Note from BW of Brazil: The understanding of racism, the myth of racial democracy and how everyday Brazilians deny its existence or being racists themselves is complex, simple and intriguing all at the same time. Just a quick glance a few recent examples will suffice to get a quick crash course on Brazilian style racism and how the country continues, in some ways, to maintain its image of racially harmonious country. Just two days we featured the story of a blond TV host referring to the afro wig worn during Carnaval by popular funk singer Ludmilla as ‘bombril’, a type of brillo pad/scouring pad used for cleaning dishes. A few days before that, also during Carnaval, we saw a man dress himself, his female partner and his son as characters from Disney’s Aladdin cartoon. One may not see the problem with this until it is understood that the son was dressed as the monkey Abu. Yet another example, with the ending of the most recent Carnaval season, is the ongoing Brazilian trend of wearing blackface and/or dressing up as the “nega maluca”, (meaning ‘crazy black woman’) an image that has been a fixture in Brazilian popular culture for several decades.
Yet even with blatant expressions of a racist nature, not to mention the Brazilian proclivity for referring to black people as monkeys, people will defend themselves against accusations of racism, regardless of who they may offend. Thus, the denial of racism throughout the society is as common as the existence of the social ill as Brazilians continuously show difficulty in admitting when they commit racist gaffes.
Dr. Kabengele Munanga is a Congolese immigrant and naturalized Brazilian who is a well-respected expert on the topics of race, racism and racial identity in Brazil. He is a professor of Anthropology in Brazil’s most prestigious university, USP (University of São Paulo) and his books Negritude – Usos e Sentidos, Superando o Racismo na Escola and Rediscutindo a Mestiçagem no Brasil, have been cited in hundreds of studies, books, journals and dissertations on these topics. Below, taken from interviews posted online, the professor breaks down the particularities of racism in Brazil and in the process explains why the myth of the country being a racial democracy remains so prevalent within Brazilian society.
‘Myth of racial democracy is part of the education of the Brazilian,” says Congolese anthropologist living in Brazil
By Thiago de Araújo
The absence of Black nominees at the 2016 Oscars. ‘Black face’ is just a costume. Cotistas (quota students) surpass (scores) of non-cotista students. A black sponge doll on the reality show Big Brother Brazil (BBB) of this year. Recent cases, controversial cases. In all, the discussion of the same topic: racism inside and outside of Brazil.
Historical victims of prejudice, blacks in their majority are outraged with every report of the genre. However, today there are those who deny that there is racism in Brazil. For these people, there is nothing to justify affirmative action policies, such as quotas in education and social sectors. It’s necessary to appreciate equality, crying out in the loudest voice.
Discussions of racism are not surprising to Congolese anthropologist Kabengele Munanga. At 73, the Doctor of Social Sciences and professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences at the University of São Paulo (USP) he always stresses that Brazil has a ‘stark’ framework of discrimination. Do you think it’s an exaggeration? It’s not what the numbers show.
“The data show that, on the eve of apartheid, South Africa had more blacks with college degrees than in Brazil today,” Munanga said in a public hearing organized by the Supreme Court (STF) in 2010. The debate revolved around access to higher education policies. Opponents announced that the country was about to experience a ‘race war’. It was not what we saw.
“There were no riots, racial lynchings anywhere. No Brazilian ‘Ku Klux Klan’ appeared,” said the anthropologist. “What is sought by the policy of quotas for black and the indigenous is not to be entitled to the crumbs, but rather to gain access to the top in all sectors of responsibility and of command in national life where these two segments are not adequately represented, as the true democracy mandates.”
But what about the well-known ‘racial democracy’ born at the hands of Gilberto Freyre? First of all, you must understand what prejudice is. Professor Munanga defines the term:
“Preconceito (prejudice) as the term itself says is a preconceived idea, a preconceived judgment on the other, the different, about which we maintain a good knowledge. And prejudice is a virtually a universal given, because all cultures produce prejudice. There is no society that does not define itself in relation to others. And in this definition we end up putting us in an ethnocentric situation, thinking that we are the center of the world, our culture is the best, our world view is better, our religion is the best, and we end up judging others in a negative, preconceived way, without objective knowledge. This is prejudice, whose raw material is difference, whether culture, religion, ethnicity, race in the sociological sense of the word, gender, by age, economics. All differences can generate prejudices.”
