The principal symbol of the Afro-Brazilian struggle and resistance in Brazil is Zumbi dos Palmares. Zumbi was born
in Alagoas in 1655 and died in 1695 on November 20, a date commemorated throughout Brazil as the National Day of
In its indigenous African language, the name Zumbi means warrior. Zumbi adopted this name when he officially
assumed the struggle against slavery in the Quilombo dos Palmares. He led the struggle against the Portuguese slave masters for
Killed in an ambush, his body was mutilated and his head decapitated and exposed in a public square in Recife,
Pernambuco. Zumbi was a great leader and is known as the founder of the "First True Free Republic of the Americas".
Commemorations throughout Brazil remember his courage, strength and faith.
Brazil is a country with a mixture of indigenous, white and black demographic origins, but also marked by high
levels of prejudice. According to the last census in 2001, the Afro-Brazilian population makes up 50 percent of the 170
million Brazilians. In spite of the vast work developed by organized civil society, racism in Brazil continues to be significant.
According to studies in 2001 by the Social Network of Justice and Human Rights, 34 percent or 26 million
Brazilians subsist below the poverty level. These numbers increase in the area of unemployment. The unemployment level for
Afro-Brazilians is 20.9 percent while the level for the white population is 13 percent. According to the report, these statistics
indicate clearly that racial discrimination is still a predominant factor in the country.
The telephone service of Dial-Racism created in 2000 has been helpful in documenting and combating racism.
However, according to Jurema Werneck of Criola, an Afro-Brazilian women's organization, Dial-Racism is insufficient to deal
with the large number of discriminatory acts committed daily against Afro-Brazilians.
A study done in 2001 by the Nazareth Cerqueira Center Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (Cerena) indicated that
Afro-Brazilian women who are poor between the ages of 30 and 45 years were the principal victims of racism.
Lais Abramo, the coordinator of gender questions for the International Work Organization, affirmed in 2003 at the
World Social Forum that Afro-Brazilian women suffer from a triple discrimination: gender, social and race.
Tecepe (Interactive Services of the Internet), in its studies, illustrates well the racial segregation in Brazil. The
research used as its base the end of slavery in Brazil (theoretically ended in 1888). Responding to the question "Do you think that
slavery in Brazil truly has ended?", 76.37 percent responded "no" while only 22% responded positively.
Dialogue Against Racism
This week various groups connected to the Afro-Brazilian Movement are meeting for the Fourth Dialogue Against
Racism in Rio de Janeiro. The dialogue is the fruit of a series of necessities resulting from the Third World-Wide Conference
Against Racism, Xenopholia and Forms of Intolerance which took place in 2001.
The objective of the Fourth Dialogue is to give continuity to the "process of construction of alliances and partners to
overcome the isolation which historically has marked the actions of social movements and the segmentation of public policy
referring to the immense racial inequality and injustice in Brazil.
This event uniting forty civil society organizations will present concrete actions to combat racial prejudice as well as
engage institutions, businesses and others in a permanent dialogue.
Blacks in Government
According to Jurema Werneck of Criola, recently there have been positive changes regarding Afro-Brazilians in
Brazilian society. According to her, "In its last few years, the neoliberal government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso was
obliged to admit publicly that Brazil was a racist country. This was a major change. Until that time, Brazil was considered a
racial democracy where Afro-Brazilians, whites, indigenous, gypsies, and people from Asia were brothers and sisters.
"We know that this was not completely true. I believe that the process of racism in Brazilian society is like a
drinker overcoming alcoholism. First, the person must admit that he/she has a problem and then with a program he/she can
transform his/her reality. The same process is effective to combat racism.
"President Lula, in a recent visit to Namibia, declared that Namibia didn't appear to be an African country because it
was so clean. This kind of a comment is typical of Brazilian thought. There is much to be improved. However, there is a
difference in that Lula's government created a special ministerial secretary to promote racial equality. This is an important step.
"There are Afro-Brazilian women and men in the government: Marina Silva, Benedita da Silva and Gilberto Gil.
They are there because Brazilian society is changing and the Lula government is incorporating this change. It is our role and
obligation to maintain a daily vigilance in overcoming racism. The Afro-Brazilian Movement is organizing on a national level to
change public policy."
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