Note from BBT: Thursday was January 21st, and as someone’s post on IG reminded me of that it was the National Day for Combating Religious Intolerance, I started to reflect. As a child, I was baptized in a Catholic Church and even attended Catholic schools. I always thought the whole atmosphere in the Catholic Church was a little eery. The stain glass windows. The enormous painting of what was supposed to be God and his son Jesus on the wall. And the serene manner in which the priests read stories from the Bible and interpreted them for everyday life. “Why do they talk like that?”, I often wondered. The way that Catholic priests spoke was perhaps the reason my first experience at a black Baptist Church was such a shock to my system. BIG DIFFERENCE! But one thing’s for sure, you won’t fall asleep in Baptist Church as I often did at the Catholic Church!
Growing up, I can say that I never experienced any sort of harassment because I went to a Catholic Church, although I would learn later that many black people looked at black Catholics as a little weird, or maybe even less black, but, even with our church being mostly white, I still remember a few black families besides mine that attended Sunday morning services. No one ever said anything negative to me because I attended a Catholic Church, maybe because most people in the ‘hood didn’t know we went to a Catholic Church.
On the other hand, I CAN remember being harrassed because I attended a Catholic school. As I had to wear a uniform everyday consisting of navy blue pants, a light blue shirt and a navy blue tie, everybody on my block knew that I was the kid that went to the “private school”. Many of the same guys I would play street football, baseball and basketball with would sometimes throw this up in the air when we would stand around just kickin’ it. I still remember how they would say the words “private school” in front of everybody as if to stress, “he think he better than us because he go to the PRI-vate SCHOOL”.
I remember one day coming home from school standing at a bus stop when some of the kids from my street pulled up to a bus stop on a bus full of people. One of them stuck his head out of the window and said, “Mark, you can’t get on this bus; it’s for public school kids.” A bunch of boys I recognized all started laughing as the bus pulled off. It was silly because I could have gotten on that bus but I chose not to because it was simply too crowded.
These sort of jokes never evolved into any sort of physical assaults or anything, but it was a constant remember that, on my street, I was “different” even though I could play ball and generally had fun with the kids on the block. There was another time when my cousin was spending the weekend at my house. We were sitting on the porch talking, when I went in the house to get us some drinks. When I came back, my cousin had a look on his face as if something had happened in the few minutes I was gone.
“What’s the deal?”, I asked. He said, “When you went in the house, Gail, Tina and Kim came over here and started asking all sorts of questions.” “Like what?”, I asked. Again, ‘why yo’ cousin wear that uniform?’, ‘why he go to that private school?’, ‘why he talk like that?’. Gail and Tina were two sisters from next door, while Kim was another girl that lived a few houses down in the other direction. Gail and Tina were the sisters of two boys, John and Jamal, who were two of my friends on the block that I played ball with nearly everyday.
The “private school” taunting I would occassionally hear reminded me of how Daryl was treated when he came home to hang out with his friends in Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video. In a similar manner to what the Wesley Snipes character said to Jackson’s character in one scene, people thought I was “different” because of that “cissy school” that I went to.
I know many of us carry certain stigmas or have certain attributes that make us the target of ridicule in our everyday lives, so my experiences were by no means anything unusual, although kind of annoying. I really can’t even complain when I compare my experiences with that of other people I knew. Kids could be pretty cruel to each other and my being pointed to as “different” couldn’t really compare to the mean-spirited way black kids taunted each other if someone’s hair was considered “too nappy” or someone’s skin was “too black”. Some of the worst taunting I had seen was when a black boy was labeled as a “cissy” by other other boys. It was rare, but it happened.
In retrospect, as I wrote above, the taunting I experienced was actually mild. I never got beat up or even felt the threat of getting beat up, but it was one of the only times I can think of when I was the target of some sort of harassment because of something that made me “different” from everyone else.
I reflect on those times in my life as a child because whenever I read stories about the way followers of religions such as Candomblé or Umbanda are treated, I know that I never had it that bad. Even wearing a school uniform to school everyday, I never had the feeling of being under threat of violence because of what my clothes represented. Wearing clothes of the Candomblé or Umbanda could actually be dangerous in some neighborhoods of Brazil. The misunderstandings about African-origin religions are rampant in Brazil, and because of the media, stereotypes and misinformation continue to distort the nation’s views of these religions.
