Following some articles I wrote for Brazzil, a long-winding academic reply from the University of Michigan fell into my hands. Out of my respect for synthesis and my readers, I will try to be brief. I will not get into the discussion of DNA or phenotypes because it would trap us into a discussion about race and race is a concept that still lacks definition. My initial proposition was to discuss racism and laws that encourage racism, which is very different.
While it is impossible to determine what race really is, racism is something very palpable that contaminates both whites and blacks. My reasons are two-fold: first, the idea of phenotypes is the shortest path to the advent of systems such as Nazism; second, I have no interest whatsoever in the phenotypes of the people around me. I won't answer all the objections raised by the reader, either. Twelve thousand words is a format that does not fit my writing style. I will limit myself, in this reply, to some considerations about this country where I was born and reside.
Mark Wells, a militant of the new Yankee afro-brazilianist ideology, starts by quoting Raimundo Nina Rodrigues, a doctor and sociologist: "the black race of Brazil... will always constitute one of the factors of our inferiority as a people". First of all, I understand that the person mentioned is an ethnologist, not a sociologist, but let's get to the point. This statement does not correspond to what average Brazilians think about black people in their own country.
Blacks have never held political and administrative power in the nation, therefore they could never have been responsible for any supposed inferiority of the country. This argument is uncommonly racist and could only be conceived in the brains of a member of academia isolated in his ivory tower. Real people, who live and work shoulder to shoulder with blacks and mulattos, do not think this way.
If there is any inferiority, it must be debited to whites, who always held power in their hands. There are, yes, those who state that our ailments derive from the fact that we were colonized by the Portuguese and not by the Dutch, or the French. That is possible. But `alternative history' is a spurious discipline, devoid of any exactness. I prefer another thesis: our ailments result from the fact that we were colonized by Catholics. Protestant or Lutheran countries are, in general, rich countries.
The Gobineau Factor
It is important to remember that Nina Rodrigues was influenced by the ideas of Count Gobineau, one of the predecessors of nazi racism, who lived in Brazil between 1869 and 1870. This French nobleman came up with the exotic idea that the mixture of races would end up leading to the pure and simple extinction of the Brazilian population. Fascinated by gaelic aristocracy, the physician from Bahia reasoned that any and all miscigenation would inevitably result in mental illness and degeneration.
Nina Rodrigues was given the task of analyzing the skull of Antônio Conselheiro, leader of the War of Canudos. He reasoned that, being a mestiço, the deceased would very likely be a degenerate. You absolutely can't interpret the Brazilian case based on considerations made by a racist thinker who was, in turn, influenced by a forerunner of Nazism, Mr. Wells. It would be like asking Hitler an opinion about the Jewish issue.
Quoting from a Fapesp poll, Mr. Wells states that "the term pardo was developed as a way for the Brazilian government to hide the fact that it had such a high proportion of African descent people". This statement is vague. Which government? At what time? Which documents sustain this statement?
The author of the poll provides no documentary basis to his thesis. It is a statement based on emptiness and it questions the academic qualifications exhibited by the writer. Pardo and mulato mean the same thing in Portuguese and mulato is a very old word. Any Larousse will tell you: "Mulâtre, mulâtresse: homme ou femme de couleur, nés d'un Noir et d'une Blanche" (man or woman or color, born from a black and a white).
The word comes from Spanish and dates back to 1544. And let's check Marina Moliner's dictionary: "se aplica al mestizo hijo de blanco y negro" (it applies to the mestizo born of a white and a black). The distinction between black and mestizo was not created by any Brazilian government. It already existed for centuries in other cultures.
Machado de Assis, the patron of Brazilian literature, was always considered a mulatto. We are talking 19th century now. Historians of literature do not portray him as black, for a simple reason: he was not black. It is important to make that distinction, because different phenomena deserve different designations. Although he was a mulatto, Machado conquered the admiration of white, university-educated intellectuals, as did another contemporary of his, Lima Barreto. What a strange racist country this is, where the most important figure of the national Letters is a mulatto.
