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Meet Beatriz Gomes Dias, the teacher who could become the first black woman to govern Lisbon

Beatriz Gomes Dias speaks at the Portuguese parliament. Screenshot from YouTube/bloconoparlamento

Come Lisbon's 2021 local elections, which are expected to take place in late September and early October, schoolteacher Beatriz Gomes Dias could become the first woman of African descent to head the Portuguese capital, once her coalition wins a majority in the city council.

Elected as a member of Portugal's parliament for the Left Bloc in 2019, Dias is one of just three black women in the current parliament, though she has served as a Lisbon city representative since 2018. In March 2021, she agreed to be part of the Left Bloc's list of candidates for the city's local elections.

Dias, who was born in Dakar, Senegal in 1971, is of Guinean descent and has lived in Lisbon since she was four. She graduated with a degree in Biology from Coimbra University and holds a Master’s Degree in Science Communications from the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences at the New University of Lisbon. She works as a secondary school teacher and an anti-racist activist.

She is a member of the organization SOS Racism and the founder of Djass (Association of People of African Descent), which led the charge, back in 2017, to build the city's Memorial in Honour of Enslaved People.

Dias said at the announcement of her candidacy:

Acredito que é possível construir uma outra Lisboa. Uma cidade mais habitável, mais inclusiva, mais solidária, menos desigual e com mais memória. Uma Lisboa com coragem e determinação para enfrentar a crise social que vivemos, a emergência climática, o racismo e todas as discriminações. Uma cidade que não esteja ao serviço dos interesses de alguns, mas que seja verdadeiramente a cidade de todos e todas.

I believe it is possible to build another Lisbon. A more liveable city, more inclusive, more cooperative, less unequal and with more memory. A Lisbon with the courage and determination to face the social crisis we are experiencing, the climate emergency, racism and all forms of discrimination. A city that is not serving the interests of the few, but that is truly the city of everybody.

Many netizens, among them Marlene dos Santos, declared their support for Dias:

Os jovens ficariam sem dúvida muito bem representados caso fosse eleita. A grave crise climática, o racismo e xenofobia são, sem sombra de dúvidas, problemas sérios num futuro próximo (infelizmente), os quais os jovens terão de enfrentar.

Young people would undoubtedly be very well represented if she were elected. The serious climate crisis, racism and xenophobia are, without a shadow of a doubt, serious problems for the near future (unfortunately), which young people will have to face.

Génio Eugénio was of the same opinion, commenting on one of the candidate's posts:

Beatriz, quando eu olho pra ti com bastante orgulho, faz me dizer a todas as crianças que “não importa de onde vens, acredita que os teus sonhos sempre serão validos” .
Obrigado por nos fazer sentir representados.

Beatriz, when I look at you with great pride, it makes me say to all the children that ‘no matter where you come from, believe that your dreams will always be worthy’. Thank you for making us feel represented.

Racist attacks

Dias has been the target of racist attacks, including death threats, since her 2019 election.

In August 2020, she — along with two other female politicians, Mariana Mortágua and Joacine Katar Moreira (who is also black) — received an anonymous email giving them “a 48-hour deadline” to “resign from their political functions and leave Portuguese territory”. If they failed to do so in order to “guarantee the security of the Portuguese people”, the email threatened, their families would be harmed.

The email was also sent to individuals linked to social and left-wing movements, including Mamadou Ba, director of the association SOS Racismo; Vasco Santos of the Alternative Socialist Movement (MAS); Jonathan Costa and Rita Osório of the Anti-Fascist United Front; trade unionist Danilo Moreira; and Melissa Rodrigues of the Porto Anti-Racist Centre.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa condemned the threats made against the three politicians and the activists: 

É tão condenável uma atuação racista que tenha contornos criminosos contra deputados como contra qualquer cidadão português.

A racist act with criminal aspects against politicians is as reprehensible as against any other Portuguese citizen.

The president of the Assembly of the Republic, Ferro Rodrigues, also spoke about the case to the news outlet Agência Lusa, stressing the gravity of the intimidation attempt:

A tentativa de intimidar deputados e ativistas políticos reveste-se de gravidade suficiente para que, enquanto Presidente da Assembleia da República, não possa (nem queira) deixar de a condenar, manifestando também todo o meu apoio aos visados. 

The attempt to intimidate members of parliament and political activists is sufficiently serious that, as President of the Assembly of the Republic, I cannot (and would not want to) fail to condemn it, and I also express my full support for those affected.

In a March 26 podcast, Dias spoke about the racist messages she has been receiving on social media since being elected:

Combato o discurso de ódio que me é dirigido através da apresentação de políticas públicas contra a exclusão e a discriminação das pessoas negras. Nós somos as herdeiras das combatentes pela libertação, em prol de uma causa coletiva.

I fight the hate speech directed at me by proposing public policies against the exclusion and discrimination of black people. We are the heirs of the liberation fighters, towards a collective cause.

Around the same time, Facebook user Ricardo Santos acknowledged that Portugal has not yet moved on from its history of racism:
Portugal ainda não se reconciliou verdadeiramente com a sua própria história. Este episódio e tantos outros demonstram até à exaustão quem enquanto o país não for capaz de abordar simultaneamente a grande epopeia dos descobrimentos e os horrores associados da colonização e da escravatura será difícil senão impossível evitar estes racismos primários.

Portugal has not yet truly reconciled itself with its own history. This episode and so many others thoroughly demonstrate that as long as the country is not able to broach both the great epics of the discoveries and the horrors related to colonization and slavery at the same time, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to avoid these primitive racisms.

Apart from Dias, the only other black female members of the Portuguese parliament are fellow Portuguese-Guinean Joacine Katar Moreira, and Romualda Fernandes, who was born in Guinea-Bissau.

In the midst of the October 2019 elections, Moreira said that the election of the female members of parliament “should not only be seen as an achievement, but as a fundamental tool” in contributing “to the strengthening of democracy and the republican ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity.”

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