ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
In Brazil, in the time of slavery, the mulattos were chosen to be what was called
Capitães do mato (bush captains), the leading hunters of fugitives slaves in
the forests and responsible for chasing those ones walking in the streets in
the cities. That was a job that gave some privileges to them . . .
Black Consciousness in Brazil
By Italo Ramos
Early last October, the work of the last Brazilian census had not yet been finished, but we already knew that our adult black population had grown two percentage points, from 5% to 7%, over the last ten years. (In Brazil, black people are officially considered a category apart from the racially mixed population.) For those who know Brazil and know that the country has the largest black population in the world, after only Nigeria, these numbers may seem surprisingly small. And these people may also ask how could this have happened? The new persons who were born in this so short period of time10 yearsare not adult enough to be included by the census collector. So, where did those two percentage points came from?
Before answering, lets explore another fundamental question: 7% is a small, insignificant number?
The answer may be Yes and No, as it depends on whom is reading it. Numbers are not geographic symbols but, as they dont lie, they are the most powerful kind of authority we have to prove something, although our sense about their meaning may vary according to different national criteria. If you are Brazilian, 7% is very small, considering a population of 190 million people. But for those people in the world who deal with racial discrimination and racism, it will never be insignificant.
The census, made by the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (BGE), doesnt explain, as it is not its official business to make considerations about the development of racial awareness, but that difference of 2 points shows that, now, two million more people are accepting and proclaiming their real color. Ten years ago, when another census took place, they had said that were not blacks, but mestiços or mulattos, a category more favored, socially.
That difference is good proof that racial consciousness is growing in Brazil, which means that more and more black people are not ashamed of their racial identity, and, not statistically but ethnically speaking, two percentage points is a big and significant number.
But there is more about that.
These 7% might be added to 45% of those who said to the collector that they are mulattos, and the result will be a population of 52% of blacks and mulattos, and 49% of whites. So, in an American sense, the Brazilian black population is now larger than the white one. In the Brazilian sense, as was said, blacks and biracial are two different categories.
Another number that Census shows, 2%, refers to people who, ten years ago, said to the collector that they were white, but, now, they want to change their category, some choosing to be mestiços, some mulattos, some indigenous. These are very light-skinned black persons who used to pass as white, but now are not ashamed to declare their real origin. They dont want to be white, anymore.
(A good question would be Why would a light-skinned person want to pass as white? Well, I dont want to answer, because my words wouldnt be sympathetic to them.)
So, the Brazilian black population not only is the second largest in the world, but also exhibits the record of being the most mixed. In this sense, it reserves first place. Mulattos, in Brazil, are, mainly, a product of the Portuguese, who colonized the country, and the Africans, brought there to be slaves.
And this mixture was always so dense that, in slavery times, there were more mulattos than today, proportionally to the total population. But the readers must not take this last information as a sign of racial liberalism from the Portuguese side, because it actually hides violence, a crime.
Speaking about crime, in this aspect, Brazilian and American slavery histories are similar. Both are full of cases of rape. At that time, it was common among landlords to take enslaved women as concubines. In Brazil, this practice was more open than in U.S., but, to take the best of American examples, we can ask: Did Sally Hemings love Thomas Jefferson? Those seven children were sons of sexual consent? If Sally really loved him, would she impose some conditions to return from France to Virginia with him, as she did? Jefferson agreed with those conditions and set her (their) children free, just like Brazilian landlords used to protect their bastard sons, giving them much better treatment. This was a natural behavior, so common that until today both societies make a difference between blacks and mulattos, giving to the latter a higher social status.
What contemporary Brazilian and American whites dont realize is that, by doing so, they are simply modernly repeating what their ancestors, owners of slaves, used to do. In Brazil, in the time of slavery, the mulattos were chosen to be what was called Capitães do mato (bush captains), the leading hunters of fugitives slaves in the forests and responsible for chasing those ones walking in the streets in the cities. That was a job that gave some privileges to them, as they were not in the fields nor in the big houses, but seen as the protector of the interests of white owners of slaves. But the position also gave them the very bad reputation of being enemies of black people.
The social order is self-reproductive. If nothing is done to change it, in terms of a revolt, the imposition of a law or the exposure of positive role models, the social order repeats the same pattern of the society, eternally, just like it is. So, as changes dont happen overnight, the culture of slavery perpetuated many old customs, making that institution not as remote as we would like. And, today, the capitães do mato have disappeared, as they are not necessary, anymore, because of the end of slavery, but, more than one century later, in their places, a big majority of soldiers of the Brazilian military state police, is comprised of mulattos.
