Last week I had a big argument with my Father-in-law about the incident at the Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League group game with Istanbul Basaksehir which was abandoned following an alleged racist incident.
His argument, which I believe is a commonly held view, is that why shouldn’t the fourth official refer to a big black man, surrounded by whites, as a big black man, after all, isn’t it just a form of identification? My argument was that the protest was illustrating the fact that we identify black people via their race in situations where we wouldn’t necessary identify white people in the same way, for example, that big white guy and that the very fact that the protest resulted in us having a conversation about these issues (in fact it was a heated argument) can only be a good thing..
In Brazil, it is common to identify individuals by race, a Brazilian with pale skin would be called Alemão (German), an asian looking Brazilian will be called Japones (Japonese) despite the fact they are Brazilian and even if their ancestry is not Japonese. Any American or European born foreigner, like myself, will be called Gringo lumping all immigrants in a general group. Do I like being called a Gringo? No, I do not. It is a pejorative term that lumps me in a group of people with whom I probably have very little in common but it plays to the stereotypical prejudices held by the Brazilian general public.
The basic problem with these monikers is that they satisfy a need of the individual to pidgeon-hole other people into groups to which they can then safely apply their prejudices. It removes the need to find out about the individual personally, including their name, origin, family background, situation. It de-personalises society and means that we can deal with people as objects that are part of a group rather than individuals who have the same complex needs and experiences as we do.
The same argument is used by Brazilians to complain about why they shouldn’t be allowed to use the pejorative term viado (fag) for gay people.
My Father-in-law did not accept that blacks had a justifiable argument to be treated more fairly than they have been for the last 500 years, since their ancestors were traded as slaves, a travesty from which their communities have still to recover. He described them as being mimado (which translates as spoiled), a common view amongst right-wing Brazilians, and the right wing world wide, I would suspect.
I argued that the darker your skin in Brazil, the fewer opportunities you are likely to receive. As evidence for my argument I used the international, fee paying, school in which I work where the majority of students, teaching staff and leadership are white while the majority of maintenance, cleaning, kitchen staff and security are black or darker skinned.
More evidence for this is the demographic of the favelas (Brazilian slums), if black people receive the same opportunities in Brazil then why isn’t the ethnic make up of these communities the same as the ethnic make up of the nation overall? After tabulating 2010 census data from Brazil’s federal statistics agency, the most recent available, Hugo Nicolau Barbosa de Gusmão created a series of maps of Rio using free open-source software.
“The Zona Sul [South Zone] of Rio is about 80 percent white — 80 percent!” Barbosa said. “I knew it would be high, but I didn’t think it would be that stark.”
According to Barbosa’s research, one neighborhood, Lagoas, was almost 90 percent white. Nationwide, the share of Brazilians who identified as white in the census was only 48 percent. The figure of whites in the Brazilian population is probably, in reality, less because people used to identify as white, even though they weren’t and the black lives matter campaign is reversing this trend.
“I wanted these maps to be available because here in Brazil there’s a lot of talk about how there isn’t any racism,” Barbosa said. “That’s wrong, and I think these maps are a good visualization of that.”
According to DataFavela, a study conducted by the Data Popular institute in partnership with Celso Athayde, former head of the Central Única de Favelas (CUFA), and based on a projection that crossed IBGE and national census (PNAD) data, The self-reported ethnicity remains predominantly black, but showing an increase from 61% to 67% of the total favela population. The percentage of blacks in communities on the urban periphery is higher than in the general population: 67% versus the 52% national average.
Citizens born in these poor communities tend to be darker skinned, they go to schools that tend to be a poorer standard, they tend not to be able to get jobs that provide sufficient disposable income to attend university or better their living standards enough to move to a more affluent area where the educational opportunities and therefore the job opportunities are better and, as a result, the cycle is perpetuated.
Then comes the argument that there are white people living in these poor communities, doesn’t that prove that it is not an issue of race, as if for racism to exist 100% of the slums would need to occupied by blacks and 100% of the affluent areas occupied by whites. It is this black and white thinking that individuals fall back on to justify the status quo, they worry that, in order to right the injustices, their world will have to be turned upside down. The fact is that the world does have to be turned upside down but that doesn’t mean that the political correctness police are going to come and steal the contents of their fridge. It doesn’t even mean that they have to stop being racist, it just means that the state should ensure that all citizens should receive the same opportunities in life, regardless of their ethnicity and regardless of the views of the racist citizens in the community.
This fear of left-wing liberals bursting into homes to steal their property was highlighted in the recent mayoral elections in Sao Paulo between Bruno Covas of the central Social Democratic party (PSDB) and Guilherme Boulos of the left wing Socialist and Liberty party (PSOL). Boulos is a member of the National Coordination of Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST) which struggles to reduce Brazil’s housing deficit by staging squatters’ occupations in abandoned government buildings in Brazilian cities.
In an interview in 2015 with The Nation Boulos said: “Quotas that gave blacks and the poor access to college were a shock to the privileged too. Even these small changes were enough to generate discontent for a very conservative urban upper middle class.”
On social media, the right-wing portrayed the mayoral choice as being between a centre candidate who wanted to lock you in your house because of a pandemic that many believed was a fiction created by the Chinese for economic reasons or a left-wing candidate who would invade your home to give it to homeless people.
Incidentally, there are many who want to refuse to take the vaccine here in Brazil because it is made in China. Even the president, Jair Bolsonaro, said it would turn you into a crocodile.
In November, João Alberto Silveira Freitas, a 40-year-old black man, was beaten to death by security guards at a Carrefour supermarket in Porto Alegre in the South of Brazil on the day before Brazil’s black consciousness day. Violence erupted and the Brazilian Vice President, Hamilton Mourao, said: “Racism doesn’t exist in Brazil. That is something they want to import here. I lived in the United States. There is racism there.”
Black and mixed-race people account for about 57% of Brazil’s population but are 74% of victims of lethal violence, and 79% of those killed by police, according to the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, a nongovernmental organization.
In response to the death of João Alberto, the President’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro tweeted: “They managed to get their George Floyd, under the pretext of fighting racism, in an organized way [they will] destroy everything until maybe they [manage to] get a new constituent”.
He went on to tweet: “Those who believe that anything goes for power will adhere to acts of vandalism conveniently calling their actors “demonstrators”” and then posted two quotes in Portuguese, attributed to Edmund Burke which translate as: “For evil to triumph it is enough for the good to sit idly by” and “people who do not know their history are condemned to repeat it.”
This seems strange in a country that, having only escaped from military dictatorship 35 years ago, seems so keen to return to it.