Note from BW of Brazil: Infuriated. That’s the word that about captured my mood as I watched a segment on Globo TV’s annual “Criança Esperança” fund-raising program. Last Sunday, a near four-minute feature aired in the objective was to discuss and critique the effects of racism. For the piece, several primary school-aged children, all non-white, were asked to read pages filled with real racist comments made by various persons and directed at others on the internet. Again, as the tactics employed by this powerful network (number one in the country) in terms of the race issue have been problematic over the years, it should actually come as no surprise that this channel would produce such a piece and actually believe that it’s doing its part to combat racism in Brazilian society. (See video below while its still available. In the event that it is removed, please watch it at the Globo website here)
As so many pieces on this blog involving Globo TV will demonstrate, the network can be considered one of the most powerful enforcers of a racist system due its lack of Afro-Brazilian representation in its daily programming, its stereotypical depictions of this group as well as its constant elevation of whiteness into the public consciousness. The result of this segment was that, similar to other direct or indirect treatments of the issues of race/racism featured on the network, this piece was embarrassing, a slap in the face, exploitative and could potentially have had the reverse effect than what it presumably set out to accomplish. First, let’s see how Silvia Nascimento of the Mundo Negro site interpreted the piece.
Globo is wrong for using the suffering of black children to talk about racism
By Silvia Nascimento
Racism is violence. It’s a crime. Understanding this is crucial to realizing that children should not be exposed to it, despite being impossible when you are born black.
Globo TV produced a video for the project Criança Esperança (Hope for Children), in which children have to read racist phrases to a black actress, face to face, eye to eye. Nothing very original, because a similar project was done in the US, only that adult men, said texts of misogynist and obscene content to women, also adults.
As in the American experience, many of these children couldn’t say the sentences and were taken by sadness, shame and anger. Some of them even cited other racist phrases that they heard from other children, which they defined as bullying, which is different from racism. It would be fitting for Globo to make this correction, or warning, but the objective was to provoke emotion.
“Eu não gosto da sua cor” (“I don’t like your color”)
“Seu cabelo é horrível” (“Your hair is horrible”)
These were the phrases that children, the majority of them black, had to say to an actress with cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair) actress and very dark skin, who also proved to be touched in some moments of the video.
I doubt that Globo would use white children to reproduce discourses of violence, phrases of pedophiles for example, to raise awareness of childhood abuse. Or make some minor recite phrases of those forbidden funks (music), to talk about the sexualization of children.
Because of this I was shocked and angered, making these black children who have gone through and will go through situations of racism throughout life, have their emotions exposed on national television, in that “simulation”. It was clear from the tears, pauses and sighs, that their brains, read the experiment as a real experience. They were exposed to racism and will not come out stronger because of this.
Globo Network, how about we talk about racism exposing the aggressor? Questioning the courts and constitution that read racism as injuria racial (racial injury/slur) and not send anyone to jail? Make programs that give visibility to projects combating racism outside of the Criança Esperança campaign? Having more blacks in the programming, perhaps?
The Exhibit-B exhibition – full of reproductions of the human zoo where blacks were exposed as animals – was banned in several countries, including Brazil, wanting to talk about racism exposing the pain of blacks enslaved by means of black actors who were exhibited within cages or wearing chains, “live”. It was granted that in many places the burden of project’s actors was beyond art. It is the white producer once again turning our pain into a spectacle.
I think that there is even good faith and sincerity in actions like these, but if those involved would call the black community to participate in the creation process of projects like these, it would be different.
Until when will we have to expose our wounds (and our children) to teach whites about racism? What are the concrete changes that this exposure brings to all of us besides further traumatizing our little ones?
