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Brazil: Where Violence Has an Age and Skin Color

On February 23, 2011, Brazil's Justice Department published the Violence Map 2011 – The Brazilian Youth [pt – for links unless noted otherwise], a study aimed at following trends in youth mortality (from 15 to 24 years of age) from violent causes.

The conclusions are frightening: the proportion of homicides in this age group increased from 41.7 per 100,000 in 1996 to 52.9 in 2008. In the states of Alagoas, Pernambuco, Bahia, Espírito Santo and Distrito Federal, homicides were responsible for more than half of juvenile deaths in 2008, way above the national average of 39.7%.

Even with big diferences between states, a general trend observed since 2002 is a decrease in the absolute number of homicides in the white population and an increase among the black population – in 2008, proportionally 103.4% more black people died than white people.

Violence Map 2011

Violence Map 2011

Deep-Seated Racism

The deep-seated racism in Brazilian society thus shows its awful consequences, but the study's results are far from being a surprise to those who live daily with this violence.

Back in 2009 Global Voices published [en] an article about considerable internet controversy [en] surrounding a case of racist violence.

Lio Nzumbi, a sociologist currently graduating in law, writes at Correio Nagô (Nagô Post) about the ongoing genocide of the black population through a criminal public safety policy:

A política criminal do Estado brasileiro, travestida historicamente sob a função anunciada de “segurança publica” e armada pelo aparato de controle penal e o poder estatal de policia, empreende, deliberadamente, através de todos os poderes deste Estado, um processo seletivo (discriminatório e/ou discricionário) de criminalização, que por sua vez, adota critérios sócio-raciais para eleição de um padrão de sujeitos a se suspeitar, perseguir, penalizar e enfim eliminar: jovens negros. Se assimilarmos a semântica dada pelos dicionários da língua portuguesa, o termo “genocídio” significa “eliminação de um povo”, de um determinado tipo de gente. Em nossa análise entendemos ainda que este processo de criminalização resulta em duas formas históricas e flagrantes de genocídio no Brasil: a execução sumária, empreendida pela polícia e grupos para-policiais e o encarceramento massivo de jovens negros.

Brazil's criminal policy, historically under the guise of “public safety” and armed by the apparatus of federal prison facilities and local state police forces, deliberately undertakes through all of the Three State Powers a selective (discriminatory and/or discretionary) process of criminalization, which in turn adopts socio-racial criteria to elect a pattern of subjects to suspect, persecute, punish and finally eliminate  young black people. If we consider the meaning given by Portuguese language dictionaries, the word “genocide” is explained as “the elimination of a people”, a certain kind of people. In our analysis we understand that this process of criminalization provokes two historical and flagrant forms of genocide in Brazil: summary execution, perpetrated by the police and by local milicia, and the mass incarceration of young black people.

Blogger Ana Paula comments the case of a young black man of only 15 years of age being beaten by two police officers on February 10, 2011, while going on his motorcycle to the garage where he works in the city of Feira de Santana, in Bahia state:

Esse episódio lastimável não é um fato isolado. A polícia militar, da Bahia e da maior parte do país, é conhecida por seu tratamento ‘especial’ concedido a qualquer um que não aparente ser o filho ‘de alguém importante’.

This regretable episode isn't an isolated fact. The police force, in Bahia and in most of the country, is known for its ‘special’ treatment given to anyone that doesn't look like the son of ‘someone important’.
Hudson Carlos de Oliveira in hospital. Image taken from the blog 'O biscoito fino e a massa', licensed by Creative Commons.

Hudson Carlos de Oliveira in hospital. Image taken from the blog 'O biscoito fino e a massa', licensed by Creative Commons.

Protesting against the oft-repeated idea that “in Brasil we are not racists”, blogger Idelber Avelar tells of the unprovoked beating of Brazilian rapper Hudson Carlos de Oliveira, director of the Center of Hip Hop Brazil, teacher in the Department of Arts, and founder of the project ‘Hip Hop Education for Life’. The incident happened in a bar, on November 28, 2010, in the state of Minas Gerais:

Pelo caráter discriminatório do ato que motivou o crime, é visível sua condição de delito racista. Pela sanha covarde que se manifestou no crime, vários profissionais do Direito e da Justiça consultados pelo blog concordam que ele é enquadrável como tentativa de homicídio e não simplesmente lesão corporal — e Hudson ouviu, sim, e há testemunhas disso, a frase mata que é bandido durante o espancamento.

The discriminatory characteristics of the act that motivated the crime leaves no doubt of its status as a racist offense. Because of the coward's [perpetrator's] rage that manifested itself in the crime, several legal and justice professionals consulted by this blog agree that it could be considered as attempted murder and not just simply as assault – Hudson heard, and there are witnesses to this, the phrase “kill him, he's a criminal” during the beating.

