Note from BW of Brazil: Today’s article is short, right to the point and something that my research and experiences on/in Brazil demonstrate why such material is important. The first reason is something I’ve mentioned in a previous post. On my very first trip to Brazil, I went to Salvador, Bahia, a city that is considered the country’s center of African culture. Within a few days of my arrival, one of my friends who was acting as my guide in the city along with a young man I had become acquainted with shortly thereafter took me to a small restaurant in the city’s historic Pelourinho district. In this small restaurant, I saw a photo of the great intellectual and anthropologist Lélia Gonzalez. As I stood in awe of the photo, my two companions wondered why I was looking at the photo. Neither of the two had any idea who the woman was.
A second experience that has been fairly common over the years is the number of Afro-Brazilians that I meet who have never heard of Brazil’s most important modern black leader, the playwright, plastic artist, actor, director, poet and politician Abdias do Nascimento. This was even more shocking to me considering that Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience edited by Henry Louis Gates and Anthony Appiah defined Nascimento as the “most complete African intellectual of the 20th century”. To be clear, within Afro-Brazilian activist circles, everyone knows the importance of this man but among the general population, few people are familiar with him.
A third piece that demonstrates why today’s material is so important goes back to November of 2007. That year, in celebration of the Month of Black Consciousness, the city of São Paulo, the Afro Brasil Museum and other institutions sponsored a campaign in which enormous banners of important figures in Afro-Brazilian History were featured on buildings around the city’s downtown. Some of the names of these figures were known by perhaps millions of people as only the names of streets, avenues or in the case of poet, writer, and literary critic Mário de Andrade, the name of a library. In some cases, people knew the names but never knew these people were black.
In the case of Andrade, that November, a certain photo of the musicologist became the center of controversy as some people didn’t believe that one specific photo was in fact Andrade. As the debate went on and on, G1 news tracked down members of Andrade’s family to get their take on the controversy. The people interviewed by the news outlet considered themselves white and, opining on the issue, they wondered why it even mattered why it was necessary that people know that Andrade was a black man. The comment perfectly illustrated how and why the invisibility of Afro-Brazilians continues still today in so many areas of Brazilian society. Why?
One, Brazilians are taught that, as “we are all equal”, race doesn’t matter, thus Andrade is seen as simply a Brazilian rather than a black Brazilian. Two, for millions of Brazilians, if a Brazilian is rich, powerful, important or influential, they cannot possibly be or be classified as black. Three, like so many other prominent Afro-Brazilians in history, the descendants of Andrade are or classify themselves as white, as such, for many, Mário would also logically be white. Four, the photo controversy speaks to the Brazilian practice of lightening or Europeanizing the features in photos of famous persons of African descent. The Andrade incident reminds us again of Brazil’s ongoing pursuit of whitening its present as well as important pieces of its past.
ADDENDUM TO ORIGINAL POST – Updated June 22, 2017
Interestingly, the original post above was published in the early hours of June 21st. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the post on the invisibility of important Afro-Brazilian historical figures in the education system fell precisely on the birthday of the great writer Machado de Assis. This is significant for numerous reasons. One, Assis is considered Brazil’s greatest writer! Two, for many, Assis was never thought of as being black although the leaders of the Afro-Brazilian community have always considered him to be black or at the least, a mulato. Three, Brazil has long attempted to whitewash the image of Assis as well as other Brazilians of African descent. An example of this was a controversial television commercial released in September of 2011 in which the writer was portrayed by a white actor. Soon after an uproar in the black community, the commercial was re-done featuring a black actor as Assis.
In celebration of what would have been the writer’s 178th birthday, on the morning of June 21st, Google’s Doodle art department that recognizes important dates, anniversaries and birthdays on the search engine’s initial page featured images of Assis that would appear for anyone in Brazil who opened the popular search engine on Wednesday the 21st. Perhaps recognizing the past controversy over depictions of the writer, Assis was portrayed with a very brown complexion in the images.
17 black people from history you have not seen at school
From the newsroom of Catraca Livre
At school, probably, you have not heard of the male and female warriors or quilombola leaders who have drawn the history of Brazil. Contrary to the emphasis on the trajectory of the Emperors Dom Pedro I and II, for example, little is studied within the classroom of the black influence of our country beyond slavery.
Thinking about it, the free educational platform Quizlet invited Stephanie Ribeiro, an Architecture student from PUC in Campinas (SP) and a black feminist activist, to compile a list of 17 important people from Brazil’s black culture. On the interactive site you can learn about each of them dynamically.
“Quem é quem na história negra do Brasil” (Who is who in the black history of Brazil) leads you to discover how much you know about black Brazilian personalities. Click here to access the platform and play. The content also brings the milestones of black history (check here). Below, see some of the names assembled:
He was a poet, actor, writer, playwright, plastic artist, university professor, politician and activist of civil and human rights of black populations.
A pioneer in combating discrimination against blacks and women, she was the country’s first black state deputy. She acted as a teacher, journalist and writer.
He was a Brazilian engineer, inventor, and abolitionist. He spent his last 6 years working for the development of some African countries.
He was a pharmacist, journalist, writer, speaker and Brazilian political activist. He stood out as one of the most important figures of the Abolitionist and Republican movements in the country.
Considered one of the first and most important black women writers in Brazil.
A Brazilian poet, with the nickname of Cisne Negro (black swan), was one of the forerunners of symbolism in Brazil.
She was a black warrior from the colonial period of Brazil, wife of Zumbi dos Palmares and with him had three children. She committed suicide after being arrested, so as not to return to slavery.
She was a Brazilian, a champion of the rights of women and domestic servants, founder of the first domestic workers’ union in Brazil.
He was a journalist and writer who published novels, satires, short stories, chronicles and a vast work in periodicals, mainly in illustrated popular magazines and anarchist periodicals of the early twentieth century.
Intellectual, politician, professor and Brazilian anthropologist.
An ex-African slave, settled in Brazil, mother of the abolitionist Luís Gama.
He was a lawyer, orator, journalist and Brazilian writer.
She is a philosopher, writer and anti-racism activist of the black Brazilian social movement. Sueli Carneiro is the founder and current director of Geledés – Instituto de Mulher Negra and is considered one of the main authors of black feminism in Brazil.
She was a quilombola leader who lived in the present state of Mato Grosso, during XVIII Century. She was the wife of José Piolho, who headed the Quilombo do Piolho (or Quariterê). With the death of her husband, Teresa became the rainha do quilombo (queen of the quilombo).
He was a Brazilian engineer, geographer, writer and historian.
She was a Brazilian cook and mãe de santo (holy mother), considered by many as one of the influential figures for the samba of Rio.
He was the last of the leaders of Quilombo dos Palmares, the largest of the quilombos of the colonial period.
Source: Catraca Livre