Note from BW of Brazil: As I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few decades learning about Brazil, I’m often intrigued by how other foreigners see the country upon visiting. Before visiting Brazil, and during my trips back and forth over a period of several years, I had read numerous books and scholarly articles on issues of race, violence, consumer consumption, as well as history, culture, music, film and numerous other topics that I found fascinating. But while reading material can take one on a detailed mental journey, it still doesn’t quite measure up to experiencing first hand a topic that you’re interested in. I’ve learned a lot from visitors to Brazil over the years, but what I found even more interesting are the thoughts and stories shared by black foreigners to Brazil, a trend that seems to have escalated in about the same period of time as I have been getting to know the country. Just since I’ve been blogging here, I’ve covered visits by Americans, filmmaker Spike Lee, actress Tichina Arnold, neuroscientist Carl Hart, activist Angela Davis, Nigerian musician Seun Kuti, and Mozambican writer Paulina Chiziane, just to name a few.
What I most notice from those blacks who visit and take in more than just some of the beautiful beaches and cities is the difference between what they thought Brazil was before visiting and the reality, particularly when dealing with the issue of race. Rwandan writer Scholastique Mukasonga is the latest visitor to Brazil to come away with a vision of Brazil that is in stark contrast to the beautiful beach shore post card one might receive in the mail. Mukasonga’s comments may come as a bit shocking for those not familiar with the black experience in Brazil, but if you know stories such as that of Marielle Franco, Cláudia Silva Ferreira, Mãe Gilda, Alyne da Silva Pimentel, Luana Santos, and so many others, perhaps her comments wouldn’t be so shocking after all.
“In Brazil, a black woman is worthless,” says award-winning African author
Courtesy of RFI
In a tribune of the Libération newspaper, published on Monday (7), the Rwandan writer Scholastique Mukasonga writes about Brazil, a country she has visited three times. She tells what she witnessed before a country in political transition when returning from a recent trip to the country.
Mukasonga was in Porto Alegre and São Paulo to promote her book Baratas, the third released in Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro, she participated in the “Women of the World” forum, an initiative of the British Council in partnership with the NGO Redes da Maré. In the text, the author talks about her first visit to the country, and the experience with the readers excited about her work. The author acknowledges that she didn’t realize, on this first trip, the violence of the abyss that separates the boasting wealth from extreme poverty and racism exhibited by people who bleed such a captivating country.
The most recent trip of Scholastique was different. “Since my arrival, I was struck by the atmosphere of fear and violence that reigned,” she says. Both in Porto Alegre and in São Paulo, the advice was not to leave the hotel at night, because of the gangs that fight for streets and neighborhoods.
In São Paulo, the warnings were even more insistent: “Be very careful, for besides being a woman you are black. Here, a black woman is worthless. You need to pay double attention to the simple fact of crossing a street, because a car can pull up on you. It won’t stop, especially for being a black woman,” she testifies.
Genocide in the favelas
In Rio, she says that it is always surprising to see the sordid poverty of the favelas the backdrop being so close to the luxury of the palaces of Ipanema. In the Women of the World forum, she was asked to develop the theme “Violent deaths, dealing with pain in a woman’s daily life.” The intervention that moved her most was that of Marinete da Silva, the mother of councilwoman Marielle Franco, who was murdered on March 14.
One of the issues raised in the debate was the possibility of a systematic policy of murdering black youths in the favelas. “A serious accusation,” ponders the African writer. Brazilian writer Conceição Evaristo confirmed this intention to her colleague and also described the action as “genocide“. Scolastique immediately thought of the massacre in Rwanda, which she witnessed, and argued in the debate during the Forum that the term should be reserved for a deliberate goal of mass eradication of a population. Conceição Evaristo replied that she knew this and insisted, citing a project to whiten the favelas.
“Bolsonaro election incites violence”
Scholastique Mukasonga recounts meetings that reflect a different Brazil from what she imagined: evangelicals preaching on the streets, drugged. “I have always dreamed of Brazil as a happy, mestiço country of all mixes”. But did she realize that the nuances of color are also a hierarchy, even within families?. And he questions: “The election of (President Jair) Bolsonaro excites all the violence, will the country agonize in a dictatorship even more bleak than any it has ever known?”
Then, in the text, the author also talks about Iemanjá and the carioca (Rio native) habit of throwing fragile baskets of straw with flowers, perfumes and requests to the sea. If Iemanjá accepts, the ocean swallows the offering. If she rejects, everything returns to the beach. In the end Scolastique makes a request: that all Brazilians pull forces from their African and indigenous roots to resist the barbarism that threatens such a beautiful country.