Note from BW of Brazil: Throughout Brazil’s history, one of its most potent tactics of undermining black people is precisely through the denial of black people. Whether we look at the the Minister of Finance Rui Barbosa ordering the burning of all documents related to slavery and slave owning in the late 19th century, to the promotion of miscegenation to whiten the population or the encouragement of Brazilians of visible African ancestry to not identify themselves as black, the objective is the same. The erasure of black people from the midst of Brazil territory. We see this policy of making black people invisible in nearly every facet of Brazilian society. If you turn on the TV, you will surely come to the conclusion that Brazil has very few black people. The situation is worse when we consider Brazil’s Congress and until only recently, you would have thought the same thing of the universities.
As such, recent comments made by the Minister of Education under the Jair Bolosnaro administration should come as no suprise. I’ve already pointed out various times that we may never get a really accurate understanding of just how black Brazil is because of the fact that so many Brazilians who Brazil treats as black but that don’t identify themselves as such, preferring to use ambiguous terms such as “pardo” or “moreno”. This is the reason why I feature so many stories of everyday people that took years to realize that they were, in fact, black. The Minister of Education’s comments toward a congresswoman should be taken as simply a continuation of Brazil’s denial of racism through denying the idea that Brazil even has any black people. Notice, he didn’t deny that the 45% of Brazilians that classify themselves as brancos, or whites, exist. This even though anyone who knows anything about Brazil knows that, many of those folks who consider themselves “white” would never be considered such in other countries.
Whatever the case may be, in terms of black Brazilians, as we can see, filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo’s documentary title O Negação do Brasil, or Denying Brazil, still applies to the situation in Brazil. But then again, you knew that, right?
Minister of Education Abraham Weintraub criticizes congresswoman: “There are no black people, there are Brazilians with dark-skin”
In response, Talíria said that it is the government that divides the country “that governs only those who have always held power: men, rich, landowners – as in colonial times.”
Speaking at the Finance and Taxation Committee of the Chamber of Deputies, Education Minister Abraham Weintraub criticized Federal Deputy Talíria Petrone (PSOL-RJ) saying she does not have the right to represent blacks in the country because “no there are black people, there are Brazilians with dark-skin.”
The minister even used as an argument to attack the congresswoman that his grandfather had darker skin than hers. “My grandfather was darker than her. When she calls herself a great defender of the povo negro (black people), I don’t know who gave her that post,” he said.
He continued saying: “You don’t have to divide the Brazilian people. The black man at my side is my brother. My grandfather was dark skinned. So, enough of this speech. Who gave her the right to say that she is the representative of all black people in Brazil. My grandfather was darker than her.”
The congresswoman, who was present at the House debate, accused the minister of not knowing about public education, saying that he is against racial quotas and has no information about affirmative policies in higher education. However, she subsequently left the committee for another committment, but said she would hear afterwards the response of Weintraub, who used her absence to attack her.
Asked about the case, the congresswoman told the Fórum website that she sees the minister’s speech as an attempt to make several issues arising from racism invisible.
“When the Minister says that ‘black people don’t exist’ he is erasing a whole history of pain but also of resistance that our country has gone through. Thousands of human beings were kidnapped and enslaved. This story brings marks to Brazil to this day”, responded Talíria.
Petrone also stated that Weintraub is against racial quotas and has no information on affirmative policies in higher education.
“We need to look at this reality to be able to transform it. To deny the existence of black folks is actually to reinforce the thesis that there is no racism – as it would not be a social, structural and political issue, but only a diversity of shades,” she continued. “It’s unfortunate that a Minister of Education refuses to understand this – just as all this government does. Education is one of the main tools for combating oppression and violence. The one that divides this country is this government, which governs only those who have always held power: men, rich, landowners – as in colonial times,” she added.
Note from BW of Brazil: To conclude today’s piece, there are three other things I would like to point out in relation to Minister Weintraub’s comments on Congresswoman Petrone, black Brazilians and another pertinent issue.
- Minister Weintraub and President Bolsonaro have been the target of several protests this year with their agenda to make access to higher learning for Brazilians more difficult, particularly non-whites who had only begun to enter colleges in large numbers for the past decade and a half.
- Weintraub uses a very typical strategy in attempting to dismiss the congresswoman as well as the struggle for black equality by using the tried and true rhetoric of declaring black activists as being the ones who are creating racial divisions in Brazil. The same racial divisions that Brazil itself has created since the era of slavery and the continued exclusion of Brazil’s black population from so many areas of Brazilian life. No Mr. Minister, the division between black and white has ALWAYS existed in Brazil, and black people didn’t create such vast inequalities.
- Minister Weintraub also uses a typical Brazilian tactic of undermining the identity of woman who identifies herself as black and is on the front line of the struggle. The thing here is that, Brazil is infamous for encouraging non-white Brazilians to avoid defining themselves as black but then simultaneously blatantly discriminate against them precisely for being black. Talíria Petrone herself has been a victim of such treatment. The congresswoman was the target of exclusionary treatment when she was barred from an area exclusive to members of Congress in Rio and has also received death threats for her political views and being a black woman in a position of power. This is a very serious issue in the aftermath of the 2018 murder of another black woman politician in Rio, Marielle Franco.
With information from Revista Fórum