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Note from BW of Brazil: As has been noted on a few previous posts this month, the month of November is celebrated as the Month of Black Consciousness throughout Brazil in more than 350 cities, with November 20th being the Day of Black Consciousness. In recognition of this, or better, in a mockery of this, Rede Globo (Globo Network), Brazil’s top television network, produced a satirical skit on its Sunday (November 3rd) evening jornal, Fantástico, in which it poked fun at the abolition of slavery in Brazil on May 13, 1888. The skit caused indignation amongst many black Brazilians in social networks and for a number of reasons. Take a look at the skit in the video below to get an idea of the visual. It is in Portuguese but the piece below by Afro-Brazilian militant Douglas Belchior and later comments by this blog will attempt to provide an accurate portrayal of what’s going in the video, why it provoked outrage and some of its meanings.
“Rede Globo, what is Fantástico (fantastic) is your racism”
by Douglas Belchior
“Slavery will remain for a long time as the national characteristic of Brazil,” a phrase credited to (abolitionist) Joaquim Nabuco. But in the version by Globo (TV), ironically “intelligent”, he says: “Brazil is already a mestiço (mestizo or mixed race) country! And we will not tolerate prejudice.”
In recent weeks I wrote two texts on the relationship between media, advertising and humor and the practice of racism, the first caused by an advertisement piece divulged by the vestibular (college entrance exam) of PUC-PR (Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná or Pontifical Catholic University of the state of Paraná) and the second because of a comedy ridiculing religions of African origin. Today, thanks to Globo television, I return to the theme.
This Sunday past, November 3, the program Fantástico, in its humoristic skit “O Baú do Baú do Fantástico”, aired an episode whose theme is very heavy for the history of black people in Brazil.
More than half way through the program suddenly appeared a friendly (journalist) Renata Vasconcellos. With a dazzling smile and still intoxicated by the sudden promotion, “Let’s go back in time now, but way back: May 13, 1888, the day that Princess Isabel abolished slavery. Guess who was there? He, the reporter of the story, Bruno Mazzeo!”
The scene, featuring (actors) Bruno Mazzeo, Elisa Palatnik and Rosana Stinger, is a satire of the historical moment of the abolition of slavery in Brazil. In the “joke” the reporter interviews Joaquim Nabuco, an important abolitionist, presented as the leader of the “NMS – Negros, mulattos and simpatizantes (Negros, mulattos and sympathizers)” movement!
Princess Elizabeth was also interviewed, saying that former slaves will be supported by the government through programs such as “Bolsa Família Afrodescendente (African Descendant Grant)”, the “Bolsa Escola – o Senzalão da Educação (School Grant – Education of the Slave House) and with Palhoças Populares of the programa Minha Palhoça, minha vida (Popular Shacks of the “My shack, my life” program)!
“But for now it’s the time to celebrate! For this they (former slaves) have a party and promise to dance and sing all night…”, says the reporter when the microphone is taken by a black man, celebrating, starts to scream, “It’s Carnival! It’s Carnival!”
I don’t believe any content being transmitted by one of the largest media conglomerates in the world just by chance or without some intentionality beyond the noble mission to “inform” the millions of viewers, sometimes with their bodies and brains handed over to the educational pleasures of Brazilian TV in their last hours of rest before Monday – “dia de branco (day of the white man).”
And I wondered: Why in the world would Globo show such politically questionable content? What would it have to gain from it? We’re not even in (the month of) May! Such a “gaff” or circumstantial motivation would there be to justify this content?
Well, we are in November. This month is officially recognized as the celebration of Black Consciousness. It is the month in which the Afro-descendant population recalls, on the 20th, Zumbi dos Palmares, leader of the most famous quilombo (maroon society) and personality contained in the Livro de Aço (Book of Steel) as one of National Heroes in the Pantheon of the Fatherland. It’s relevant, isn’t it?
