Why November 20 is a holiday and what the Day of Black Consciousness is

Families of the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST), who live in the Zumbi dos Palmares occupation, march on Leblon beach to celebrate Black Consciousness Day.  11/20/2014 |  Fernando Frazão / Agência Brasil
Por que 20 de novembro é feriado e o que é o dia da Consciência Negra
Families of the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST), who live in the Zumbi dos Palmares occupation, march on Leblon beach to celebrate Black Consciousness Day.  11/20/2014 |  Fernando Frazão / Agência Brasil

Note from BW of Brazil: If you don’t already know, today is the Day of Black Consciousness celebrated in more than 350 cities across Brazil. Now, if you’re a person who works in Brazil, your opinion of the date may be divided between two sides. On one side, it’s great to have another day of rest, but on the other hand, you may think Brazil already has too many holidays which cost you yet another day of lost pay. Of course, you also have those folks asking questions such as, “This is a racist day. What if there was a Day of White Consciousness?” My response? EVERY DAY of the year is a day of white consciousness, which the precise reason why most Brazilians, regardless of race, know so little about the contributions of Afro-Brazilians in History beyond Samba and Capoeira. But in reality, there are many lawmakers across the country who seek to end the celebration of the day as a holiday, so below, we take a look how certain days become holidays, the consequences on businesses and also how holidays can be revoked. 

Why November 20 is a holiday and what the Day of Black Consciousness is

Date marks the day of the death of Zumbi dos Palmares, after years defending the Quilombo de Palmares from expeditions that wanted to enslave fugitive blacks

By Adrieli Evarini

Celebrated on November 20,  the Day of Black Consciousness marks the day of the death of Zumbi dos Palmares in 1695, after years of defending the Quilombo de Palmares from expeditions that were meant to enslave the blacks who had managed to escape. Since 2003, with the approval of Law 10.639, which instituted the teaching of Afro-Brazilian History and Culture in schools, the date was included in the school calendar as the National Day of Black Consciousness.

Currently, Bill 296/15, by Valmir Assunção (PT-BA) , is in the process of transforming the date into a national holiday. Approved by the Commission of Constitution, Justice and Citizenship, the project now proceeds for consideration by the House Plenary.

Adopted in several cities scattered throughout the country, the holiday of the Day of Black Consciousness divides opinions when the subject is to make it a “non-business” date, as for example, the 12th of October.

“The holiday is important,” says Professor Jeruse Romão, president of the State Forum of Education of Ethnic-Racial Relations of (the state of Santa Catarina). This position is precisely the result of the discussion about the need to make the date a national holiday, which would imply, possibly, the closure of commerce. “I still see it as a debate between the Casa Grande e a senzala (big house and the slave quarters). It’s like they’re telling us: how dare you want a holiday?” he says.

According to him, Brazil needs to think about reparatory attitudes and “assume its racism”, leaving “aside the discourse of racial democracy “which, for him, does not hold when, for example, the majority of homicide victims are black or when representative entities of commercial and industrial sectors organize to overturn a holiday that recalls the struggle of the black population in the country.

“Black Consciousness is not to say that blacks contributed to the formation and development of the country, is to be aware that blacks were the first workers in Brazil, it was the blacks who built the country,” he says.

Losses in commerce

Marco Antônio Guimarães, legal executive manager, of risks and compliance of the Fiep System (Federation of Industries of Paraná), agrees that the date on which the participation of the black population in the construction of Brazilian society is celebrated must be remembered and propagated.

For him, the Day of Black Consciousness is necessary and must be included in the commemorative dates of Brazil. What would not be interesting and feasible, in his view, is to turn November 20 into a national holiday.

“The economic cost of a new holiday for the productive sector is enormous. The date must be celebrated, but it should not be a holiday,” he says.

And the cost, according to a recent study conducted by the Fiep System, exceeds three digits. According to Marco Antônio, this year the economic cost of a holiday for the productive sector is R$ 289.5 million. When all 16 holidays of the year were added, the loss would jump to R$ 3.175 billion.

“This is a very big loss. The significant number of holidays directly affects the productive economy of the country,” he explains.

The manager also explains that, currently, labor flexibility allows some forms of reparation that can partially compensate for the damage caused by holidays, such as the possibility of transferring holiday slots that fall during the week to the Mondays and Fridays.

