Note from BW of Brazil: So, some Brazilians, black and white, may still being in denial of just how deep racism is ingrained in the fabric of the society, but such mythology doesn’t affect black immigrants who have experienced the country’s dirty little secret personally. In recent years, we’ve seen thousands of foreigners coming to Brazil to take advantage of the opportunities that seemed to be plentiful when the economy was exploding just six years ago. As most of our regular readers probably already know, things are quite different now as the economy has tanked, the country is in crisis and its first female president was removed from power in an organized political move that many have defined a golpe de estado, or coup d’etat. But one thing thing that clearly hasn’t changed is how Brazil treats people of visible African ancestry.
Whether were talking the Afro-Brazilian population, Haitian immigrants or African immigrants, the experiences with discrimination based on concepts of race continue to affect the lives of those whom Brazil has shown over and over again that they wish would just magically disappear. Is there any surprise? I mean, Brazil did have a stated goal of the elimination of its black population within a century starting in the late 1800s, remember? These experiences with open hostility makes it so that fewer and fewer of Brazil’s native black population are buying into the myth of ‘racial democracy’ and blacks coming to the country with ideas that it was free of racial discrimination are awakening to the fact that it is far from being a racial paradise.
Today, we bring you another story of awakening to the racial reality of living in Brazil from the perspective of an African immigrant.
The shocking testimony of an African medical student in Rio de Janeiro UFRJ about racism in Brazil
Courtesy of Hypeness
Sometimes it takes a view from the outside to illuminate what we already know about ourselves, but we often don’t want to admit. Medical student Fleury Johnson came from Togo, an African country, to study at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) in 2011, hoping to find a country free of racism, xenophobia and other social diseases, in which black people would have access to all in equal opportunities. The reality of Brazil, however, tripped him up and came as an unpleasant surprise.
Fleury then wrote an impressive statement on his blog detailing this confrontation with reality that marked him deeply, and it deserves to be transcribed here – under the strange sensation of recognizing a shameful but evidently true Brazilian reality.
“I’m Fleury, a medical student at UFRJ. I arrived in Brazil in 2011 through a partnership program between the Brazilian government and the government of my country. Outside of Brazil, we have the vision of a country where black people have access at all levels. Arriving here, the reality is quite another (thing).
I remember that when I said I am from Togo, people would ask me, what is it? Still others asked, it’s in which country of Angola? Is it the Congo? I said “no, Togo”, and there were unfortunate one who answered – “it’s all the same thing.” My answer was, then Argentina and Brazil are all the same. What surprised me most was the day I was at the bus stop on Ilha do Fundão (north Rio de Janeiro) and a car stopped in front of me, and the students who were in the car, and wearing shirts that read “engenharia UFRJ” (UFRJ engineering), shouted at me: go back to your country, Angola. I was sad but not for me, (but) for them. I was wondering how someone can go to the engineering course and not know that being black with a foreign face, doesn’t mean being Angolan. I went to understand this faulty thinking some time later: the image that Africa is a country, not a continent with 54 countries. Another thing to mention is the history of Africa sold here of poverty and misery.
You can count the blacks in medical school:
In 2011 (the year I took a course in Portuguese for foreigners), I said to a friend that I would start medical school in 2012, he told me, you know you would be pretty much the only black in your class? I said: how so?
Indeed in 2012, when I entered college, I could count the blacks in the course.
I confess that before entering college, I was against the quota system, but because of the reality I experienced in the medical school, that has changed. One day in 2012, I was sitting on a bench in Santana field, I saw a mother bathing her son in the little lake of the park, and then dressed (the child) in the school uniform. It is obvious that this child does not have the same opportunities as other children studying in a private school, going back home for lunch, resting, eating and going back to school. The system of quotas is very important from a perspective of changing history, the financial situation of many blacks, and Indians, but we see that the system suffers many scams. The justification of fraudsters of the quota system is “self-declaration” (of race). It has to be escuro/dark (actually clear) for everyone who is not black whoever wants to but really whoever has the phenotype. One of the reasons, for example, is “ahh, eu sou branco mas meu tataravô é negro” (ahh, I’m white but my great-grandfather is black). It doesn’t matter! Having black blood in your family does not mean you, with all the Caucasian phenotype, are black.
It’s important to note that having a drop of black blood in the family tree does not make a person black, but it would be like if we used the logic that black blood was dirty (reference to “regra de uma gota” – (one-drop rule) – a racist law still used today by some Americans). I am an example, my last name is Johnson, because I am distant descendant of a white Englishman, and this makes me a white?! Rethink it. The one who suffers racism on the streets is black, who is always the first robbery suspect is black, it’s not you that self-declared yourself without the phenotype of the black race, and thinks thick lips are ugly.
One day I went looking for internship at a hospital and I said:
‘I am a medical student and scheduled to talk to Dr so and so today because of the internship.’ – A white woman who helped me asked me: ‘you want to an internship for a student of physiotherapy?’ – I said no, an internship for medical student – she repeated again: internship for physiotherapy students? Does anyone know the similarity between the two words? Because I don’t see it.