We are also on the eve of the Third National Conference on Racial Equality, which begins on Tuesday, June 5 and ends on November 7th in Brasilia, a unique moment of reflection and debate about the direction of government actions related to the search for an equality between whites and blacks that never existed in Brazil. This coupled with the denunciation of violence and murders whose main victims are young black men and this conference becomes even more important.
Returning to Fantástico, it’s evident that there are those who read the scenes as a mere humorous skit and an exaggeration on “our” part. But then comes new questions:
A system of slavery that lasted 388 years; the cost of the kidnapping and murder of approximately 7 million African human beings and as many millions of their descendants, and that was widely denounced as one of the greatest crimes ever made against humanity, should/can be made fun of ?
How many scenes of “intelligent humor” are related to the Holocaust, or the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; or victims of the World Trade Center or, to stay on Brazil, the victims of the fire at the Boate Kiss (club), do we see on our Sunday nights?
Ah , but former enslaved partying at Carnival “freedom” conceived by the good, golden princess, this can! And even with the status of smart and critical humor. My professor Conceição Oliveira would say: “Racism, my son. Racism.”
The democratization of the media as a way to combat racism
One of the fundamental tasks of the media directed by Brazilian elites and oligarchies has been to spread directly and indirectly – often subliminal racism. It’s necessary to understand what lies behind the ongoing degradation of the image of the black population in these spaces. There is a racist thought that is, at the same time reformulated, naturalized and divulged to the community.
The art form of advertising, novelas (soap operas), movies and comedy programs are powerful training tools of the mentality. What we see in Brazil, unfortunately, is this power at the service of fostering racist and prejudiced values which, in turn, generates a lot of violence. The democratization of media is essential to combat this reality. At most, I leave two questions to the federal government and the National Congress, of which we must make responsible:
Aren’t the uses of public concession for purposes of depreciation, devaluation of the black population and the practice of racism, male chauvinism, sexism, homophobia and all forms of discrimination and violence enough to jeopardize the granting of these vehicles?
Why do Venezuela, Bolivia and Argentina, Latin American neighbors, advance in the sense of decreasing the concentration of power of certain media groups and in Brazil the privileges only increase for this sector?
So many questions…
Note from BW of Brazil: So, the take this question further, let’s first review the video for clarity.
After the appearance of the reporter who opens the skit, we see an an actor portraying a leading abolitionist figure of the 19th century, Joaquim Nabuco (1), revealing: “In the future we could call them afrodescendentes (African descendants) instead of blacks. Afrodescendentes is much more respectful, AFRODESCENDENTES.”
This is a reference to the debate, acceptance or rejection of the term afrodescendente instead of negro, or black. For centuries in Brazil, the term negro was deemed pejorative and activists of the Movimento Negro have fought long and hard to invoke pride and acceptance of the term amongst the black population. It is very common, for example, to hear a white Brazilian ask a black Brazilian why they would define themselves with such a gross term because they’re “not that black” or because they are “too pretty” to refer to themselves with such a term (see here for example).
Former slave: In a summary of the next scene, a former slave tells the reporter that, in reality, he was freed two years previously, but because of the difficulties at the registration office, he was denied his freedom (the registrar didn’t accept that he had actually been freed). Without registration of this document he cannot find employment or anything else, thus, in essence, he continues being treated as a slave by society (which is how many activists argue blacks are still treated today).
Former slave owners: Upon hearing the news of the end of slavery, a slave owner asks, where the reporter heard this, as if he didn’t have enough problems. The slave owner and his wife then ask each other, who will iron the clothes, put the horse seat on the horse, scratch his back, make the bed… will they have to pay someone to cook? Reporter: But you don’t think that negros, rather, afrodescendentes, and people deserve the same rights as I and you as whites have? Again, mocking the negro/afrodescendente debate, the former slave master rejects the term branco (white): Who’s white? I am a Anglo-Saxon descendant (keep in mind that the Portuguese, ie Lusitanian or Iberian, are overwhelmingly associated with slavery in Brazil). His wife complains that now the former slaves are going to want to take Sunday off.
