Note from BW of Brazil: Besides promoting a space for Brazil’s black women and updates on current events involving the general Afro-Brazilian population, another goal of this blog was to show how Brazilian citizens and institutions simply cannot deal with incidents of racial discrimination. If you haven’t recognized this with all of the regular reports of racism or the controversial “we’re all monkeys” “campaign” a few weeks ago, this latest incident proves it once again. Truly shameful that a university seems to have more interest in protecting its image rather than addressing centuries long problem that recently reared its ugly head once again. Sorry, Brazil but the era of denial and pointing the finger at the big, bad United States or Mandela’s South Africa while you continue to hide your regular oppression and discrimination against your own African descendants just doesn’t cut it. In less than a month, the whole world will be watching Brazil as the world’s biggest sporting event arrives in Latin America’s largest country.
With that, we hope to continue to continue blowing the lid off of how Afro-Brazilians are treated in the World Cup’s host country!
“I don’t want to be racist, but…”
by Henrique Braga
Stephanie Ribeiro. A young black woman who studied in a public school, even managing to get a government scholarship to study architecture, a still elite course in a traditional university in Campinas (1). If it were to end there we would have a happy ending of one of those cinematic narratives of struggling and overcoming. In the real world, however, Stephanie’s story is just beginning.
The only black woman of the 200 students in her course, the treatment that Stephanie has received in the supposedly Catholic pontifical university reflects the unpreparedness of many top courses in Brazil – especially those frequented predominantly by the children of the elite, whose childhood and adolescence tend to be spent in a bubble apart from reality. Without any commitment to issues of diversity (phenomenon until only recently was unheard of in these social spaces), institutions tend to be silent on conflicts arising from inclusion (policies) promoted by Prouni (Programa Universidade para Todos or University for All Program).
In Stephanie’s case, the student reported – in a bold text published on the Blogueiras Negras page – the reaction of the university when she denounced offenses sprayed on her locker: “We can’t do anything,” was the response they gave her.
Commenting on the thought of certain students of “privileged backgrounds”, the architecture student noted a few other pearls. One of them is this comment from a classmate: “Not to be racist, but they have perceived how blacks usually stink more than whites, having a stronger smell.” Then to demonstrate alleged cordiality, added: “But you, Ste, are different, you smell good.”
By saying “I don’t want to be racist,” Stephanie’s then-colleague summarizes what most of them think. Many, like her, would rather think that the racist is the other person, which makes direct insults, subject to all the rigors of the law. Everyday cases of making certain persons inferior, “inoffensive” comments, the “jokes” about blacks, all of this, for many of them is silly. They want to be able to continue with their discourse steeped in prejudice but without being labeled racist. If their privileges always allowed them to keep only the good things that life brings, why would they act differently in this case?
The big problem, however, is that Stephanie is showing what many in her academic environment theoretically don’t want to see. We live under a strong influence of a discourse according to which racism does not exist, so, denouncing racial prejudice, the brave Stephanie disturbs the peaceful sleep of many opportunists who surely ate Neymar’s banana.
No surprise, then, that several young whites of the university don’t know how to deal with the perception that they are racist, because, for many, the relationship with black people is probably limited to the “bom dia” (good morning) to the doorman of their condominium. We are dealing with, they believe, with a new theme in reality of many of them. And in a country that likes to deal with their prejudices hypocritically, seeing them wide open is really a shock. A shock with which, if they have a minimum of civility, these young people must deal with, after all, the university experience should serve for this, so that the citizen is build upon experiences provided by this universe. This opportunity, indeed, the whole community of PUC-Campinas (2) owes Stephanie.
The attitude of the institution, however, causes concern. According to a report from Stephanie herself, the director of the university, accompanied by the director of the center in which she studies, threatened to initiate an inquiry. Would this be to verify if the university is ready to deal with the race issue? No. To possibly punish Stephanie. The general manager is worried about the repercussions of the news that upset other students, their parents and some teachers. According to the account of the student, he considered the accusations very serious – and they really are – but, like any good oppressor, puts the complaint of the victim under suspicion, claiming that “somos todos humanos” (meaning, “we are all human”) (3) – as if this great discovery of his would deny the existence of racism. To “solve the issue”, the proposed solution is to gather the troubled students, their parents, the university’s lawyers and young Stephanie, to what nothing indicates, a conversation between friends.
In this episode, however, PUC-Campinas ends up demonstrating very well its vision of the world, which certainly is reflected in their academic conception (something to be considered by those who wish to compete for a spot in its vestibular or entrance exam). According to Stephanie’s report, the institution loses a great opportunity to promote an open discussion about diversity and prejudice, preferring to intimidate and stifle student discussion, repeating the same violence that racists in power have employed throughout our history. It’s sad to say, but there’s no selfie with a banana that can minimize this. We must do more.
Source: Brasil Post
1. Campinas is a Brazilian city of São Paulo State, in the country’s Southeast Region. According to the 2010 Census, the city population is 1,080,999, making it the fourteenth most populous Brazilian city and the third in the São Paulo state. Source: Wikipedia
2. The Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Campinas is a private and non-profit Catholic university, located in Campinas, the second largest city of the State of São Paulo. It is maintained by the Catholic Archdiocese of Campinas. Source: Wikipedia
3. Here again we see a variation of the common Brazilian phrase “we are all equal”, usually uttered after the a racist incident. Every time the phrase is uttered it does double damage by 1) Attempting to mask deep seated inequalities in Brazilian society and 2) deflecting the possibility of a real dialogue on the topic of racism which everyone knows exists even when they don’t admit to personally being racist.