The passivity of Brazilian Society in the Face of Black Genocide
Note from BW of Brazil: Before you read the article to come, let me first acknowledge what the author is trying to say here while at the same time expressing my own view of the the title of the article means. First of all, I would never point to Brazilian society as passive. When I think of the Brazilian people rising up, I first think of the protests against the 21-year military dictatorship and then the movement that demanded immediate presidential elections in the period between 1983 and 1984.
In some ways, I also think of the massive protests between the years 2013 and 2015 that started off as protests against fare increases of public transportation but eventually morphed into the call for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff but I also see that movement as something manipulated from behind the scenes. I explained why in a recent post.
But even though I am aware of the quilombos constructed by fugitive slaves, the revolt of the Malês, the Frente Negra Brasileira black rights organization and the resistance black Brazilians have maintained simply to keep their cultural practices alive, what I have not seen are widespread, national mass, organized movements in which race is the main issue. Such movements, protests and marches are well documented in the histories of countries such as the United States and South Africa.
This is not ignore some important marches of the Movimento Negro Unificado such as the historic 1978 formation of the movement on the steps of the Municipal Theater in São Paulo. To this day, the Movimento Negro is Brazil’s collective voice for black Brazilians across the country. Then, 10 years later, in 1988, there was the “March against the Farse of 100 Years of Abolition” that took place in Rio de Janeiro. That march was organzied to put the nation on notice that Afro-Brazilians were calling out the racist practices and behaviors that continued even one hundred years after the end of three and a half centuries of slavery, which they labeled the farse of abolition.
Another important event was the 1995 march on the nation’s capital city, Brasília, in an homage to the 300 years of the death of Zumbi dos Palmares, who remains the strongest symbol of Afro-Brazilian resistance to this day. With this historical context, it would be a false accusation to say that Afro-Brazilians don’t react and make public demonstrations of their issues. I think perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the movement in Brazil hasn’t received the same amount of coverage as similar black-led movements around the world. I must also acknowledge that the movement has been somewhat successful, with laws against racism, in support of Affirmative Action and a law that mandates the teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian History and Culture in all schools being on the books.
Today, a new generation carries on this tradition as the black voice against what they have labeled the genocide of black youth getting louding everyday. And with senseless deaths of young black Brazilians seeming to happen every few days, weeks or month, the phrase ‘a luta continua’ (the struggle continues) remains the battle cry.
The psychology of the “alleged” passivity of Brazilian society in the face of black genocide
By Tiago da Silva Cabral
The assassination of George Floyd on May 25 this year seems to have been the last straw for American society that once again sees a black body as a victim of the structural racism that segregates and kills culminating so far in one of the biggest waves of protest that the United States has seen. And this made people in Brazil who see men, women, families and even children being murdered by the state questioning the apparent passivity of social movements in the face of the true systematized black genocide that happens in Brazil.
However, the reality is generally not so simple and we need to understand some historical points when making a psychosocial analysis of black American and Brazilian tragedies, after all, we as subjects are crossed by biological, psychological and social forces and this article aims to analyze this phenomenon through a contextualized perspective and not just coldly dissecting the psychological phenomena that composes it.
First, to say that there is no resistance is to devalue current and historic efforts.
The struggle of the black people in Brazil is notorious and to say that there is no resistance here is to commit an injustice. However, it is understandable to think like this in the face of the disinformation and historical efforts made to minimize and, when possible, completely erase the black struggle, thus helping to feed the myth of the very convenient racial democracy.
Even today, there are several efforts to combat systemic racism in Brazil that are stifled daily. We must remember that this is a country that condemns any form of expression that clings to Afrocentric contexts, whether through demonization, cultural repression or even the physical repression of the bodies that carry it out, as we can see in cases where artists, community leaders and the like are arrested simply for expressing themselves.
Observing cordial racism is essential to understanding what is happening.
As is widely known by all those who have what we call racial consciousness, in Brazil the social structure tries to deny racism while maintaining the racial hierarchy but without mentioning it or when possible denying it. For psychology it is a fact that behaviors that we are unable to bring to the symbolic field become automated. So when we don’t talk about racism, we practice it automatically and without being aware of it, which makes combating this harmful behavior extremely difficult. It’s not uncommon the phenomenon in which the victim of abuse ends up absorbing this violence, accepting it as something trivial or even as part of the process of living. So how do you fight a crime when we don’t even understand that this event is a crime?
The Passivity of Brazilian Society in the Face of Black Genocide: Denying racism prevents group cohesion and the formation of a black identity.
In Tornar-se Negro (Becoming Black), author Neuza Santos tells us that systemic racism causes identification as a black person in our society to become a source of suffering for the subject and adds that “thought creates spaces of censorship for their freedom of expression” always observing that the right to black identity has always been denied to Brazilians.
In social psychology, it is important to highlight that the concept of group comprises a set of subjects with characteristics and a common goal. By creating a society that denies black identity, systemic racism discourages identification with the other and the feeling of belonging to a group.
In addition, there is a process of group cohesion that can be reinforced by, in addition to the characteristics in common among its members, the strong sense of those who are not part of the group. As cordial racism creates this illusion of the “we are all Brazilians” jargon, thus preventing the identification of black people as a subject with racial consciousness.
That’s why the process of historical annihilation of African culture has so many consequences for black people in Brazil. But then, why doesn’t the same happen in the US – or if it does, why did it have less impact on the formation of black identity?
Comparing the process of the emergence of two societies as distinct as the Brazilian and the American is an exercise that tends to make mistakes. However, we believe that there are points where we can observe situations that make the North American context different from ours.
One of these factors is open segregation. In the United States, there has historically been a declared exercise of segregation, including the subject of civil war during the formation of the country. Mainly in the southern states, open and overt racism has facilitated racial identity and the formation of groups according to the mechanism we have already exposed.
Another reason that we can speculate may be non-colonial thinking, after all, even though it is a colonized country, the American founding myth reinforces much more a feeling of independence and a non-reference to a “cultural capital” as is the case of colonialist thinking.
In Necropolitics, the author Achille Mbebe describes this colonialist thought that labels a periphery as having the sole desire to approach the downtown, the capital, a periphery that is seen as barbaric and inhuman, a label that we can easily see being applied to said countries. “Third world” as is the case of Brazil and that it is not possible for us to see in the United States, which sometimes is even assumed as a “capital of the world”.
In short, to call Brazilian society’s behavior “passivity” is a cruel act. (The Passivity of Brazilian Society)
Emphasizing that everything that happens in Brazil requires a much greater reaction than what we are seeing, to call “passivity” the reaction of Brazilian society is to disregard a range of complex processes that were created in the historical basis of our society.
It is important to keep in mind that perhaps claiming that black people passively react to violence is to foster a classic archetype of racism that the black subject may “want” to occupy the position that society offers him. Furthermore, we may also be blaming the victims of racism, hoping that they will resist even when this is not possible and taking the blame away from the state and society.
It’s important to keep in mind that every finger that points to Brazilian society is a finger that we point to ourselves, our wounds and stories. What is needed is an urgent reaction, a stop to all the black bloodshed that happens every day, but until we build this collectively, coming together with each other and not just offering criticism, will we be able to understand the processes that kill our brothers and sisters and will we be able to build strategies to heal them.
Source: Notícia Preta