Note from BW of Brazil: If you’re not already aware, Afro-Brazilians are in a state of emergency. I know there are those who will read such a statement and immediately dismiss it as an overreaction. An exaggeration. But is it really? Have you read about the murder rates in Brazil that are equal or worse to a country at war? With young black males making up a disproportionate percentage of those murders? Have you heard the cries of Afro-Brazilian women who say they are being left on the sidelines in marriage arena? How about the vast inequalities in the education system or health care? Those are a just a few of the issues affecting the black population. Need more evidence? I invite you to spend a little time looking at the material featured on this blog for the past five years and come to your own conclusions or maybe just listen to the words of a woman warrior who has been in the trenches for many years. One such woman is Vilma Reis…Check out an interview with her below on the state of black Brazil.
Vilma Reis: “We black men and women are in the line of fire”
The Bahia sociologist from Nazaré das Farinhas who fights for the collective empowerment of the black population
By Elen Carvalho and Jamile Araújo; photos: Karina Ramos
Vilma Reis, a sociologist and public ombudswoman for the Public Defender’s Office of the State of Bahia, received reporters at the Ombudswoman’s Office on Monday (24), the day before the most anticipated date of July in Salvador. The intense schedule of work and activities with other black women was not an impediment to her talking to us about her career.
The interview did not begin, however, without her wanting to know about the two young black communicators who stood before her. And she reminded them of the women who are producing in the field of communication, but who are not yet recognized.
Vilma, who has been fighting for the defense of black women, LGBT rights, black youth and the quilombola population for 30 years, has brought a detailed and precise analysis of the living conditions of the majority of the population of this country and pointed to challenges. The precision of her reflections demonstrates the ancient approach to the problems of the people.
Let her then introduce herself!
I started in the Student Movement at the age of 15. We were coming out of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), an extremely difficult moment in Brazil. And it was through the movement in defense of the public school, something so liberating for me, that I grew up in the interior of Bahia, in Nazaré das Farinhas.
It was here that I heard from the struggle of my uncles and my father, who were all sindicalistas (union workers) of the railway network. And I grew up with a very strong grandmother, a woman born on January 6, 1911, that’s why I’m “Reis.” That’s where my grandmother gave us the family a surname. And I grew up with this grandmother who said to me, “I’m cleaning the whites’ house, I’m picking pepper (for money), but you have an obligation to be a doctor.”
I understood that this phrase from my grandmother is not about you being a doctor for you. It is not you taking the title and thinking that you are better than someone in your community. Our undergraduate, masters, doctorate, post-doctoral degrees, or whatever, must be tools for us to follow in the project of liberation of our people. Because as long as you have a black woman being humiliated in the health service, as long as a black man continues being humiliated in a police blitz, we’ll all be in the line of fire.
I always say that our presence in the academic environment must be to address the cognitive injustice to the epistemicide and coping with this cognitive blockage that the “casa grande” (big house/master’s house) narrative historically has upon us. So our position since always needs to be of decolonization.
Our position must always be to place ourselves not as the dominated class, to the contrary, our presence in the university must be exactly that of the fissure. And the university will never be that “project” that constituted USP (University of São Paulo) of 1935, which called the French to organize a university.
The university that we propose is an academic project of rupture. And this rupture goes through what we call confrontation with the “Colonial Library”. It is not possible to constitute a liberating university in the context of the Americas, regardless of who we are, what we think.
Bringing the reference of Lélia Gonzalez, who, in making her classic text Racismo e sexismo na cultura brasileira (Racism and Sexism in Brazilian Culture), reminds us that our task, at many moments, is to subvert order, from disobedience to an academy that tries to frame everyone.
Recently, the General Public Defender, on the Saturday for our election of the public defender’s office, asked us: “Why did you apply to be a general ombudswoman in the Public Defender’s Office again?” I answered first that I was not alone, because I don’t believe in a project of self, in an individual project. We are here from a political stance, collective, thought out and architecturally.
Second, we are here because we are tired of losing in the justice system and we have come to create a fissure. The debate that we put on the table is irreversible. It is not possible to have democracy in justice without the external ombudswomen, therefore, without a politicized position of the population.
The presence of the Ombudswoman in the colonel-filled inner cities, where the “casa grande” is alive, still “installing” the rulers and political dynasties, breaks this logic. We have struggled to expand advocacy and this is the decisive role of the ombudswoman.
The first thing is not to give up the fights. The other thing is to think a lot about who, where and when we make alliances. Because the project we are defending has few allies. We do not want people replacing the voices of these guys, we fight for these people to get stronger, get up and position them.
Remember and take into account, when we make our materials, that many people were expelled from school because of transphobia, misogyny, and racism. Brazil continues with this raw wound that is racism, misogyny, and LGBT-phobia. The contempt of the people who wear the orixá necklace, or contempt for our way of speaking here in the Northeast, without regard to our diversity. We have to bet on the basic work, understand that sometimes there is an alley that does not pass a refrigerator, but it passes our hope every day to win. Invest in grassroots work, invest in the liberation of thought, make our people have more and more access to other content and turn off this television that is “colorblind” in a country with racial diversity, multicolor. Either we face this genocidal project that is in the communication (media), in the labor market, in the cowardly action of the police, or we have no way to go on.
I am speaking from the point of view of the black population because I understand that I am in the black majority state. I am in Bahia and we are 79% of that state. I am in the capital, Salvador, with 83% black men and women.
And speaking from this point of view, I am including the majorities. And here, at many moments, we have experienced similar situations to the South Africa of the 50’s, which is colonization in live flesh destroying our lives.
We need to react to a society that produces things like Brasil Urgente (see note one) and other programs of carnage and blood puddles, at noon exploding from the screens inside our plate, which is a way to criminalize our population, and say “you can even kill them because they are not human.”
We claim our humanity with a project that is not only for us, it is for the whole Brazilian society.
Edition: Juliana Gonçalves
- Brasil Urgente is a type of news program that is considered sensationalism The program reports on violence, crime, and ills experienced by the population of the greater São Paulo region, using live events, with rich detail and strong emotional appeal, aimed at holding the public’s attention. The program is hosted by José Luiz Datena and featured on the Bandeirantes TV network.