Note from BW of Brazil: Sometimes it really seems that Brazilians have so little to celebrate on the world stage that every four years, they put all of their hopes on the shoulders of the Seleção Brasileira de Futebol (National Soccer Team) every four years and release their frustrations in leaving in an, at times, cruel country, every year during Carnaval celebrations. Could it be that it was planned that way? Do you think this interpretation is going a little too far? Maybe not. The frustration is real. One study recently found that the lack of security and professional perspectives combined with the high cost of life and taxes make it so that 6 of every 10 young Brazilians, between the ages of 16 and 24, would leave the country is search of better opportunities abroad. After all, everyone can’t earn a spot on the Seleção. But given the fortune of the team over the past four World Cups, perhaps members of the team don’t feel so fortunate because of their place on the team.
Needless to say, the Seleção’s latest letdown and elimination from the World Cup has once again opened the door for scapegoats, and this year’s disappointing finish is no exception. I don’t know if it’s just me, but the 2010, 2014 and 2018 teams all seemed to have lacked maturity and leadership. I mean, those well-seasoned, experienced guys on the field who would lead the team through difficult moments in a manner that makes champions. I still remember the clamor of fans in 2010 who insisted that the rising star of the Santos team known as Neymar Jr. be added to the National Team. Well, after two lackluster World Cup performances, one has wonder when the boy wonder that earned 81.5 million Euros in 2018 is gonna show up and live up to all of the promise that led to his becoming the third highest player in the world. In 2018, his flops and the subsequent memes seemed to garner more attention than his game. I gotta admit, some of those memes were pretty funny!
But one thing that surely isn’t funny is the way Brazil treated its players after yet another emotional letdown in the Cup. And once again, we see another example of how “we Brazilians aren’t racists.” Racists fans blasted Marcelo four years ago and this year Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho (who was strongly criticized during last Cup as well) were the targets. Fans like this make me wonder if I would want to even bring home the coveted trophy! Fernandinho had the misfortune of being the target of Brazil’s favorite racial epithet for its black citizens. And while I didn’t see how Gabriel was racially insulted, he can certainly empathize with his teammate.
In 2016, in a game in Montevideo, a fan of the Uruguayan team directed his imitation of a monkey at Gabriel during a game in March. Commenting on the incident, Jesus made use of the overused, seemingly programmed Brazilian response to racism when he said, “Isso não pode mais existir no futebol. Somos todos iguais” (This can no longer exist in futebol. We are all equal). I’ve made my feelings well-known on this topic so I won’t even bother to comment, but there is one thing that I DO wonder. I would never suggest that Neymar deserves to be racially taunted by fans, but what is it that spares him from such dehumanizing treatment even when he clearly plays below fan expectation? Numerous fans took to making memes of his now infamous flops and rolls but I haven’t heard of fans, at least online, subjecting the sometimes “blond one” to the racist treatment they delve out to other players. Lucky him. But in other ways, Brazilians once again showed their true colors! Check the report below by Habeeb Akande.
Shame on Brazil: World Cup Exposes Racist and Machismo Culture
By Habeeb Akande
From the racial abuse of Fernandinho, to sexist videos of fans harassing women, to players ‘play-acting’ on the pitch – the 2018 World Cup has brought great shame to Brazil. Has the world fallen out of love with the greatest futebol nation?
Helpless Fernandinho Blamed Again
In the much anticipated and highly entertaining quarter-final match of the pre-tournament favorite, Belgium surprisingly knocked out Brazil of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Before the game Brazil had conceded just one goal in their previous four games but were behind early on when Fernandinho scored an own goal. Belgium added another goal soon thereafter before Brazil pulled a goal back as the game ended 2 goals to 1 in favor of the Belgians. Defeat meant the five times champions were eliminated by a European team for the fourth World Cup tournament in a row.
During and after the game, midfielder Fernandinho and star striker Gabriel Jesus, both black, were targeted by racist insults and blamed for the defeat by irate Brazilians on various social media platforms. Online users referred to the midfielder as a “monkey,” while some even threatened to kill him after Brazil’s loss.