In the same interview given to Bom Vontade TV, the Congolese intensified himself in the belief of sectors of Brazilian society that “racism doesn’t exist” around here. That it is all ‘victimization’. None of this is surprising, according to him.
“Every country that practices racism has its own characteristics. Characteristics of Brazilian racism are different. Why doesn’t the Brazilian consider himself racist or prejudiced in terms of race? Because the Brazilian doesn’t look himself in the mirror, at the characteristics of his racial prejudice; he looks in the mirror of the South African, of the American, and sees: ‘Look, they are racist, they created segregation laws. We do not create laws, we are not racists.’ What’s more, there’s the myth of racial democracy, which says we are not racists.”
Not even people caught in an act of racism will admit it. That is expected, at least in Brazil.
“This myth (of racial democracy) is already part of the education of the Brazilian. And this myth, although debunked by science, the inertia of this myth is still strong and any Brazilian sees himself through that myth. If you catch a Brazilian red-handed in racist and prejudiced behavior, he denies it. It is capable of him to say that the problem is in the head of the victim that is complexed, and he isn’t racist. This has to do with the historical characteristics that our racism assumed, a racism that constructed itself by the negation of the racism itself.”
Recently there was a heated discussion about the Base Nacional Comum Curricular (BNC or Common National Base Curriculum) that generated much discussion – and criticism – especially with regard to the teaching of history, which would give priority to issues involving Brazil, the Americas and Africa, to the detriment of Classical Antiquity and Middle Ages. Again, the movement seems expected, according to what Munanga thinks about African and black presence in the national context.
“The Brazilian would like to be considered European, as Western. This is clear in the education system. Our educational model is a Eurocentric education. The school is the place where one forms the citizen, where one teaches a profession. There are schools that know how to deal with both sides of education: teaching citizenship and profession. The history that is taught is the history of Europe, of the Greeks and Romans. However, who are the Brazilians? Brazilians are not only descendants of Greeks and Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Europeans. They are descendants of Africans too, Indians and descendants of Arabs, Jews and even Gypsies. And if we look at our education system, where are these other people who formed Brazil? So there is a problem in Brazil, and these people are the main victims of social discrimination, in the formal education system they don’t find themselves, they are simply westernized, they are simply embranquecidas (whitened).
If we put forth the questions: “who we are, where did we come from and where we are going,” we see that Brazil was born from the meeting of cultures, of civilizations, of indigenous peoples, Africans who were deported and European immigrants themselves from various backgrounds. We celebrate the centenary of Japanese immigration, and one speaks more of one hundred years of Japanese immigration than 600 years of the abolition. I have nothing against that, but it speaks very little of abolition. So if we want to know who we are, we must know all of our roots, those people who formed Brazil, some say that we are a mixed country, but this miscegenation didn’t fall from the sky. Since we don’t want to acknowledge the diversity of things, we suppose that we are all mestiços (mixed race) let’s at least explore the roots of our mestiçagem (racial mixture), this is part of our culture. But the Brazilian doesn’t mind, the Brazilian wants to see himself as Western Europe, it seems that the Brazilian doesn’t see himself.”
There have been advances, but there is a long ways to go for diversity to prevail, as well as equality of opportunities in Brazil. For the USP professor, each prejudice demands its own antidote. In the case of racism, it is unrealistic to expect it to come in the way of laws. No, the battlefield is headquartered in the classroom, deconstructing myths even for those who are victims in this process and accept such a condition.
“Prejudices are many, so you cannot have a general formula to combat all prejudices. In the first place, you don’t fight with law, which combats the specific behaviors that can be observed, caught and punished. Prejudices are in an area where you don’t combat it with laws, it’s because of this that education is important. Education is one way to combat prejudices, not the laws.”
Source: Brasil Post