Mr. Wells is right to quote a Census poll showing that "the state of Bahia is approximately 25 percent white, 20 percent black and 55 percent mulato". I'm pleased to know, Mr. Wells, that at least for the purposes of argumentation, you accept the census definitions. I regret having stated "a definite black majority". It would have been more precise if I had said "a majority of blacks and mulattos". But this in no way changes the merit of the issue. What I said was that the State of Bahia has never elected a black governor, notwithstanding the fact that it has the highest percentage of blacks in the country, the highest contingent of blacks and mulattos added together, and a minority of 25 percent of whites statewide.
Blacks Don't Trust Blacks
This means that three-fourths of the baiano electorate are made of colored voters. Why do these voters elect only whites? For the activists who see everything under the light of racism, the answer is very uncomfortable. Could blacks and mulattos be prejudiced against black and mulatto candidates? Actually, this seems to be the fundamental feature of those blacks who became soccer stars, too. As soon as they become rich, they marry blondes.
In Rio Grande do Sul, on the other hand, which is a mostly white state, we had Alceu Collares, a black man, elected governor in 1990. You state: "It's also funny that you should mention Alceu Collares being elected governor. In 1993, in Vitória, state of Espírito Santo, a 19-year old black female college student named Ana Flávia Peçanha de Azeredo was assaulted and punched in the face by a 40-year old white woman and her 18-year old son over the use of an elevator in an apartment complex".
Well, you can't compare a police news item with the will of nine million voters (at the time). You may find, upon more research, other similar cases. Let's say you find ten, or even twenty of them. They still can't be compared to the will of a population of nine million who had to choose between a black candidate and two white candidates and chose the black one. Collares, we must add, as soon as he became governor, acted just like all the black sports superstars and replaced his faithful and black Antônia, who had endured all the bad years at his side, for an extremely blond secretary.
"In Brazil, still today, maids must use the back service elevator while residents use public elevators". Your statement seems to come from someone who knows the whole country extensively and not from a researcher who lived in Bahia for eleven weeks. Had you ventured out of the ghetto, you would have seen, for example, that in all elevators of the city of São Paulo there is a sign quoting the law: "It is forbidden, under penalty of a fine, to discriminate anyone for access to the elevators on the basis of race, gender, color, origin, social status or evidence of physical disability and non-contagious disease". You didn't find such signs in Bahia? That's because Bahia, with its 75 percent of blacks and mulattos, is still very much behind in the area of legislation against discrimination.
"With this in mind, let us also remember this when we walk the streets of Bahia (a 75 percent black state) and never see a black face on the cover of a magazine (except for Raça Brasil) or rarely see a black face on Brazilian television (except as criminals, maids, pagodeiros, futebol players)". This statement, Mr. Wells, confirms my old suspicion that Bahia is a state where blacks are racist towards other blacks. Come to São Paulo, where the proportion of blacks is a lot lower, and you will see black men and black women working as television anchors, talk show hosts, reporters, editors and feature writers in all the local newspapers.
With its more than ten million people, São Paulo is, with Mexico City, the largest metropolitan area in Latin America. Just recently, we had Celso Pitta as Mayora black citizen elected in opposition to all white candidates (Pitta left City Hall with the stain of corruption, but that's another story). Even more recently, we had a black governor in Rio de Janeiro State, who is now a Ministra (head of a federal department) in Brasília.
It is absolutely untrue that the only black faces shown in Brazilian television are those of "criminals, maids, pagodeiros, futebol players". Last year, I was at a party in a luxury development, which are those fortified cities where the richwhites and blacks bothprotect themselves from the violence assailing the country. On a given moment, I saw all the guests at the party, white and black both, rushing to gather around a black man in order to be photographed with him. I had no idea who the man was, because I almost never watch Brazilian television. Later, I learned that it was Netinho, one of the most famous TV entertainers in the country.
