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Brazil: Bloggers on why there is still racism in the country

Two weeks ago, Global Voices Online reported the story of Januário Alves de Santana, a black man who had been beaten and punched by security guards of one of the largest international retailers in Brazil. He was waiting for his family in the car park of a supermarket when he was accused of trying to steal his own car, under the argument that, being black, he would not be able to afford a luxury car.

This re-fuelled the always heated and controversial debate on racism in Brazil (follow this link for a previous Global Voices post on this subject) and inspired many blog posts, most of them repudiating the upper class’ thought that racism does not exist in Brazil and that social class issues are the real reasons for cases like Januário's.

On September 11 students and employees of the University of São Paulo, where Januário Alves de Santana works, gathered together to discuss how racism is still present in daily life. The round table “Racism, Violence and Globalization” declared: “Carrefour attacks a Brazilian black man: that's the year of France in Brazil”. The Pão e Rosas blog brings us [pt] photos of the event and comments:

Todas as falas enfatizaram que o caso não é isolado, mas expressa sim como o racismo ainda é uma marca profunda da sociedade em que vivemos. Nós do Pão e Rosas nos colocamos de pé, ao lado de Januário e todos os negros e negras que sofrem com o racismo e a violência policial. Do mesmo modo, nos colocamos ao lado dos moradores das favelas que têm se manifestado contra a repressão da polícia , como em Heliópolis na semana passada. A realidade impõe que nos levantemos!

All the speeches emphasized that [Januario's] case is not the only one, but one that expresses the way racism is still a deep trace on the society we live in. We at Pão e Rosas [blog] stand side by side by Januario and all black men and women who suffer from racism and police violence. Likewise, we're at the side of the residents of shantytowns who have been demonstrating against police repression, as in Heliópolis last week. The reality requires that we rise up!
Januário's speech in the meeting at USPJanuário's speech during the debate at USP

Alex Castro, from the Liberal, Libertário e Libertino blog [liberal, libertarian and libertine, pt], addresses the racism issue very meticulously and points out an alarming fact of Brazil's racial historicity by saying that the problem is actually that society lacks racial conflict:

No Brasil, nunca houve leis racistas proibindo negros de ingressarem em restaurantes, hotéis, tribunais porque a própria estrutura socioeconômica perversa já era garantia mais do que suficiente de que negros somente entrariam nesses ambientes pra varrer o chão e servir café. O Brasil é tão arraigadamente racista que nunca nem precisou de leis racistas para manter seus negros em posição totalmente inferiorizada.

In Brazil, there have never been racist laws prohibiting blacks from getting into restaurants, hotels, courts etc., because its own evil socio-economic framework is more than a sufficient guarantee that blacks would only enter such places unless it is to sweep the floor or to serve coffee. Brazil is so inveterately racist that it has never even needed racist laws to keep its black people in their totally low position.

His blog post was also featured on Rachel Glickhouse's Adventures of a Gringa blog and a few readers responded to his thoughts. For instance, Roger Penguino commented [pt]:

Para aqueles que sempre pensaram que no Brasil não ocorre problemas raciais, aqui encontra-se um ponto de partida para nova reflexão sobre a realidade. Sempre ouvi de amigos Americanos que no Brasil “everyone just gets along” e sempre foi difícil explicar a complexa e sistemática institucionalização do racismo brasileiro. Muitos ao olharam para população brasileira dizem ver uma mistura racial maior que de outros grandes países, mas claro que deixam de perceber os milhares que lutam contra si mesmos porque nesta mistura aprenderam a odiar sua própria condição.

For those who have always thought that there are no racial issues in Brazil, here is a starting point from which to rethink reality. I've always heard from American friends that in Brazil “everyone just gets along” and it was always difficult to explain the complex and systematic acceptance of Brazilian racism. Whilst looking at the Brazilian people, many say they see a greater mix of races than in other countries, but of course they don't see the thousands who fight against themselves because in this melting pot they have learned to hate their own condition.

In June this year, Lucrécia Paco, one of the greatest Mozambican actresses who was acting in a play staged in São Paulo, suffered from racism when she accidentally bumped into a white woman in the queue of a money exchange agency in a shopping mall. Leonardo Sakamoto from Blog do Sakamoto [Sakamoto's blog, pt] and the Viomundo blog [pt] republished and commented on the piece of news originally made public by Época Magazine [pt].