“Labor modernization has encouraged collective bargaining to allow this transfer. Today, this is a form of remediation, besides this, another way is not to allow any new holiday to be established. This can reduce impacts,” he says.

Despite being against the institution of the Day of Black Consciousness as a national holiday, Marco Antônio emphasizes that it is necessary to treat the valorization of the black population in the political and social sphere.

“We are moving forward with regard to affirmative policies for social redemption and valorization of blacks, but it is simplistic to treat this evolution by simply instituting a holiday. We need to make it happen, increasingly in the form of public policies, education, communication and affirmative policies. It is not a holiday that will make you feel more valued,” he says.

With a very similar positioning, the Federation of Commerce of the State of Paraná (Fecomércio) is also against the institution of the date as a holiday, making November 20 a “non-business day”. For Rodrigo Salem, director of planning and management of the federation, Brazil already has excessive holidays. Emphasizing the importance of the date, he affirms that the entity is favorable to the Day of Black Consciousness because it defends “the celebration and the reflection. We respect very much the history and importance of black in Brazil.” Nevertheless, it reiterates that “the economic impact does not justify it as a holiday.”

According to Rodrigo, the estimate made by Fecomércio and that takes into account a month with 24 to 25 business days, is that with the closing due to the holiday, the impact on the economy is a direct loss of 4%. “This year we can talk about a 5% reduction with this holiday, taking into consideration that the November 20 is on a Monday, which also compromises the previous Saturday,” he explains.

For the director, Brazil already suffers the impact of having many holidays. “We do not need this excessive number of holidays, but if we cannot eliminate what is already in place, at least we do not produce new ones,” he says.

Creation or extinction of holidays depends on law

In 2017, there were 16 registered holidays in Brazil, which puts it in a comfortable position compared to other countries. The ranking is led by Bangladesh, which surpasses the 30 days of holiday in the year, while Brazil occupies the 46th position.

Marco Aurélio Serau Junior, Professor of Labor Law at the Federal University of Paraná, does not believe that Brazil has an excessive number of holidays. In addition, he warns of the excessive workload of Brazilians. “Our shifts are excessive, it is common even that irregular overtime is practiced. So the holidays turn out to be a form of compensation,” he says.

The legal process for making a commemorative date is quite simple. The path begins in the commissions, goes through the CCJ and closes in the Plenary – where the PL that makes the Day of Black Awareness a holiday is in the moment, waiting to be analyzed.

“The central point is social discussion. Society needs to understand that that date deserves to be a holiday or not,” he says.

From the moment a project becomes law, that is, it is approved and effectively makes the date a holiday, that day is considered a paid day of rest, having the same effect as Sunday.

According to Marco Aurélio, all sectors are affected by not providing work on that holiday, excluding specific situations, such as workers working in a different time schedule. “It is imposing that the worker enjoys the holiday and, if there is a working day, the remuneration is applied as an extra day,” he explains.

Nevertheless, during a holiday there may be commercial activity, provided that it obeys two points: the collective bargaining agreement that authorizes the opening of commerce on a certain date and municipal legislation regulating the operation of trade on that date.

Without establishing a limit of dates that can be considered as a holiday, the professor affirms that this “ceiling” is that of reasonability and explains that there is no possibility of “replacement” of holidays, that is, there is no way to withdraw one date in detriment of the other. “A new national holiday is an extra. The holiday is only withdrawn from the calendar by a law that orders that from that moment, that date is no longer considered a holiday, otherwise there is no such possibility,” he says.

The only case in which such substitution may occur is on state holidays. And this is also the only case where there is a limit. Each Brazilian state has a date considered as a holiday during the year, and it is up to each one to determine the date of this commemorative date, and it is also up to the state to replace it according to the appeal of the celebrations.

Source: Gazeta do Povo

About Marques Travae 2895 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. The Brazilian govt. can do away with half of its holiday’s. Here in the United States we have a lot of rubbish holiday’s that millions of people do not celebrate because of its history. Brazil has a total of 16 holidays such as Christmas?, ash Wednesday? , all saints day ? , etc. just a thought.

  2. Brazilians definitely need and should celebrate this holiday. It was Black blood, sweat and tears, and in many cases Black vision and genius, that created Brazil. For all the millions of Black people brought over from Africa, for all of the millions who worked and died so that today’s Black Brazilians could live and thrive, even amidst the ongoing struggle, this national Dia da Consciência Negra is an absolute necessity. If need be, drop another national Brazilian holiday so that this can become an official one.

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