Racist grafitti and Neo-Nazis in Brazil: The evidence that can’t be denied
“Fora crioulo (Out with the crioulos/blacks)”
Last week on May 1st, several news outlets in Brazil reported that the front of a building located across the street from the Federal University of (the state of) Minas Gerais was sprayed with graffiti that read “A UFMG vai ficar preta (The Federal University of Minas Gerais will turn black).” The graffiti message was apparently written in protest to the decision of Brazil’s Supreme Court that Affirmative Action policies aimed to allow more Afro-Brazilians access to college was constitutional. The battle over the system of quotas in Brazilian universities has forced the country that once promoted itself as “racial democracy” to come to terms with the issue of racial inequality that it has avoided for centuries. Today, of Brazil’s 59 federal universities, 25, or 42.3%, have some type of system of racial quotas for Afro-Brazilians or Brazilian Indians. Since the quota started a little over a decade ago, the country has been fiercely divided into those who support Affirmative Action policies and those who are against them. The unanimous decision of the Supreme Court to uphold these policies two weeks ago once again fanned the flames of the debate.
“A UFMG vai ficar preta (The Federal University of Minas Gerais will turn black).”
What has also been a consistent reminder of the heated emotions stirred by the controversial topic have been sightings of graffiti sprayed in various throughout the country, particularly on college campuses. The latest display of the rejection of the system of quotas was last week at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, but in the past few years these public displays against the policies are becoming increasingly common. Below are a few reports of graffiti sightings in the past five years.
In March of 2007, in the most violent incident of all, the dorm rooms of ten African immigrantstudents were firebombed on the campus of the University of Brasília (UnB) in the nation’s capital. Along with the firebombing that fortunately didn’t hurt anyone, the phrase, “Morte aos estrangeiros (Death to the foreigners)” was sprayed painted on the dorm room doors of the students. Ironically, earlier on that same day, the then Vice President, Jose Alencar, declared that “there is no racial problem in Brazil.”
“Morte aos estrangeiros (Death to the foreigners)”
In June of 2007, three messages were found near the campus of one university, the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in the country’s south. One message that read “Voltem para a senzala (Go back to the slave house)” with the word “cotas (quotas)” crossed out was discovered on the sidewalk near the campus. Obviously, the reference to slave house refers to Afro-Brazilians who are beneficiaries of the quota system and descendants of Africans who were enslaved in Brazil between the years 1538 and 1888. A second message was sprayed on a wall and read “Negro, só se for na cozinha do RU, cotas não (Blacks, only if they are in the kitchen of the university cafeteria, no quotas).” The word “cozinha (or kitchen) in this phrase refers to the historic and stereotypical role of black women being cooks and maids.
“Voltem para a senzala (Go back to the slave house)”
On yet another wall, near the university’s medical sciences building was found the phrase “Macaco é no zoológico” or “a monkey is in the zoo”, or a monkey belongs in the zoo, making reference to the globally racist representations of blacks as monkeys. Social Sciences major Patrícia Pereira expressed her disappointment with such graffiti: “It’s incredible that things like this happen in a place where people study. To find those responsible is very difficult, but everybody knows that there are Neo-Nazi groups in UFRGS (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul), I think it was them.”
“Negro, só se for na cozinha do RU, cotas não (Blacks, only if they are in the kitchen of the university cafeteria, no quotas).”
In January 2010, the walls of the Odylo Costa Filho theatre at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) were sprayed with the words “Fora pretos (out with the blacks)” with a swastika sprayed to the left of the words. This university in the city of Rio de Janeiro was the first to adopt the system of quotas in 2003 and this was the first time the campus had seen graffiti of such content.
“Fora pretos (out with the blacks)”
In August of 2010, in Teutônia, a municipality located in the Vale do Taquari region of the most southern state in Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, were discovered the phrases “Fora crioulo (Out with the crioulos)” (top of page) and “Fora preto (out with the blacks)” sprayed on the walls of bus stops along with a swastika. For some, the term “crioulo” is a racist term for blacks in Brazil that in some ways is just as inflammatory as the “n-word” is used in the US. According to information that has been gathered in regards to the graffiti, police chief Mauro Mallman was investigating four young men in connection with the racist phrases. The police would also apprehend five books about German culture and Hitler in the house of one of the men being investigated. The man denied any involvement in the graffiti and was subsequently released after questioning. Local police wanted to determine if the graffiti was the work of an arm of a Neo-Nazi group or simply a bad joke.
“Fora preto (out with the blacks)”
In October of 2010, the wall of the Escola Municipal de Educação Infantil (Emei) Guia Lopes (Guia Lopes Municipal Kindergarten) in the Limão neighborhood of north São Paulo was sprayed with the phrase “Vamos cuidar do futuro de nossas crianças brancas (Let’s take care of the future of our white children)” also with a swastika drawn next to the phrase. Although the school is for children ages 4 to 6, the school’s director Cibele Racy also believed the graffiti was a reaction to Affirmative Action policies. With an enrollment of 430 children, the school had also introduced the concept of tolerance and the racial question to its students as part of a project. In March of this year, the school was once again vandalized with graffiti. This time the message written on a gate read “Preserve a raça branca (Preserve the white race).”
was sprayed with the phrase “Vamos cuidar do futuro de nossas crianças brancas (Let’s take care of the future of our white children)”
“Preserve a raça branca (Preserve the white race).”
