Note from BW of Brazil: Who says you can’t learn something from a street sweeper? Everyday in our busy lives, we passed by all sorts of people. People in athletic apparel. People in everyday casual clothing. People in business attire. But ask yourself, what comes to your mind when you see a person dressed in the above mentioned ways? How does that perception change when you keep the clothes but change the race of the person wearing those clothes? We’ve already explored this question in a previous article and the difference was very telling.
Today, I came across an article of the Financial Times entitled “Racial diversity in Brazil ‘turns to a new page’” which featured a visit to Brazil’s only black college, UniPalmares, and Fábio dos Santos, a 21-year old black student of business administration and a trainee at a bank. Hailing a cab to get to work, the taxi driver asked Fábio if they let him in the bank with his kinky/curly hair. On the same day, at night, in his business attire, a white man stopped him outside of the subway and questioned in a manner of surprise, “A black man in a suit and tie?”
Discriminatory treatment at the bank is nothing new for black Brazilians, but Fábio’s experience in just one day shows that, no matter how Afro-Brazilians look, society rejects them for their “difference” from the Eurocentric standard and also rejects them when they wear clothes that symbolize a certain conformity to society. Now if a black man gets that type of treatment wearing a suit and tie, imagine how he’s treated if he’s wearing his street sweeping uniform. What the story below demonstrates is that you never know what the common man on the street may know. But honestly, would your pre-conceived notions of the person not even allow you to discover this?
Street sweeper gives class on history and racism in Brazil in video and it goes viral
By Kauê Vieira
With the intent of discussing the social disparity between blacks and whites in Brazil, the gari (street sweeper) Jr Jota published two images on his Facebook page. The first picture was of a group of physicians and the second from a group of street sweepers of Rio de Janeiro. As you can imagine, the first photo with the medical professionals didn’t contain one black person, because they composed the picture of those responsible for the cleaning of the streets.
Analyzing the image, it is difficult to make an association with the structural racism, right? It could even be so, but this was not the case for many people, mostly white, who accused Jota of “mimimi” (whining). Determined to assert his point of view, the gari decided to delete the photos and make a video explanation.
For approximately six minutes, Jr Jota constructs a time line in which he seeks to explain the glaring differences between the two images. The point of departure are the marks left by the period of over 400 years of enslavement of black men and black women, making Brazil one of the last countries to abolish the practice. At least officially.
“When the negro was freed from slavery in Brazil, he was simply dropped,” he says.
During the abolition of slavery in 1888, many blacks were unable to exercise their right to freedom, because they didn’t know how to read or write, as well as continue being made subordinate by society, which intensified the process of embranquecimento (whitening). At that time a large number of European immigrants arrived in Brazil to fill the jobs. Thus, the famílias negras (black families) saw themselves forced to migrate to the edges of the cities, forming periferias e favelas (suburbs and slums).
This explanation can be summed up in Jota’s question, “Why do you think the majority of residents of (low income) communities are black? It’s what was left for us.”
It’s with this argument that he comes back to the photograph of médicos brancos (white doctors) and garis negros (black street sweepers). However, in a country where 26 in each 100 students in universities are black, how would it be possible to have a different perspective, even more so with a course as exclusive as medicine?
“Then yes, it’s not equal. Brazil is a racist country. Yes, we have something to complain about. If you whites don’t know, it’s irritating walking in the street and at that very moment the police stop you.”
Paraphrasing Jr Jota, this is the efeito borboleta do racismo (butterfly effect of racism). There is no way, so that there is an effective change, the first step is to recognize the problem. Before anything else, it is crucial that Brazilians as a whole, but especially the holders of privilege, acknowledge the existence of racism. There is no development without equality, especially in a country founded on mão de obra negra (black labor).
“I have said that the black, far from being a problem, is an important part of the solution. What consolidates Brazilian democracy and give sustainability to the development here is the qualified inclusion of black people. The Brazil of the future depends on the destiny of the black family,” said Helio Santos, president of the Instituto Brasileiro da Diversidade (Brazilian Institute of Diversity) to the site of Fundação Palmares.