Note from BW of Brazil: Well, it’s a topic that has been mentioned in a number of articles on this blog. As such, readers should know how I would answer the question posed in the title of today’s piece. Realistically, when people hear the term ‘genocide’, they often times attach the word to a few different historical events. But when we consider the treatment black Brazil in this category, most Brazilians would surely, emphatically deny the charge. But simply because one believes they are right doesn’t mean they are actually right. Below, Pedro Borges of the Alma Preta website analyzes the question and considers many factors that the average person that responds in a negative manner to the question would even consider.
Is there a black genocide in Brazil?
By Pedro Borges
The history of humanity has been marked by some genocidal processes. In Brazil, the black movement is fighting for the recognition that there has been and there is still a genocide in the country.
By Pedro Borges
About 10 million people are forcedly displaced as slaves. Mass killings of approximately 40,000 people a year from a single racial group. A prison population comprised of 61.6% by this same ethnic group, where in states of the nation, such as Acre and Amapá, this number exceeds 80%. Representing 2.1% of the teaching staff of the country’s main university, the University of São Paulo (USP), and the average income of 59.2% of whites. According to Fiocruz, 65.9% of women who died due to obstetric violence also make up this segment of the Brazilian population.
These are not the numbers of a country at war, at least not officially. These are the data that help build what theorists and activists call the genocídio negro (black genocide) in the country.
The special event organized by Alma Preta (website) brings some elements for the reflection on the systematic violence to which the população negra (black population) in Brazil is subjected. The reports will address the country’s racial and social inequality between whites and blacks, slavery as a marker in Brazilian history to this day, the project of eugenics and the desire to branquear (whiten) the country, the extermination of young people and the incarceration of the população negra, the war on drugs policy as the most current justification for this process, the symbolic death of the população negra due to the lack of references and the erasure of cultural and academic productions, as well as historical violence suffered in the health system by mulheres negras (black women).
In addition to the analysis, the portal constructed a profile with three names of the fight against racism in the country. The interviewees were the founder of the Núcleo de Consciência Negra (Nucleus of Black Consciousness) of USP (University of São Paulo), Jupiara Castro, the sambista (samba musician) and state deputy, Leci Brandão, and DJ of the Racionais MC’s, KL Jay.
What is genocide?
Genocide is a concept formed by the words “genos,” which in Greek means tribe, race, or nation, and the Latin root term “cida,” which means to kill. Objectively, genocide refers to the systematic process of eliminating a particular racial, ethnic, or religious group.
The first genocide of the twentieth century with recognition of the international community was Armenian, which occurred between 1915 and 1923, during and after the First World War. The Ottoman Empire staged the death of 800 thousand to 1.5 million people.
April 24 is the official date of remembrance of the massacre, when the empire arrested and murdered about 250 Armenian community leaders and intellectuals.
Despite the non-recognition of the government of Turkey, heiress of the old empire, the country underwent a series of internal and external pressures to take responsibility for the crimes.
On 24 April 1998, the Council of European Parliamentarians published a document in honor of the Armenian genocide and set the date as the official day for remembering the massacre, which was the first of the 20th century. Among the parliamentarians who endorse the document, there are French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, among others.
In 1948, inspired by the reflections of Raphael Lemkin, the United Nations (UN) promoted the Convention on the Prevention and Suppression of Genocide. From that meeting came the treaty that defines the practice as an international crime.
Genocide is to be understood as: acts committed with the intention of totally or partially destroying national, ethnic, racial, or religious groups, through the murder of members of the group; damage to the physical or mental integrity of group members; imposition of conditions of life to the group that may cause their total or partial physical destruction; imposing measures that prevent the physical reproduction of members; and the forced transfer of children from one group to another.
Is there a genocide going on in Brazil?
In Brazil, the Americas, and the African continent, intellectuals and activists linked to the movimento negro (black movement) argue that there has been and still is a process of genocídio negro.
Felipe Freitas, a doctorate in law from the University of Brasília (UnB) and a member of the Research Group in Criminology of the Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana (UEFS), states that it is necessary to debate the Brazilian problems, leaving aside the comparison with the history of other nations.