But you still declare: "It is truly a shame that in the year 2003 people continue to use Brazilian entertainers and athletes such as Pelé to try and downplay the effects of racism in society. Many people use this same logic in the US. Just because you allow a black person to entertain, it doesn't necessarily mean you would like for a person who looks like them to be your neighbor, marry your daughter or be president of your country". Maybe this is the way it is in the United States, Mr. Wells, but not here.
Blacks are represented in the House and in the Senate in Brazil, as well as in City Councils and Federal Departments. Same thing for the courts, universities and in the press. Do they constitute a minority? Well, this is because they can't even count on the vote of the large black and mulatto segments of the population. Remember, in this country elections are free and blacks and mulattos do vote. And it's actually good for things to be this way. It would be the biggest disgrace for us to have political parties based on race. The idea of blacks voting only for blacks has already crossed some Brazilian minds. For now, at least, this seed of Nazism has been exorcized.
And yes, sir, blacks are our neighbors and they do marry our daughters! Otherwise we would not have a population with almost 40% of mestizos. Are there families who have reservations regarding interracial marriage? Sure, and why not? Is there any law saying that a family cannot have preferences concerning their children? In any case, we don't live in a feudal country, where the sovereign will of the pater familias determines the destiny of children.
As far as becoming president of the country, any black person can run for the highest office in the nation and I am strongly convinced that we will have a black president very soon. I would feel much better served by a black president with more education and administrative experience than this extremely uncultivated white factory worker that my country has just elected. I don't care about the color of the president. I do care about his or her competence.
You mention the participation of João Batista de Lacerda, in 1911, at the I Universal Conference on Races, in London. According to the Brazilian physician, a century of miscegenation would mean that "black people would ultimately disappear from Brazilian society". Well, we know that Lacerda illustrated his thesis with a painting entitled "Can's Redemption", by Modesto Brocos y Gomes, whose idea was to record this whitening process by showing how the crossbreeding of blacks and their mestizos with whites diluted the African blood, resulting in fair descendants.
According to the denomination used by Congress, one can see that there was a time in which the concept of race enjoyed scientific ordinance, which is no longer acceptable today. In the painting by Brocos y Gomes, there is an old black woman in a gesture of homage, sitting next to a fair mulatto girl, plus a man with Iberian features and a child, supposedly the couple's daughter, of fair complexion, showing the progression from black to white. Well, the work of a painter cannot be used for demonstrating a thesis in the field of genetics.
To quote Lacerda amounts to quoting the same protonazist Nina Rodrigues. While GobineauNina Rodrigues's gurustated that the mixture of races would lead in the end to the pure and simple extinction of the Brazilian population, Lacerda is more modest: only the black population will be extinct. In the 21st century, we can no longer lend our ears to 19th century delirious theories which, by the way, have proved to be in the wrong side of reality. By stating that "Brazil's leaders chose to try and mix the African blood right out of the country", you are accepting conspiratory theories that never existed, except maybe on the mind of some racistand those, yes, do exist.
No one in his sound mind can feel authorized to declare Brazilian leaders responsible for such a theory. Who are these leaders responsible for such a Machiavellian strategy? I don't know who they are. Darcy Ribeiro was someone who defended miscegenation in recent times, almost to the point of hysteria, but always in defense of blackness and not as an instrument for black extinction.
In O Presidente Negro (1926) (The Black President), Monteiro Lobato, who was aware of Nina Rodrigues and Batista Lacerda's arguments, satirizes an American scientist, Miss Jane, who defends the idea that hatred is the most profound of all prophylaxies. Hatred prevents one race from perverting itself and/or de-crystallizing the other race and it keeps both in a state of relative purity. "Love has killed in Brazil the possibility of a supreme biological expression. Hatred has created in America the glory of human eugenism." It is not without a purpose that Lobato makes this preposterous thesis come from the lips of an American. We Brazilians don't need this purifying hatred.
