Note from BW of Brazil: In today’s post we feature an excellent example of how racism and white supremacy is maintained in Brazil while citizens and leaders of the country insidiously proclaim the country to be a place where “we are all equal”. We’ve seen this type of incident before so it’s not particularly surprising but it demonstrates the delusional denial that is so endemic throughout the country. Before we analyze the situation, we will first inform you of what happened.
Summer camp for created for black children causes controversy
Internet users outraged by the event. Organization denies exclusion of whites
By Iara Diniz; Photo: William Ferrari
A summer camp is causing controversy on social networks. This is because it is geared toward crianças negras (black children), and according to internet users, it would be segregating the races. The organization denies any kind of prejudice.
The questions started when the page Das Pretas (Of the Black Women), an institute that organized the event, said in a social networking event Quilombinho – Colônia de Férias Afrocentradas (Little Quilombo – African-centered summer camp). In the posting, the phrase “São apenas 60 vagas gratuitas para crianças negras de 4 a 10 anos” (There are only 60 spaces free vacancies for black children from age 4 to 10),” sparked controversy.
“That made me angry because they were restricting an event for black children and excluding other ethnic groups. At the time I thought, if I, as a white, do a summer camp for whites, this would become a scandal, I could even be arrested,” argued Beatriz Portanova, one of the internet users that questioned the disclosure on the social network.
Like Beatriz, other web users rebelled, saying the event was racist in preventing the participation of crianças brancas (white children). The restriction however, was denied by the organization, who has chosen to remove the word negra from the post. “At no time was it said that it was an exclusive event for black children, the fact that affirmative action is for black people, doesn’t exclude the participation of other races. We tried to explain this in social networks, but people didn’t understand and we thought it would be better to remove the word negra to avoid controversy,” said the president of the Das Pretas institute, Priscila Gama.
Priscila explains that the summer camp was designed to reaffirm the identity of black children that that goes without any representation in most of the events.
Even with programming geared toward the black audience, Priscilla says that children of any race can participate, including some that are already registered. “We find it extremely important that not only blacks, but people of other races participate and discuss racism. We are an instituto de negros (black institute) and we want representation for our children, so the event is done for them. The legislation says that the black population has the right to do events for their culture and race. There is nothing wrong,” she said.
Restriction of races is a crime
According to the legislation, events geared toward a certain public can’t prevent the participation of other people, regardless of race or ethnicity. The restriction is a form of segregation and can configure a crime.
“You would be prohibiting the exercise of the right of a person in relation to ethnicity, and this is a crime. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t promote events for a certain public, which is very common. It seems to me, the summer camp is an event created for black children, but that doesn’t impede the presence of white children, for example. In this way, there’s no problem,” said professor and expert on Direitos e Garantias (Rights and Guarantees), Raphael Boldt.
The City of Vitória (capital city of the state of Espírito Santo), which is one of the supporters of the summer camp, said there is no exclusion of any kind in the event. The Secretary of Culture Francisco Grijó stressed that “all areas the Secretariat of Culture are open to the public without restriction. The secretariat has the positioning of diversity and generalization,” he wrote in a response.
Note from BW of Brazil: OK so, depending on what side of the fence that the reader of this article stands, two immediate reactions will probably come to mind. For many, the first would be, if we are equal before the law, this would be an example of racism/exclusion against/of white people. The second, for those more informed on how the racial hierarchy is maintained, would be, what is the problem? Why can’t black people have their own events? So where does this blog stand on the issue? It shouldn’t be hard to tell if you’ve followed our posts for any period of time.
First of all, we’ve documented for nearly five years now how dominant the rule of whiteness is in so many realms of Brazilian society. In nearly every area of importance in the nation’s history, people who identify themselves as brancos, or white people, are the overwhelming physical representation of the entire Brazilian population, this even though 51% of the population defines itself as não-branca (non-white). As stated previously, we’ve seen this sort of reaction countless times over the years. Whenever black people establish things, groups or events targeted at black people, whites react as if it is some sort of threat to their supremacy and mask this rejection behind a cloak of ‘racial equality’.
