Note from BW of Brazil: This week, on May 13th, Brazil commemorated the 126th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. For those who don’t know, Brazil imported far more African slaves than any other nation in the Americas: 38% of all slaves compared to 4% sent to the United States. The country was also the last to abolition the inhumane institution, among other curiosities about the exploitation of African labor, the practice lasted for around 350 years. Since the early 1970s, black organizations have rejected celebrating this day as widespread inequalities continue to subject the Afro-Brazilian community to a second class citizenship in the nation their ancestors constructed. Below activists talk about the significance of the date and the plight of the Afro-Brazilian community today.
Golden Law is not a cause for celebration, says Movimento Negro and Seppir
by Marcelo Brandão
The Lei Áurea, or Golden Law, which officially abolished slavery in Brazil, commemorated 126 years on May 13. The date, however, is not celebrated by the Movimento Negro (black movement). The reason is the treatment given to those who became ex-slaves in the country. “At that moment, there was a lack of the creation of conditions in order that the black population could have a more dignified insertion into society,” said Minister of the Secretariat of Policies to Promote Racial Equality (Seppir), Luiza Bairros to Agência Brasil.
After the end of slavery, according to sociologist Florestan Fernandes (1920-1995), in his work A integração do negro na sociedade de classes (The integration of blacks in a class society), from 1964, the ruling classes didn’t contribute to the integration of former slaves into the new job format.
“The masters were relieved of the responsibility for the maintenance and security of the freedmen, without the State, the Church or any other institution assuming any special duties that had as its objective to prepare them for the new regime of organization of life and work,” says the text.
According to the minister of Seppir, there was then a debate on the need to provide some recourse to the population recently released from the condition of slave. This recourse, which would be the access to land, important for families to initiate a new life, was not granted to blacks. Even the already precarious labor market space that was occupied by this population was destined for white or foreign workers says Bairros.
A member of the União de Negros pela Igualdade (Unegro or Union of Blacks for Equality), Alexandre Braga explains that “May 13th entered into the calendar of the history of the country, so there’s no denying the fact. Now, for the Movimento Negro, that date is something to be re-elaborated because there was a formal abolition, but blacks remained excluded from the social process.”
“This date is, since the early ‘80s, is considered by the Movimento Negro as a national day of struggle against racism. Precisely to draw attention of society to show that the legal abolition of slavery did not ensure real conditions of participation in society for the black population in Brazil,” added the minister.
She argues, however, that changes in this scenario of exclusion and discrimination are happening. “In recent years, the government has adopted a set of social policies which, together with the appreciation of minimum wage policy, created conditions of increasing income in the black population.”
Despite these policies, as both the minister and Braga understand, there is still much to do.
The representative of UNEGRO cites some of the expressions of racism and inequality in the country: “In Congress, less than 9% of parliamentarians are black, while the people who declare themselves black in Brazil comes to 51%. We are also seeing signs of racism in sports, especially in futebol (soccer). We still have a ways to go.”
“We’re still trying to recover from the traumatic way that abolition happened, leaving the black population to their own luck. As blacks started from a very low base, we have to speed up this process with affirmative action, so that we feel a more significant reduction of inequalities,” explained Bairros.
Source: Agência Brasil