Note from BW of Brazil: Less than a month ago, I covered an event that went down in Brazil’s Congress in the nation’s capital of Brasília. In recognition of May 13th being the 131st anniversary of the abolition of slavery, Congressmen Eduardo Bolsonaro and Luis Phillipe de Orleans e Bragança organized an homage to Princess Isabel, the daughter of Brazil’s emperor at the time, who signed the Golden Law in 1888 officially ending slavery in the nation.
As the battle and struggle over slavery and the conditions that led to the end of the institution, including the part played by blacks themselves, is rarely if ever told in history books and classes, activists of the Movimento Negro (black movement) interrupted the session with screams of “stop killing us” while waving a banner with the image of slain Rio city councilor Marielle Franco. The number of violent deaths of black Brazilians has been labeled “black genocide” by many activists.
The point of the demonstration was to emphasize the fact that slavery didn’t end simply because of a signature by a princess, nor was abolition completely fulfilled as black Brazilians continue to be treated as second class citizens even now in the 21st century. But through it all, there was another interesting confrontation that also took place.
The name Hélio Lopes has appeared on this blog a few times since the last election season that took right wing extremist Jair Bolsonaro to the Palácio do Planalto, the official workplace of Brazil’s President. Lopes is a congressman that was elected in the state of Rio de Janeiro, representing the same party as Bolsonaro, the PSL. In fact, Lopes earned the most votes in Rio’s 2018 elections.
One would think that success of a black candidate would be reason for support by black activists, but this was not and still isn’t Lopes’s case. And for good reason. During the election campaign, Lopes was constantly seen at the side of the extremist politician who made a name for himself due to some of his fiery rhetoric and statements that regularly offended a large portion of the population. On his way to winning the election, Bolsonaro successfully pissed off women, blacks, the LGBT community and others. Yet and still, there was Hélio Lopes constantly seen at Bolsonaro’s side.
In the view of many following the situation, Lopes was simply being used by Bolsonaro to deflect accusations that he was a racist. Lopes, a very dark-skinned man, had already been known as “Hélio Negão”, “negão”, loosely translated meaning “big black” or “straight up black man”, even adopted the last name of the fiery congressman that would go on to become president and began to present himself as “Hélio Bolsonaro”.
Having aligned himself with a man that many defined as racist, fascist, sexist and homophobic, critics of Lopes began to label him a “capitão de mato”, a term the black community uses to define “sell-outs” or persons who they deem to be against the black cause. During the slavery era, the task of the black “capitão de mato” was to hunt down, capture and return runway slaves back to their masters.
Since his willingness to support and stand by Bolsonaro’s side at all costs had been become apparent among black militants, members of social networks have taken to comparing Lopes, along with other blacks who have put themselves at the service of white supremacy, with the Stephen character from the film Django Unchained.
It is within this context that Lopes was confronted by an activist of the Movimento Negro during the session. In a video shared on YouTube, the woman challenged Lopes to “wake up” because he was “being used” by the descendants of the very people that had enslaved their people. Below is the video of the exchange as well as the translation. First, the woman.
Woman: (inaudible)… What is it that you had here? Then DON’T gag yourself. Break your chain. Break it. It is she who screams, wake up, brother. WAKE UP… WAKE UP…. Here there is… Here there is a slave ship. This house is a slave ship’s house. It is a slave ship’s house. I don’t care if the media is on your side to show it. Here’s a irmã preta (black sister) telling you… Granddaughter, daughter of a black man who arrived in Maranhão (state) on a navio negreiro (slave ship). And that lost his life so that I would be here today talking to you.
Hélio Lopes: How old is your mother?
Woman: That’s enough! Enough! My mother is no longer on this earth. She’s in spirit. That’s why I’m telling you…..Enough! It’s time to scream for freedom. There’s no Princess Isabel here. There’s my mãe preta (black mother); your mãe preta, right? Who were enslaved, who were raped, by the descendants of these people who are using you. We are not slaves, we are descendants of a people who were enslaved.
Woman: We are descendants of a people who were enslaved. And we the same descendants of the people who enslaved my people and your people…
Hélio Lopes: Can I talk for a minute?