On that occasion, the woman pointed Lucrécia out as a potential mugger and screamed out loud asking for the immigration police. Lucrécia reacted shouting back to her that there were many Brazilians going to live in Mozambique, but rather than being mistreated they were being received with open arms. The journalist Eliane Brum, who interviewed Lucrécia Paco, reported:

Lucrécia não consegue esquecer. “Não pude dormir à noite, fiquei muito mal”, diz. “Comecei a ficar paranoica, a ver sinais de discriminação no restaurante, em todo o lugar que ia. E eu não quero isso pra mim.” Em seus 39 anos de vida dura, num país que foi colônia portuguesa até 1975 e, depois, devastado por 20 anos de guerra civil, Lucrécia nunca tinha passado por nada assim. “Eu nunca fui discriminada dessa maneira”, diz. “Dá uma dor na gente. ”

Lucrécia just can't forget about it. “I couldn't sleep that night, I was really shocked” she says. “I started to get paranoid, to see signs of prejudice in the restaurants, [and] anywhere I would go. And I don't want that for me.” In her tough 39 years, in a country which was a Portuguese colony until 1975 and, after that, devastated by a 20-year-long civil war, Lucrécia has never experienced anything like this. “I have never been discriminated against in this way”, she says. “It feels like grief.”

Glória Cabo, a reader from Blog do Sakamoto commented on the interview. She added her own family testimony on why Brazilians cultivate racism:

No Brasil não só é difícil ser negro, como também: nordestino, pobre, tatuado, gay, punk, feio. Nem as loiras escapam… Mas, de onde vem esse preconceito? E como acabar com ele? A origem do problema, no meu ponto de vista está nas nossas próprias origens. Somos descendentes de europeus preconceituosos, retrógrados e antiquados. Eu como filha de europeus, convivi com racismo explicito de meus pais, com comentários absurdos de que meu pai não queria ter um “negrinho” o chamando de avô. Eu mesma, confesso, que já tive pensamentos racistas. Mas, com a maturidade, analisei meus preconceitos e descobri que não eram meus, e sim uma herança pobre e sem sentido herdada de pais preconceituosos. Buscar a origem do racismo, analisar que diferenças são normais e necessárias, isso faria toda a diferença.

In Brazil it is not difficult only to be black, but also to be from the northeast, poor, tattooed, gay, punk, ugly. Not even blonds are left off the list… but, where does this prejudice come from? How do we put an end to it? The root of the problem in my point of view is in our own roots. We are descendants of prejudiced, backward and outdated Europeans. As a child of Europeans, I have lived with the explicit racism of my parents, with absurd comments from my father saying he wouldn't like a “negrinho” calling him grandfather. I myself confess I've had racist thoughts. But, with maturity, I reflected on my prejudices and found out they were not mine, but a poor, senseless heritage from my prejudiced parents. Looking for the origin of racism analyzing that differences are normal and necessary; that would make a lot of difference.

Pedro Turambar from the blog O Crepúsculo [pt] cites another case he witnessed while shopping at Carrefour and that he considers racism. The shop assistant of the retail store asked a black woman to confirm she was the holder of the credit card she was using to pay for her shopping. Pedro suggested that the assistant only asked for confirmation because of the amount of goods the woman was buying. The black woman was actually a housekeeper and her employer, an old white lady who was away from the queue at that moment, came towards the assistant shouting “This is prejudice! This is racial discrimination”. He says:

O trabalho dela é perguntar e pedir a identidade. […]. DESDE QUE ELA FAÇA ISSO COM TODO MUNDO. Mas tanto você quanto eu, sabe que isso não acontece e não foi por isso que a moça pediu para a empregada provar que era titular do cartão

Her job is to ask for confirmation and the ID card. AS LONG AS SHE DOES THAT WITH EVERYONE. But we both know that this doesn't happen and that it was not the reason why the assistant asked the housekeeper to prove she was the card holder.