Mad respect for people who don’t let ignorance deter them from following what they believe in.
Fighting Religious Intolerance and the reality is still this: “They kill us in the name of Jesus”
By Rick Trindade
On January 21st, Brazil celebrated the National Day for Combating Religious Intolerance. Instituted by Law no. 11.635/200, the day was created in homage to Mãe (Mother) Gilda, of the Ilê Abassá de Ogum terreiro (temple) in Bahia. The Ialorixá (priestess) was a victim of religious intolerance and experienced a worsening of her health problems after suffering attacks of hatred, verbal and physical aggression from a group of people of another religion. Intolerance that Mãe Gilda still suffers even after her death. A bust, which pays homage to the Ialorixá, located in the neighborhood of Itapuã, in Salvador, Bahia, has already suffered vandalism twice.
Brazil is a mixed country, with a diversity of religions. Among them, Candomblé and Umbanda. Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion with different African cultural elements, brought at the time of slavery. There is information that states that Umbanda was created in Brazil in 1908. The religion syncretizes elements of African cults with elements of indigenous religions, Catholicism and Kardecist spiritism.
Afro-Brazilian beliefs are the main target of religious intolerance in our country. Adherents of Candomblé and Umbanda, besides having to deal with looks of judgment and in many cases physical violence as well, still deal with the possibility of having their terreiros (temples) invaded and vandalized.
Marcílio Júnior, 20, born in Rio de Janeiro (RJ), is an Ogan (musician) at the Kwe Ogbànlá Sají terreiro, in Salvador, Bahia. The young man states that he has been in the religion since he was born, since his whole family is of the Candomblé: “I grew up in the terreiro”. Although he has never suffered or witnessed physical aggression, he confesses that looks are something very common. “There have been cases of me being in the sacred clothing and receiving those judgmental looks, which is still an act of intolerance…”.
In the first semester of 2019, there was a 56% increase in the number of denunciations of religious intolerance, when compared to the same period of the previous year. And most of the denunciations were made by adherents of Candomblé and Umbanda. The data are from Balanço Disque 100 – Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights.
Danilo Rodrigues, 23, an entrepreneur, is Yawô de Ossain, initiated by Babalorixá Papaizinho Anderson de Oxoguian, at Ilè Asé Omi Oyin Ogyiàn, descendant of the Casa Branca Terreiro of Engenho Velho, the first candomblé terreiro of Ketu in Brazil, located in Rio de Janeiro. Danilo says he suffers from intolerance in public transportation, when he leaves the terreiro dressed as a macumbeiro (as he likes to say) it is recurrent in his daily life.
Besides the looks, he states that it is very common that the driver, as soon as he sees him getting on the bus, puts on a Christian song to play. “I deal very well with these issues, prejudice is the other’s problem, not mine. But from the moment it invades my space, it hurts”, he adds.
In Rio de Janeiro, “Traficantes de Jesus” (Jesus’s dope dealers) is a group that has grown and spread violence and religious intolerance. Danilo says that the traffickers don’t allow anyone to practice “take care” of any religion other than Protestant in the region. “The Umbanda or Candomblé terreiro they don’t accept, I once had a neighbor who had a Candomblé terreiro for over 25 years and was expelled from the favela because they threatened to destroy the whole terreiro if she didn’t leave. This is one of many cases that have happened. They kill us in Jesus’ name.
In spite of all the violence they suffer simply for exercising their faith, Marcílio and Danilo affirm how important religion is in their lives. “I live for religion. Candomblé is peace, unity, faith, love and above all ancestry. We just want respect, people don’t have to tolerate us, they have to respect us”, adds Marcílio.
For Danilo, reaffirming that he is from Candomblé is also a political act. That’s why he makes a point of using his fio de conta, which is his protection guia, that for him, in a certain way inhibits people’s intolerance in the environments in which he circulates.
“Ever since I was a child they taught us that Exu is the devil of the Christian religion, and it’s nothing like that, once I said: “teach the children that Exu is not a devil” and my pai de santo (Candomblé priest) answered me: “You don’t have to teach that he is not the devil, just don’t teach that he is, because if you don’t teach that he is the devil, nobody will associate this to his image”, concludes Danilo.
To denounce any kind of human rights violation – including those of a Religious Intolerance nature, the government created Disque 100 in 2011. The number works 24 hours a day.
Cover photo: Ogan Márcio de Xangô.