Note from BW of Brazil: Racism in Brazil is quite a peculiar thing. Well, perhaps racism itself is not what’s peculiar, but what is peculiar is how Brazilians react to accusations of racism in the country. First, for decades, as if feeling the need to legitimize the validity of the ‘racial democracy’ myth, most Brazilians absolutely refused to acknowledge even existed. Discrimination against persons of visible African descent was always explained away as a thing of class prejudice. Then, as it became increasingly difficult to deny widespread racist sentiments, people then proclaimed if blacks attained an education, a successful career and money they wouldn’t experience racism. A sort of acceptance that racism indeed existed but was still a thing connected to the lower class status normally associated with black Brazilians. But then when middle-class and prominent blacks also shared experiences of racism this would be dismissed as just a few few bad people. In general, Brazilians, they maintained, were not racists.
Then, when study after study confirmed widespread racism among the general population as well as in an institutional manner, people then began to openly admit this social illness was quite common. But now that they admitted that Brazil was in fact a racist country, to distance themselves from personal responsibility, the vast majority of people then began to admit personally knowing racist people but still maintained that they themselves were not racists. The inability of Brazilian society to deal with and have an open discussion about racism continues to this day as lower and middle class blacks continue to speak out against the insistence of Brazilian society wanting to keep blacks ‘in their place’ regardless of their money, fame or success.
As we’ve seen, it doesn’t matter if an Afro-Brazilian is a doctor, a lawyer, actor, singer, university student, police sergeant or government secretary, the idea of blacks staying “in their place” or being “out of place” remains an ideology that connects modern say Brazil with its slave-holding past. A recent incident involving a black journalist on the nation’s top TV network brought this to the forefront once again.
The price of success for blacks
The unfortunate episode of the freak case of racism committed against Maria Júlia Coutinho (aka Maju) should be seen in its exact dimension. The prominence of black men and women bothers people. The communicator Maria Júlia became a television fever. She earned a great success in a gray area of the news – pardon the double meaning of the word – in that the sameness is the brand which is that of the weather information. Maju’s creativity, charisma and beauty caused Jornal Nacional – the main program of Rede Globo (Globo Network) – went on to have as an attraction the communicator who talks about the weather forecast!
By Helio Santos
For those who know Maria Júlia since her teens like me her success would be a matter of time. This attack could be lethal if she were not the daughter of who she is. His parents, longtime friends, are educators and activists. They are those sober and steadfast activists in their positions, but proactive and focused on education, like teachers that are. So she’s always known, with the parents she has, the intricacies of Brazilian racism. She will easily dismiss this stupidity because she has positive self-esteem and knowledge of the causes of the attacks she suffered: her spectacular success! Not bad. Her career that has been a success since TV Cultura will continue in ascension.
They commented to me about the attacks and, I confess to you, I didn’t bother to read them. The frustrations of sick people leave me in horror. Not in a sense of escaping, but a kind of understanding that I’ve had since long ago about the functioning of racial discrimination here in our unjust country.
Thus I’m quiet on the Maria Júlia – the daughter of a couple of dear friends. However, I will take advantage of this to analyze this episode – which is not an isolated incident – in “its exact dimension”.
At first, I have a warning to my readers: This type of aggression against successful blacks shall increase. In the mid-1990s, when I coordinated a Working Group to put on the public agenda affirmative policies for blacks, among the various debates about the positive strategic impact that Brazil would have with those policies – a fact now confirmed by several studies – we speculated about the fact that we would still have in the future a wave of explicit racism. Yes; because Brazilian racism we’ve always had: all deny being racist and everybody knows many racist people! A true “masterpiece” of the national hypocrisy. That speculation increasingly validates itself.
However, what we speculated about 18 years ago in that Working Group precursor was about the effects of affirmative action policies in a racist country, because of the emphasis on emergence of prominent blacks: large corporation directors, judges, politicians, professionals, deans, scientists and professionals in the world of communication, among others.
We live in a country where the daughter of a black governor was attacked and pushed by a couple out of the social elevator of a luxury building. The fact took place in Vitória, capital of Espírito Santo, in 1993. For the attackers a “maid” could not be there. Incidentally, the idea of social and service elevator is an “apartheid-like” scandal that bravely stands here in the 21st century.
The former governor and former favelada (slum inhabitant), now Congresswoman, Benedita da Silva, paid the (very expensive) price when she governed Rio de Janeiro. Celso Pitta, when he was mayor of the largest city in South America (São Paulo), was treated by TV interviewers as if he were a marginal. Joaquim Barbosa, who has never been conservative, on the contrary, being regarded as the most influential Brazilian, touted as a likely president of the republic requested retirement when he had a good time to stay in the Supreme Court – where every lawyer dreams to be and remain…When the Chief Justice suffered explicit aggression; including in public ceremonies, such as in the Câmara dos Deputados (House of Representatives).
Black men and women who stand out, in any context, run risks in Brazil. Our mistakes and possible failures count against us blacks – yes. But they count less than our success. The latter tends to cause more damage to us than the first. So the attacks on our Maju don’t represent for me something unusual. Lamentable – always -; but predictable for those who work to decipher the “Brazil of flesh and blood.”
I am not a Cassandra who believes that everything will always get worse. I believe in a future where measures such as those provided by Law 10.639/2003 could cause the Brazilian ethnic and racial diversity to be used as an asset; a strategic value envied by other nations.
Source: Brasil de Carne e Osso