Note from BW of Brazil: The original title of the piece featured today is “But is there racism in Brazil?” but as we’ve documented this so thoroughly over the past five years, I thought it should even be necessary to ask such a question. Only those who are in serious denial (and that’s quite a few people) would continue to dispute the reality of what it is to be black in Brazil. The land that would come to be known as Brazil has had experience with Africa and its descendants for nearly five centuries dating back to the first half of the 16th century as somewhere between 4-5 million Africans were imported and forced to endure the brutal regime of chattel slavery. And with the ending of this forced servitude in 1888, Brazilian leaders thought it best to try to mix the ‘negro element’ out of existence through the promotion of amalgamation with Europeans until the population reached a whiteness equal to that of the “Old World”. Of course that didn’t happen, but the very idea that the elimination of the black population was necessary and desirable for a better Brazil gives one an idea of how Brazil felt about black people. With such a history and its lasting legacy in the rejection of African physical features, how should we assume Brazil sees the recent wave of African immigration to the country? We’ve actually dealt with this question in a number of previous posts about the experiences of African as well as Haitian immigrants, so consider today’s post as a continuation of the (recent) African experience in Brazil series.
But is there racism in Brazil?
Despite the African legacy in Brazil, Brazilian writer Luiz Ruffato, who has already defined the country as “paradoxical”, says that in the country racism is connected to class prejudice.
By Tainã Mansani
When, in 2013, the Brazilian writer Luiz Ruffato defined Brazil as “sometimes exotic and paradisical, sometimes execrable and violent,” caused controversy at the opening of the famous Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. The writer talked about social inequality in his country that, according to him, is also linked to racism.
Although the African legacy is in the culture, music and color of the Brazilian population, the prejudice of skin color is still linked to social origin. This also explains why African refugees are discriminated against because of their color in a country where “racial democracy”“racial democracy” is believed to exist.
German-born Africanist Karin Sekora, curator of the “Afrikas Erbe in Brasilien” (The Legend of Africa in Brazil) exhibition, currently open to the public on the Deutsche Welle radio station in Bonn, Germany, explains the concept of “racial democracy” – harmony between white and black in Brazil – is just a myth. The term was coined by Brazilian intellectual Gilberto Freyre in the 1930s.
“The term hides the brutality of slavery in Brazil, as brutal as in other countries. The mixture considered “harmonic” between the races was only partial. This is because the white masters of the colonial era could even have relations with black slaves, but to marry they chose white,” explains Sekora.
Prejudice of color and social origin
For the Brazilian writer Luiz Ruffato, the prejudice based on skin color is linked to the prejudice of social origin in Brazil. “The majority of the population, that earns little, who live in the periphery and who do not have access to education and health, are black. It’s afrodescendente (Afro-descendant),” he explains.
African refugees are therefore more susceptible to prejudice and racism in this country, where skin color is often associated with social origin. “If you are a Muslim, Syrian, Arab refugee – still, in Brazil, you are white.” Although there are difficulties, these will be “smaller than those faced by refugees from Haiti or Africa,” Ruffato explains.
“There is one more problem for someone with black skin in Brazil. Being Brazilian or a foreign refugee.” Ruffato is the grandson of Italian immigrants who went to Brazil; according to him, not because they wanted to go, but because of the lack of economic options in their country of origin.
Ruffato says he has been criticized for being a white writer speaking of prejudice against Afro-descendants, but he argues that this issue can be assumed by anyone being against racism.
Slavery in Brazil and the US
According to the Africanist Karin Sefora, there are historical differences between the slavery of Africans in Brazil and the USA. Among Americans, the end of slavery was marked by the much more present “black identity”; in Brazil it was systematically sought to encourage white European immigration to “whiten” the population, although there has been discrimination in both countries.
And this discrimination manifests itself even today in Brazil, reiterates the writer critic Luiz Ruffato. For, according to him, the African heritage in Brazil “is assumed only when it interests, to show the world that we are a multiracial society.”
Racism is one of the greatest problems of our civilization, says the Brazilian writer, because it is anchored in values of the civilização greco-romana branca (white Greco-Roman civilization) that always supported the view that other civilizations were barbarous, “a misguided but lasting legacy”, he says.
“It’s like this in Europe, super civilized. It’s like this in the USA. It’s like this everywhere,” says Ruffato. Although we are all, in some way, Africans: “we forget that we are all – without exception – descendants of men and women who came from Africa,” concludes the writer.