“I think the comparison between historical experiences is not very productive. Anti-black violence in the world is a very old experience but in each regional context it has assumed its forms so that I prefer to speak, as well as João Vargas, Jaime Amparo and other intellectuals of the Diaspora, in anti-black genocide and from there think of the hierarchical schemes in which blacks are put.”
A member of Quilombação, an entity of the movimento negro, and author of the master dissertation Territórios de morte: homicídios, raça e vulnerabilidade social na cidade de São Paulo (Territories of death: homicides, race and social vulnerability in the city of São Paulo), Cláudia Rosalina Adão believes that genocídio negro has different characteristics from the processes utilized by the UN, as basis for defining this international crime.
“The genocide of black men and women in Brazil is not something punctual, fateful, but a process historically constructed. Post-abolition exclusion policies that have hampered the access of the black population to the resources of society such as land and the labor market, coupled with social and urban segregation, have laid the foundations of the conditions of extermínio (extermination). It is a process that has not ended, since the peripheries are configured as territories of production and reproduction of death.”
Regardless of the conceptual definitions about the crime of genocide, violence against the comunidade negra (black community) is marked by significant numbers.
In Brazil, in 2012, 173,536 of the prisoners in the country were white and 295,242, black. That same year, while 9,667 whites were killed by firearms, another 27,638 blacks lost their lives in the same way.
The death of black women in the health system, compared to that of white women, is another factor that calls attention. According to the Ministry of Health, 60% of women who died while giving birth in SUS (Sistema Único de Saúde or Unified Health System) hospitals were black, compared to 34% of whites.
In 1992, a CPMI (Comissão Parlamentar Mista de Inquérito or Joint Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry) was set up to investigate the existence of a policy of sterilization of black women. The results confirm that yes, there was this desire on the part of international organizations, with the backing of Brazilian politicians, to control the Brazilian birth rate, especially in poor and black majority states.
Violence against the black community is not limited to incarceration, police lethality, urban violence, and the health system. Afro-Brazilians are also victims of a silencing and erasure of their cultural and historical references, which will cause the so-called “symbolic death.”
In an interview for this special, KL Jay, a member of Racionais MCs, exemplifies this idea by stating that “if your mind is already dead, your body leaving is much easier.”
The multiple ways of exterminating the black community have some factors in common. One of them is the historic Brazilian slaveholder.
The European kidnapping of African peoples to the Americas and especially to Brazil brought about 10 million people here, according to Clóvis Moura, one of the leading Brazilian sociologists and author of the book Dialética Radical do Brasil Negro (Radical Dialectic of Black Brazil). The numbers are very expressive for a world population, that between centuries XVI and XVIII, was of around 500 million people.
Another factor was the eugenicist theories, which inspired the desire of Brazilian elites to “embranquecer” (whiten) the country and make the nation fit for “success”, as intellectuals of the time believed, in the case of João Batista de Lacerda.
The different looks on the theme
The doctorate in law, Felipe Freitas, is one of the intellectuals who focuses on the subject, and who believes in the existence of the genocídio negro in Brazil.
“Undoubtedly, what has been seen in centuries of slavery and the repeated public strategies of systematic extermination of blacks in the country is, yes, genocide and, therefore, deserves this legal framework.”
Felipe, however, is not the first to research the subject in the country. Thinkers like Abdias do Nascimento, Edson Cardoso, Ana Flávia Flauzina and João Vargas are references for understanding the reality of violence in the comunidade negra.
The perception that yes, black men and women are subjected to a genocidal process, is not only shared by academia, but also by social movements.
Hamilton Borges, a member of the organization Reaja ou Será Morto/a (React of You Will Be Killed), thinks that the genocídio negro is a reflection of the history of slavery in the country, which perpetuates a hatred against a whole racial group that ultimately leads to death.
“Reaja does not deal with genocídio de juventude negra (genocide of black youth), genocide of poor people, not genocide on the periphery. Our approach concerns a people who need a territory.”