These are the police in charge of invading huts in favelas and of chasing poor people in the streets, mainly blacks, asking them for identification cards and arresting those who cannot prove that they have a regular job. Black people hate them. It is history, if not just repeating itself, making a kind of parody.Until today, there is not an explanation for that change of attitude made by the new blacks. Can it be an effect of the Affirmative Action? Maybe. Affirmative Action came to Brazil around 2003, when a university in Rio de Janeiro adopted the first Brazilian system of quotas for students originating from public schools, blacks and indigenous people.
Since then, the discussion about race, discrimination and racism provoked remarkable changes in the false image of a racial democracy Brazil has maintained since the abolition of slavery. Slowly but consistently, white people are admitting the real face of a segregationist and racist Brazil.
But the quota system is also a university success. The last research made by the Universidade Federal da Bahia states: . . . the quota students performance improves every year. The poorer the students, the better their progress. Brazil is a young country, with a juvenile enthusiasm in many senses, without answers or even research, yet, about its most important questions, like those about new blacks. Few people care about who makes Brazil what it is, and for whom. Of course, we are not so innocent as to not know that Brazil is evolving within a permanent conflict of huge cultural, political and economic interests that we have already identified and we are learning how to deal with its resistances, changes and tricks, like the disguised face of the modern capitaes do mato.
Slowly but consistently, we are pushing ahead and improving an Affirmative Action that came late. And, for a developing country, it is comforting to know that some difficult questions, so important for tracing a right and quick road to a really democratic future, are not being answered even in developed countries.
Italo Ramos is a Brazilian journalist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* * * * *
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908) was the son of a mulatto painter and an Azorean washerwoman. Born in Rio de Janeiro and educated by a priest, Machado de Assis became one of Brazil’s most famous novelist. He was familiar with the works of Swift, Sterne, and Leopradi. He is started his career first as a typesetter, a proofreader, and finally a journalist. her worked laeter as an official of Brazil’s Agricultural department.
Machado de Assis’ writings include poetry, theater, chronicles, short stories and novel.
His trilogy Memorias Postumas de Bras Cubas (1881), Quincas Borbas (1892), and Dom Casmurro (1900) have received considered emphasis of critical studies and public interest. His novels are distinguished by psychological insight and a profound awareness of social conditions; their objective attitude stands in sharp contrast to the prevalent romantic tendency of the time.
His major realistic novels Memórias póstumas de Brás Cubas (1881, tr. Epitaph of a Small Winner, 1952, The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas, 1998), Quincas Borba (1891, tr. Philosopher or Dog?, 1954, 1998), and Dom Casmurro (1900, tr. 1953, 1998) are still in publication and have been translated. His pessimistic view of life and criticism of Brazil’s high bourgeoisie is impelled by irony.
Machado’s poetry and fiction show an indifference to enslaved blacks and is lacking in black themes. Some suggest however that more investigation and analysis into Machado de Assis’ identity as an Afro Brazilian writer would be illuminating.
The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, translated from the Portuguese by Gregory Rabassa Oxford University Press, 219 pp., $25.00; $12.95 (paper)
Quincas Borba by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, translated from the Portuguese by Gregory Rabassa Oxford University Press, 290 pp., $25.00; $13.95 (paper)
Dom Casmurro by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, translated from the Portuguese by John Gledson Oxford University Press, 258 pp., $25.00; $12.95 (paper)
Esau and Jacob by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, translated from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Lowe Oxford University Press, 276 pp., $35.00; $16.95 (paper)
A Master on the Periphery of Capitalism: Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis by Roberto Schwarz, translated from the Portuguese and with an introduction by John Gledson Duke University Press, 194 pp., $54.95; $18.95 (paper)
Machado de Assis: Reflections on a Brazilian Master Writer edited by Richard Graham University of Texas Press, 134 pp., $25.00; $11.95 (paper)
The New York Review of Books July 18, 2002. Review “Master Among the Ruins” By Michael Wood
* * * * *
Black Consciousness Day recalling fugitive slaves leader
Hundreds of cities, towns and villages throughout Brazil commemorated Saturday Black Consciousness Day with different festivities and cultural activities. Brazil is considered the second Black Country in the world behind Nigeria, with 75.8 million African-Brazilians and is still exposed to the consequences of racial discrimination.
A hundred twenty two years after the abolition of slavery in 1888, Brazil recalls and honours on November 20th Zumbi dos Palmares, the last chief of a republic of fugitive slaves.
Killed on November 20, 1695 by the big landowners of the time he has become a symbol of resistance against slavery and has only lately been recalled as such.
According to Brazils statistics office, IBGE, of the 10% poorest and indigent Brazilians, 74% are black or coloured.
Afro-Brazilian organizations admit that some progress has been achieved by Afro-Brazilians in publicity or in less-demeaning roles in the countrys famous soap-opera industry. Similarly the colour of skin is less linked to household cleaning and maintenance services.
