Note from BW of Brazil: It’s a topic that has intrigued me for many years: How is it that Brazil can be such a racist, exclusionary country, but people still believe that it is not? This blog has documented one racist incident after another for more than five years but these reports barely scratch the surface of what goes on in one place or another across the country every day. And that’s not even touching the everyday experiences of the psychological effects of such treatment that people don’t even report. Or the beliefs that everyday people have in regards to “the place” of the Afro-Brazilian population.
Those beliefs that a woman of visible African descent can’t represent the beauty of the Brazilian woman to the world. Or that a black man can be the CEO of a top company. Or that that the young black woman one meets in the street must be a cleaning woman because she can’t possibly be studying for her master’s degree. This question goes far beyond any comparison with the country most people automatically believe to be more racist, the United States. As I’ve said in past posts that if the US never existed, Brazil would still be extremely racist on its own merit. Professor Adilson José Moreira has studied the situation for years. Check what he has to say on the issue below. Coincidence or not, he is the second consecutive post featuring an Afro-Brazilian who has studied at Harvard.
Interview – Adilson Moreira
“Racism has the purpose of guaranteeing advantages to the dominant racial group”
by Brenno Tardelli
In Brazil, says professor, prejudice is dissimulated and aversive
“Discrimination is seen as an individual act, not as an institutional factor”
Adilson José Moreira has always wanted to understand the mechanisms that perpetuate racism. Curiosity became the main object of his academic investigations since graduation at the Federal University of Minas Gerais.
A Ph.D from the prestigious Harvard University, Moreira has just released O Que É Discriminação? (What Is Discrimination?), a book that breaks the concept of antidiscrimination law, an obligatory discipline in the faculties of the branch in the United States and practically unknown in Brazil.
Racism, the professor explains in the interview below, constantly changes to achieve the purpose of perpetuating the socioeconomic advantages of one group of individuals over another.
CartaCapital: What is discrimination?
Adilson José Moreira: We always think of discrimination as something connected to the idea of intentionality and arbitrariness. It is not entirely wrong, but the problem is that this traditional conception of discrimination that still influences the discussions on social justice, both among lay people and members of the Judiciary, is associated with the will of individuals.
CC: What do you mean?
AJM: Discriminatory acts are seen as mere individual behaviors. For this reason, we don’t consider the institutional, structural aspect, the role of public and private authors. We are also blind to processes of social exclusion that do not depend on individual will.
We understand the idea of discrimination as any kind of treatment, whether conscious or unconscious, intentional or unintentional, that puts certain groups at a disadvantage.
The central element is exactly the idea of disadvantage and this can occur, I repeat, both in terms of intentional behavior and processes that operate independently of the will of individuals.
CC: Does racism in Brazil have its own characteristics?
AJM: Yes. The racism that existed in the nineteenth century is not the same as it existed in the twentieth, which is not the same today. Racism has a dynamic aspect and a specific purpose, to secure the material economic advantages of the dominant racial group. It can take many forms, including denial.
That is, the Brazilian racial project, curiously, operates as an anti-racist ideology, the idea of racial democracy. Racism in Brazil has this characteristic of being concealed, but also aversive. There is a public defense of equality, but in private space individuals only maintain contact with people of the same race.
In addition, we often come across clear examples of institutional racism, such as the arrest of Rafael Braga or the declaration of the Commander of the Rota, according to whom the residents of the Jardims cannot be treated in the same way as the inhabitants of the periphery. Many deny that such cases can be classified as racism. There is always the will, the intention, to mask discrimination in Brazil.
CC: How do you interpret the growth in the United States of the xenophobic and racist right?
AJM: The feeling of racial superiority surfaces in individuals of different social classes, educational levels and ideological specters. It is not a psychological disorder but a learned behavior and consists of a feeling of biological and moral superiority as if whites should always be at the top of the economic scale and the state should do its utmost to maintain that difference.
It was not enough, economic crises sweeten extremist movements. In the specific case of the United States, since the election to the Presidency of the Republic of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, Republicans have resorted to the strategy of promoting racial hatred and contempt for electoral means.
CC: Do you see similarities between these demonstrations in the United States and what happens in Brazil?
AJM: Yes, absolutely. Discurso de ódio (hate speech) has been widely used in the country. It thrived in the 2014 elections and during Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment process. I do fieldwork in outlying areas of the city of São Paulo and listen to comments that link personal problems to homosexuals.
I meet black people who believe that their difficulties are the product of divine vengeance. I ask, “But, you see, same-sex marriage is only three years old. We have faced the consequences of racism for 500. So what is the relationship between same-sex marriage and the fact that your wife died of obstetric violence, for example?”
Many religious leaders openly use the hate speech against homosexuals to champion an ultraconservative political agenda that serves the interests of capital. Nothing is more interesting to large capital than an electorate opposed to the expansion of social and individual rights.
CC: How do the fight against racism and homophobia connect?
AJM: One of the most relevant theories I describe in my book is that of intersectionality. This theory emerged in the 1980s and was formulated by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw when she analyzed the situation of black victims of domestic violence. It is a complicated situation because the black woman is discriminated in the labor market because she is a woman and because she is black, which puts her in a situation of social vulnerability.
Systems of social oppression don’t operate on their own. Black men and women homosexuals suffer, in addition to racism, with homophobia. When the victims of violence against homosexuals are black, Asian or indigenous, the cruelty of the aggressors is much greater. Race is a factor that tends to generate even more violence.
Source: Carta Capital