Note from BW of Brazil: Once again, another protest and once again Brazil shows how divided it is really is along lines of race and class. Just for the sake of context, if you haven’t already heard from your favorite mainstream news source, millions of Brazilians took to the streets on Sunday in another display of self-serving outrage involving the severe economic crisis that has gripped the country for the past year, corruption charges dealing with the so-called ‘Lava Jato’ scandal and calls for the end of 14 years of the PT (Workers’ Party) rule. But was this all that was at play or were there some other issues that people won’t openly admit?
Sometimes it’s very revealing to just sit back and analyze the photos that come out of such displays even without the captions. Take the photo below for example. It encapsulates perfectly what many people feel about the true meanings of these protests. What makes the photo so intriguing is the fact that the meme on the top of the photo actually circulated around social networks during the protests against Dilma in March of 2015. The point of the meme sums up Brazil almost perfectly in terms of race and class. The upper middle class white woman protesting and calling for “justice for Brazil” as her black nanny pushes her children around in the baby carriage. So many things could be said about the meme. Reminiscent of slavery era, as well as modern Brazil where black women were/are believed to be treated like “one of the family”. White feminists who tell black women that all women are oppressed but absolutely not understanding her own privilege as white.
The meme’s relevance was brought home in yesterday’s protest when a photographer captured a scene that portrayed the meme almost perfectly! White upper-middle class couple, black nanny, twin babies in a baby stroller. Nothing wrong with that, right? I mean, at least she’s got a job! Other photos also hint at the reality of race in Brazil. The overwhelming whiteness of the crowds. The ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ division of the country. More blackface and the added ‘bonus’ of making a mockery of lynchings, not funny considering the ongoing Brazilian obsession with both! The calls for the end affirmative action and social welfare policies such as Bolsa Família that have made a university education attainable for thousands of Afro-Brazilians and helped lift millions out of abject poverty respectively (1).
Some of my favorite signs of the whole thing were those that read “I want my country back” (Eu quero meu país de volta). I mean, back from what? The slavery era? The Military Dictatorship? (strangely enough, there were those calling for a military coup). I mean, Brazil has been corrupt for decades, centuries…one could even argue that its been corrupt since its very founding. But at the same time, one has to marvel at the depths of denial that so many of these protesters must be living in. As we’ve seen examples in numerous previous posts, how else can you explain this?
Where were the black people during the protests on Avenida Paulista?
The racism of the middle class who speaks rudely against corruption, but accepts prejudice and simulates black lynchings
By Maria Carolina Trevisan
Among the thousands of people who stormed Avenida Paulista on Sunday (3/13), there were almost no black people. Just like what happened a year ago, the vast majority of blacks who were at the heart of São Paulo – and other Brazilian cities – were working. They were nannies or the street vendors (or Military Police). This picture deals with reproducing the subordinate position of this segment of Brazilian society, from slavery to today.
Among the demands for honesty, there were zero signs asking for equal rights, quotas or labor conquests of maids. On the contrary, what was seen on Avenida Paulista was representing the desire of the upper middle class and the white elite of Brazil to maintain their privileges. The manifestation is for social justice just like the casa grande (big house) is to the senzala (slave quarters). Identical and blatant.
“This march is not only against Dilma and in favor of impeachment. It is also against human rights and social achievements,” defines the business administrator and black educator Antonio Nascimento, activist of Human Rights in Bahia.
“FOR ME, THESE MARCHES WERE AGAINST THE POSSIBILITY OF A MORE FAIR COUNTRY, BUT FAKING MORALITY,” said Nascimento.
Under the curtain of fighting corruption, which arises is the desire of an elite and middle class Brazilian defending their own interests. No wonder the acts took place Sunday in prime locations of cities: the edge of the Rio’s south zone, Avenida Paulista, the Farol da Barra, in Salvador (Bahia), or Praça da Liberdade, in Belo Horizonte. “The elite saw in this government the sustenance of their privileges being threatened. It is not concerned with morality or honesty because they always coexisted with dishonest governments.”
But the demonstrations went far beyond and let this desire come out. What was seen in some places were explicit scenes of racism: a man pintado de preto (“blackface”, a slave theater movement that aimed to ridicule the black population) (2) simulated a “Forca da Inconfidência”.(3)
Ladies, gentlemen and white children posed next to that representation, smiling and without wavering; in another scene, a white man holding a poster in which President Dilma, in blackface, imitating the black comedian Mussum with the words “Dilma Rouseffis, só no forévis” (only up the ass); and finally, dozens of scenes of black nannies pushing strollers of white babies with their bosses in front of them.
“I think that the majority of people don’t realize what is at stake,” says sociologist Marcia Lima, a professor of “racial inequalities” at the University of São Paulo (USP). “Brazil has changed. We have a conservative reaction to the achievements of this group [black people],” explains Marcia.
The black population is no longer a minority in Brazil. Since 2011, more than half of Brazilians are black (pretos – blacks and pardos – browns, according to IBGE), currently corresponding to 53.6% of the total population of Brazil. This means that over 110 million people were not reflected in the pro-impeachment actions. “I walked two hours in the demonstration. There were no poor people or blacks,” noted the lawyer Eliane Dias, manager of Racionais MCs rap group.
“IT’S A CLASS STRUGGLE IN WHICH BLACKS ARE NOT WELL-LIKED. BECAUSE OF THIS, IT’S A GREAT CONTRADICTION TO SPEAK ABOUT JUSTICE IN THE MANIFESTATIONS”, says Eliane.
In fact, in order to talk about democracy, we must refer to the whole society. “It’s very irresponsible, for example, to simulate the hanging of a black man on Paulista. I saw several families there giggling about it,” says Eliane. For her, a similar violence is taking a black nanny for this context. “It’s a humiliation. You put a black woman there, on a Sunday, in a place where there are no blacks…This represents submission,” she notes.
In such regard to racial issues in the country responsible for the largest and longest slavery in the world, nothing has changed in one year. The protests of March 2015 already showed how the advocated of impeachment are white. This scenario makes the verses of the Racionais MCs increasingly compelling and current:
“THIS IS THE BRAZIL THAT THEY WANT TO EXIST: EVOLVED AND BEAUTIFUL, BUT WITHOUT BLACKS IN PROMINENT ROLES,” – Racionais MC’s in “Voz Ativa”
- Protesters took to the streets on Sunday (3/13) calling for the end of the Bolsa Família and the end of quotas. “Poor people are just drinking rum and putting their children in the world. No one wants to work.” According to the World Bank, between 2001 and 2013, the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty fell from 10% to 4%.” Since 2002, 36 million Brazilians have escaped extreme poverty.
- On this blatant display of racism and disrespect, Revista Fórum wrote: “The subject of the photo could and should be taken to court by black organizations. He doesn’t appear the least worried of presenting himself as an overseer of a white man in blackface dressed in clothes of a homeless person.”
- What really disturbs me with this display is the fact that so many Brazilians in the past few years have felt the need to wear blackface and when someone reveals the racist origins of the practice, most are quick to say that they didn’t know the meaning. The people in the photo above chose to pose utilizing two painful historical images that are reminders of way in which black people were treated in the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States. It appears obvious that participants in the photos knew full well what the images mean and still found it acceptable to provoke such images.