wonder, “Did he try to call any of us?”
A year later, upon learning of the sad departure of the uncle of Gisele, my ex-girlfriend, I relived some of these feelings and anguished, I wrote on Twitter about this sadness that is no coincidence. Our uncle met death, but before that he met loneliness and the cruelest thing is that, as I wrote that, they are not the only ones and will not be the last black men who will meet this end.
”Today, an ex-girlfriend sent me a message to tell me that her uncle passed away: Dark-skinned black man, he hadn’t giving anyone any news, until a relative went to his house and found him dead, alone. Last year, my uncle: also dark-skinned black, died at home, alone. The only ones that go like this? No…”- Roger Cipó (@rogercipo) June 29, 2021
It hurts to write this because I am a black man who is not free from meeting death that way: alone. It hurts because, with the replies and mentions, in this tweet, I found other accounts of family members who found their dark-skinned black men dead in a lonely condition. Perhaps, as you read this text, you remember another black man who died in this way.
I must confess that I have considered whether to bring this reflection here, mainly because experience has shown me that little attention is paid to the most sensitive issues of the social experiences of black men in Brazil. Not because we, these men, don’t produce and dialogue about it, but because the imaginary (which maintains the practice) naturalizes the violent treatment that is dispensed to us here, and there is no questioning about it. The violence here is not enough in the police action that treats us as the main enemies of social welfare, nor in the way that the State kills us, because it perceives us as a threat.
The absence of public policies directed to us is violent action.
And the lack of conditions for these men to treat the diseases arising from these jobs that nobody wants to do.
“When was the last time you saw a campaign against diseases that affect black men, in most cases? Why doesn’t society discuss prison as a public health issue, in this country where most of the people deprived of their freedom are black men? What about the black teenagers who are forced to drop out of school to become “men” and help support their families marginalized by a racist country?
About this, I need to remind you of something important: If you use the Internet a lot, you have seen that, at some point, people say: “In Brazil, men lose their penises because they don’t want to wash themselves”. It is true that about a thousand penises are amputated, every year, in the country. Do you know who these people are?
They are not the men who are on the internet or on dating apps. They are men, mostly black, in homeless conditions, precarious and unhealthy jobs, or without access to basic sanitation; most of them are in states like Maranhão and Piauí. Do you know the social conditions of black men in these states? Try to find out so that you don’t spread what has already become common sense, to a limited internet generation that makes fun of this sad fact of penis amputation, reducing it to careless men, without giving color and social location of these men.
One hour, I’ll come back to this conversation that deserves much more attention, but I bring it up now as an example of the complexities in which this group, which I am part of, is embedded.
“If you use the internet a lot, you have seen that, at some point, people say: “In Brazil, men lose their penises because they don’t want to wash themselves”. It is true that about a thousand penises are amputated every year in the country. Do you know who these people are? They are not the men who are on the internet or on dating apps. They are men, mostly black, in street conditions, precarious and unhealthy jobs, or without access to basic sanitation.
Back to the issue of violence, I insist on these examples and could cite dozens more to say that police violence is one, in this well architected and maintained structure that exterminates black men, every day. Many of us die before encountering the bullet, the disease, the cold hospital rooms, the prison, and the drugs.
The most publicized data about the genocide of the black population in Brazil states that every 23 minutes a young black person dies here. Try adding this data to the deaths due to the lack of health policies, to the chronic diseases that “curiously” have among their victims a majority of black men, to the suicides – which also have a majority of young black men, and other data. The social experience of black men in this country is that of absolute tragedy as a rule.
Those of us who break through the roadblocks, manage to study, earn some money, are the exception that proves the sad rule of miserability and deaths. This is also why, when looking at the condition of black men, one should not have as the only parameter the few black men who are soccer players, artists, celebrities, and the like. This group is small, almost a fluke of history, because, I repeat, the rule of death for all of us is clear. And reducing our social experience to a small group is disingenuous, too, but I won’t dwell on that topic which deserves more time.
“Those of us who break through the roadblocks, manage to study, earn some money are the exception that proves the sad rule of misery and deaths. This is also why, when looking at the condition of black men, one should not take as the only parameter the few black men who are soccer players, artists, celebrities.”
So why did I go through all these places if I started by talking about the lonely black men’s death?
Because lonely black death is not sudden. It is part of this project of society. It is constructed, throughout history. So much so that it happens in thousands of other homes, every day. And every day, other black men, like me, fear meeting death alone (that was one of the responses to my tweet). Some even write to me saying that they know this is the future. Now, think how cruel it is to live knowing that you will die alone. One can only think this if one has already experienced loneliness for a good part of one’s life…
Master (singer-musician) Luiz Melodia (1951 – 2017) would say that “cruel is all that” and we black men know this, since we were born.
An older man once told me: “I have felt for a long time that they want to kill me, and I live with this certainty. And I ask you who are reading this: can you imagine what it is like to live with this feeling? That’s right…
Around here, I write to account for the anguish that is the constant tragedy of near-life and near-death. And in this always “almost”, I hope I have time. And that my equals also have time. Around here, I keep trying… to wake up, to drift, to work, to be, to care, to guard myself, not to die.
To the black men who read me, I say: keep going, brother. We, who know that we are on enemy ground, need to continue the fight that is trying to live, without dying, and even with fear, let us continue…
(this conversation continues…)