Note from BW of Brazil: In a brief bio I published several weeks ago, I described how I happened to get into studies of the situation of Afro-Brazilians. It is a question that I am frequently asked ove the years. And responding to the question I always say that it was first due to the 2,000 page encyclopedia entitled Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience. This reference book introduced me to a number of important Afro-Brazilian historical figures as well presenting a history of slavery, cultural practices and a thorough summary of how black Brazilians came to be in the position they are in today in Brazilian society.
One of the figures that really captivated me was the activist, professor, painter, poet, playwright, actor and politician Abdias do Nascimento (1). After reading the biography of this man that Africana proclaimed “the most complete African intellectual of the 20th century”, I wanted to know more. A few weeks after having bought Africana, I found two books written by Nascimento, both in English. The first was Africans in Brazil: a Pan-African perspective and the second was Brazil: Mixture or Massacre? Essays in the Genocide of a Black people. Both of these books blew me away because up to the point that I had bought Africana, I knew nothing about the history of African descendants in Brazil. As an African-American, I was simply captivated by the history of a group, Afro-Brazilians, that had a history that was so similar, yet different, from that of African-Americans. Up to that point in my life I had had no desire to try to new learn a new language. Although I had taken Spanish and French in school, I lacked that spark that made me really want to take learning a new language seriously. After discovering the history of Afro-Brazil and Abdias do Nascimento I finally had a purpose to take on learning a foreign language: Portuguese.
Right around that time I was really starting to get into the finding information on the internet and with my new found passion, I wanted to find everything I could on black Brazil. I would spend hours scrolling the internet seeking whatever I could about Brazil in English. But after a few months and hundreds of hours of searching for information, I grew frustrated at using keywords and pulling up hundreds of articles, many in English but far more in Portuguese. At that time, when I was still a beginner learning Portuguese I used several online translation programs to help me get the gist of the articles in Portuguese. But after about six months of Portuguese lesson books and CDs, I could finally read Portuguese well enough to get through some articles online.
As I soon began my yearly travels to Brazil, I began picking up as many titles on race as I could find. I started with the classics by Carl Degler and Thomas Skidmore and eventually delved into titles by Kim Butler, Anthony Marx, John Burdick, Rebecca Reichmann, Michael Hanchard and many others as I continued to develop my knowledge of Portuguese. Then one day at a library, I came across a copy of Nascimento’s O genocídio do negro brasileiro — Processo de um racismo mascarado, which translates as ‘the genocide of the black Brazilian – process of a masked racism’. I didn’t have a library card from that library so I used the printing machine and scanned the entire book. Similar to the two Nascimento titles I had read previously, I couldn’t put the book down (although my Portuguese proficiency still didn’t allow me to read it as fast as the first two titles in English). Just a few of the chapter titles reveal why. Translated into English, a few of these chapters were entitled “Slavery: the myth of the benevolent master”, “Sexual exploitation of the African woman”, “Racial discussion: prohibited”, “International racial image” and “The whitening of the culture: Another strategy of genocide”. And then to learn the great lengths that the Brazilian government went to to try and silence Nascimento’s presentation in Nigeria were simply unbelievable. The myth of Brazil’s famed ‘racial democracy’ had been constructed and basically held in place for about 40 years and the military government of the time would do all it would take to maintain this image outside of Brazil.
What has been great to see is that at the time that Nascimento released this book, militancy among Afro-Brazilians denouncing the bogus claim that Brazil had no racial problems was limited to a rather small group of activists of the then beginnings of the Movimento Negro, which was officially organized in the same year that O genocídio do negro brasileiro was released, 1978. Today, as this movement continues to grow and is able to reach a wider following through the usage of the internet, the re-release of this classic comes at a perfect time. Anyone interested in the situation of black Brazilians should add this book to their collection. And if you’re just now getting into ‘the Brazil thing’ like I was several years ago, this book is the perfect reason to learn or improve your Portuguese!
Book by Abdias do Nascimento that confronted the racial democracy theory re-released
New edition of The genocide of the black Brazilian is a registration of the struggle of its author to denounce racism in Brazil
By Bolívar Torres
In 1977, Abdias do Nascimento was in Lagos, Nigeria, ready to present a combative essay at the Colloquium of the Second World Festival of Black Art and Culture, that sought to dismantle a theory widely diffused in Brazilian culture and which had been propagated throughout the world by the military dictatorship of that time: that the nation lived in tranquil racial harmony, and that blacks were less excluded here than in apartheid South Africa or in certain southern states of the United States. But the Brazilian government prevented the playwright and activist from representing the country in the event, replacing him with professor Fernando A. A. Mourão, who defended opposing theories.
The text, however, was published as a mimeograph by the University of Ife in Nigeria, where Nascimento taught as a visiting professor, and then distributed by the author himself to the participants in the colloquium, which presented up to then a previously unknown view of the country. His attempt to demonstrate, even with objective numbers, the process of annihilation of the identity of black men and women by socioeconomic mechanisms has marked many African intellectuals. In 1978, it was published in a book in Brazil entitled O genocídio do negro brasileiro — Processo de um racismo mascarado (The genocide of the black Brazilian – Process of a masked racism), becoming a symbol of the denunciation of racism – and its cover-up by society – including unrestricted use of the word “genocide”, which still raises controversy.
Forty years later, the book is being re-released by the Perspectiva publisher, with prefaces by the sociologist Florestan Fernandes and Nigerian literature Nobelist Wole Soyinka (present at the colloquy of 1977), as well as an afterword by Nascimento’s widow, Elisa Larkin. The republication of the text, she believes, brings the registration of a decisive moment in the evolution of the fight against racism in Brazil.
“The book now reaches a public perhaps more prepared to receive its message,” argues Elisa, who heads the Instituto Ipeafro, founded by Nascimento. “We have already gone through several phases of struggles and achievements in relation to public policies brought about by issues that Abdias brought out for the first time. Society has become sufficiently aware of the existence of racism to recognize the confrontation necessary to come to these policies.”
Elisa recalls that, at the time, the use of the term “genocide” (2) was seen as “unusual” and even “aggressive” by some. By curtailing Nascimento’s official participation in the colloquium, the government tried to prevent his denunciation from reaching an international context. However, the explosive content of his text has gained enormous repercussion, partly thanks to the mobilization of Nigerian intellectuals.
“Brazil used the image of the so-called ‘racial democracy’ as an appeal to export products to African countries,” says Elisa. “Abdias emphasized how this trade fueled by a lie benefited only a racist elite who discriminated against blacks in degrading working conditions.”
Source: Entorno Inteligente
- This is the blog’s main article on Nascimento, but his importance can be seen throughout the blog as a number of pieces either mention him or include other information about him. See here.
- Showing how ahead of his time he really was, Nascimento labeled Brazil’s treatment of Afro-Brazilians as “genocide” 40 years ago, which was considered absurd by many. Today, many Afro-Brazilian activists use this term specifically when speaking of the rate of which Brazil murders black youth.