On June 5, 2011, in Rio de Janeiro, a national monument dedicated to the legendary 17thcentury leader of runaway slaves, Zumbi of Palmares, was also vandalized with racist graffiti. This was the second time the monument had been vandalized in a period of eight months. The first occurred in November of 2010, the day before Brazil’s annual Day of Black Consciousness festivities that are celebrated in more than 350 cities throughout the country. The second attack was more blatant with the face of the black statue representing the leader being spray painted with white paint and the phrases “invasores malditos (damned invaders)” e “fora macacos (out with the monkeys)”, sprayed on the back wall of the monument again with a swastika drawn above the words.
Monument dedicated to Zumbi of Palmares
Grafitti: “invasores malditos (damned invaders)” e “fora macacos (out with the monkeys)”
This past April, in a story covered here at Black Women of Brazil, the phrase “Sem cotas para os animais da África (No quotas for the animals from Africa)” was found written on a mural on the campus of UNESP in the city of Araraquara, in São Paulo state, located 167 miles from the city of São Paulo. The university is host to 26 African exchange students from countries like Angola and Guine-Bissau. According to Professor Dagoberto José Fonseca, the act was not an isolated incident, but rather a collective action by a Neo-Nazi group known as White Power (written in English) that had previously sprayed graffiti phrases in university restrooms. For social sciences student Ana Paula Pazzetti, 22, the graffiti was made by group by rather individuals that don’t represent all students. Pazzetti believes that these were isolated cases. “Anyway, having this type of neo-fascism here is intolerable because we have study groups about Africanity that are a reference in this area.”
“Sem cotas para os animais da África (No quotas for the animals from Africa)”
Student Sumbunhe N’Fanda from Guinea-Bissau looks at the message
Although Brazil is not a country that one associates with Neo-Nazi and Skinhead groups, the reality is that Neo-Nazis started appearing in Brazil at the end of the 1980s in southern states such as Paraná, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. These states are considered to be the most European of all 26 Brazilian states, having attracted hundreds of thousands of Germans and Italians in the late 19thand early 20th centuries. Today, about 90% of the populations of these states identify themselves as white. The Nazi party began to have a presence in southern Brazil in the late 1920s when it boasted a population 100,000 Germans and one-million German descendants. At the time, an estimated 5% of German immigrants were members of the Nazi party and Nazis had a presence in 17 Brazilian states. The group known as White Power, would emerge in the greater São Paulo beginning in around 1989.
Since the beginnings of the implementation of Affirmative Action policies in Brazil universities in the first few years of the 21st century, conservative, anti-quota activists have long argued that such policies would “racialize” Brazil and take the country down the path toward racial hatred and animosity that is associated with other countries. On the surface, the arguments appear to be true, but upon closer analysis and study of racism in the history of Brazil, one should note that problems with racist attitudes, racial discrimination and social exclusion based on race or color have existed in Brazil for centuries. In reality, the system of quotas has simply brought these racist attitudes more to the forefront where its existence cannot be denied. Brazilian university campuses have always been dominated by persons of a more European appearance, with estimates showing that student bodies on these campuses are usually 80-85% white; this in a country where 51% of nearly 200 million citizens define themselves as non-white.
With the recent decision of Brazil’s Supreme Court to uphold the system of quotas inuniversities, pro and anti-quota groups continue to organize and promote their ideals as to why the system should or should not exist. And while the fairness or unfairness of the policies are at the center of the debate, it cannot be denied that there are many people who indeed see that a higher education in Brazil should be the sole privilege of white or whiter Brazilians. At least, that is what the graffiti messages seem to promote. Phrases such as:
“Voltem para a senzala (Go back to the slave house)”, “Negro, só se for na cozinha (Blacks, only if they are in the kitchen)”, “Macaco é no zoológico (a monkey is (belongs) in the zoo)”, “Fora pretos (out with the blacks)”, “Vamos cuidar do futuro de nossas crianças brancas (Let’s take care of the future of our white children)” and “Invasores malditos (Damned invaders)”
all hint at the idea that only whites should have access to certain places and situations (university, bright future) while black Brazilians should remain in the areas designated or stereotypically associated with them (slave quarters and the zoo). And as can be expected with the acquisition of privilege, when blacks DO enter into areas where are not expected to frequent, they told get “out” or are labeled “invaders”. Taking these fears a step further, those who are privileged warn that “their” spaces are not protected from these “invaders”, “their” spaces will “turn black (vai ficar preta).”
Moreover, some will argue that this is simply an issue of unfair treatment against those with white skin regardless of the previous 474 years (1538-2012) where unfair treatment has always been the rule in the favor of those with whiter skin. But lurking beneath this issue is a profound problem that those of privilege still don’t want admit or deal with it. And they know what it is.