Trouble catching a cab? Constant police harassment? Majority in prisons and slums? 127 years after the end of slavery, racism continues to dominate the lives of black Brazilians

127 years capa
127 years capa

127 years capaNote from BW of Brazil: Yesterday, May 13th, marked the 127th year since the official abolition of slavery in Brazil. And while the institution of human bondage came to a de facto end, the conditions of Afro-Brazilians and the differences between how black and white Brazilians are treated, in many ways, remains the same. As propaganda is such a powerful tool, for many years after slavery ended (1888), even with clear signs of a relentless practice of everyday and institutional racism, many Brazilians, including blacks themselves, actually believed that the nation was a ‘racial democracy’. But today, even as the myth has been exposed, the question remains of how long it will take before Brazil truly lives up to the term. Below, people weigh in on the issue and the effects of race in Brazilian society. 

May 13th: 127 years after the end of slavery, racism divides society

Blacks report their dramas and show that the problem is far from over

Courtesy of Jornal do Brasil

On May 13, 1888, Princess Isabel signed the Lei Áurea (Golden Law), putting an end in the still Empire of Brazil to all kinds of slavery. After 127 years of the enactment, the division between blacks and whites still insists on existing in the country, under the cruel form of racism. “We go through racism every day. It’s prejudice for being black, being a favelado (from the slums), prejudice for being fat,” adds Renata Trajano, 35, a resident of the Comunidade do Alemão.

Igor, 19, had his hair searched by police
Igor, 19, had his hair searched by police

“I don’t think there’s a way to end racism,” lamented the 19-year-old resident of Borel, Igor Soares. “We need to fight every day. There are hundreds of issues, an internalized racism. It will not end, but what we have to do is to continue to face this every day,” Igor said.

The young man said that one of the cases that left him hurt most was when he was a victim of racism by a police officer, also black. Igor told Jornal do Brasil that he was sitting in front of his house, “doing whatever on the phone, when a MP (Military Police) appeared and ordered: ‘Citizen, to the wall, now”, without even say good evening.” The police, according to Igor, didn’t have identification. However, the guy insisted on knowing the MP’s name, and was eventually informed, but not without being completely frisked later. “I have an enourmous black power (afro). After he searched me, he called another officer and began to put his hand in my hair, looking for anything that might be there. I took a course on Human Rights and said to him that this was a crime of injúria racial (racial injury), that he had no right to put his hand on my head like that.” After the occurrence, Igor made a provision: He went to the Human Rights Commission of Alerj, denounced the MP and was assured that the case would be investigated. He also said that, after the case, the MP taken away for some time from Borel.

For Professor of History of Brazil at Unicamp, Sidney Chalhoub, this mentality in society today is a legacy of slavery times. “The situation here is the same as in other countries that relied on slave labor to construct itself. There are fewer economic opportunities these days, and racial segregation,” said the teacher. The researcher from Unicamp, a member of the Raízes da Liberdade (Roots of Freedom) Movement, Sérgio Teixeira, reinforced the historian’s vision: “Our nation is formed from slavery. The manpower was replaced by Europeans and blacks were thrown to the margins of society, which can be seen in Rio’s favelas (periphery slums), for example.”

The student of social work at UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) Rafael Calazans, 23, says that the racist attitudes are daily. “We realize that the race issue exists and it’s not so strong only in the imagination, but also in the live flesh. When I go, for example, to a mall, I soon notice the security talking on the radio, starting to walk behind me. Or when I’m with friends at night and need to get a taxi, they hardly stop for a black. What I do is ask for a white friend that is with me to signa’. Then, they stop, yes. A taxi driver not stopping for you at night because you are black is a punch in the face,” complains the student.


Sérgio Teixeira, from Unicamp, said that today in the country there is what he calls a “racial explosion” due to the ongoing crisis. He said the cuts affect black people more than any other. “When we have a moment of crisis that we experience today, the cuts end up reaching blacks in a more acute way, because we are located in the most affected areas, most hit,” he said.

Rafael Calazans also believes that racism exists in the areas of spatial division of the city. The student reports that when he is on the bus coming back from places like the South Zone of Rio, he realizes the city “blackens”. “Each time I go to more precarious places, the greater the presence of blacks. There is also spacial racism. In places like the favela you see a space that is predominantly black, lacking many basic rights to services such as sewage, water, light, streets, sidewalks, schools and medical posts,” he said.