In Rio do Janeiro Black Consciousness Day inspired three plays in local theatres, with one of them particularly touching. The whip revolt occurred a century ago, 22 November 1910 when a black officer from the Brazilian navy, Joao Candido, the son of former slaves and crew members of the cruiser Minas Gerais mutinied in the bay of Rio do Janeiro.
Candido and the 1.173 men on board threatened to bombard the city with the powerful guns and cannons of the cruiser unless the long established practice of corporal punishment and whip lashing were not abolished by the navy.
It was all triggered when a crewmember was sentenced to a punishment considered exaggerated: instead of the customary 25 whip lashes he was to receive 250 lashes.
United States also adhered to the celebration with a message from the State Department.
The United States Government and the American people congratulate the people of Brazil as they recognize Black Consciousness Day, also known as Zumbi dos Palmares Day, on November 20. The life of Quilombo leader Zumbi and his unrelenting struggle against slavery stands as an enduring symbol of freedom and justice.
Today, both Brazil and the United States recognize the important contributions of Afro-descendants in our societies and the imperative of combating discrimination, which has negatively impacted both of our countries. Just last month, our governments, in partnership with civil society and our private sectors, met for the third time in Salvador da Bahia under the historic U.S. Brazil Joint Action Plan to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Discrimination and Promote Equality. Together we are celebrating the diversity of our heritage and developing and sharing best practices to ensure equal opportunity for Afro-descendants and indeed all citizens of our nations.
On this significant day, we congratulate the people of Brazil and look forward to a long and fruitful partnership as, together, we provide leadership and examples of democracy, diversity, and social justice to our Hemisphere and to the world.
Monday, November 22, 2010
* * * * *
This is a history that is not main stream. Brazil has today & back then the most black people x-slaves in the world next to Africa. This documentary tells you the Evils of Portuguese & there ungodly geed for power & exploitation by any means. This video will show you the beginnings of slavery before the Americas. To the mutilation rape killed by working to death or by the hands of the Portuguese all the way to the 19 century.
* * * * *
Abdias do Nascimento (b. March 14, 1914, in Franca, Sao Paulo state)a prominent Afro-Brazilian scholar, artist, and politician became a leader in Brazil’s black movement, and was forced into exile by the military regime in 1968.
From 1968-1981 Nascimento was very active in international Pan African Movement and elected Vice-President and Coordinator of the Third Congress of Black Culture in the Americas. For the next decade Nascimento held positions as a Visiting Professor at several universities in the United States including Yale Universitys School of Drama (19691971), and University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, where he founded the chair in African Cultures in the New World, Puerto Rican Studies Program in 1971.
He currently holds the position of Professor Emeritus at SUNY-Buffalo.Nascimento returned to Brazil in 1983 was elected to the federal Chamber of Deputies. There his focus was supporting legislation to address racial problems. In 1994 he was elected to the Senate and served until 1999. In 2004 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace.Wikipedia
* * * * *
By Abdias Do Nascimento
Abdias do Nascimento is a black Brazilian scholar and a very interesting writer. In this book, he claims that all these ideas that Brazil is wonderful because it is so racially-blended are nothing but a racist attempt to erase the contributions of and downplay the struggles faced by black Brazilians. Now that even white American conservatives are embracing multiracial people and activism, do Nascimento’s thoughts may rub many the wrong way, especially mixed-race individuals. Still, this is an important Afrocentric text. Black Americans know too little about their brothers and sisters in Brazil.
This book introduced me to the term “Quilombismo,” a Brazilian concept paralleling Afrocentrism or Negritude. Do Nascimento is trying to change the defaults through which people see his country in order to help the blacks there. He called African Americans “African at heart, but kind of cold like their white English-speaking peers”; I laughed hard reading that. Every Afrocentric reader will learn much by grabbing a copy of this text.amazon reviewer
* * * * *
By Abdias Do Nascimento
I liked this book and Abdias had a lot of great ideas on improving conditions for people of African descent. I would say that he is a mix of Malcom-X and Du Bois in his thinking. Many Brazilians say that his big error was pushing for too many changes too fast! Abdias actually taught at several universities in the US while in exile. I think that it may come as a surprise to many that he never learned how to speak English and his wife has had to translate his lectures as he spoke. Also surprising is that his wife is a white American woman
Imagine if Amiri Baraka or Nathan McCall were Brazilian: you’d have Abdias do Nascimento. Do Nascimento argues that the portrayal of Brazil as this race-mixing paradise is a racist myth meant to deny how much the country owes to African people and influences. It’s a strong tail about African pride. Many people that argue for integration and miscegenation will be turned off by this book, but hopefully they will find it a provocative read as well. This book really gave me an idea of how Pan-Africanism is global. If you’re an angry Black person like myself, then you are really going to like this book.amazon reviewer
* * * * *
From The World and Africa, 1965
* * * * *
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
online through PayPal
* * * * *
Browse all issues
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
posted 18 November 2010