A Mother’s Tears
The online abuse did not stop with Fernandinho, as members of his family were racially insulted and threatened with violence. The player’s wife, Rosa Glaucia, also received abuse, “Your husband’s (screw up) ruined everything,” one user wrote on her Instagram account. TV Globo journalist Glenda Kozlowski wept on camera whilst speaking about how distraught Fernandinho’s mother was after realizing her son had scored the fateful own goal.
Perhaps Fernandinho’s mother knew what awaited her son after the 33 year old was severely criticized four years ago when he was taken off at half time on Brazil’s way to a humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany in the semi-final of the 2014 World Cup. Brazilians can be very unforgiving when it comes to futebol. Many have an arrogant belief that they have a divine right to be world champions and any player or coach that does not meet their exceedingly high expectations will be criticized.
In response to the vile racial abuse Fernandinho was subjected to, many people defended him on social media. One user highlighted the hypocrisy amongst Brazilians who recently spoke out against the racism of Brazilian YouTuber Julio Cocielo, and then called a black player a “monkey” because of an accidental own goal. Victor Nascimento wrote for Buzzfeed, “The racist comments about Fernandinho are sadder than losing the World Cup.” Writer Nathali Macedo added, “I’m ashamed to be Brazilian.” The Mundo Negro site, published a photo on Instagram of Fernandinho with the following message of support, “the defeat of Brazil and the own goal do not justify racism. Nothing justifies racism. We are with you Fernandinho.”
“You’re Trash, Gabriel Jesus”
Star striker, Gabriel Jesus, went into this World Cup expected to contest for the tournament’s top scorer. Unfortunately, he did not deliver, failing to score in five games. Raised by a single mother in a São Paulo favela, Brazil’s number 9 could not escape the anger of online bigots. A user posted a photo on Twitter of the 21 year old millionaire soccer player painting the streets as a child in Brazil four years ago, in preparation for the 2014 World Cup in his native country. The photo included the caption, “Gabriel Jesus helped Brazil more when painting the street.”
Another Twitter user mockingly made reference to his humble beginnings, “You’re trash Gabriel Jesus!” Even Brazil’s most popular player Neymar, was hammered by fans for his antics, both on and off the field.
The Enigma of Neymar
In futebolista terms, this World Cup was Neymar’s opportunity to step outside of the shadows of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s Lionel Messi, and claim his position as the greatest futebolista on earth. It was not meant to be as Brazil’s dismal 2018 ended abruptly with their leading player being ridiculed and accused of ‘play-acting’ and ‘cheating’ by former players, fans and the international media alike. Although extremely talented, Neymar has proved to be a divisive character, for futebol and non-futebol reasons.
Heralded as a futebol genius, the polarizing figure of Neymar is not as popular amongst some black Brazilian activists because of his silence on race issues and apparently not acknowledging his black/African heritage. He answered when asked in 2010 if he had ever been a victim of racism. “Never. Not in the field, not outside of it. It’s not like I’m black, you know.
Always Blame the Black Players
Brazil’s racist history of blaming black players for their World Cup failure is a long and troubled one. In the 2014 World Cup held in Brazil, Brazilian defender Marcelo was racially abused after scoring an own goal in their first match against Croatia. Twitter users attacked him online using the phrase, “tinha que ser preto,” meaning, “it had to be a black.”
“It had to be a black to tarnish the name of Brazil,” added another. “It had to be a black. Then he complains about racism, but only does shit,” commented another Twitter user. “If he was white he would not do that shit,” commented another.
In the final game of the 1950 World Cup, again held in Brazil, a mistake by goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa condemned him to spend the rest of his life being vilified by millions of Brazilians. At the time, the newly constructed Maracana futebol stadium was the biggest ever built with a capacity of 200,000 people. Overwhelming favorites and overly confident Brazil were humiliated at the final game and missed out on winning the World Cup on home soil. It was a national disaster.