The specialists highlighted an important point on the issue of racism, which is police action. For history professor Sidney Chalhoub, it’s necessary to see the situation with the view of human rights, “particularly in relation to police violence.” “There is in Brazil today a sector of society – the youth, men and black – that suffers a real genocide. A human rights policy is necessary so that this situation is addressed in a straightforward manner.”

Confrontation with police is always a possibility when one is a black male in Brazil
Confrontation with police is always a possibility when one is a black male in Brazil

Sérgio Teixeira went further and highlighted the situation of the Brazilian prison population. “The number of blacks who finish high school is ten times lower than that of whites. The number of blacks killed by police in São Paulo is four times higher than that of whites. To get an idea of ​​the prison population in the decade of the 90s there were 190,000 prisoners. In 2014, that number rose to 570,000. Of these, 80% are black. In women’s prisons this proportion reaches 90%. This shows that the black is being replaced from the school bench to the defendant’s bench. While the black prison population grows, the black population decreases in school,” he said.

For Renata Trajano, one of the moments that most traumatized her was when a policeman called her “neguinha” (little black) and ordered her against the wall to be searched. “It was an agent of the state telling me to get up against the wall, and still calling me neguinha. He was black too, that’s what hurt me even more. He was a representative of the state, being prejudiced with a person of his own color,a  black calling another black in a racist tone,” he said. She pointed out that the common treatment in the community for blacks is to be called “neguinho” and “piranha” (slut) by police. “Racism is something disgusting, foul. I believe that some people commit, say things that they say without even knowing, but most say what they say with the intent of hurting,” said Renata (1).

A população carcerária brasileira

Despite the tendency of believing that racism will not end, the researcher Sérgio Teixeira says that society today is less tolerant of racism as it was before. “Especially today, May 13, we must remember that this questioning is structural. Historically, the black has the role of being overexploited, and this overexploitation causes violence. Today there is a greater challenge in society. People are tolerating less cases of racism, but it is still a somewhat superficial questioning. For example, everyone thought it was absurd the banana that thrown at the Brazilian (futebol) player of Barcelona Daniel Alves, and the insulting by the Grêmio fan directed at the goalkeeper Aranha, but no one questions the fact that less than ten percent of university students are black,” he said.

For the historian Sidney Chalhoub, the most important thing that happened in the country was the overthrow of the “myth of racial democracy, that there are homonymous relations between blacks and whites and therefore a real equality between the races.” He points out that the Brazilian state has a very important role, and in the last 15 years there has been public policy of black insertion in universities. “Although still very restricted to universities, affirmative actions are required in order to deal with the historically existing racism in Brazil. First, they needed to be consolidated in colleges. Now they need to be expanded so that they can maintain students there. Moreover, it’s necessary that the private sector is encouraged to reserve an amount of their hiring vacancies for blacks in all spheres of activity.” The professor points out that the recognition of the racial problem in Brazil was a very important step, which is beginning to move in the right direction. However, it’s necessary to expand further.

The student Rafael Calazans reveals how he sees the scene at the university. “The more traditional courses such as medicine, law, administration, have a massive presence of whites. Courses that are more ‘periferizados’ (peripherized), less invested, there is a greater quantity of blacks, which came largely because of quotas,” he said.

Chalhoub believes that to end racism, it will take a policing of the attitudes themselves daily, an exercise in citizenship. “We all need to be alert all the time, to deal with situations of everyday life. The general process of education is important for the population. The monitoring of racist practices needs to be an exercise of citizenship. It’s a matter of education. And this requires an expansion of the public system of education of the country by encouraging coexistence and ending this kind of thinking.”

For Renata Trajano, there will be many campaigns to end racism, but this will not be reached soon. “I think it will diminish, yes, but end it. Well, that is still far away.”

Source: Jornal do Brasil


1. We see here in the experiences of both Igor and Renata, they felt discriminated against by police that were also black. This is a common complaint of many Afro-Brazilians that feel that often times the black police are as brutal or worse than white police. For more on the behavior of black police, see here. We also see here Renata’s memory of how the term ‘neguinha’ was used in a derogatory manner by the police. The issue harks back to an ongoing debate as to whether the terms ‘neguinha’ (feminine) and ‘neguinho’ (masculine) are terms of affection or racial insults.

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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