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Black Women of Brazil

Commentary by Black Kos Editor Denise Oliver-Velez

By now most of us should recognize the photos of Marina Silva, currently the Socialist Party candidate for President of Brazil, who may possibly defeat Workers' Party President Dilma Rousseff, in the upcoming elections. She's been attracting a lot of press attention here, with tworecent features in the Wall Street Journal.

I've written about Ms. Silva here before, in "Through a glass darkly: A United States lens on Brazilian Politics and Race." If she wins, she would become Brazil's first black female President. Several US news outlets have incorrectly stated she would be Brazil's first black president - but that is not exactly correct. It depends on whose racial lens one is looking through, and Silva, is "afro-descendente" (African descended) but so have been other Brazilian Presidents (see my previous article). Silva does fill out the census as "black".  

While searching for news pieces from Brazil, on Silva, and Brazilian perspectives I happened upon a Brazilian website with a major feature on Silva. The article emphasized her Afro-Brazilian heritage, which is not surprising since the site is called Black Women of Brazil.  
Fascinated, I spent the next 6 or 7 hours reading the features there, which ran the gamut from politics, culture, health, Afro-Brazilian religion and more.  

I admit, I struggle reading news from Brazil in Portuguese. I have to sit with a dictionary. This site is in English - translations of many items from around the country. Curious about the genesis of the site I worked my way backwards to posts from 2011, and managed also to contact the site's founder, Marques Travae, the editor and translator of BW of Brazil via email, who was delighted to hear from me and to find out about Black Kos.

He wrote:

The blog debuted in November of 2011 and was initially only meant to be a photo blog featuring the faces of Afro-Brazilian women. But as this type of forum from the perspective of race didn't exist, the format changed.
He explained:
The idea of the blog actually arose from the fact that when one comments on issues of race in Brazil in ways that are counter to the traditional understanding of racial politics throughout Brazil, Brazilians usually react vehemently against what they uniformly believe could only be North American opinions. What the blog shows is that, when Afro-Brazilians come to a certain degree of consciousness, they begin to come to similar conclusions about the racial situation. These voices need to be heard to contrast the widespread belief that "we're all equal", a belief that many people continue to hold.
I wanted to share some of the recent articles featured at BW of Brazil, and encourage you to visit.

March Against Black Genocide galvanizes 50,000 people throughout Brazil; where is the media coverage?

Note from BW of BrazilHere at BW of Brazil, the consistent pattern of genocide being carried out against the black population of Brazil has long been a topic of concern. Whether being killed in day to day violence, by Military Police (MP) in actions of which the policy seems to be “shoot first and ask questions later”, esquadrÕes da morte (death squads whose hit men are often composed of off-duty MPs) or victims of the stray bullets fired in majority black neighborhoods, the bodies continue to stack up. In the United States, the repercussions of the murder of the unarmed black teen Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri has gained international attention. Brown’s murder at the hands of police was only one of a number of unarmed black men who have been killed by police in the US over the past several weeks as the blatant assault on the black community seems to be reaching a boiling point in that country. But, as the numbers pointed out on a post here a few years ago, the situation is still much worse in Brazil.

As Jonathan Watts of The Guardian wrote on August 29th: “Although Brazil has a population that is a third smaller than that of the US, it has almost five times as many killings by police. And though the vast majority of the victims are black or mixed race, there is far less of a debate about race.” So as the general population continues to go on with the day to day as if nothing is strange is going on, thousands took to the streets all over Brazil on Friday, August 22nd to express their outrage at this disregard for life, particularly against those of darker skin. As such, the question is, where is the international media? In the march that took place in São Paulo, a large sign carried throughout the march showed solidarity with African-Americans in the death of Mike Brown. (Sign in photo below: “We are all Mike Brown. For the end of the police&rdquo. But is Mike Brown’s death more important that the deaths of Raissa Vargas Motta, the mother/daughter pair of Maria de FÁtima dos Santos and Alessandra de Jesus, the infamous murder of ClÁudia da Silva Ferreira and too many black Brazilian men and youthto name here? The struggle is the same throughout the African Diaspora. The media coverage should be also!