THE NEW AFRICAN MIGRANTS OF THE SOUTH OF BRAZIL
The dream of all migrants is the same
Street vendors from Senegal in the Sarandi neighborhood of Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul. Sunglasses are sold at low prices. In Brazil they can earn three or even four times more than in their country of origin. Their dream is the same as that of the German, Italian and Polish immigrants who arrived almost two centuries ago in gaúchas (1) lands: to work and live in peace in Brazil.
Senegalese are majority among Africans
The Associação dos Senegaleses (Senegalese Association) of Porto Alegre has about 200 members. The association’s headquarters is in the northern part of the city, in an apartment, where there are meetings and prayers together. In 2014, more than 1,000 Senegalese people sought refuge in Brazil. Refuge is granted only when there is evidence of political, ethnic or religious persecution.
Conviviality among Senegalese migrants
Twice a month, in the city of Porto Alegre, dozens of Senegalese immigrants gather in this improvised “mosque” in an apartment to perform their prayers. In December, the Senegalese community celebrates the religious feast “Grand Magal Touba”, chanting songs and poems written by the Senegalese Muslim leader Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba.
Communication with the family
Immigrant Omar Doingue speaks on the Internet every day with relatives in Africa, from Porto Alegre, where he has lived for a few months. Most Senegalese in Brazil are urban middle class, many have a high school education or higher. Even so, in many cases, they end up engaging in informal trade.
Angolan rapper succeeds in Brazil
Geraldino Canhanga do Carmo da Silva, known as the rapper “Kanhanga”, was born in the city of Lobito, Angola. He chose the city of Porto Alegre, in Rio Grande do Sul, to study and pursue a career as a musician. He has lived in Brazil since 2005 and denounces, through music, the racism and discrimination of which blacks are the target.
Singing Against Discrimination
In the photo, the Angolan rapper sings for the population in downtown Porto Alegre. Kanhanga says he was discriminated against when in 2014 he was arrested by mistake. In one song, the Angolan musician says: “Tira as algemas de mim, tira as algemas de mim, polícias racistas bem longe de mim” (Take the handcuffs off me, take the handcuffs off me, racist policemen stay away from me).
Guinean called “monkey”
Francisco Ialá, a native of Bissau, has lived in Porto Alegre since June 2005. He was a victim of racism and called a “macaco” (monkey) while living in a student republic. “After graduating, I’m going to take a Masters in International Law and fight for justice here (in Brazil) and in my country,” he said.
He didn’t go unnoticed by the governor
In protest against racism, the Guinean Francisco Ialá remained for hours in front of the Piratini Palace, headquarters of the government of Rio Grande do Sul. The objective was to be met by Governor José Ivo Sartor (right in the photo). After spending a full day in front of the Palace, Francisco finally achieved his goal.
Lessons for needy children
In addition to studying law, Francisco Ialá trains in judo at least four times a week in the city of Porto Alegre. The Guinean immigrant teaches children and young people in need. The exercise became an ally in the struggle for the social inclusion of people in situations of vulnerability.
“Chico”, as Francisco Ialá is called by the students, works voluntarily in a public school located in the northern zone of Porto Alegre. Guinean students teach the discipline of Human Rights in Education for children at least twice a week.
Auxiliary instead of nurse
Nurse Moussa Sene, 34, is from Rufisque, Senegal. He came to Brazil in March 2014 with the hope of practicing his profession. Currently, Moussa has official work with a formal contract, in accordance with Brazilian labor laws. However, he works as a general services assistant at a soft drink distributor in Sapucaia do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul.
Remittances to help the family in Africa
Senegalese Moussa Sene lives in a rented room in a guest house in the city of Novo Hamburgo, 40 km south of Porto Alegre. He pays monthly 300 reais (68 euros) for lodging and sends to Senegal about 600 reais (136 euros) to support its family. Moussa is married, has two children and dreams of bringing his family to live in Brazil.
Maintaining religious customs
Even far from home, Moussa Sene maintains his traditions. As a faithful Muslim, the Senegalese pray five times a day. He holds a copy of the holy book of the Muslims, the Qur’an, in his room.
In October of 2015, the Senegalese nurse became known nationally for saving the life of a passenger inside a train in São Leopoldo, Rio Grande do Sul. The old woman had a sudden illness and passed out. Moussa rescued the victim. After the episode, several promises of work in hospitals and clinics appeared, however nothing was accomplished. Moussa continues his battle for a job as a nurse.
- Refers to the people and culture of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.