Note from BW of Brazil: It’s a common story that one hears when researching the development of black identity in Brazil. As the nation’s history has long undermined and promoted a distancing from one’s blackness, millions of Brazilians of visible African ancestry are immersed in a culture that actively encourages them to see themselves as simply Brazilians, pardos or mestiços.
The problem with this ideology is that this same system doesn’t explain to Brazilians whose features signal African ancestry can and often will experience some sort of discriminatory behavior or treatment based purely on what they look like. Even within the family context, when many of these people begin to become conscious of how they are perceived by the society at large, experience rejection in job opportunities, hear racist comments or some joke that belittles them or their physical features, it sometimes leads to a desire to have a deeper understanding of or the adapting of a black identity.
The process is sometimes painful, often a learning experience but also a life-changing event. Knowing that you are black sounds like it is something that would be automatic, but as we’ve seen from numerous stories of people “becoming black“, in Brazil, the process isn’t as simple as one may think. In today’s post, we learn about the journey into blackness as experienced by a college student in the northeastern state of Ceará.
Liniane constructed her identity as a black woman through Afro-Brazilian studies
By André Victor Rodrigues
The special series Ceará de Attitude presents the daily struggle of Liniane Santos within the academic environment, through studies in the Laboratório de Estudos e Pesquisa em Afrobrasilidade, Gênero e Família (Nuafro or Laboratory of Studies and Research in Afro-Brazilianness, Gender and Family)
The pulse at the State University of Ceará (Uece) and the vein of Zumbi’s fortified struggle. Where the ancestry of the black woman inspires, within the academic environment of the Education Center on the Itaperi Campus, the elaboration of scientific research to nourish militancy against ethnic-racial exclusion, repression and prejudice. It is the Laboratory of Studies and Research in Afro-Brazilianness, Gender and Family (Nuafro), which since 2010 has brought together students of the Social Work course to discuss the construction of identidade negra (black identity) and disseminate scientific knowledge within the community.
The university student Liniane Santos, 25, is a concrete example of the relevant seed planted with the opening of the Nuafro. In six years in the laboratory, the woman from the state of Ceará discovered herself as a young black woman, dialogued with her peers and matured her speech to occupy spaces of struggle. Today, she is responsible for reverberating the voice of empowerment with the new participants who come semi-annually to the study space, focusing on the constant strengthening of the discourse for equality and more spaces of power for the população negra (black population).
“Here in Nuafro they had meninas negras (black girls) before me, and they trained me, recommended the texts that I had to read, the main theoretical and political references for me to study as a researcher. Now I pass on this learning to the others that have entered through the years. We have this ancestral process re-making itself every day. We learn from those who came before, from all the fighting that took place before,” she explains.
Liniane began to understand her social scope in the inaugural class of Social Work course, in the second half of 2012, taught by the professor and creator of Nuafro, Zelma Madeira. Seeing Zelma as a black leader within the university, she felt motivated to study racial issues and better understand what the fight against discrimination involves within the Brazilian social formation. She found that the representation awakened her to the resistance. “I studied my whole life in a public school and practically didn’t have black teachers. When I entered college, I saw that Professor Zelma was a unique voice within the course. We don’t have other black professors. When she introduced Nuafro, she was already leading us to be here.”
Soon after experiencing the studies and researches in Afro-Brazilians, she became the first bolsista (scholarship holder) in the laboratory. She began to devote herself avidly to researching quilombola communities and juventude negra (black youth). Further reading – with access to realities about discrimination, centuries of exploitation, racism and denial of existence to blacks – connected Liniane to the world and also to her own life trajectory. “Eu me tornei negra em 2013 (I became black in 2013). I always say that what marks my identity as a woman and as a young black is Nuafro. It’s a space where we have the dimension of memory, everything that we experienced to get here.”
During the meetings with the professor, students who were her mentors and contemporaries of Nuafro, she recalls that she found parallel realities, within a course whose presence is mostly female, of women affected by similar painful experiences. “When we talk about our trajectories they cross paths without us ever having met. It is normal that in a circle between black women you have a unanimous hair experience, for example. We need our peers to strengthen us.”