In the aftermath, it was Brazil’s black players who became the scapegoats: defenders Bigode, Juvenal and goalkeeper Barbosa, despite being voted the best goalkeeper of the tournament by journalists. In 1993, the fallen player attempted to visit Brazil’s training camp, but he wasn’t allowed in because it was thought he would bring the team bad luck. He has been referred to as “the man that made all of Brazil cry.”
Men Behaving Badly
Racism was not the only thing which brought shame to Brazil during this World Cup. The disgraceful behaviour of some of their male fans towards women brought much embarrassment to Brazilians all over the world. In the opening days of the tournament, a group of Brazilian fans were filmed encouraging a Russian woman to chant vulgarities about her genitalia in Portuguese. The video went viral, as the blonde woman gleefully smiled and repeated “buceta rosa” (“pink pussy”) whilst surrounded by a group of laughing Brazilian men. It appears that the woman did not understand what she was saying. The men in the video included a military policeman (Eduardo Nunes), an engineer (Luciano Gil) and a former Minister of Tourism, Sports and Culture (Diego Valenca Jatoba).
Another viral video surfaced of a Brazilian male fan ‘teaching’ three Russian women to say a sentence offering themselves up sexually to him in Portuguese. After being fired from his job, the man who featured in the video said it was a “joke….I didn’t expect a light-hearted moment to have such an impact on my life.”
Brazilian women were also subjected to unwanted sexual advances and harassment in Russia. A video of Brazilian sports journalist Júlia Guimarães, rebuking a man who tried to kiss her during a live TV broadcast, was widely shared on social media. The issue of sexual harassment is a global one which requires a change of culture and attitude towards women. However, in a Brazilian context, the men need to acknowledge the issue of sexual harassment and hold other men accountable if any real change is going to be made.
After engineer Luciano Gil, one of the men featured in the viral video with the Russian woman, apologized, he went on say “this (video) only gained attention because this was happening in Russia. If this was a favela or the carnival, this would have all been considered normal.” Speaking to UOL, he continued, “I never forced the woman. She was just super animated like a lot of Russians, who have never partied like this before.”
Gil may have a point in the fact that the video may not have achieved such attention if the woman in question was from a favela. Black/mulata and poor women experience sexual violence at much higher rate than white women, and are less likely to receive media attention compared to the assault of a non-Brazilian or white Brazilian woman. That being said, Gil’s comments were still very problematic as it not only infers that Brazilian women accept such degrading behaviour, but it reinforces racialized stereotypes about the hypersexual image of black/mulatta Brazilian women. A stereotype many Brazilian women are trying to eradicate as was evident from the various “não é não” (“No means no”) protests against sexual harassment during the 2018 Rio carnival.
Last year police in Rio received over 2,000 calls about violence against women during the city’s carnival. Although women’s rights groups say that Brazil still has a long way to go to address gender inequality and ingrained machismo, they see the annual carnival as an opportunity to raise awareness about the problem.
Unfortunately, unwanted leering, sexually-charged comments and forcible kisses are common during the carnival, but it’s something a growing number of Brazilian women are trying to change in their culture. Fed up with being forcibly kissed, insulted and groped on air by men, female sports journalists in Brazil launched an anti-harassment campaign earlier this year with the hashtag #DeixaElaTrabalhar (“Let Her Do Her Job”). The campaign was an attempt to change Brazil’s machismo culture and sexual harassment in the workplace.
In Brazil, a woman is raped every 12 minutes, according to official records. A recent study found that 59% of Brazilian women have been sexually harassed at some point in their lives – due to lack of awareness and shame culture, it’s likely that the actual figure is much higher.