We saw this reaction almost exactly 20 years ago when the magazine Raça Brasil debuted on newsstands. As we’ve shown in past posts, if one were to take a glance at Brazilian magazines today and from the beginning of Brazilian media one would come to the conclusion that Brazil has very few people of visible African ancestry. Indeed, the October 18, 1996, edition of the New York Times put it this way:
“Glancing at the rows of magazines lining any newsstand in Brazil, a stranger could mistake this racial rainbow of a country for a Nordic outpost. Slender blondes smile from the covers of fashion magazines, and white faces dominate all but the sports glossies.”
So, when Raça Brasil appeared in the fall of 1996, a starved Afro-Brazilian public snatched up copies of the magazine like thirsty people stranded on a desert for several days and suddenly finding a lake. The magazine’s debut issue sold out its first 200,000 copies and promptly ordered another 100,000 to meet the overwhelming consumer demand. Afro-Brazilians on the cover of a magazine and featured throughout the pages of a magazine was a rarity and the immediate success of the magazine showed how much this population dreamed of seeing itself in a colorful piece of print media of high quality.
Originally, when the magazine first appeared, under its title appeared the slogan “A Revista dos Negros Brasileiros”, meaning the ‘magazine of black Brazilians’. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the controversy began. What did white Brazilians have to say about all this? According to the country’s top newspaper, Folha (October 23, 1996), the first reaction to the news that there would be a large circulation of the magazine was to predict its failure, based on the same arguments they’d always used. After the release, the latest craze among racists was accusing the magazine of being racist because it described itself as “the magazine of black Brazilians” based on the idea that a similar magazine defining itself as the “magazine of white Brazilians” didn’t exist. As such, a magazine (the only one, mind you) that sought to represent half of the population that the media as a whole generally ignored was seen as constituting racism in a country that declared itself a ‘racial democracy’.
But as Roberto Melo wrote:
“This attitude reveals the fear of knowing that blacks are gradually occupying up space. Neo-racists in Brazil, relax! Black people just want to be treated as consumers. They request specific products for their skin, hair, taste and culture. They want to see themselves as successful and having self-esteem.”
Eventually, in relation to the printed slogan “the magazine of black Brazilians”, the farse of “we are all equal” eventually won out as pressure eventually led the magazine to remove the phrase from its cover. Here lies the mechanism through which the racial hierarchy remains at force. You see, even with white Brazilians regularly seeing the images of themselves daily, monthly, yearly, decade after decade, representing the whole of the Brazilian population in the mainstream media, for the most part, these same white Brazilians (and even some black Brazilians) see no problem with this. No doubt, Raça Brasil would have still caused controversy, but what really pushed the issue over the edge was its openly advertising that it was targeted at black Brazilians. As such, the Brazilian media can remain 90% white, and for the most part, a white media, but as long as it doesn’t openly proclaim this, the myths of ‘racial democracy’ and that ‘we are all equal’ can maintain themselves at least on a superficial level.
As we can see from today’s feature, the lesson of this rule that we learned from Raça Brasil still applies. My question would be, where are these same white people who are outraged when black people take the initiative to cultivate their self-esteem and identity against the unwritten rule of black exclusion and psychological annihilation generally practiced by the society at large? Where are these outraged white people when black children ask are there any black princesses? When they consistently only see white girls with straight hair in TV commercials? When advertising agencies are blatantly told to remove black people from their product ads? When white actors are 84.6% of actors in top novelas (soap operas)? When white people are 90% of university presidents? Where are these outraged white people protesting when studies tell us that 99% of Brazilian diplomats and federal university professors are white? Why do they never express outrage that 91% of the Brazilian Congress’s Lower House (Câmara) is white? These same people are also quite vocal when there are measures taken to assure access to darker, poorer citizens to colleges and universities, even when studies show these students do as well or even better than their usually whiter counterparts from more elite backgrounds.
We could go on and on about how the whiteness is the dominant phenotype in numerous areas and genres, but the few stats above should give you an idea of how ridiculous it is for anyone to be ‘outraged’ when black Brazilians take steps to empower and represent themselves. The unquestioned dominance of whiteness and invisibility of blackness in school curriculum, the media and the overall society is the very reason why such events to strengthen black identity are even necessary in the first place. For, a people without knowledge of its history has no future. In the same manner, a people that doesn’t see itself in mediums as powerful as the media are prone to believing that they either don’t exist or that their lives don’t matter (an idea that Military Police apparently believe). Rejecting their own physical features and desiring racial characteristics that are not their own is not a problem that white children must deal with. In fact, white children are consistently reminded that it is their image that is the standard (see here, here or here).
