Note from BW of Brazil: It’s been incredible to follow the development of this issue for the past seven years. I first covered the historic “whitening” of the man considered to be Brazil’s greatest writer, Machado de Assis back in December of 2011. The topic has come up several other posts since that introduction of the subject, and in December of 2015, another post covered efforts to blacken Assis with the selling of a t-shirt that featured the author with a huge afro.
A few days ago, I noticed an ad under a digital clock on my way to work and had to stop what I was doing to click a couple of pix to find out what it all about. The digital ad board changed images every few seconds so I had to wait a minute or so for the images of Assis that I saw would return. Finally, I saw it. The first photo of Assis appeared. It is perhaps the most famous/popular image of the author. The caption read, “Machado de Assis was portrayed a white.” After that image was exhibited for about 15 seconds, the second image replaced it, with the caption reading: “But he was black,” showing a photo of a much darker Machado along with a website for more information.
After snapping the pix, I immediately went inside the building, logged on to a computer to see what this was all about. And there was the objective of the campaign. A few words read: “Machado de Assis. The greatest name of Brazilian Literature. A journalist, short story writer, chronicler, novelist, poet, theaterist. And what few knew: black.” So, needless the say, the battle over the image and memory of Machado de Assis continues.
And for good reason!
University campaign recreates photo of Machado de Assis to portray him black
Initiative provides downloadable image of writer with black skin and phenotype
By Iarema Soares
“Machado de Assis was a black man. Racism portrayed him as white.” These are the first phrases of the campaign created by Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares (Zumbi dos Palmares College), in São Paulo, in partnership with the advertising agency Gray. The action, launched in April – in the month of Dia Mundial do Livro (World Book Day) – aims to highlight the identidade negra (black identity) of one of the greatest Brazilian writers and founder of the Academia Brasileira de Letras (Brazilian Academy of Letters).
Under the title “Machado de Assis Real” (the Real Machado de Assis), the project encourages people to sign a petition for publishers to stop publishing books with photos in which he appears whitened and replace the distorted photograph with one in which the author appears with color and black physical traits. In addition, a new image was made available on the campaign’s website so that people can download and paste it onto their own books of the storyteller.
In the manifesto of the initiative, the university also affirms that “racism hid who he was for centuries. His official photo, reproduced to date, changes the color of his skin, distorts his features and rejects his true origin” and says that “it is past time for this mistake to be corrected.”
The process of embranquecimento (whitening) Machado de Assis has been about the social imaginary that the Brazilian people have built in relation to the black population, which is seen as inferior and incapable by the non-black population, says Luiz Maurício Azevedo, executive editor of the publisher Figura de Linguagem and postdoctor in Brazilian Literature from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS).
“Popularly, black people are linked to physical force and animalization, not to their intellectual potential. When these individuals earn projection for their talent in literature, for example, mechanisms are created to keep blacks in the place of subcategory. Therefore, they turned a black person into a white person, because socially black women and black men ‘cannot have’ author status. And history made use of the fragile documentation of the time to reinforce the image of a non-black Machado de Assis,” says Azevedo.
The scholar further emphasizes that Brazil promotes the hierarchy of the races by having suppressed what was understood as different.
“This country lives in conflict, we don’t live in harmony as it preaches racial democracy. There was and still is bloodshed,” complements the postdoctor in Brazilian Literature.
Jeferson Tenório, a writer and doctoral student in Literary Theory at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS), recalls that an advertisement from Caixa Econômica Federal, 2011, also embranqueceu (whitened) Machado and that this is only a reflection of how the Brazilian sees the black people in the country: not worthy of certain deeds.
“Therefore, it is necessary that there is a revision of history and representation. Because when we see ourselves in certain spaces, we feel motivated to be there too. This is a very well thought-out campaign, as it helps to rescue this extremely important personality and black identity that has been denied and constantly whitened for many years,” says Tenório.
Source: Gaúcha ZH