Marisa Fefferman, one of the articulators of the da Rede de Proteção e Resistência contra o Genocídio em São Paulo (Protection and Resistance Network against Genocide in São Paulo), is another figure who believes in the existence of this international crime in Brazil and has positioned herself in a way that is contrary to the systematic death of black women and men.
“We have a reality of a more exterminated group, which is precisely the young black who lives in the periphery, something that always happened, regardless of the government that was in power.”
The view that there is violence targeting the black population, however, is not shared by the society as a whole.
Even though the figures show racial selectivity in homicide rates, Deputy Colonel Telhada (PSDB-SP) thinks that violence is widespread and affects people of different racial, gender, and class groups.
“We live in a situation where more people die in Brazil than in a war,” says Telhada.
The high mortality figures in Brazil reach, albeit disproportionately, civil society citizens and state security agents. Data from the Corregedoria da Polícia Militar indicate that in 2015, 64 police officers were murdered in São Paulo.
Based on these data, Telhada asks whether “can we talk about police genocide?”
The state deputy also points out that “most of the dead policemen are black, poor, from the periphery.”
In Brazil, the division constructed over the years exposes black people to the two poles of violence. Afro-Brazilians are victims of State agents, and most of the dead police officers are often black men. Felipe Freitas says that the genocidal policy of the state, in the name of the drug war, puts black police officers in conflict with other black subjects. The result is the death of subjects from the same racial group.
“This concerns how racism is expressed in Brazil, a way in which black people die as both police officers and citizens of civil society.”
Asked about the existence of a genocídio negro in São Paulo, the Secretariat of Public Security preferred to highlight, in a note, the decrease in police lethality to which black men and black women are subjected in the state.
“According to the study, there was a 72% reduction in the victimization of the população negra by firearms in São Paulo, and in 2014, the rate reached 10.3 black people per group of 100 thousand. In 2003, the threshold was 36.2 individuals. The Atlas da Violência 2017 (Atlas of Violence 2017), released in June by the Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública and Ipea (Brazilian Forum of Public Security and IPEA – Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada or Institute of Applied Economic Research), shows that São Paulo is the state with the lowest homicide rate of the country’s black population: the rate in 2015 was 15.4 people per 100 thousand inhabitants, 59% below the national average.”
The United Nations in Brazil, in a note to Alma Preta, said that the organization has no spokespersons that could address the issue of black youth mortality. The expectation is to have someone fit to respond on behalf of the organization on the subject in the month of November.
“We are preparing a digital campaign on the subject, which should be launched in the coming months. Possibly, after this date we will have spokesmen indicated for the theme but until then it is not possible.”
So far, the UN and other organizations at international levels do not officially recognize the existence of a genocide process in Brazil.
The researcher Felipe Freitas is not surprised. For him, the State and its representatives tend not to assume the existence of a genocidal process.
“Such refusal is not only a cyclical limitation or a theoretical divergence of government representatives. The issue, in this case, is that the notion of genocide exposes the systematic nature of racism in the country and highlights the active role of governments in the production and maintenance of such violence.”
For Felipe Freitas, the lack of understanding on the part of the international organizations, and the non-legal recognition has in fact political explanations.
“The bottom line of this debate is that blacks are not recognized as political actors in the discussion of the definition of what genocide is for the agreement of nations, and therefore has not been able to find support for their demands at the international level.”
The acceptance of such a concept and the progress with respect to the life of the população negra, in the conception of Felipe Freitas, will only be possible through political struggle. The Ph.D candidate in Law from the UnB (University of Brasília) believes in the necessity of guiding the theme to transform it into a consensus that there is a genocide in the country.
“Only the political struggle can produce this form of naming the problem,” he concludes.
Source: Alma Preta
- Translated as The Masters and the Slaves, it is Gilberto Freyre’s account of the relationship between Brazil’s Portuguese colonizers and their African slaves. Since its release in 1933, the book has been one of the most widely debated works with some seeing the book as a representation of Brazil’s mythical ‘racial democracy’ ideology while others criticize it for ‘whitewashing’ race relations.