Note from BW of Brazil: Needless, reaction and outrage provoked by the clip was swift. Besides the numerous comments posted on social media sites, militants and You Tubers also reacted. Long time activist Deise Benedito wrote:
“It is unbearable to see the violence, aggression, which these children were submitted in order for Globo to do their experiment! Black children having to behave as racists, as if they did not know the pain of racism! Exposing black children to utilizing racist expressions that they experience daily, is subjecting them to reliving, for the umpteenth time, violence and pain they experience in their day-to-day, nationwide. It doesn’t help to strengthen them. This puts down a beating, again, in the face of the solitary experience of pain. I had the urge to sue them. I felt very angry to see the tears and the pain it caused.”
Preta Pariu expressed her views on You Tube. Moved to tears by the “strong video”, she reflected more when her 9-year old daughter asked her, “Mom, why don’t they put on white children to talk about this?” Preta went on to ask why they never do this reflection with white children, specifically with those who have insulted a black child. “Children are indeed racists, they weren’t born this way,” she says. And repeating a point this very blog has made in various posts, “we are NOT all equal! We are all human, yes. We are not treated equally,” she continues. Another great point she made was in wanting to see the parents of these children reflect on the way they’re raising their children. Thinking of the children, she also reminds us that, “it’s not their fault, but they’re being raised this way.”
So what was this writer’s reaction to the video? Well, after fuming for the first few minutes, towards the end of the video I had to just my head, laugh and remember that this is Rede Globo, the principle force of manipulation in Brazil. But like the others, I felt even more disgusted by the fact that they would use emotions and painful experiences of children, many of whom would be defined as black (or at least non-white), to once again manipulate the viewer into believing the station is taking some sort of stand against racism. Similar to its artificial support of journalist Maju Coutinho when she was a victim of internet racism, as well as the avoidance of addressing Globo- supported stances on Military Police occupations of poor neighborhoods that have led to countless deaths of young black people, this segment intends to make the station look as if it’s on the right side while simultaneously maintaining the status quo.
Why do I say this?
Well, the fact is that Brazil as a whole continues to try to diminish the effects and even existence of individual, collective and institutional racism that dominates the nation’s social relations. If the station were in fact serious about combating racism it would first start with its own daily depictions and invisibility of the Afro-Brazilian population. When Globo continues to present its black citizens in this manner, it re-enforces ideals dating back to Brazil’s 350 plus years of slavery that established whiteness as the ideal standard for its population while instilling blackness as a race and racial category to be avoided, disregarded and eventually extinguished. If Globo, and any other entity really wants to combat racist sentiments, why do they never approach the white aggressor rather that the black person who is always victimized by such aggression? This approach always allows the aggressor to remain invisible and free of responsibility while the target of the assault carries the pain of this act of dehumanization, often times, for life.
In always presenting black people in such a manner, it also adds fuel to cries of ‘vitimismo’, or victimhood, in which the society as a whole denies the effect of racism as well as its culpability that leads to emotionally-charged reactions (such as that of the children in the video) due to their everyday experiences with such psychological attacks. I wouldn’t even suggest replacing the black children in this absurd video with white children, because they, even having learned such discriminatory behavior from their superiors, are children too. But if any media group wanted to really discuss the depths of racism in society, why not interview white adults who have uttered such ugly comments at one time or another? After all, it is most likely that white children adopt these postures from white adults or other white children who were also influenced by white adults. It’s not like we don’t have thousands of examples from social networks, archived police records, or news reports (some of which are featured on this blog) to choose from.
Why not place some of these white people on the hot seat? And yes it IS necessary to mention that they need to be white people. Why? Because 1) in Brazil, as around the world, regardless of the white collar and petty crimes that whites commit, the image of whites as a collective group remains untarnished and a standard of excellence, beauty, power and wealth to which all other groups should aspire to be. And 2) even with clear evidence of the influence of racism in Brazilian society, rarely does the mainstream media present conflicts or disputes in racial terms. That is, when it deals with situations in Brazil. When dealing with news from the United States, Brazil’s media has no problem presenting reports from the perspective of race. The most recent example was the murder of yet another African-American male by American police forces.
