‘Vidas negras importam’ (Black Lives Matter) shakes up Brazilians numbed by a routine of racist violence

demand end of police violence
Protesters called for an end to police violence in favelas and against racism in Rio de Janeiro last May 31.

Note from BW of Brazil: A new era is coming to Brazil. To be truthful, it’s been here for a while. No longer are the vast majority of black Brazilians remaining silent on blatant issues of racism, racist violence, genocide and an ongoing silencing of black voices. The state sponsored violence directed at Afro-Brazilians can no longer go by without voices and actions that are speaking out against it. Although I do see a clear influence of movements and voices from the United States on some of the very same issues affecting African-Americans, what we are seeing these days in Brazil could be considered historic. This is not to say that the voice of Afro-Brazilians against systemic racism is new as we’ve seen resistance for centuries when you look it.

Examples of this resistance in history can be seen in the massive numbers of former enslaved Africans and black Brazilians who fled their enslavement to either construct or join the numerous fugitive slave maroon societies known as quilombos. We’ve seen this resistance in the maintenance of Afro-Brazilian cultural practices such as the musical rhythm known as samba, the martial art of capoeira and the African origin religion of candomblé. In each of them, the Brazilian state attempted to destroy these strong symbols of Afro-Brazilian identity. They continue to this day as do the more than 3,524 remaining quilombo communities that the exist in nearly every Brazilian state. According to some sources, the number of quilombos is actually closer to 5,000. 

What we’re seeing today are many more Afro-Brazilians getting involved in the struggle. More identifying themselves as black, more proudly rocking their natural hair, more earning college educations to use their knowledge in the struggle and more people taking to the streets. Today in Brazil, the necessity of fighting back is higher than ever as black Brazilians are victims to more violence and murder now, both in terms of police violence and everyday murder, than any other period in its history. 

In 2014, the number of homicides in the country reached 60,000 for the first time in its history and in the decade between 2008-2018, the number of murders the country was consistently between 50-68,000. As much has been said about controversial President Jair Bolsonaro, there was a drop in murders in country in 2019, his first year as president, from 51,558 to 41,635 mortes violentas, a drop of 19%. But the flip side of this is that the murder of black Brazilians, particularly those between the ages of 18-35, has continued to rise in comparison to the white population.

In 2017, for example, of the 65,602 murders in that year, a full 75.5% were pardos (browns) and pretos (blacks). In fact, those in the pardo category were the most victimized, representing 64.6% of the total, with brancos (whites) representing 26.4% and pretos being 8.5%. As studies have pointed out, 65,000 violent deaths are figures one would think would come out of a country in the middle of a civil war. There does seem to be a war alright, but this war is being waged again pretos and pardos. Thus, the question that continues to get louder there days is, do black (and brown) lives really matter?

VIDA NEGRAS

‘Vidas negras importam’ shakes up Brazilians numbed by a routine of racist violence

Movimento Negro demands permanent adhesion of the white population to the racial debate, inspired by the anti-racist protests that reverberate from the United States. Protesters join the now global call for order: “black lives matter”.

By Breiller Pires

It took a wave of anti-racist protests in the United States to awaken part of white society that turns a blind eye to police violence, has become accustomed to trivializing the genocide of young blacks in the slums or being complacent about the lack of representation in prominent positions in Brazil. Many people adhered to the Brazilian version of Vidas Negras Importam (Black Lives Matter), spreading hashtags such as #blackouttuesday on social networks, but, in addition to the occasional campaigns, permanent engagement for the anti-racist cause is still restricted to the voices of the Movimento Negro

“I believe that there is still a lot of empathy with deaths of black people on the part of those who are removed from this reality in Brazil,” observes lawyer Thiago Amparo, professor of diversity policies at Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV-SP). “There are always protests from family members, neighbors of the community and actors from black movements, but little solidarity from white people participating in these acts and, mainly, using their privileged spaces to change the situation. Digital activism is important, as long as we also speak out in a more forceful way in our areas of activity, such as demanding that the police control the police or that the press covers the dynamics of the deaths of black people not only when they break out. That means showing that black lives do matter.”

