November is the Month of Black Consciousness but being conscious of important blacks needs to contemplated all year; journalist compiles list of 138 prominent Afro-Brazilians in a number of fields
By Marques Travae
Having lived in a black community in the United States for most of my life, today’s topic is one I’ve contemplated for a long time. Ya see, every year when February rolls around, we get bombarded with all sorts of little-known black history facts, tidbits about black personalities, historical figures, inventors and the like. Plus, the usual dosage of well-known, if not overexposed figures such as MLK, Rosa Parks, etc. This is what we call Black History Month.
There are many problems with the celebration black history during February. First, it makes it seem as black history can be summarized in the shortest month of the year. Second, most of the focus is always on African-Americans. Third, the focus is usually on the period after the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, as if there weren’t tens of thousands of years of history before this brutal period of our history. How can we free our minds if we continuously focus only on the period when we were not free and only partially liberated?
Having participated in a number of events in Brazil in November, the Mês de Consciência Negra, or Month of Black Consciousness, I can attest to the fact that the same thing is happening during this month. Writer Ana Maria Gonçalves said that November is usually the month when she works the most. Being a writer who focuses on Afro-Brazilian themes and having written one of the most important books (Um defeito de cor, 2006) with a focus on black Brazilians of the past half century, in November she’s accustomed to criss-crossing the country on invitations to participate in round table discussions, seminars and give lectures.
Entrepreneur Raull Santiago also expresses being pigeon-holed to a certain degree during the month of November. Whenever he receives invitations to speak, the topics are always the favela, violence and the death of young black people. Black life and the black experience is surely more than these subjects and in some ways, continuously speaking about these topics diminishes the range of his expertise and also relegates the black experience to a certain stereotyped place.
And similar to Black History Month in the United States, the Mês de Consciência Negra in Brazil is often filled with stories of black people struggling and overcoming the forces of racism. But as Federal University of Campina Grande Professor Katemari Rosa says, “Blacks don’t have to speak only about race”. And why should they? Rosa, a physics professor, remembers well when she waited for a bus to the university being asked by a girl what her profession was. When she said she was a professor, the girl automatically assumed that she had to be a professor of African Studies. But why must blacks always be relegated to being experts on issues of race or blackness? Why are they not considered sources or information and specialists in a broader range of topics? Why must black history always fall to one side, sad, horrific stories, or the other, triumph, overcoming and resistance? As the saying demonstrates so well, black people have a history without Brazil, but Brazil has no history without blacks. And as this history spans centuries, tens of thousands of years, it simply cannot be fairly told in only one month lasting 30 days. Black History is world history and should be treated as such 365 days a year. And equally true, there is a long list of black scholars, specialists and leaders that people, not only black people, should know more about.
Contemplating this very point, journalist Cecília Olliveira took to social networks to ask people who were some of the black people that they admired that people should know about and why. Her action extended to initiative started by the project entitled Entrevista um negro (Interview a black person). After a short period, she was able to compile a list of 138 names, the areas these people specialized in and upon discovering these areas, sometimes had to take time to better understand what these areas were and how these people operated in them.
One example was that of Nadia Ayad, an internationally awarded bio-engineer who proposed a filtering mechanism and water desalination system that would make the water drinkable through the use of a grapheme.
Then there’s the nano-technologist and professor of chemistry at Unicamp, Oswaldo Luiz Alves. Alves develops materials to be applied to problems in the environment: ecomaterials and filtration and isolation system development. The professor has more than 30 patents registered and a number of awards.
In a list of 138, there are of course many who are very capacitated to speak on issues of race, but beyond this topic, there are also specially trained experts that could school us in other areas such as crypto-coins, political science, transparency, corruption, law, fashion, neuroscience, advertising, economics, film and medicine and many other topics. The list is a great companion to the Catálogo de mulheres negras visíveis (Catalog of visible black women) a catalog released in 2017 highlighting the intellectual production of 181 black Brazilian women. Between these two releases, we’re sure to find a number of Brazil’s own “Hidden Figures“.
As Brazil continues to discriminate against its black population, it will remain necessary to discuss the race issue, but it’s long overdue that we recognize that there are talented black people that can educate us far beyond topics of race, which in reality shouldn’t matter in the first place. The history of the genius of black people goes way back in time and we do ourselves and the world a huge disservice by not only not recognizing all of these achievements throughout the millennium, but mistakenly believing these accomplishments can be revealed in only one month in the year.