The reporter then interviews Princesa Isabel, whose signature of the Lei Áurea (Golden Law) on May 13, 1888, ended slavery in Brazil. The reporter questions the princess about abolition to which she responds that the former slaves can relax because they will be taken care of by the government. They will have the right to jobs, homes, health care, education and not only this, but much more. The reporter then asks how she plans to accomplish all of this and if she has any projects. She replies, of course, the “Bolsa Família afrodescendante (African descendant Family Grant)”, “Bolsa Escola Senzalão de Educacão (The Big Slave House Education Scholarship)” and “Minha Palhoca, Minha Vida (My shack, my life)”. Here the actress portraying the princess makes light of several popular social programs in Brazilian society.
First, claiming that freed slaves will have rights to jobs, homes, health care and education is a basic historic fallacy as various studies have shown that Afro-Brazilians were basically left to their own accord after abolition. Good jobs went to the millions of European immigrants that were given subsidies to come and “whiten” the country. On the precarious situation of black slaves after abolition, the children’s education site Escola Kids wrote:
“In Brazil, without access to land and without any compensation for having spent so much time in forced labor, generally illiterate, victims of all kinds of prejudice, many former slaves remained on the farms where they worked, selling their work in exchange for survival. Blacks who migrated to the cities, only remained underemployed, in the informal economy and crafts. Thus, the number of street vendors, maids, fruit and vegetable vendors without any assistance and social insurance significantly increased; many former female slaves were treated as prostitutes. Blacks that did not live on the streets went on live in miserable cortiços (tenement slums). Prejudice and discrimination and the permanent idea that blacks served only for hard or heavy-duty work, have left the consequences of the abolition of slavery to the present day.”
Note: In terms of education, numerous studies have shown that educational policies in Bahia, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, as in the rest of the country, set black children on a path of educational disadvantages in comparison to white children. According to just a few of studies:
“During slavery and the predominance of the rural oligarchy, not even conceiving of making Africans literates, given that what prevailed on the one hand was the conception of that they were devoid of intelligence and soul. Secondly, they were only useful for menial housework, so there was no need to acquire additional knowledge.”
“The crisis of slavery at the end of the nineteenth century reflected in various ways in the social dynamics of the time. According to Ribeiro (2004, p.7) Decree No. 1331 of February 17, 1854 stated that the slaves would not be allowed in public schools and the prediction of instruction for black adults depended on the availability of teachers. Decree No. 7031 – A, dated September 6, 1878 established that blacks could only study at night and several strategies had been mounted to prevent full access of this population to school desks.”
“Surya Aaronovich Barros Pombo, in the dissertation Negrinhos que por ahiandão: a escolarização da população negra em São Paulo (1870 – 1920), re-affirms that for black social segments in the post-abolition period there were few educational opportunities. The explanation that the author offers is that despite the considerable increase in the number of public and private schools (the public expanded to more distant neighborhoods and private schools, to religious and lay, also directed themselves to population segments of different nationalities) blacks encountered difficulties in enrolling in these schools, by a series of factors ranging from economic deficit of the black family to racial discrimination engendered within these schools.”
“Studies realized on the exclusion of blacks from the school showed that, in Bahia, as in other parts of Brazil, non-whites were acquiring the right to school very slowly in the century that followed the abolition. Formally excluded, slaves and freed persons had access to school inasmuch their possibilities – nonexistent during slavery and afterwards, a policy geared explicitly to guarantee former slaves access to school. Discussions in the final period of the Empire – it’s also the period in which reappear discussions about the end of slavery and the best way to prepare for the inclusion of former slaves to Brazilian citizenship – limited themselves to presenting a project of organization of a system teaching that, decentralized, would promote children’s access to free schooling.”
