Accused of inciting hate, being “disgusted with whites”, black man charged with ‘reverse racism’ acquitted; for judge, accusation “bordered on absurdity”
By Marques Travae
In terms of the race question, Brazilian society continues to heat up. Over the course of twenty years following race relations in Brazil, what I have seen is that, whereas in the past, these race issues were more or less just swept under the carpet by both blacks and whites, with the emergence of a new black consciousness, fewer and fewer black Brazilians are willing to participate in the farse of a supposed ‘racial democracy’ that never in fact existed.
In the past, you even had black Brazilians who looked at their country, immediately made a comparison with the racism that they’d heard about in the United States, and came to the conclusion that racism didn’t exist in Brazil. They were taught to believe that, as there was never any legalized segregation, and because interracial unions and a mixed-race population were so common, racism simply wasn’t possible in Brazil.
But things have changed.
In Brazil today, black people, many of whom only “became black” in recent years, are beginning to understand how racism can not only exist, but in some ways be as, or even more effective in subjugating the black population than the racial discrimination that exists in the United States. But how do you explain the fact that you don’t see an anger among black Brazilians that has led to widespread rioting, destruction and spilling of blood as we know existed in countries such as the US and South Africa, one might ask.
Well, I see it this way. One, there is a lot of blood spilling. The murder of black Brazilians, both via everyday violence and actions by police forces, is at a level that could be defined as “black genocide”. The numbers are such that this can no longer be denied. In terms of uprisings or rioting, we haven’t seen this….yet. In my view, the only reason Brazil continues to maintain some appearance of harmony is because black Brazilians haven’t reached the boiling point yet.
The open racial hostility between blacks and whites as we’ve known in the US has never really existed in Brazil. Because of the idea of “the cordial man”, and later that “we are are equal”, black Brazilians have long simply turned the other cheek in the face of open racism.
Veteran writer and expert on Afro-Brazilian culture and history, Nei Lopes, discussed this in a recent interview with the BBC. Speaking on the criticism that futebol (football/soccer) legend Pelé has always received because of his silence on the issue of racism, Lopes revealed that, in his day, racism was a “taboo” topic in the homes of black families:
“Until I reached the university, this subject was prohibited in my house. They would say, ‘you have to study, you don’t have to mess with this (racism), this will get you nowhere.’ It was that history (of),’ this is very sad, but it’s already passed, we don’t have to think about this.’”
Lopes speaks on something, the silence of black Brazilians on racism, that has been documented in numerous studies. Being from Pelé’s generation, he knows what he’s talking about. Pelé was born in 1940, Lopes in 1942.
But what we’re seeing today, because of access to university level education and the internet, is that not only is the mask that disguised racismo á brasileiro falling, but there is also a clear change in the manner that black Brazilians deal with it. Online, in the streets, marches and protests have demonstrated that black Brazil is in fact reaching a boiling point.
Since about 2014, even the last pillar of the debunked racial democracy has come under scrutiny, as various online groups and social network personalities are questioning the reasons for high rates of interracial unions among prominent black Brazilians as well as within the general population.
With a questioning of the myths that have in some ways maintained some level of peace and harmony in the society, and demands for more black representation in areas in which they have always been denied, white Brazilians are increasingly taking issue with seeing black Brazilians gaining access to spaces that for decades, belonged almost exclusively to them. With the possibility of the challenge of the racial hierarchy, white Brazilians began to express their discomfort with the changes they were seeing.
This was part of the reason why it was necessary to remove the nation’s first female president Dilma Rousseff by impeachment and jail her predecessor, Lula da Silva so that he wouldn’t be able to possibly reclaim the presidency. Both are from the PT (Workers’ Party) and under their policies over a period of 14 years, more black and poor Brazilians experienced social ascension than any time in the country’s history. That had to come to a stop. This necessity of stopping “the other” from rising up would eventually lead to the election of a far-right extremist in the person of current president, Jair Bolsonaro.
Justifying their discomfort with the changes happening in the nation, cries of “unfair”, “lack of merit” and “reverse racism” were heard and read everywhere, on talk shows, in forums, news articles comment sections and debates in social networks. And when dissenters couldn’t put a stop to a system that they saw as being most responsible for a certain degree of change in the social/racial dynamic (affirmative action quotas), many adapted a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” mentality through deception, defining themselves as “mixed race” or African descendants to attain access to university classrooms.
A recent case that made headlines is an example of a battle that’s going on between the “haves”, who want to maintain the society as it always was, versus the “have nots”, who refuse to accept the order of things based on color and, different from Pelé’s generation, are no longer willing to remain silent on this order.
Back in July of 2018, a man named Diego Rodrigues Lima posted a comment in which he was accused of “practicing and inciting race or color discrimination, through social media (Facebook), having repeatedly made statements preaching, with incitement to hate, the separation of races, including citing black women in relationships with homens brancos (caucasianos) (white (Caucasian) men)”. This is how the complaint was filed with the Federal Public Ministry.
The complaint accused Lima of “reverse racism” due to the comment because the content was considered offensive to whites. Another thing that drew attention to the case was the fact that Lima is actually black but declares himself being indigenous, of the Guarani-Kaiowá ethnic group.
The whole thing started via social media when Lima got into an argument with an old companion. In response, Lima wrote the following:
“I feel sorry for you Caucasian people, they took our lands and brought us diseases, they raped our women and then you come to claim that I am ignorant…do me a favor lol ( …) I am disgusted even when I see a black woman with a white man, it reminds me of the time of slavery that these worms used to force our fellow human beings… so you have no knowledge and so you have no ideology (…) Your friend is really one that I’m rancid with, just knowing that the sinhazinha likes to hang out with those who they think that colonized us (…) I am disgusted with whites.”