In a video that recently surfaced, 37-year old Alton Sterling was shown being murdered in cold blood by police in the southern state of Louisiana. A few days ago I watched as Globo news flashed the headline across the screen “Policiais brancos matam homem negro nos Estados Unidos” (white police kill black man in the United States). The O Globo website presented a slightly altered version of the same headline, reading “Vídeo mostra policiais brancos matando homem negro a tiros em Louisiana” (video shows white police killing a black man with shots in Lousiana). Young Afro-Brazilian men are regularly gunned by Military Police, often times by white military soldiers (1), but when reports of these murders come out in Brazil’s top TV networks (Globo, Record, SBT and Band), rarely is the race of either the victim or the shooter mentioned. The issue speaks to the fact that still today, with hundreds of academic studies and dissertations breaking down racial politics in Brazil, the nation’s media continues to want to present other countries as having racial conflict while ignoring the severity of the problem in Brazil itself. This no doubt contributes to the culture of deniability that Brazil as a whole continues enact when the issue is racism.
The last thing (actually the first thing) that caught my attention in the video were the reactions of the children themselves. Besides a few of them not wanting to repeat such hurtful statements to a black woman, a few of the children even broke down in tears when thinking of the comments. A few of the children would go on to admit that they had witnessed such comments directed at black people at one time or another. Let us remember Eliane Cavalleiro’s groundbreaking work that showed the Brazilian education system, its directors, professors, etc. do little and often nothing when black children are the target of racist jokes or insults within the school environment (and we’ve seen various examples in previous posts: see here, here, here 0r here). Some of the children said (and their emotional reactions demonstrate) that they didn’t like saying such things to other people. All of the children’s comments were very revealing. One, looking at the black woman actor said that she had the same color as the woman and that she felt bad just reading the comments. But for me, two comments, one by a girl and another by a boy, really get to the root of why the racial hierarchy remains so strong and goes unchallenged in Brazil.
In several previous posts, this blog has pointed out how common it is for Brazilians (of all colors but particularly black) to utter the phrase “somos todos iguais”, meaning ‘we are all equal’ after having been a victim or having witnessed a racial aggression. This short phrase assures that Brazilians as a whole cannot face the topic without attempting to minimize it. The discourse that “we are all equal” says that there is no need to address the issue with any seriousness. It says that there is no need to change anything (because we are all equal) and thus let things continue as they are. It says that a whole nation is willing to continue the farce of the decades long ‘racial democracy’ myth even when it is so very obvious that all Brazilians are not treated equally. It is the Brazilian version of the myth of ‘equal opportunity’ or ‘turn the other cheek’. It is kicking the can down the road or recycling it rather than throwing it in the trash.
In the video, with tears streaming down her face, the girl in the pink jacket says it all when she tearfully utters, “everybody is equal…but don’t perceive this.” It is with the sentence that I say, once again, it is time to put an end this response. People in fact know that we are not all (treated) equal but by so many people continuing to (pretend to) believe it, this inequality is permitted to remain masked. This is not to say that there aren’t people who genuinely believe that we are all equal, clearly there are. The problem lies in the inequality and the hierarchy that benefits one group at the expense of the other. In other words, while black Brazilians, the oppressed group, continue to believe in this phrase and continue to suffer the ugly reality of the myth, white Brazilians, the oppressive group, will never be challenged to admit/recognize/change their posture because with the phrase/belief intact, they will never have to. It happens everyday. White person calls black person “monkey”, black person responds by saying, “we’re all equal”.
This same phrase was uttered by a black boy in the video. The boy wearing the black and gray shirt was asked by the white male interviewer if it would be easier to read the racist phrases to him, a white man. The boy responded that it wouldn’t be because “we’re all equal”. Here we have another example of how racism/white supremacy is maintained in Brazil. Because while we know that not all whites harbor such racist sentiments about black people, a large proportion does and those people will be able to continue expressing such sentiments knowing that they will be symbolically forgiven (and thus remain in a position of social superiority) by black people who continue to believe in an impossible inequality that these same white people, deep down, know isn’t true. It is this same forgiveness that refuses to even put white people in front of the camera to explain why they harbor express such sentiments that cause so much pain to people who are not part of their privileged group.