“Investigations in Brazil attempting to answer the question on the exclusion of blacks from the educational process are presented below (Passos 2012) commenting on research by (Jerry) D’avila (2006 cited by Passos 2012) which deals with social and racial policy implemented in Brazil between 1917 and 1945, concluding that it is evident that the school had its inception under the influence of racist thought, an ideology that directed the policies of the time, and ‘intellectuals, doctors and social scientists believed that the creation of a universal school could whiten the nation, freeing the Brazil than they imagined to be the degeneration of the population’ (Passos 2012), because they were intended to ‘transform a generally non-white and poor population into whitened persons in their culture, hygiene, behavior and even possibly skin color'” (D’ÁVILA cited by Passos, 2012)
Note: The profound influence of this educational exclusion can still be seen in Brazil today. Afro-Brazilians lag two years behind white students in average years of education and as Movimento Negro activist Douglas Belchior reveals:
“The number of white students in higher education is more than twice that of blacks. Even in the most basic levels of education, the proportion of illiteracy in negra (black) and parda (brown) populations in is around 13.5%, while the proportion of illiterate whites is 5.9%.”
Note: The skit also refers to popular, but controversial Brazilian social programs such as “Bolsa Família afrodescendante (African descendant Family Grant)”, which refers to “Bolsa Família” of government income assistance program (see here) which benefits poor families, “Bolsa Escola Senzalão de Educacão (The Big Slave House Education Scholarship)”, which is a reference to a number of scholarships that have been proposed/granted to black and poor populations over the years and “Minha Palhoca, Minha Vida (My shack, my life)” is a reference to the “Minha Casa, Minha Vida” (see here) program to help lower class populations achieve the dream of home ownership. While it is generally accepted as a program to benefit the poor in general, for many, these programs are targeted at blacks, ie, the majority of the poor.
So let’s take a look at a few more reasons for why this skit could be seen as a slap in the face for people are descendants of African slaves in Brazil. First of all, as Belchior wrote in his piece, it is no accident that this skit was produced and aired in November, during the Month of Black Consciousness. Historically, since at least the early 1970s, activists of the Movimento Negro (Brazil’s Black Movement) have vehemently rejected the recognition of May 13th as the day of observance of the abolition of slavery because Afro-Brazilians continue to face wide discrimination, institutional racism, social exclusion and inequality, thus the 13th of May date was deemed a farce. As such, activists established within their circles the date of November 20th as their date to recognize the black legacy of Brazil. On this date in 1695, it is believed that Afro-Brazil’s greatest leader, Zumbi of Palmares, the leader of the greatest quilombo (maroon society) was executed by Portuguese forces in 1695.
Second, it is not the first time that the conservative Globo TV network has divulged its views in one of its non-news productions. A few years back, there was much chatter in black circles when Taís Araújo, arguably Brazil’s top black actress, was cast as Helena in the Globo TV novela, Viver a Vida. Araújo’s career has been marked by a number of the “first black actress to…” variety, but in November of 2009 (again, November), Araújo’s character was made to fall down to her knees and receive a slap in the face from one of the white women characters of the program (see here). While some may believe that race had nothing to do with this scene, one must ask, why was the country’s top black actress viciously slapped on a program in which she made history and during observance of the month of black consciousness? The symbolism is quite obvious. Thus the message could be interpreted as even the top black actress is not too high and mighty to be forced to appear subservient, on her knees, and put in place by a woman who looked as if she would have been a slave master’s wife less than 125 years ago.