For the sake of clarity, sinhazinha is a term that refers to either a slave master’s wife or slave master’s daughter who, during slavery, would have the same dominance over the slave as did the slave master. In the contemporary understanding, Lima is accusing someone of adapting a similar ideology as a sinhazinha of the slavery era.
In the argument, Lima took issue with another ex-companion whose words offended him by apparently associating black men, like him, with criminality. In Lima’s view, if she were to associate all black men with crime, based on this logic, all white women, like her, would be “whores”. This same ex-companion, whose name was Bruna, would later testify as a prosecution witness against Lima, ended up deleting her comments.
In her closing arguments, defender Mariana Costa Guimarães recited the vote of the Supreme Federal Court Minister Celso de Mello who broke down the concept of racism in a previous trial. According to Celso de Mello, the concept of racism starts from a “manifestation of power”, in addition to phenotypic aspects, and further maintained that the concept of ‘reverse racism’ didn’t not exist. For Guimarães, the whole thing was a “grossly mistaken accusation”, that “bordered on absurdity. The defender concluded her argument by stating that “the complaint is proof that the structural view on race relations allows society to continue to be a machine that produces racial inequality”.
For the Public Defender’s Office, witnesses of the prosecution couldn’t clearly define any racist intent in Lima’s attitude. In a statement, Bruna admitted that she didn’t define Lima as a prejudiced person and “found his publications meaningless, because Diego had already been involved with her, who is white.” Here we see, once again, the belief that simply because someone has sexual relations with a person of another race, they automatically cannot be racist or harbor prejudice.
So, how did the Courts react to these accusations against Lima?
Judge João Moreira Pessoa de Azambuja, from the 11th Federal Court of the state of Goiás, acquitted the young man because, in his opinion, there was no “reverse racism” on Lima’s part because “there was never reverse slavery”. Analyzing the accusation and putting it into context of the history of slavery in Brazil, the magistrate stated his opinion that the concept of reverse racism is a “clear misunderstanding”.
Going further with his explanation, the judge also said that “the white person was never discriminated against because of the color of his skin”; was never “barred from entering restaurants, clubs, churches, buses, elevators”; and “no European-based religion has suffered discrimination in Brazil, to the extent that its practitioners are persecuted and imprisoned”, all being the types of discrimination that Afro-Brazilians experience on a regular basis.
The judge further explained his views on the idea of reverse racism:
“It was never necessary to adopt affirmative action policies for white people because there is no reverse historical discrimination in this social group or the need to overcome historical inequalities suffered by white people. Faced with such a historical and social scenario, the concept of reverse racism constitutes a clear misunderstanding,” considered the judge.
In addition, he stated that “there is no reverse racism, among other reasons, due to the fact that there was never reverse slavery, nor the imposition of cultural and religious values of African and indigenous peoples on white men, nor the genocide of the white population, as the genocide of the young black Brazilians that occurs up to today.”
For me, this case was revealing in a number of ways. One, I think it reveals a certain shock that white Brazilians have when they come across black Brazilians who aren’t afraid of speaking their minds in terms of the reality in which race is experienced in Brazil. Being outspoken on issues of race is generally associated with African-Americans and in some ways, still today, Afro-Brazilians are expected to simply bow their heads in situations in which they are humiliated or discriminated against.
As highlighted in past reports, there was always a fear that black Brazilians would develop a more militant stance on racism. In the 1920s, Brazilian officials made sure to deny VISAS to a group of African-American businessmen looking to settle in Brazil along with the Chicago Defender newspaper founder Robert Abbott. In the 1970s, alarms were sounded with the growing popularity black American Soul and Funk music within Brazil’s black population. In the era, activists, cultural producers and entertainers were interrogated by Brazil’s intelligence agency out of fear of collaboration between black Brazilians and black Americans, the emergence of a more radical political stance among Afro-Brazilians and the creation of a Brazilian Black Panther Party.
The other thing that struck me about this story is Lima’s apparent disgust of seeing white men with black women because of the historical ramifications of sexual exploitation, coercion and outright rape that existed in the slavery era, but at the same time not having any problem laying with white women himself. It would be interesting to discuss this with him. It makes me wonder if his relations with white women are ongoing or if he was making a transition in his identity that would make him distance himself from them. I’ve seen a number of situations in Brazil in which black men present themselves as being “blacker than thou” while still having a certain predilection for white women. Kinda reminds me of the Clarence Williams III black militant character, Kalinga, and his white wife, played by Brady Bunch actress Jan Plumb in the 1988 film I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.
In terms of the case itself, it reminds of a conversation I had with a colleague a few months back. White, female, early 40s, Brazilian. In a discussion with a few other people, she told me of her experience of attending a predominantly black school as one of the few white people. She said that the black kids would often refer to her as “leite azedo”, which means ‘sour milk’. She offered this memory as a clear case of how racism can be directed at white people. My response was similar to the judge’s response. The fact is, whatever school it was that she attended was probably a state-run school directed by white people in a city, Belo Horizonte, governed by white people.
Although it probably hurt being referred to as “leite azedo”, this nickname was probably the extent of any amount of power that those black kids and their parents had, if you can even refer this as “power”. Because in Brazil, black people will not control her access to resources, bank loans and employment. They will not control the types of people appearing on TV and in the movies, will not limit the types of dolls she can give her children or have the power to command police to enter primarily white neighborhoods and slaughter people with white skin. These privileges and advantages are endless and until people are willing to take a close, honest look at the power structure and the skin color of those who control it, this won’t be the last time we see cases such as the one against Diego Rodrigues Lima.
With information from O Documento and Diário do Centro do Mundo