The final thing I would like to approach here is the pressure and necessity of Das Pretas having to change the way they advertised the event. Brazilian society is notorious for its rejection of black people in positions of prominence. This rejection applies to black children as well (1). This, as we’ve seen, is how Brazil pretends to publicly support racial equality while behind the scenes (but also openly) promoting whiteness as the top post of the racial hierarchy. White Brazilians will continue to scream about “reverse racism” when there is any attempt for black people to organize and empower themselves among themselves while simultaneously remaining silent when blacks are noticeably absent in so many realms of society. There is simply no way for whites to argue as if this were some sort of equal playing field because the vast majority of financial support for any social or entrepreneurial initiative or project comes from white hands. And those white hands usually position their hands in a gesture of “stop” when it comes to supporting black agendas. As such, it is understandable that it was necessary to back pedal in terms of promoting this event by defining it as specifically black due to the potential loss of financing and thus risk not being able to put on the event at all.
But at the same time, we CANNOT be afraid of defining ourselves and our interests in specifically black terms. A recent controversial video on the nation’s top TV network showed us that the media and society will NEVER truly hold the society as a whole accountable for its racist tendencies. As such, it is this writer’s belief that the time has come to stop attempting to appeal to the humanity of those who harbor racist tendencies. People and groups that maintain certain advantages will NEVER voluntarily relinquish such advantages. In societies in which there exists a racial hierarchy, groups that face oppression and exclusion based on race will be at the perpetual mercy of the dominant group when they don’t have their own force, power and ability to organize in their own interests. Which is one of the reasons that I maintain that Brazil’s racist system works so efficiently. While there is no official racial segregation, white society maintains its power to exclude the black population when and wherever it sees fit and with the absence of official legalized segregation, it can still maintain the idea that people are treated equally regardless of race or color. As long as this practice remains, whiteness will remain unchallenged as it will continue secure in its superior social position knowing that the discourse of ‘racial democracy’ will maintain non-whites in a perpetual state of begging to be accepted and experiencing emotional trauma because the general population doesn’t manage to realize or behave as if “we are all equal”, as the young girl in the aforementioned video painfully understood.
In this writer’s view, the situation in Brazil will permanently maintain the black population in a position/feeling of inferiority because of these primary mechanisms:
1) The entire culture and belief system in relation to race is based on the idea of whiteness being superior to other races.
2) This belief system is consistently re-enforced by the media, politics, economics and nearly every other genre.
3) Although there are communities throughout Brazil which are mostly black due to the fact that poorer communities usually have a larger presence of non-whites, the influence of white supremacy continues intact within the population due to the belief system that generations of Brazilians are raised under. Thus, white supremacy is re-enforced and continuously re-produced through the power structure as well as within the minds of the people themselves.
Over the course of several years of following this situation, we consistently note how people speak on the fact that even within the favelas (slums), the standard that dominates the minds of those who are not white is the white person, preferably with blond, straight hair and light-colored eyes. Increasingly, black women and black men are beginning to acknowledge this. And if whites were honest enough with themselves, they would have to admit this to be true, as one woman explained in a past post. As such, how can black Brazilians ever begin to recognize themselves as being equal to any other group as long as they are forced to live under psychological conditions that regularly instill in them the idea of white superiority?
For this reason, I have no problem with the idea of the existence of ‘black only’ organizations, events, media, etc. White people have proven time and again that they are quite comfortable expressing ideas that blacks don’t belong in certain areas (2) and the racist system often times supports this ideology. So why can’t black people do the same in their own interests? The women of Das Pretas had the right idea. And they shouldn’t be made to think they did something wrong in putting this idea in action.
- In a 2012 post we featured this blatant example: “In 1992, a woman named Maria Alice Alves was fired from her job at the SBT TV network after she allowed two black children to take part in the popular show Dó Ré Mi com a Vovó Mafalda. According to Alves, program director Wanderley Villa Nova asked her: “Was it you that chose those two negrinhos (little black kids)?” Others also noticed badly-camouflaged racist practices that barred black children early on in the selection process for the show. Of course Nova denied the charges, but an employee at SBT was quoted as saying: “If we put those kids on heads are gonna roll because Wanderley doesn’t like blacks.”
- Numerous examples of this idea of “race and place” can be found in this blog’s archives. See for just a few examples.