Third, in an episode of the 2007-2008 novela Duas Caras, the character played by Afro-Brazilian actress Juliana Alves was shown reading a book entitled Não Somos Racistas (meaning We Are Not Racists), by author Ali Kamel. So what’s the issue with that? Well, one, the book caused a lot of debate on the topic of race in a country that has denied its racism for decades and has ingrained an belief in the idea that “we are all equal” that millions of Brazilians commonly quote whenever a racist incident occurs. Two, Kamel’s book was refuted in Movimento Negro circles that blasted the book’s simplistic arguments, a lack of research and misleading title/theme in the face of everyday occurrences to the contrary. Many critical of Kamel’s stance have referred to him as a modern day Gilberto Freyre (1900-1987), the famed sociologist whose 1933 book Casa Grande e Senzala (translated as The Masters and the Slaves) laid the groundwork for the nationwide belief and acceptance of the nation as a “racial democracy” (mentioned here) (2). Third and perhaps most important, Kamel is the director of journalism at the Globo TV network, one of the largest TV network’s in the world and a consistent target of those who view the channel as highly conservative as well demeaning and exclusionary to Afro-Brazilians.
With all of this mind, one should always remember that millions of dollars are spent regularly on television programs in the mass media to influence perceptions and opinions, contribute to how a nation sees itself and to divulge social standards and hegemony. Thus, anything that is aired on television is done so for a purpose. As such, the media must always be analyzed, dissected and understood for the intended overt as well as subliminal messages that it spreads in a given society. It is NOT an accident and the more people become of aware of these practices, the easier it will become to be able to see through the deceptions.
Source: Carta Capital, UOL, Uma História Não Contada – Negro, Racismo e Branqueamento em São Paulo (Senac São Paulo, 2004) by Petrônio José Domingues, Escola Kids, Fazendo Media, “Projeto Educacional do Quilombo Asantewaa: Uma Alternativa Possível?” by Ana Rita Santiago da Silva, “História do negro na educação: indagações sobre currículo e diversidade cultural” by José Valdir Jesus de Santana & Jorlúcia Oliveira Moraes, “Da interdição escolar às ações educacionais de sucess o: escolas dos movimentos negros e escolas profiss ionais, técnicas e tecnológicas” by Geraldo da Silva and Marcia Araújo, “Educação e identidade negra” by Jaci Maria Ferraz de Menezes and “Negros cotistas no curso de direito da UEMS: Dificuldades e conquistas – turma de 2008”, by Aires David de Lima. D’avila, Jerry. Diploma de brancura: política social e racial no Brasil (1917-1945). Trad. Claudia Sant’Ana Martins. São Paulo: Editora UNESP, 2006. Passos, Joana Célia dos. “Educação, infâncias negras e políticas públicas: contribuições dos estudos étnico – raciais”. UFSC 2012
1. Joaquim Aurélio Barreto Nabuco de Araújo was a Brazilian writer, statesman, and a leading voice in the abolitionist movement. Over the years there has been a consistent debate as to whether Nabuco should be remembered a racist although he was a leading abolitionist. Nabuco is famously quoted as having written the following: “Many of the influences of slavery can be attributed to the black race, its backward mental development, to their still barbarian instincts and their crude superstitions.”
For professor Eliane Veras, Post-Grad in Sociology at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE) , it is difficult to talk about racism in the context of the work of Nabuco: in a time permeated by racist theories, when it was believed that blacks were not able to adapt to a new time, it was fitting only to free them from imprisonment and allow them to participate, playing a minor role (because they were “inferior”), of an “advanced” society. “You have to understand that Nabuco spoke on abolition, not on the racial question. And what we understand today as prejudice was not at the time.” Also sociologist Roberto Sales, Fundação Joaquim Nabucco (FJ) believes that Nabucco was not a racist: he agreed with the hygienists values that at that time were divulged on a large scale and is consistent with the “enlightened” spirit of that swept Brazil after have sprawled across Europe. “He did not share this prejudice of common sense, but that doesn’t acquit nor condemn him.”
2. In a Google search for example, one can search with the terms “Ali Kamel” and “Gilberto Freyre” and see many articles in which comparisons are made between the two with some referring to Kamel as a “mediocre disciple of Freyre”, or a “convinced Freyrean”.