And it’s from the collective identification in which the paths to what needs to be studied become clearer in the laboratory vision. The stories of prejudice in the school, the racism suffered in the street, the oppression of aesthetics, denial of the job market, the student, university environment. Citing the feminist philosopher Djamila Ribeiro, author of books like Quem tem medo do feminismo negro? (Who is afraid of black feminism?) and O que é lugar de fala? (What is a place of speech?), as far as discursive authorization is concerned, Liniane points out the need to emphasize how historically “the speech of the black woman’s was disavowed.” Therefore, initiatives such as the Nuafro present themselves today as centers of awareness raising on the importance of representation and recognition of the struggle for racial equality.
“We know this process as silencing. You never think of, for example, a professora negra (black professor). You never think of a médica negra (black doctor). You never think of a black woman occupying a space of power. This is also silencing and invisibility. When you enter Nuafro you have the collection of Pedrina de Deus, for example. Of a black woman very important for the history of the black movement, for intelligentsia, and I had never heard of that woman. It is this process of silencing that we experience. With Carolina Maria de Jesus, with Lélia Gonzalez, with all the women who produced intellectually, with a lot of quality, and that we don’t have access to in the public High School. I keep wondering how this access could have changed my trajectory long before I got to the university. Until arriving at the university, we go through very complicated processes. How much pleasant would this have all been if I had know a women like that!”.
The childhood and adolescence of Liniane Santos was accompanied by various faces of racism faced by so many other meninas negras (black girls) from an early age. “School is a very difficult space for black girls because of the aesthetic dimension. Always being made inferior, subordinated. All the girls go through this process. The size of the hair, for example. Being black with cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair) at school, for example, is very difficult. I’ve been through all this process,” she recalls.
Her way of combating discrimination was to assert herself as she could within the classroom: to be the best student in the class. “My mother used to put this on me because my grandfather put it on her. We have this constituted idea that education is the only way to ascend socially. I had this as the way to build strategies to get out of these oppressions posed by racism from a very young age. I tried to stand out in that way, with the best grades.”
Even so, the path to the university presented her with many difficulties, the target of distrust and prejudice for being a woman and black. Liniane is aware that tackling discrimination will continue daily. And then the need to train to capacitate one self to stengthen your strategies of resistance become even more indispensable. “Racism is a struggle every day, all day. There is not a day that we leave the house and will say that everything is going to be okay. Something is always going to happen. Sometimes in subtle ways, but it will.”
The lines of research awakened and developed from the encounters of Nuafro are ammunition to face oppression over the struggle of the movimento negro (black movement). Through them, it is pointed out with data and results of scientific investigation that discrimination exists, and there is no way to sustain the denial of the existence of the oppressed black population, historically stripped of privileges.
“We have in Ceará this denial of the existence of the black population. This is related to the abolition process, because we were one of the first states to abolish slavery, even before the Lei Áurea (Golden Law). Some people say that this happened because we had almost no slavery, but we know that there indeed was and that we have remnants. We have a black population in the state of Ceará. We have here in the laboratory poor black girls who enter the university, identify themselves and come to address these issues here within the Nuafro. Even placing yourself as a black woman is hard. There is this denial. These girls come here because they feel the need to talk about it and find support.”
Liniane is also a member of the Projeto Negras (Black Women’s Project), based on the mobilizations that were created after the murder of the sociologist, feminist, human rights defender and city councilor of Rio de Janeiro, Marielle Franco. Organized by the Unilab professor, Vera Rodrigues, in partnership with Nuafro and Ceppir, it is a course of political and theoretical formation with the objective of forming cadres to dispute spaces of power. The group is made up of 30 black women, that study from black feminism to feminist criminology. The course started in May of 2018.
