Considered one of “the most influential blacks under 40”, Rene Silva still has to deal with attitudes that blacks should stay in “their place”
By Marques Travae
Stories such as the one you’re going to read today tell us a lot about how the average Brazilian thinks. I don’t present these types of stories because I want to “dirty up Brazil’s name”, because in fact, if Brazilians were honest enough about certain attitudes toward beliefs about race and class, they already know that these types of attitudes exist and have existed for centuries. And a number of scholarly reports, both Brazilian and American, have been exposing this for years. I share these things because, at their core, they explain a lot about the unofficial segregation that one finds throughout the society in terms of who has access to what resources, those who don’t, why or why not and how people feel about this.
In numerous previous reports, airplanes or airports have been a rather common location where these attitudes rear their ugly heads (see here, here and here). We learned this years ago in a report that showed how many Brazilians aren’t comfortable seeing people they consider to be “undesirables” doing things everyday people do, such as taking planes to distant destinations. I would have thought nothing of it. After all, in the United States, seeing black people on airplanes is pretty normal. There, as we saw in another previous article, people seem to believe that black people can’t fly first class.
Rene Silva, a carioca (native of Rio), recently saw this attitude expressed in his presence. Considered one of the 100 most influential blacks under the age of 40, one wouldn’t be able to tell based on what Silva heard in preparation for a flight from Aeroporto Santos Dumont in Rio’s south zone, to the city of Belo Horizonte, the capital city of the state of Minas Gerais.
Upon boarding his flight, he heard a woman making a comment that seemed to express her displeasure with the presence of Silva. According to Silva, the woman said the following to a friend nearby:
“Brazil is really a mess… Because in the old days this (plane flights) was something for the chic people and nowadays anyone is flying.”
Pointing with her eyes to her neighbor’s nice armchair, she continued: “Look at the kind of people who fly!”, in reference to Silva.
Although Silva chose not to confront the woman, he would later speak on the incident online. The creator of the site “Voz das Comunidades”, Silva said:
“There’s a lack of people coming out of their bubble and allowing themselves to discover the world that exists outside of everything that surrounds their life. My biggest concern is with the next generations. And this lady’s son? Her grandson? Are they going to be different or are they receiving her teachings? This worries me much more than her attitude.”
Silva, 24 years old, believes that there is still an older and elitist generation that continues to stupidly harbor prejudice toward people who are outside of their select circle. And this exclusionary attitude applies itself to not only black people but also people from Brazil’s northeast and people living in Brazil’s slums known as favelas. Silva went on to explain that having ventured to various countries and experienced a taste of the rest of world, he’s come to understand just how backwards Brazil really is.
It’s pretty clear what demographic the woman Silva encountered was talking about when she said, “Look at the kind of people who fly!” What else could this woman have been talking about in reference to Rene that would signal to her that he didn’t belong there? We have too many examples of this idea of “race and place” that clearly show that many white Brazilians still believe that certain spaces should only be their territory. Black Brazilians know this and are day by day exposing this sort of behavior.
Keeping in tune with the readers of this blog, many outside of Brazil also believe this to be true. I’ve lost count of how many people, after having read a few articles about the racial situation in Brazil on this blog have come to see the country with very different eyes.
For Silva, part of the problem is that so many companies don’t choose black people to represent their products in commercials, as such, it shouldn1t be surprising when there are reactions such as the one that made headlines a few weeks ago due to a company choosing an all-black family for its Father’s Day ad. And what’s worse is that, in Brazil, when black people point out the racist nature of Brazilian society, people will simply minimize these complaints as “mimimi”, or whining, or accusing the victims of such racist ideologies or behavior or seeing racism in everything.
Rene acknowledges how hard it is having to put up with such scenarios that are such a regular occurrence among black Brazilians, but it’s necessary to use the power of the internet and social media to expose such situations, a tool black Brazilians didn’t have at their disposal just a few decades ago. Silva’s powerful Voz das Comunidades (voices of the community) website is just one example of this.
But even with his success, Rene understands that he is not shielded from racist attitudes. In another situation, he recalls being at the Uruguaiana subway station in Rio that was full of people because a recent futebol game that was going down in the famed Maracanã stadium. Silva then noticed a man close by who was standing with two teenagers who were most likely his children. As Silva approached, the man backed off and then whispered something in the ears of the two teens, motioning in his direction in the same manner as the woman he had encountered on the flight. Theman kept his eyes glued on Rene, so what is it that could have provoked such attention? Well, besides Silva being black, he also wore a shirt with the phrase “I am favela” written on it.
That’ll do it!