Dedicated to the struggle against racial inequality and the class struggle, the UNEGRO organization completes 26 years

Note from BW of BrazilFor many decades, the Federative Republic of Brazil was a country that steadfastly denied racist treatment of its African descendant population. Not only did it go as far as promoting itself as a “racial democracy” in the face of blatant racism, at one point during its m0st recently experience of a military dictatorship, it even outlawed the discussion or denouncement of the existence of racism in the country. Although cracks in the system eventually allowed that the Movimento Negro as a whole organized resistance against the system, it has only been  after the years of the  “political opening” that organizations have been able to fully push for racial equality throughout the nation. One of the leading organizations in the fight for racial equality after the return to democracy in 1985 has been UNEGRO, which began its operations in a key year, 1988, a year in which 100 years of the abolition of slavery was celebrated. The organization recently celebrated 26 years of its existence and below is brief article about its activism over the past few decades.

May the orixÁs (deities) protect her: Afro-Brazilian religious leader’s temple has suffered eight violent attacks in eight years

Note from BW of BrazilThe persecution of followers of African-oriented religions is another form of intolerance that we’ve been following for some time. There’s nothing new about it and represents yet another means in which Brazilian society shows its rejection of the African presence and influence in the country. The rise of Evangelical churches over the past few decades all over the country has only intensified often times violent attacks on those who practice their religious convictions. The story presented here today is particularly troublesome as the religious leader’s temple has been attacked a number of times in the past eight years.

Why racism in Brazil is a perfect crime: Racists are not going to jail

Note from BW of BrazilAlthough one could argue that racism has existed in Brazil since its very founding, there are several stumbling blocks in addressing this social ill. One is the long believed and widespread idea that Brazil is a “racial democracy”. Two, even when Brazilians are willing to admit the existence of racism throughout the country, these same people never admit to being racist themselves. Three, victimized persons sometimes don’t recognize racism for what it is due to a belief in the “racial democracy”. Four, although victimized, many victims never pursue any sort of action against their aggressor, preferring to suffer in silence. Five, when a victim does gather the courage to call out their offender in a court of law, the judging of what distinguishes racism from a racial injury/slur often determines whether an aggressor goes to jail or simply get s a slap on the wrist and walks away free. There are many in Brazil who believe that racism isn’t problem in Brazil because there’s a law against racism. But the fact is, the existence of a law against racism doesn’t mean an aggressor automatically faces a severe penalty if caught discriminating against or insulting someone on the grounds of race. As the following article shows, accusing someone of racism is one thing; but managing to secure a prosecution is not as easy as one may believe.

Okay...I'm going to stop. I just spent another couple of hours reading the site, and can't possibly list more pieces you should read. Go check it out.

I want to again express my thanks to Marques, for allowing me to share some of the pieces from the site. He is going to try to join us today in discussion.

Muito obrigada Marques.


Had to share some music before closing.

From Ellen OlÉria - black, lesbian winner of "The Voice" competition.
Singing the Jorge Ben classic "Zumbi". (you can read about Zumbi dos Palmares: An African warrior in Brazil, on the site too)  


Angola, Congo, Benguela

Monjolo, Cabinda, Mina

Quiloa, Rebolo

Here where the men are

There’s a big auction

They say that in the auction,

There’s  a princess for sale

Who came, together with her subjects

Chained on an oxcart

I want to see, I want to see, I want to see

Angola, Congo, Benguela

Monjolo, Cabinda, Mina

Quiloa, Rebolo

Here where the men are

To one side, sugarcane

To the other side, the coffee plantation

In the middle, seated gentlemen

Watching the cotton crop, so white

Being picked by black hands

I want to see, I want to see, I want to see

When Zumbi arrives

What will happen

Zumbi is a warlord

A lord of demands

When Zumbi arrives, Zumbi

Is the one who gives orders

I want to see, I want to see, I want to see