And added:

Eu iria pagar a conta com o cartão de crédito do meu irmão e tinha certeza que o caixa não iria me perguntar se eu era o titular do cartão. Dito e feito. Paguei com um cartão de uma conta da qual não sou titular, mas como sou branco, gordinho, fofinho bonitinho, jamais pensariam que eu roubei o cartão para comprar meia dúzia de produtos de limpeza.

O melhor foi o medo que eu coloquei no caixa que me atendeu. Ele ironicamente e sarcasticamente comentava o fato, e quando o cara do casal de trás disse brincando “Eu não to pagando com meu cartão não em! e se você falar que não é meu eu subo aqui em cima e fico louco”, o caixa morreu de rir. Até que eu disse que o cartão que eu acabara de pagar não era meu. Disse isso rindo também, por isso ele achou que era brincadeira, até que eu fechei a cara e repeti “O cartão não é meu. Mesmo. Eu não me chamo Daniel.” Ele olhou para mim e viu que eu falava sério. Engoliu o riso e claramente ficou com medo. Eu apenas disse “A mulher tá certa. Certíssima em dizer que foi preconceito, porque foi.”, me despedi do casal – que olhava para mim com uma cara de júbilo – peguei as compras e fui embora.

I was going to pay for my shopping with my brother's credit card and I was certain that the cashier was not going to ask me if I was the card holder. No sooner said than done. I paid with a card from a bank account which was not mine, but since I'm white, chubby, fluffy and cute, they would never think I had stolen a credit card to buy half a dozen cleaning products.

The best was the fear of the cashier who registered my shopping. He was ironically and sarcastically commenting on the situation, and when the guy in the couple queuing up behind me joked “I'm not paying with my credit card, ok! and if you say it's not mine I'll stand here [attendee's desk] and go crazy!”, the attendee snickered at it. Then I said the credit card I'd just used was not mine. I laughed too, because he thought it was a joke, then I got serious and repeated “The card is not mine. Not really. I'm not ‘Daniel.'” He looked at me and realized I was serious about that. He swallowed his smile and became afraid. I just said “The old lady is right. She is right to say it was prejudice, because it was.”, I said goodbye to the couple – who gazed at me with joy – got my bags and left.

Finally, a comment on the Alex Castro blog post is worth noting. The reader Te clearly says:

É mesmo, no Brasil faz falta uma Rosa Parks. […]

Indeed, we need someone like Rosa Parks in Brazil. […]

The video campaign Where do you keep your racism? features many true testimonials of racism in Brazil. It was produced as a public campaign against racism by Diálogos contra o Racismo (pela igualdade racial) [Dialogues against Racism (for racial equality)], a group of more than 40 civil society organizations dedicated to eradicating poverty and inequality and to stimulating debates in schools, neighborhoods, workplaces, clubs, households about racial relations, and how to change them.


  • alex castro

    muito obrigado pela citacao e pelo excelente artigo cheio de links que vou ler. uma dica para quando fizerem traducao para alguma lingua latina: a leitora Te eh uma mulher. :) abracos, alex

  • Brazil’s major problem lies in the fact that most people denies the existence of racism. More recently an aggressive campaign of denial saying there is no racism in Brazil inverted the meaning of “racialist” to attack those who denounce racism and fight for affirmative action. Racialist are precisely those who try to disguise racism, or to deny it. Racialists are subtler racists. Denialists say racialists are those who by defending affirmative action are trying to create racial divisions in the country. The larger slave importer of the World’s history; the country where slavery of Africans lasted longer; where the presence of black in the power, economic, business and intelectual elite, has already unacceptable racial divisions. Denying them is only another form of racism.

  • […] Brazilian bloggers got lots 2 say about racial discrimination! […]

  • […] Maybe this particular blog post just didn’t reach the Afro-Brazilians or maybe the commenters were in denial. Would love to hear the thoughts of my Brazilian readers. Still, following my recent post about Januário Alves de Santana, the black man wrongly accused and assaulted by police outside a popular mall, the discussion continues. […]

  • Pianki

    I think the Olympics sholuld be Boycotted until the inhuman racist actions are resoleved in Brazil and reparations are paid to the affected.

  • […] in 2009 Global Voices published [en] an article about considerable internet controversy [en] surrounding a case of racist […]

  • […] Brazil: Bloggers on why there is still racism in the country […]

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