For the student, to participate actively in the current struggles of the country is the role of those who integrate the academic environment as a space of militancy. “We observe the movement of the country’s history and our struggle. The moments of retreat, of dictatorship, of repression. How we reworked, so that we can try to articulate ourselves in the present. Difficult moments have happened in the past, but we resisted, and we have conditions to resist now. What inspires us today is the black people who came before.”
She points to Marielle’s death as a symbol of this struggle that is renewed daily. “Marielle was a master black woman, who had theoretical elaborations, she was an intellectual woman. When such a voice is silenced, this is a very strong symbol. She managed to break this discursive disallowance, being very strong to speak. And she was silenced. How is it now? We were walking in the sense that we were able to occupy spaces of power, to break several barriers. Then it’s as if you can’t do it anymore.”
The young woman points out that the black woman’s body is still very vulnerable. This violation of bodies is daily violence. From the reorganization of the movement, according to Liniane, the need to elaborate other strategies of resistance is perceived. “Marielle affected the black population, black women even more. You don’t have a national commotion around that political execution. But you have from the political point of view the rise of a right-wing speech, a fascist speech. This adds more to that, it brings more people into the fight. And that’s where the resistance comes on stronger, with a larger group of people.”
On the future perspective of struggle for the next few years, Liniane says that ancestry becomes even more fundamental to inspire the continuity of the battle by conquest. “We’ve been talking a lot about resistance. Then comes the memory of the black movement that will say ‘we always resisted’. Black women have always resisted. We resisted when we came on the navios negreiros (slave ships) and we threw our children into the sea so they would not be enslaved. This is resisting,” she says.
Novembro Negro (Black November)
Celebrated on November 20th, the National Day of Black Consciousness was born in honor of the murder of Zumbi, leader of Quilombo dos Palmares, by Brazilian colonial troops in 1695. The federal law that established the date was approved in 2011. Within the “Novembro Negro”, the Nuafro holds annually the Seminário Afrocearensidades (African descedants of Ceará Seminar), which in 2018 was scheduled on November 21.
“We have the whole month to discuss our issues. That is very important. It is a moment that we have visibility on the subjects of public policies for the blacks. The 20th is very symbolic. It’s when we are all organized to bring this memory of this Brazil that is still so colonial and slave-o-cratic, and that the idea that there is such equality does not yet exist here,” said Liniane.
History of the laboratory
Nuafro emerged in 2010 as a group of studies and research, based on a demand from students of the Social Work course to discuss ethnic-racial issues. Initially, Uece’s professor and current head of the Coordination of Public Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality, Zelma Madeira, met with the students bi-weekly to discuss issues pertaining to blacks: what is it to be a black woman, what is black youth and what is the Brazilian social formation.
The meetings of the Nuafro were held in the Bloco I classrooms of Campus Itaperi. The group was growing, the demands increasing, until a space was requested to constitute a laboratory with registration in the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). In 2012, the laboratory was regulated within Uece.
Students participating in the lab discussions have developed diverse projects that explore the racial dimension. Among them, for example, are studies on the resistance of black youth in the periphery of Fortaleza, the condition of black women, the construction of black identity, racism within the penitentiary system, and a mapping of the system of racial quotas in the state. Discussions about religions of African origin have also gained space. “They are girls who are trained to continue this laboratory, do a master’s degree and a doctorate outside, to come back and try to be professors of this course and contribute within the role of keeping this laboratory alive.”
The trajectory of Nuafro in the university, Liniane’s view, means the constant conviction that academia is also a space for blacks to mark their agendas. To this end, the meetings of the group are enabling the training of specialists in issues that involve racial issues. From the laboratory came projects for master’s degrees, doctorates and students with the mission of seeking the titles to return to classrooms with constructive teachings. Bearers of liberating education.
“Nuafro configures itself as a quilombo within the university. The university environment is still muito branco (very white) and denied for us in the curriculum. In my course I don’t have a discipline that deals specifically with questões raciais (racial issues), which is a struggle that has been put up by Professor Zelma Madeira today. If we think of public school as a space to debate these issues, we need trained professrors in that sense, and we still don’t have them. Here is a place to resist and strengthen.”