Black Women, Most Discriminated and Most Marginalized
Black women in particular have a long history of experiencing machismo, racism and social invisibility in Brazil. They are more likely to be sexually abused than their white counterparts. Brazilian model Aline Monaretto said that the media’s portrayal of overly sexualized black women during the carnival has helped to create the image of a hyper-sexualized but disposable black woman. The marginalization of black women in Brazil goes back to the enslavement and rape of black women by Portuguese colonizers to modern day Brazil’s attempt to erase black Brazilian women’s presence except during the carnival.
In an article for The Guardian, Felipe Araujo highlighted the lack of black fans in the stadiums during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, which exposed the country’s deep-rooted prejudices. In contrast, a large number of Brazil’s players were black or mixed-race, including star player, Neymar. Writing about Neymar and Brazilian racism, Cleuci de Oliveira wrote for the New York Times, “Unlike the national team, however, the upper echelons of most professions in Brazil — be it medicine, media, business, entertainment or government — are occupied by whites. The nation’s raw demographic data paints an accurate portrait of a diverse people; yet it also adds patina to the old myth, promoted for generations by the government and first intellectualized by sociologists nearly a century ago, that Brazil is a democracia racial, or “racial democracy.”
During the 2018 World Cup, whilst watching the televised games, several people noticed the lack of black faces in the crowds, particularly black women, during Brazil’s five World Cup games. Journalist Dom Phillips observed the contrast of the Brazilian players’ mothers with the “players’ wives and girlfriends – who in many cases are lighter-skinned, unlike the team which is a typically Brazilian racial mix.” Black/mixed-race Brazilian futebolista’s predilection for white/fair-skinned women and white women’s fetishization of successful black futebolista has been explored in numerous articles on this blog.
Black Brazilian model, Paula Almeida, was one of a few black Brazilian female fans shown by television broadcasters during the World Cup. Sporting an afro hairstyle, the model was shown proudly holding the Brazilian flag before the game started.
Although it was refreshing to see a black face in the crowd, German sports magazine, kicker, did not help matters by referring to Almeida as “Frau Marcelo?” (“Mrs. Marcelo?”). The insinuation of Almeida being Marcelo’s wife because they are both black with afro hairstyles did not go down well as people called out kicker for their tasteless joke. The caption on the photo was later changed to “vorfreude pur” (“pure anticipation”) on the sports magazine’s website. This incident like many others which has occurred over the past few weeks demonstrates why Brazil needs to continue to fight against racism, according to Brazilian actress Taís Araújo.
“A Brazilian fan is called a monkey. A YouTuber makes racist comments. A girl has her hair straightened against her will. A news portal creates a racist and sexist headline. All this in the last hours. Every day we need to fight against racism.” – Taís Araújo tweeted on 3 July 2018. “Be anti-racist. Be (for) anti-racism.”
Coutinho Gesture Demonstrates Why Brazilians Are Loved
Despite the incidents of racism and sexism which transpired from some Brazilians in Russia, the warm gesture of Brazilian futebolista Coutinho to a favela boy is an example of why Brazil remains beloved to millions of people around the world.
A photo of a favela boy wearing a shirt with the player’s name and number written on it quickly went viral and was brought to the attention of Coutinho himself. The boy could not afford to buy a kit so he made a handmade version as he watched the game of his hero on the big screen.
Growing up near a Rio favela, Coutinho was moved by the photo of the Wallace, the young boy in the photo, and sent a video message to the photographer, Bruno Itan, to pass on to the 12 year old boy. Coutinho arranged for an official jersey, futebol cleats, and other items to be gifted to him. He also said he would come and see Wallace. Coutinho earned much praise for his humility and act of kindness for reaching out to the child in the midst of preparing for a crucial match. Although Brazil failed to win the World Cup in the end and some fans brought shame to the country, Coutinho’s modesty and generosity shows that there are more important things in life than a futebol match – even for Brazilians!
 In a now deleted tweet, the YouTuber tweeted, “Brazil would be more beautiful if there weren’t so much coldness with racist jokes. But as this is prohibited, the only solution is to exterminate blacks.”
 The majority of Brazilians living in favelas (shanty towns) are black/mulatto.