On the blog Pai de Menina (A Girl's Father), the journalist and graphic designer Felipe Barcellos describes the torment of his two daughters after they were discriminated upon during their own birthday party, on February 16, 2011, by an employee of the venue their parents had rented for the celebration:

Aos nos prepararmos para ir embora, às 22h30, a funcionária Loi impediu minhas filhas, Lia (9 anos) e a aniversariante Dora (5 anos) de entrarem no quiosque ao retornarem do banheiro. O motivo: alegou que seriam crianças de rua, por serem negras e terem cabelos crespos. (…) Não queiram saber a dor de um pai ao vivenciar tais cenas em um dia de festa. A dor não vai embora quando fecho os olhos. Me vem a imagem de minha filha, minutos antes extasiada de alegria e em seguida chocada com uma realidade distorcida. Estou sentindo muita dor. Uma dor que não vai embora.

We were preparing to leave, at 10:30pm, when an employee called Loi barred my daughters, Lia (9 years old) and the birthday girl Dora (5 years old) from entering the venue after going to the bathroom. The reason: she claimed they looked like street kids, being black and having curly hair. (…) You don't want to know the pain of a father living through something like this on a day of celebration. The pain doesn't go away when I close my eyes. An image of my daughter comes to me, extremely happy just moments before and suddenly shocked by a distorted reality. I'm feeling a lot of pain. A pain that doesn't go away.
Logo of the Carnival Group reads "What the F*** is That?". Image by Ziraldo, available in the public domain.

Logo of the Carnival Group reads "What the F*** is That?". Image by Ziraldo, available in the public domain.

Racism's Roots

The recent controversy regarding alleged racism in the work of famous children's book author Monteiro Lobato, covered by Global Voices [en], inspired Brazilian writer Ana Maria Gonçalves to publish an open letter of complaint to famous cartoonist Ziraldo.

Ziraldo created an image (see right) to be the official logo of a carnival group called “Que M* é Essa?” (“What the F*** is That?”), which shows Lobato hugging a black woman as if there were no such a thing as prejudice.

Gonçalves describes the way that racism's roots, even when found in the important and much-loved personalities of our country's past, are often ignored by many, and that physical violence is not always the worst kind of violence:

Em uma das cartas [trocadas] com seu amigo Godofredo Rangel, Lobato confessou que sabia que a escrita “é um processo indireto de fazer eugenia, e os processos indiretos, no Brasil, ‘work’ muito mais eficientemente”. (…) No tempo em que linchavam negros, disse Lobato, como se o linchamento ainda não fosse desse nosso tempo. Lincham-se negros nas ruas, nas portas dos shoppings e bancos, nas escolas de todos os níveis de ensino, inclusive o superior. O que é até irônico, porque Lobato nunca poderia imaginar que chegariam lá. Lincham-se negros, sem violência física, é claro, sem ódio, nos livros, nos artigos de jornais e revistas, nos cartoons e nas redes sociais, há muitos e muitos carnavais. Racismo não nasce do ódio ou amor, Ziraldo, sendo talvez a causa e não a consequência da presença daquele ou da ausência desse. Racismo nasce da relação de poder. De poder ter influência ou gerência sobre as vidas de quem é considerado inferior.

In one of the [exchanged] letters with his friend Godofredo Rangel, Lobato confessed he knew writing “is an indirect process of eugenics, and that indirect processes, in Brasil, ‘work’ more efficiently”. (…) At the time black people were beaten, said Lobato, as if beating was still not the case right now. Black people are beaten in the streets, at shopping malls, on the doorsteps of banks, at schools of all different levels, even at college. The irony is that Lobato never thought it possible for them to get into college at all. Black people have been beaten, without physical violence of course, without hate, via books, in articles in newspapers and magazines, in cartoons and through social networks, for a long time. Racism is not born of hate or love, Ziraldo, maybe its the cause, not the consequence, of the presence of hate or the absence of love. Racism is born out of power relations. The power to influence and manage the lives of people considered inferior.

Quoting several examples of this kind of constant reinforcement of prejudice on the blog Jornalismo B (B Journalism), Alexandre Haubrich shows how mainstream media outlets make fighting this kind of ideology even harder:

O discurso ideológico da ascensão social pelo esforço pessoal é mais um elemento a contribuir irremediavelmente para a intolerância e a discriminação. Afinal de contas, seguindo a lógica desse discurso, o pobre é pobre porque quer, e a inferioriorização social de negros, homossexuais, mulheres e usuários de drogas é culpa deles próprios.

The ideology of the argument of socially upward mobility through personal effort is another element that definitely contributes to intolerance and discrimination. After all, according to the argument's logic, the poor are so because they want to be, and the social inferiority of blacks, homosexuals, women and drug users is their own fault.

Fighting against the normalization of prejudice on our daily lives is as current an issue as ever and its everyone's responsibility. We should constantly ask ourselves: where do you keep your racism?

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