Note from BW of Brazil: OK, I know this story actually made headlines two weeks ago, but as a blog that discusses Brazil from a perspective of race, I felt the need to cover it. Not only does it represent the current government ideal, it represents an ideal that Brazil’s leaders have openly declared for over a century. This cannot be glossed over.
On Wednesday, April 22nd, the Bolsonaro Administration launched the Pro-Brazil program, with proposals that would lead to an eventual economic recovery after the economically devastating effects of the of coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic.
Nothing wrong with that.
But what made people look twice was the choice of the image used to promote the campaign that, one would think, represents optimism and hope for improvements in such a dim period. So what does it say when the photo used to announce the campaign featured five children, all with white skin and Caucasian features? Such a photo clearly doesn’t represent the diversity of the Brazilian phenotype or the average Brazilian child. Well, unless you only include children from the southern region of country.
Although it can be argued that there many Brazilian children who look like the kids in the photo, the image isn’t even original. It comes from a Freepick website collection which had been previously used in other advertising pieces.
By now, the promotion of Brazil’s future using children with purely European features should be expected. I mean, we’ve seen it hundreds of times in the media, magazine covers, beauty contests, etc. Brazil knows that, even though it’s official census claims it’s about 45 or 46% white, a large percentage of those who define themselves as white would not be accepted as such in the US, Canada or Europe.
But the image represents Brazil’s dream ever since elites realized its population was nearly 2/3 non-white with the abolition of slavery in 1888 being less than two decades away. With so many black and brown bodies, the country’s leaders set out to whiten its population so that it looked, at least somewhat, like the Old World. In order to do that, not only did they entice millions of European to come and start a new life in Brazil, but it had to convince the non-white population that they would be doing themselves and Brazil a favor by progressively whitening their offspring by procreating with whiter partners. It didn’t quite work, but I’d argue, it’s still a work in progress.
150 years after that census showing that nearly 2/3 of Brazilians was non-white, and today being at least 54% non-white, seeing the image of the Caucasian children came across as strange to many people. Numerous people commented on and questioned the choice of the photo. One such person was writer Eduardo Moreira, author of the bestsellers Desigualdade (Inequality), O que os donos do poder não querem que você saiba (what the owners of power don’t want you to know) and Encantadores de Vidas (Life Charmers).
“This is the cover of the Pro Brasil program announced by the government. It’s not possible for people to think this is normal. This is criminal, sick, evil. A government formed only by men, rich and white, will never comprise a poor black and female majority”, wrote the author.
Federal Congressman Fernanda Melchionna (PSOL-RS) also weighed in saying that the propaganda of the Bolsonaro Administration is “typical of authoritarian governments”, which does not include the “diversity of a people”.
“Where does Bolsonaro live? Brazil with a majority of women and black men and women, indigenous people and quilombolas is completely ignored in the Pro-Brazil campaign. It’s not a detail. It is a position, typical of authoritarian governments, against the diversity of a people.”
“A beautiful tribute from the government to the families who will get along well with the Pro-Brazil Program! In the photo the children of Contractors, bankers, builders..”
“Photo divulged of the Pro-Brazil program of the federal government. Find the error.”
“People, where are the Brazilian children?? Lol”
“This is a real slide of the presentation of the “Pro-Brazil Program”, the government’s Dilma Plan. The state is already talking about spending BRL $ 30 billion to “perform works and generate jobs” (the similarity with the PT discourse is not a mere coincidence). It seems that the idea is to leave the goal open…”
The above comment makes reference to the PT, meaning the Workers’ Party, that was in power between the years of 2003 and 2016, that, under its leadership, saw Brazil’s economy explode, bring millions out of poverty and made access to the middle class more attainable to those who had been excluded for centuries. Current President Jair Bolsonaro blamed the PT for numerous problems plaguing Brazil and took advantage of the resentment that many in the country’s mostly white elite classes felt at seeing so many “have nots” ascend socially, riding the anti-PT wave all the way to the presidency. Given the country’s current status, I DO wonder how many people who voted for Bolsonaro regret having voted him.
According to Pro-Brazil program goals, the intention is a public investment of BRL $30 billion by the year 2022 and the generation of one million jobs over that period. With seven pages, the presentation file made by the Minister of the Civil House, Walter Braga Netto, doesn’t contain any specific details of the measures.
Once upon a time, I pondered if it was possible that someone with the profile of President Jair Bolsonaro not be racist. I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt even when deep down I have a feeling they don’t deserve this benefit. Given so many clues about Bolsonaro that I’ve peeped since he was a congressman and his subsequent rise to power, I think the answer is quite clear. As such, his stamp of approval on such an advertisement that features no black people, no mestiços, Indians or Asians, given his history, makes complete sense.
Below is how journalist Julio Menezes Silva reacted to the advertisement
Current government campaign with children with Caucasian features reproduces racism
By Julio Menezes Silva*
On April 22, 2020, the federal government launched the Pro-Brazil program, with proposals to resume the economy in the post-pandemic of the coronavirus (covid-19). The Pro-Brazil program foresees public investments of BRL $ 30 billion by 2022 and the generation of one million jobs in that period. It was up to the Minister of the Civil House, Braga Neto, to announce the details of the program The idea is that the ministries propose actions to achieve the objective of the federal government.
From the point of view of communication, the image used in the current government advertising piece called attention: the photo of five children with Caucasian features, who do not represent Brazilian ethnic and cultural diversity. Statistical data from the IBGE indicates that 54% of the Brazilian population is self-declared negra (black or brown). Little was said about it in the press. Those who did, were the media aligned to the progressive political field.
In 2020, with so much desire from civil society, black movements and some public and private initiatives towards strengthening diversity, at the moment in which we are living the Decade of People of African Descent with the United Organizations (UN), it seems to me that leading a campaign like such at the front is, at the very least, institutional myopia or intellectual dishonesty. Or was it bad faith?
The fact is that, institutionally, the current government reproduces historical racism without being effectively combated. This text itself does not, unfortunately, have the scope that I long for. But it is necessary to take a position on the daily absurdities imposed by the Brazilian government. The discussion of racism should go beyond the right-left aspect, and be a broad, national issue, a question of state and democracy.
The federal government’s campaign brings the typical communication challenge between the lines: aligning what is thought, what is done and what is announced. I explain: on the website of the Government Communication Secretariat – SECOM, it is defined that the “advertising actions of the Federal Government should prioritize the educational, informative and socially oriented character, value ethnic and cultural diversity and reinforce attitudes that promote human development, respect for the citizen and the environment”.
Fair enough. The campaign then fails in its essence, because when it chooses the image of Caucasian children to represent the image of Brazil – and consequently the future of the nation – it doesn’t take into account basic premises defined institutionally by Secom, about “valuing ethnic and cultural diversity” . Here it is also necessary to think about the performance of communication professionals, especially those of marketing.
Reflect on what is most important: always say amen to our “boss” or question him, question the client, question his interlocutor, question even the president of the Republic, if applicable. Definitely understand what racism is and how to identify its infinite entrails. One of the things I have learned in life is to learn to say no when necessary. It frees, generates professional independence and results in credibility. “Freedom can be a cross”, in the words of rapper Emicida. Making a position is not an easy task, but it is worth a try.
* Julio Menezes Silva is a journalist, artist in training. He coordinates the communication area of the Institute for Afro-Brazilian Research and Studies (IPEAFRO) and is part of the communication group of the Permanent Forum for Racial Equality (FOPIR).