The short example provided in this video demonstrating one of the mechanisms used to maintain white supremacy brought to mind a classic debate over the means by which descendants of Africans could improve their situation in multi-racial societies as defended by legendary African-American activists Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. As anyone who has studied the ideologies of the two could tell you, MLK was a proponent of integration and passive resistance while MX believed in complete separation of the races and self-defense. Now while one wouldn’t necessarily think of the United States as an integrated society or Brazil as a segregated society, closer analysis shows that both countries represent facets of both constructions. Brazil is not as openly segregated as the US in terms of physical space, but the higher up the social ladder one goes, the more segregated the society. In the US, the black and white worlds remain, for the most part very segregated, but economic and media integration makes it so that African-Americans have very little control over their economic power or the images they see in film or TV. But this segregation has led to a vast number of organizations, entities and genres specifically by and for African-Americans. In has only been in recent years that we have been beginning to see the same being organized around Afro-Brazilian identity on a widespread level. But even still, this representation is still quite miniscule. In the end, the effects can be noted in the identities of the two groups.
But what does this have to do with the video? Well first, let’s review snippets of two speeches; one by MLK and the other by MX. First we have an excerpt from MLK’s “A Christmas Sermon on Peace”, speech from 1967.
“….throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally or otherwise, for integration, but we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer.”
Now let’s take a look at a section of Malcolm X’s “Message to the Grassroots” speech from 1963.
“You don’t have a peaceful revolution. You don’t have a turn-the-other-cheek revolution. There’s no such thing as a nonviolent revolution. The only kind of revolution that’s nonviolent is the Negro revolution. The only revolution based on loving your enemy is the Negro revolution….Revolution is bloody, revolution is hostile, revolution knows no compromise, revolution overturns and destroys everything that gets in its way. And you, sitting around here like a knot on the wall, saying, “I’m going to love these folks no matter how much they hate me.” No, you need a revolution. Whoever heard of a revolution where they lock arms, singing “We Shall Overcome”? You don’t do that in a revolution. You don’t do any singing, you’re too busy swinging. It’s based on land. A revolutionary wants land so he can set up his own nation, an independent nation. These Negroes aren’t asking for any nation—they’re trying to crawl back on the plantation.”
Applying these two excerpts from these leaders to the video and the comments made by the children, as well as the overall view of most black Brazilians and we would come to the conclusion that Brazilian society is much more constructed on King’s ideology. In the comments of the children, we see a clear desire for a society that is based on equality, and even with the existence of such racial antagonism, they clearly wish for a society in which “we are all equal” but even while it doesn’t exist, they “will still love” their tormentors. This is what often makes the struggle for black progress so challenging in Brazil. In general, Brazilian citizens are very cordial people. Of course we also see strong elements of racist, sexist and fascist views, but surprisingly, the cordiality remains. Real change, as Malcolm X reminds us, is hostile. It’s bloody. And there can be no real change as long as the oppressed continue to tell the oppressor that “we are all equal”! This is part of the reason I have long argued that it matters not which form of racism is worse between Brazilian and American societies. What matters is that Brazil’s form of racism is more efficient because it has psychologically disarmed its oppressed so well.
Watching this disturbing video by Brazil’s top TV network infuriated me but also saddened me as it simply demonstrates that Globo, as well as Brazilian society as a whole, has no desire to change or even adjust the existing racial hierarchy. Today, as much in the United States as in Brazil, police continue to brutally murder black people in the streets. And the deeply ingrained idea that “we are all equal”, “loving our enemies” and “turning the other cheek” will do nothing but ensure the maintenance of this hierachy.
Source: Mundo Negro
- It’s worth pointing out here that it is also common that black police kill black citizens, but even in this situation, these police act on behalf of the racist state and under a Eurocentric indoctrination process in which blacks adopt the same posture of the system toward the Afro-Brazilian population.`