Despite ad hoc internet campaigns, black activists point out that their historic demands through resilience over decades cannot be interpreted as an effect of what happens in the United States. “People are saying that finally ‘black people have opened their eyes’. This is an absurd degree of racism and cruelty,” says Mônica Oliveira, a member of the Coordination of the Rede de Mulheres Negras de Pernambuco (Black Women Network of Pernambuco). “The struggle of the black movement in Brazil comes from centuries ago. If we had not organized ourselves, we would never have survived in this country that, since slavery, has operated a systematic project to eliminate the black population.” On Sunday, June 7, there were anti-racist demonstrations in defense of black lives in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, among other cities.

A militant for 32 years, Mônica says she has never lived such a “difficult and dangerous” moment in the fight against racism, citing, still emotionally, the case of the boy Miguel Otávio Santana da Silva, 5 years old, who fell from the 9th floor of a building in Recife. The black boy was the son of the maid Mirtes Renata, who had left the child in the care of her white boss, Sarí Corte Real, wife of Sérgio Hacker, mayor of Tamandaré, on the coast of Pernambuco, while taking the family dog for a walk. The employer, caught by security cameras leaving the boy alone in the elevator, was charged with manslaughter (when not considered intentional) and released after paying a bond of 20,000 reais. “If it were a black woman accused of killing a white child for negligence, her face would be stamped on all newspaper covers on the same day of the crime,” says Mônica Oliveira, recalling that the name of Corte Real was kept confidential by the police of Pernambuco. After three days of silence, on Friday, the employer asked the child’s mother for forgiveness, in a letter addressed to her. On the same day, a crowd gathered to protest in front of the building known as the Torres Gêmeas (Twin Towers), where the tragedy occurred.

For the activist, the rise of a far-right politician, with a history of racist comments and attitudes, further exposes the black population to the statistics of violence. “President Bolsonaro has authorized a higher level of explicit racism than before and is pushing racists out of the closet.” However, she points out that, at the same time, resistance actions are strengthened to avoid setbacks, such as the Coalizão Negra por Direitos (Black Coalition for Rights), which brings together more than 150 organizations. “We are proving that we, black men and women activists, have the capacity to transform our solidarity into a concrete attitude.”

pernambuco
Protesters act in front of the ‘Torres Gêmeas’, in Recife, and demand justice for Miguel, in protest last Friday.

Last year, Bolsonaro appointed Sérgio Camargo to head up the Palmares Foundation, responsible for promoting black culture in the country. Like the president, Camargo takes a stand against the existence of Black Consciousness Day (November 20), in addition to arguing that slavery would have been beneficial for the descendants of enslaved Africans and that “racism exists in the United States, not in Brazil.” Recently, in a leaked audio, he is heard calling the black movement “cursed scum”. In November, the Federal Court had suspended his appointment because it understood that Camargo “offends the black population, whom he should defend”, but in February this year, the Superior Court of Justice (STJ) overthrew the decision and returned him to office. This Wednesday, the Public Defender’s Office of the Union filed a request to remove Camargo while the STJ didn’t judge the case definitively.

“For the first time, Brazilian racists are revealing themselves in their entirety, starting with the country’s main authority,” says Zulu Araújo, former president of Fundação Palmares and current president of Fundação Pedro Calmon, linked to the Bahia Department of Culture. The Bahian activist defends the formation of a broad front against racism, inspired by the mobilization of the United States, to counter the government’s ultraconservative measures. “We have the historic opportunity to bring together black and white anti-racists in this struggle, something that, after much effort, the American black movement managed to achieve.”

Demonstrating discomfort with the anti-racist mobilization in the networks, the influencer Luisa Nunes commented on her profile on Instagram, this Thursday, that racism would be “natural”, since, according to her, most crimes are supposedly committed by black people. “It will always be a natural instinct for the defense of people, normal for human beings, to have a little racism, to judge people by race,” she told her more than 50,000 followers. After the negative repercussions, she deleted the videos and recanted, claiming not to be racist. “In Latin America, the pact established by Iberian colonization installed the phenomenon of blaming blacks for the crime of being discriminated against,” says Zulu Araújo. “Our society was forged in the naturalization of racial discrimination, so much so that, to this day, many people defend that there was no slavery or that it would not have been so harmful to the black population.”