Woman: The descendants of this people who have enslaved us keep on. THEY KEEP ON ENSLAVING US AND THEY ARE ENSLAVING YOU.
Hélio Lopes: (Inaudible) … I appreciate it, yes, I do. I defend meritocracy. You, your positioning is correct. Who am I to be against? Who am I to be against you? You have to defend your opinion, now respect mine… I am not a slave… I am not a slave.
Woman: You are a descendant of an enslaved people! YOU ARE A DESCENDANT OF AN ENSLAVED PEOPLE. YOU ARE A DESCENDANT… blood of the enslaved.
Hélio Lopes: To speak of enslaved you have to honor; Bantos and Sudanese, that’s history, you know? Ahhh…
Note from BW of Brazil: After the woman concluded her passionate plea to Lopes, the congressman responded with his own message. Considering his allegiances, past comments and behavior, his response should come as no surprise.
Still from video. Lopes responds to activist’s words.
Hélio Lopes: You want to talk; you don’t want to listen. Go and study who Joaquim Nabuco was (inaudible)….You can call me capitão do mato (captain of the woods), that, coming from you, is a compliment. This is…I understand today is what, people…I’m not one to give an interview, but just look, one day, May 13th, the incoherence, the black movement comes to not to honor the date of the Golden Law, the liberation of the slave. I speak to this Black Movement, where were they when the one that speaks to you was the first most voted black in the history of Rio de Janeiro. But this doesn’t represent me because there doesn’t have to be a black movement, a white movement or a yellow (Asian) movement. There has to be a better movement for Brazil, a movement for the liberation of conscience. And that’s what I defend… I’m not equating myself with her; to the contrary, in that that she believes, she’s right. She’s there and me with my rationale, here. I thank everyone. Jair (inaudible) Bolsonaro will be the best president in Brazil. Long live freedom and conscience. Long live the true history.
Note from BW of Brazil: So, as we can see from his response, Lopes is clearly the type of black man who most likely would have “lived near the master” and “loved the master more than the master loved himself”, in the famous words of Malcolm X. The very fact that he could equate a “white movement” with a “black movement” demonstrates that he is clearly out of touch with Brazil’s continuation of the white/black “masters and the slaves” hierarchy that continues to the present day.
In his quasi defense of the “we are all equal” mentality, Lopes shows that he will continue to be a faithful servant of a Brazil that seeks to keep black people “in their place”. The country that his master colleague Bolsonaro believes is rarely racist. The more and more I follow the behavior of Lopes, the more I think of several of the Forward Times website’s “10 Signs You May Be Dealing with an Uncle Tom Negro”, especially the description of the “PROFESSIONAL APOLOGISTS”, who are “the ‘public defenders’ for White supremacy and the ‘go-to Negroes’ when damage control is needed to wash the blood off of White hands.”
When Lopes declared that he “defends meritocracy”, he also positions himself on the side of those who believe that, in the debate over affirmative action policies, only those who score well on college entrance exams deserve a place in universities, this in spite of the fact that study after study show that affirmative action students consistently perform or outperform those who entered college without affirmative action.
Analyzing the congressman’s short speech, Lopes’s few words speak volumes for what he believes. While he is quick to mention white elites such as Joaquim Nabuco in the movement that would eventually lead to the complete abolition of slavery, he said nothing about the role of black intellectuals such as Luiz Gama, José do Patrocínio, or the leading role played by everyday people themselves.
Then there’s the question he poses of where the Movimento Negro was when he became the most voted for black man in the history of Rio elections. Is it not obvious? When his politics are diametrically opposed to the cause of his peer group and he stands in support of someone that people label a sexist, racist, fascist extremist who has proven that he wants to dismantle any form of social ascension for said group and even pledges to exterminate more of them, what would they get out of supporting such a black man? To top all of that off, he actually said that being called a “capitão do mato” was a compliment?!?!
Well, I think it’s obvious what type of negro Hélio Lopes “Bolsonaro” is. All I can say is, I hope he’s getting well-paid for being for playing the role of “Bolsonaro’s negro”.