Note from BW of Brazil: So….are you surprised by the title of today’s article? Why? I mean, Brazil was the country that forcibly brought the most enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean starting in the 16th century. It was also the last country to abolish the institution in 1888. The positions reserved for blacks and whites were established during that era, but until in 2017 has changed? Brazil continues the same attitudes of social hierarchy that it did for 350 years of slavery.
Today, we see everyday evidence of this in the social exclusion of non-whites. We see it in the police brutality and murders of black youth. We see it in the Armed Forces occupation of poor communities in Rio. We see it in the maid/boss relationship that plays out in millions of homes every day. We see it in the rejection of the system of quotas that have helped millions of non-whites get a college education as well as the very presence of black people at universities. We see it in the way the media and society have sought so hard to symbolically crucify former President Lula da Silva, who is hated by many for many reasons, including his policies that sought to help diminish the country’s vast social inequalities.
I don’t endorse any politician because I believe all of them are corrupt to a certain degree, but one must ask why people don’t go after other politicians with the same venom with which they go after Lula.
And I’ve asked before, in all of the recent corruption scandals rocking the country (Lava Jato, Odebrecht, Petrolão) all of which feature prominent, rich, white males who have been accused of stealing billions of reais, why is it that non-white people remain the criminals in the minds of the people while the real (white) criminals, that are far more destructive to the society, continue doing what they do best and it never seems to sully the image of white people as a whole?
“Slavery is what defines Brazilian society”, says sociologist Jessé Souza
Rewriting the dominant history that corruption is what marks Brazilian society is the theme of the new book by sociologist Jessé Souza. For the author of the recently released A Elite do Atraso – da Escravidão à Lava Jato (The Elite of the Delay – from Slavery to Operation Car Wash), a work that counteracts the dominant idea about the country, it is slavery that in fact marks Brazilian society. In an article published on Friday, September 22, in Folha de S. Paulo, the author returns to the theme.
The sociologist classifies Raymundo Faoro’s approach that “the history of Brazil is the history of corruption transplanted from Portugal and here exercised by the state elite,” as “ridiculous if it were not tragic.”
“Faoro imagines the seed of corruption as early as the 14th century in Portugal when there was not even the conception of popular sovereignty, which is a midwife of the modern notion of public good. It’s like watching a movie about ancient Rome full of romantic scenes that were invented in the 18th century. Nevertheless, the whole country believes in such nonsense.”
Jesse argues that those who support this dominant interpretation “don’t seem to realize that in a society every individual is created by the daily action of concrete institutions such as family, school, the world of work.”
According to the author, slavery was the institution that influenced all the others and continues to this day: “The ‘low lifes of new slaves’, more than a third of the population, is exploited by the middle class and the elite in the same way as the domestic slave: by the use of its muscular energy in unworthy, tiresome functions and with abject remuneration.”
He explained that what he defines in a “provocative” manner as low lifes is a direct continuation of the slaves. “It is largely mestiça (mixed race) today, but it is still the recipient of the overexploitation, hatred and contempt reserved for the escravo negro (black slave). The indiscriminate murder of the poor is currently an informal public policy of all the major Brazilian cities.”
In Jesse’s view, the economic elite “is a perfect continuation of the slave elite” and continues to condemn “the underdogs” to the reproduction of their misery while expanding their own “social and cultural capital.”
The writer adds that “the recent coup proves that ‘I want mine now’ still prevails, even at the cost of everyone’s future.” He differentiates elites from other countries from those in Brazil: “They get the best slice of the present cake, but they also plan the cake of the future. Here the elite are only engaged in the plunder of the population through interest or the plundering of natural wealth.”
Middle class: elites’ shock troops
If the dominant classes at the dawn of the 20th century maintained the “stance of violence and deception” in relation to the workers, a new challenge was imposed by the emergence of the middle class, Jesse says. “What was at stake was the intellectual and symbolic capture of the literate middle class by the elite of money, for the formation of the ruling class alliance that would mark Brazil from then on.”
The author also emphasizes the construction of “opinions factories” to distribute information and opinion. On this terrain lies the great press, the big publishers, bookstores to “convince” their audience in the direction the owners wanted, under the mask of “freedom of the press and opinion.”
Jessé completes the reasoning by stating in the article: “The production of content is a monopoly of trained specialists: the intellectuals. The São Paulo elite, then, builds USP (University of São Paulo), destined to be a giant think tank of Brazilian conservative liberalism, from which come the two central ideas of this strand: the notions of patrimonialism and populism.”
Stigmatizing the state and politics whenever they oppose the interests of the elites and mitigating the importance of popular sovereignty are aspects cited by Jesse as entangled in the middle class by the media apparatus. “In this scheme, the co-opted middle class is scandalized only by the political corruption of the parties linked to the popular classes,” says the author.
According to him, “the notions of patrimonialism and populism, distributed in pills by the daily media poison, are the guiding ideas that allow the elite to regiment the middle class as their shock troupe.”
“The current Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash) farse is just the new mask of an old game that turns one hundred years old,” Jessé emphasized. In his opinion, the principle of equality was a victim, with “the protagonism of the Globo (TV) Network”, of this collusion. “Disqualified as an end in itself, the demand for equality becomes suspect and inadequate to express the legitimate resentment and anger that the excluded feel but can no longer express politically.”
The result of this scenario is the rise of discourses that go against social justice and democratic values. “Jair Bolsonaro as a real threat is the son of the marriage between Lava Jato and Rede Globo.”
Jesse ends the article by stating that “the antipopular pact of the upper and middle classes does not only mean to keep the majority of the population abandoned and excluded, to perpetuate the inheritance of slavery. It also means capturing the autonomous reflection of power of the middle class itself (as well as society in general), which is a scarce and a literally priceless social resource.”