Note from BW of Brazil: In my nearly 20 year voyage into black Brazil, one of the many changes I have been happy to see is the increase of Afro-Brazilian intellectual voices that are challenging an academic realm that has always been very Eurocentric. This is not to say that the university atmosphere is no longer Eurocentric, but what I am saying is that in the past decade and half a number of important black voices have been producing dissertations, writing books, and putting on seminars that bring an Afro-Brazilian perspective that has always been either missing or simply ignored.
When I began to study Brazil from the perspective of race, I was introduced to the works of Abdias do Nascimento, Alberto Guerreiro Ramos, Lélia Gonzalez, Clóvis Moura and a few other great Afro-Brazilian intellectuals who explored the realities of being black in a Brazil that the country’s power structure was busy to cover up. Although I knew the importance of these names, in my travels back and forth to the country I would soon learn that the average black Brazilian had never even heard of these people.
Today, because of the tens of thousands of black Brazilians who have been able to earn a college education, the works of some of these late, great scholars are being recognized, divulged and debated by a new generation of black Brazilian thinkers because of not only their own research, but also because of the power of social media. The rise of such scholarship came under 14 years of Workers’ Party rule in Brazil coinciding with the emergence of a new black consumer class that was soon able to make purchases that just a few decades ago would not have been possible for so many black families.
We now know that it is highly questionable if we can truly call this demographic middle class, but we can say that appearance of tens of thousands of black Brazilians in places they were previously rarely seen was the driving force behind the eventual impeachment and imprisonment of former Presidents Dilma Rousseff and Lula da Silva respectively. In fact, the findings behind the latest political scandal that is currently rocking Brazil are showing that the fate of the former PT presidents is directly linked to the ascension of black and poor classes from which groundbreaking scholars such as Carlos Machado and Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto emerged. Is it any wonder that the current government seems to have a clear agenda to make it so that black voices are symbolically returned to the senzala (slave quarters) where a large portion of Brazilian society still believes they belong?
The generation of black intellectuals that the Workers’ Party affirmative action policies helped to form
They entered higher education thanks to quotas, Prouni and FIES; and now they present rich academic and cultural production
A new generation of black intellectuals, who are presenting different academic and cultural productions, were at the center of debates at cultural events in November of 2018. In the Literary Fair of the Peripheries (Flup), the “First Person” table gathered on Sunday, November 11, authors who are the first of their families and even their neighborhoods, to go to college. In the bookstore Blooks, the cycle of debates “Outras Histórias do Brasil: Resistências e Reparações (Other Histories of Brazil: Resistances and Reparations) discussed, on November 26, “Restitution, Affirmative Actions and Public Policies”.
Writer Ana Paula Lisboa (one of the authors of the collection Olhos de azeviche) is one of the exponents of this group born of affirmative action policies, such as quotas, Prouni and Fies. She is one of the participants of the “First Person” table, in Flup. Studying at a private college, where she joined Prouni, she was the first of her family to enter a university. She enrolled in the selection process without telling her parents, whom she only told when she had the results in hand.
“They thought I was going to finish high school and that was it. When I said that I had won a scholarship to the university, they were very happy.
She recalls that when she lived in Engenho Novo, in the northern part of Rio de Janeiro, and told her grandmother she wanted to be a writer, she heard that she could not “let life go” and that she needed to get a job. That’s what led her to journalism. Today, she happily tells us that 70% of her budget comes from working as a writer.
Also the first person in her family to attend higher education, Tatiana Brandão says that she would not have obtained the degree if it weren’t for the quotas. Today she is a leadership development consultant and, among other initiatives, her work at Aasplande and Educafro is highlighted. She attended both the Blooks and TEDx Pedra do Sal tables, which took place at the Rio Art Museum (MAR) on the 29th. Tati, as she prefers to be called, graduated in design at a private university that adopted the policy of racial quotas, which guaranteed her a 50% scholarship.
If it weren’t for the quotas, I wouldn’t be able to attend. She would wake up at 4 am, leave Belford Roxo at 5:40 am, arrive at Barra da Tijuca to attend class at 7:30am, leave class at 11:40am, at 1:00 p.m., begin her shift as a junior attendant in a mall, get off at 10pm and at home by midnight.
Her struggle to earn a diploma and success in her career made her biography part of the exhibition “Mulheres Negras Brasileiras Presença e Poder” (Black Brazilian Women Presence and Power), in 2017, in New York.
Breaking down the discourse that these policies could undermine the academic performance of college students, a study published in 2017 by Unicamp showed that students benefiting directly from these policies performed similarly to the others in the National Student Performance Exam (Enade).
Professor Fátima Lima, from the Postgraduate Program in Ethnic-Racial Relations at Cefet/RJ and the Interdisciplinary Program for Graduate Studies in Applied Linguistics at UFRJ, says that students, in fact, challenge her more and more.
“Affirmative policies have tensioned the relationships of knowledge from the moment these students arrive with a will, with sharp critical thinking, connected to the world and the networks, encouraging professors to review their course plans.
One of her graduate students at Cefet, Luana Arah, is also a writer. She is an example of a student who questions Eurocentric bibliographies and who seeks to bring new subjects and new authors into the academy. Luana recalls that during her graduation, in the class of 25 people only she and two others were black. Now, in the master’s program, the reality is another among the students, but there is still difficulty between the professors:
“We are currently seeing changes. In the course of Ethnic-Racial Relations we have those in which to mirror ourselves, both in the student body and teaching staff, we find mostly black classes and teachers who dialogue with the objectives of research. But I talk to colleagues from other institutions, where they often run into the difficulty of orientation on the chosen theme for the research: themes that permeate us and are present in the life of the black population. Therefore, it is common to try to redirect the research, either by the requirement of the Eurocentric bibliography or by the non-affectation for the theme.”
First-generation of quota students in master’s programs
Evandro Luiz da Conceição is one of the students of the first class of quota students in the postgraduate course of the School of Communication of UFRJ. With a degree in journalism, he graduated in a private college with the help of Prouni and racial quotas, this year he entered the master’s program at UFRJ. His research seeks to bring previously marginalized narratives into the academy: he studies the debate on legalization of marijuana in the samba of Bezerra da Silva and in the rap of Marcelo D2, analyzing how both portray, each in their own time, the context of inequality and violence in Brazil.
Like Luana, Evandro had noticed the disproportion between bibliographic sources written by black and white authors.
“It caught my attention that most of the theorists I quoted in the monograph were white. In the master’s program, I try to break this system. When we think of intellectual construction, we tend to think about what is within the scholarly context, but there is a very rich analysis of the Brazilian reality in these two authors.
Evandro tells us that his mother, already deceased, had to abandon her primary schooling to work as a babysitter and as a maid. For his family, entering the university – something he only got after the implementation of quotas and Prouni – represented more than a fraternal pride.
“I inaugurated a new phase of my family, it put me in another place in society. When I was younger, I said I wanted to be a journalist and I heard that I had to stop dreaming, that a son of the poor didn’t go to college. Today, I’m thinking of a PhD.