The politics of being a black person in Brazil is complicated even for those within South America’s most populous nation. Often, the questions are more fundamental like, “who is black?”
Brazil has never been able to jump the hurdle on race. Frankly, no other country on that side of the world with the historic significance of the Transatlantic Slave Trade has competently figured out how to navigate the matters of race.
But since the election of President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s right-wing hardliner, the rest of the world is waking up to what to them is a latent baggage.
The rude awakening of Bolsonaro’s election can sometimes obscure structural deficiencies which are important to understanding contexts and politics.
It is a bit like the United States and Donald Trump. Some liberal elites and “colorblind” conservatives claim they did not know America was this racist until Trump ran for president.
The most important but silent part that makes a more complete narrative is often ignored. When the elections do not go according to the hopes of the more refined class, mayhem is officially proclaimed.
Talking about important but silent parts, consider the rate at which Brazilian black youths were killed, as contained in a petition to the UN.
In 2017, the Permanent Forum Racial Equality, a Brazilian coalition that fights on behalf of black and anti-racist movements, petitioned the UN’s Human Rights Council on the rate of targeted homicides of young black Brazilians.
The Forum’s case was based on a Brazilian Senate’s investigation from 2016. The conclusions of the lawmaking body were stunning.
The report said a black youth is murdered in Brazil every 23 minutes. In toto, 77% of murder victims in Brazil are black and 93% of the time, they are men.
On top of this, the investigation body had a critically damning claim. They “came upon a cruel and undeniable reality: The Brazilian state, directly or indirectly, perpetrates the genocide of the young black population.”
For anti-racist campaigners, the report was a welcome acknowledgment from high up the power chain.
But the report also revealed Brazilians had come to expect young black men to be killed – as a lawyer, Daniel Teixeira, told Agencia Brasil, the situation had become “naturalized”.
This is where the socioeconomic lot of those who identify as black in Brazil matters.
Black Brazilians mostly take up low-wage jobs and cannot afford urban housing in big cities such as Rio and Brasilia. According to recent numbers, close to 70% of people in all of Brazil’s favelas or ghettos, are black.
This demographic of the population resort to crime even as they are also the worst victims of the violence they perpetrate. It is a vicious cycle underpinned by intentional neglect by those in power.
The Permanent Forum Racial Equality hoped the 2016 Senate report would mark a new turn in their cause for Brazil. As things stand, it seems they may have set their hopes a bit too high.