Last weekend, reflecting the demonstrations started in Minneapolis after the assassination of George Floyd, Rio de Janeiro had an act in honor of João Pedro, a 14-year-old black boy shot in the back by a rifle shot during a police operation in the favela of Salgueiro. In Recife, racism-fighting organizations organized a protest in front of the TJPE headquarters this Friday demanding justice for Miguel’s death. “The racial issue in Brazil is even more serious than in the United States,” says Zulu, referring to the latest edition of the Atlas of Violence, which, over a decade, registered a 33% increase in the number of black people murdered (while they account for 75% of homicides) in the country where 64% of the 13 million unemployed are black. “We can no longer accept the dehumanization and extermination of black bodies.”

Representativeness also matters

A program on racism starring white people. On Tuesday, the edition of the Em Pauta program, on GloboNews, generated criticism on the internet for having only white journalists and commentators debating about racial discrimination in Brazil. As a gesture of mea-culpa, Globo’s production selected a team composed only of black professionals for the program, presented by Heraldo Pereira. During the segment, journalists Aline Midlej, Flávia Oliveira, Maju Coutinho, Lilian Ribeiro and Zileide Silva shared experiences based on discriminatory attitudes that they experienced throughout their careers.

globonews em pauta
A recent edition of the Globo News program ‘Em Pauta’ drew criticism for presenting a discussion about racism with an all-white panel

“It’s strange to see a program made by a host and commentators because, with Brazilian racism, we are used to normalizing absences and inequality,” says Thiago Amparo. “GloboNews’ attitude was very welcome, showing the importance of criticizing and demanding changes. You can’t talk about the racial issue without having black people on an equal footing with white people. But promoting diversity has to go beyond racial debate. Black people should talk about everything from international politics to the economy. And the media needs to be more like the society that consumes them.”

GLOBO
“An historic journal on Globo News”: in the face of criticism, a discussion on racism on Globo News presented an all-black panel

On the same day that Globo became the target of charges for the essentially white program, CNN Brasil was questioned live by journalist and former French consul in Brazil, Alexandra Loras, for having chosen William Waack to comment on the anti-racist protests in the United States. In 2017, the host ended up being fired from Globo after an audio leak in which he made racist comments. In the following year, in an article published in Folha de S. Paulo, he apologized for what he called a “circumstantial joke” and said he was not racist. “Today I see William Waack, dismissed for an episode of racism, debating racism for so long… CNN and all Brazilian media have the power to invite black academics to talk about this [racial] theme,” criticized Loras on the CNN “360º” program.

In defense of representativeness at universities, social media profiles have been mobilized to expose racial quota fraudsters, which consists of denouncing white students who passed the entrance exams of public universities enrolled in a reserve for blacks or indigenous people. Although one of the main exposure accounts was removed by Twitter, the movement generated a reaction from educational institutions, such as the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), which, in a note, explained that, earlier this year, it replaced the self-declaration by analyzing an internal hetero-identification commission. The bench is also responsible for investigating fraud in the quota system.

“Social networks have given impetus to the demands of the black movement, which, due to the fact that it does not have many resources, takes advantage of these more accessible tools”, says Mônica Oliveira. “The strategy of making fraudsters visible is important for compliance with the law. Because it is a crime, the white person who graduates with the benefit of quotas should lose his diploma.” In addition to network actions, the Brazilian black movement seeks to foster permanent campaigns to support the cause, such as Seja Antirracista, meaning Be Anti-Racist, which has collected signatures from people and companies in the name of a long-term commitment to the fight against racism. “We don’t need more black people dying to have a continuous engagement in the racial agenda”, preaches the campaign.

Source: El País Brasil

About Marques Travae 3472 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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