Another case that happened is that in the sixth period of the course, I examined one patient every day, because I was responsible along with another colleague for the bed where she was. And whenever I came to examine, there was a lot of name-calling and she asked me to call the doctor. I thought it was because I am a student, until one day, I came when she was being examined by a white nurse, and she said: the nurse arrived. The nurse told her that I was a doctor and (that) she was the nurse. Then I understood why she asked me to call the doctor.(1)
These are some cases among so many others that happened to me and other black medical students, as the case of Suzanne Pereira da Silva, a medical student from the University of Santa Marcelina in São Paulo. Suzane, posting a picture holding a banner saying “A casa grande surta quando a senzala vira médica” (the big house freaks out when the slave quarters become doctors), she was attacked by a doctor who said, you think you will enter the hospital with that hair?
I found that the standard of beauty in the world was to be loiro de olhos azuis (blonde with blue eyes):
In 2012 a friend asked me if I knew what the standard of beauty state in Brazil. I thought, Bahia has the most blacks, (so) logically it’s Bahia. She said “no” and then I guessed Rio de Janeiro, because after Bahia it’s the state with the largest number of blacks. She answered “no. It’s Rio Grande do Sul and Florianopolis, SC (Santa Catarina),” (2) and she amended again: it’s the worldwide standard of beauty. I asked myself some questions like: is it really? In what world did I live and I didn’t know that?
School children suffer psychological abuse like: seu cabelo é ruim (your hair is bad) (another thing I was astonished when I heard, hair is ruim (bad) because it is crespo (kinky/curly)?). We must understand that this standard of beauty is only European and was imposed for most of the countries of the world. And it’s not universal because I have visited seven countries in Africa and I’m sure that in África negra (black Africa), the standard of beauty is another. It’s beautiful to have cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair), enrolado (curly), big lips and nose.
Is there really beauty in green or blue eyes and straight hair? Could it be that whoever was born in a country where the standard of beauty is the same as Brazil ends up finding it beautiful because since childhood they heard about this? In Africa we value diversity and each people have their beauty. Assim como negro é bonito e o branco também (just as black is beautiful the white is as well).
Last year, UERJ (State University of Rio de Janeiro) medical student Mirna Moreira and other pretas (black women) were assaulted in a social network when they participated in a beauty contest by some people who think they are superior or better. We can’t say that racism doesn’t exist (and) that it’s a thing in the minds of blacks.
The relacionamentos afroafetivos (Afro-centered) relationships are a form of resistance, of struggle because it challenges this established standard of beauty, because the blacks have relationships among themselves. A black man and black woman with higher education getting married and building a family, would give opportunity to the children to enter the university as well (3). This is gradually beginning to change the image of Brazilian society. This is important in order for the police to see a black (and) not thinking he’s just a criminal.
I was stopped one cold day at 7pm. The police told me that they stopped me because he has an implication with the kind of coat I was wearing, a lack of respect. I doubt if I was white and blond, he would have stopped me because it he has an implication because of my coat.
Here at home my friends (all black) told us to go to the market neat. The first time I went sloppy, a woman who was in front of crossed the street quickly. After she realized that I went into the market, she also went in and was pushing the issue with me because she realized that I was just going in to shop. She realized then by my accent that I’m a foreigner and livened up to talk more. Imagine what the poor black of the favela (slum) goes through.
We black people of the African continent should not think that the struggle for racial equality is only (that) of black Brazilians, because when we are silent, walking down the street, we suffer prejudice even opening our mouths and speaking with an accent.
A television channel said the new series that is coming out on its channel has as its protagonists a black couple aiming to show viewers a powerful black couple. In the series, the couple sings; nothing new under the sun (4). We all know that music and futebol have always been a medium of black ancestry in Brazil. Why not be inspired by the new wave? New black doctors and engineers? Would this not be inspiring? Wouldn’t it make that young black who dreams of being a doctor dream, but thinks that he can’t because he’s never seen a black doctor? Would it not make the woman who told me at the gym that I didn’t have the face of a doctor but a pagodeiro (pagoda musician) reflect when she learned that I was studying medicine?
Of course, Brazil has more infrastructure than my country because it is the 7th economy in the world, but I don’t want to be in a country where the hair of my children would be the subject of a joke in the classroom (this is exposing the child to psychological aggression) in a country where my children would be considered potential villains, where when I was in my car, I can be stopped (from people) thinking that I stole the car.”
- Here one can note the idea of how ‘race and place’ plays out in Brazil. It is expected that black people are street sweepers and maids but they are not expected to be doctors. The concept of ‘race and place’ also completely shatters another myth which says if blacks attain an education, a prestigious job and earn a good salary they won’t be affected by racism, the same racism that many continue to believe doesn’t exist!
- Reference to the fact that these two states are recognized as having the whitest populations in Brazil.
- As we have documented in numerous articles, this is a concept that Afro-Brazilians as a whole don’t seem to understand.
- In reference to the Globo TV series Mister Brau, this is a point that was brought in October of 2015.