“You won’t be able to study in this school anymore because it does not match your color; your family is black and you have to live apart from us”; 10-year old black girl told after “Brazilian Trump” is elected, she will need to find a new school
By Marques Travae
These are the type of stories that demonstrate how deep racial divisions are embedded in social relations in Brazilian society. The racial divisions that everyday people will swear up and down don’t exist. “We Brazilians are one people. We are all mixed, which is the root of our beauty,” are the types of comments any non-Brazilian is sure to hear from a Brazilian who almost instinctively assert that racial divisions don’t exist in Latin America’s largest, most populous country. The problem is that historically as well as judging from every day incidents in current times, people reveal how they really feel when some issue boils down to “us” and “them”.
The latest example comes from a small, private middle school in the neighborhood of Candeias, in the city of Jaboatão dos Guararapes, located in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. It was in this school that a 10-year old black girl named Ayanna had a particularly disturbing run-in with a classmate. A run-in that shows that even children know who’s on “their team” and those who are part of the opposition. Every year October 12th, Brazil celebrates two holidays: Nossa Senhora Aparecida, the patroness of Brazil and Dia das Crianças, Children’s Day, which pays homage to children. For some reason, Ayanna didn’t want to participate in this year’s festivities.
It was only after little Ayanna explained that her mother came to discover that her daughter’s lack of desire in celebrating Children’s Day on October 12th was connected to another important event that had just happened a few days previously on Sunday, October 7th, election day. As anyone following the situation in Brazil by now knows, extreme-right PSL candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, hailed as the “Brazilian Trump” earned about 46% percent of the votes and came within 4 percentage points of winning the election outright in the first round. As he came up a little short, he faces the second-place candidate, the PT’s Fernando Haddad, in a run-off election on October 28th with the top vote getter becoming the next Brazilian president.
With the rise of Bolsonaro’s popularity, we’ve seen a wave of violence and assaults by his supporters who have felt themselves at the liberty to react to to his often inflammatory rhetoric by physically attacking supporters of the opposition. Such attacks have been reported all over the country in recent weeks leading to at least two deaths. At school, Ayanna heard some disparaging words from her classmate, a young boy of the same age as she.
“Ayanna, this is no place for you. You will not be able to study in this school anymore because it does not match your color. Your family is black and you have to live apart from us. Bolsonaro already won and assured that he will solve this mixture. If your parents come to talk shit, we’ll put a bullet in them.”
As if this comment weren’t enough, Ayanna had to endure other intimidating, prejudiced comments. Her mother, Josivânia Freitas, reveals that her daughter had previously been called “stupid” and asked if she was attending the private because she had received a bolsa (scholarship). Ayanna didn’t even know what a bolsa was, so she in turn asked her mother to explain what a bolsa was. Josivânia explained to her that a bolsa a source of funding that allows a student to study at a particular school without having to pay tuition. In the past few decades, as hundreds of thousands of black students have been recipients of bolsas to study in top Brazilian universities, it is often assumed that any black student going to a prestigious university, or even middle or high schools must have secured a vacancy either by means of quotas or some sort of scholarship. It so happened that this was Ayanna’s case as her family pays for her spot at the school. After what happened, Ayanna cried and no longer wanted to attend the school and her parents had to contemplate if it would necessary to enroll the girl at another school.
There are other factors in Ayanna’s situation that make her story similar to the experiences of other black kids. Besides the fact that she is black, she is the only black child in her 5th grade class. In Brazil, Ayanna’s particular racial mixture, that between blacks and Indians, labels her as a “cafusa” and with elements from the two racial groups, Ayanna has darker skin that her classmates, which in a pigmentocracy that perches whiteness at the top of the hierarchy such as Brazil, can lead to a lot suffering, bullying and outright racial discrimination for those who don’t look like direct descendants of Europeans.
The situation has also been very difficult on Ayanna’s mother, a pedagogue working on her Ph.D in the area if Mathematics Education and Technology. “I cried and it wasn’t enough. My daughter in living in the middle of a threat. She’s afraid of existing.”
The concerned mother pondered what to do about the situation for some time before reacting. She would then eventually share the situation on her social network profile and then approach her daughter’s teacher to reveal what the young boy had said to her daughter.
I’m curious about the case will turn out because, as we’ve seen in numerous other situations involving racism against black children in schools, the school leadership often does nothing, denies there being any serious problem or simply tries to sweep the situation under the rug without doing anything to actually help the victim. For many parents hearing of such incidents, this is just “child’s play” and no big deal. With such incidents being so common in Brazilian schools, can you imagine how many traumatized black children end up growing up being traumatized black adults? That’s a whole other topic…
Not wanting that the situation be taken lightly, Ayanna’s mother, Josivânia, didn’t want to see this incident just smoothed away in some sort of “We Are the World”, let’s all hold hands and just get along manner.
“I have no criticism of the school or their educational project. It is very organized. I think it’s a timely matter, coming from home. The teacher said she would determine the apology from the boy and send him to hug her. Those who know my daughter know how sweet she is, but I forbid the hug. I don’t want her being hugged if he is disgusted by my daughter and if he already said that blacks have to serve,” she pointed out.
Josivânia also noted how the boy’s words were uttered in such a natural way. In a 12-year boy, where is he learning such ideas? How has he already figured that the “Brazilian Trump” is going to make it so that “certain people/groups” will be put “in their place” once he takes office?
As I’ve covered racism in Brazilian society for a number of years, the boy’s comments are not at all surprising to me. At 12-years of age, it is quite obvious that such rhetoric is being learned in the boy’s home and, apparently, his parents are not adherents of the “somos todos iguais”, ‘we are all equal’ discourse that has been programmed in the minds of so many Brazilians. In reality, let me re-phrase that. After seeing this sort of situation and comment for so many years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s black Brazilians who still truly believe in the “we are all equal” rhetoric as we see so many incidents in which white Brazilians have NO PROBLEM expressing a belief in their superiority over non-whites. This would be bad enough in a Brazil still continues to express the idea that the country is a “racial democracy” all the while doing whatever it can to assure that it is NOT a “racial democracy”. But now, in less than five days, an extremist candidate who has built his reputation on expressing outlandish ideas against the country’s minorities, promise to bring back the “glory days” of the country’s brutal, murderous, torturous, military dictatorship and take away the advances made by oppressed groups in the past few decades, could become the nation’s next president, a particularly troubling scenario.
In typical fashion, Josivânia also received a message from a fellow pedagogue minimizing the situation her daughter went through. For her colleague, the situation would “very easy to resolve” because it “wasn’t such a big trauma” because “nothing else has happened”.
The problem with dealing the race issue in Brazil is that, not matter how many incidents such as these happen, people continue to believe that there is no problem. Every day, Brazil punches its black citizens in the mouth and then smiles and says, “Oh, that was no big deal!”
Jair Bolsonaro could very well become the next president of Brazil this coming Sunday. Th candidate has already said that “racism doesn’t exist in Brazil”, that Brazil’s black quilombo inhabitants aren’t even fit for reproducing. On a trip to the United States in October of 2017, this same candidate said to his supporters that under his government, the Military Police will have a “carta blanche” to kill. Considering the outrageous numbers of black bodies located in favela regions victimized by targeted and stray bullets, one can only wonder who he’s giving “carta blanche” to kill. Surely not white, middle-class residents.
With this in mind, one might wonder how a future President Bolsonaro would deal with the situation of a black girl like Ayanna. I think I already know…