Mr. Wells tells me that the only black woman to be crowned Miss Brasil was Deise Nunes de Souza, in 1986. Well, Brazil already existed before 1986. In 1964, Vera Lúcia Couto dos Santos, a Carioca, was the first black woman to be elected Miss Brasil. She was bombarded, I grant you, with anonymous telephone calls complaining that no black girl could be Miss Brasil. This happened in Rio de Janeiro, a State with a predominantly black and mulatto population. But she was elected and she stayed elected. Please note that Deise Nunes is a Gaúcha, born in that same predominantly white State that elected Alceu Collares.
It's also important to remind readers of an episode of flagrant racism on the part of the black community of Porto Alegre, which took place in the 1980s. Porto Alegre elected a Carnaval Queen who was white... for her own misfortune. Black activists complained, saying that Carnaval was a black celebration and its queen, therefore, had to be black. The pressure included stones thrown at her house and was such that the girl had to resign her title. Curiously, no one remembered at the time that the origins of Carnaval (Mardi Gras) have nothing to do with blacks or with Africa. It is a white and Roman celebration.
"In several books about Brazil, it has been reported that Afro-Brazilians were barred from entering prestigious social clubs even when they had the money for the special membership fees". This statement deserves a few observations. There were exclusively black and exclusively white clubs in Brazil. If blacks are barred in whites' clubs, the restriction was reciprocal: in black clubs, whites don't get in.
Among these clubs, the most notorious today is the Ilê Aiyê "bloco", in Bahia, founded in 1974, which still does not allow whites among its members. Let's remember that, among other things, clubs are private organizations, where people get together with people they like. If the British enjoy getting together with British people, or if homosexuals enjoy meeting among other homosexuals, is that something for us to condemn? Condemnable, yes, would be to deny access to people in public locations on the basis of their color.
By the way, you state: "In the Frances Twine book, we find that black people were often times not allowed to walk on certain sides of the street!" Well, Twine lived for a mere eleven months in a small community in the State of Rio de Janeiro (it's better than eleven weeks, for sure, but still not very conclusive). To extract generic conclusions based on such a short period of time in an isolated community is to confuse the universe with a two-yard-diameter-circle-around-one's-own-nose.
If that situation in fact existed in that specific community during a certain time, the same thing cannot be extended to Brazil, where blacks and whites walk around wherever they want. There is nothing and nobody telling any black person today to walk on one or another side of the sidewalk. We cannot judge contemporary Brazil based on hypothetical occurrences in communities lost in its geography. In Rio de Janeiro, there are groups of people who applaud the sunset, which doesn't justify a statement saying that Brazilians clap at the sunset.
Afrobrazilianists have been producing quite a few essays in which non-whites are automatically identified with blacks. In the recent torrent of academic studies on Brazil published in the United States, historian Jeffrey Lesser may be the only one with an encompassing and non racist view of the issue. In Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil, Lesser tries to show how other immigrant, non-white groups, in particular the Japanese and the Arabs, have participated in building a Brazilian identity. Judging from the racist bias of afrobrazilianists, the universe seems to have only two colors, white and black.
Impunity for All
There is no validity in Mr. Wells's statements that nobody has ever been punished for racism in Brazil. "How many white Brazilians do you know (and can prove) have been actually thrown in jail for racist practices? Most likely NONE! And as far as murder, I can relay several stories I have been told in which a black Brazilian was killed and absolutely NOTHING was done about it!" You can't relay just one, or three, or four cases, as a general rule. Just for starters, here in São Paulo (I'm talking only about the city of São Paulo), 50 to 60 people are murdered every weekend, among whites and blacks, and none of the murderers are punished.
Only within the State of São Paulo today, nothing less than 127 thousand warrants of arrests are waiting to be carried out. They are not carried out because there is no room in the penitentiaries. That means 127 thousand convicted peopleor at lest indictedwalking around, free as birds. These numbers do not include the tens of thousands of people who committed crimes that haven't been solved. Impunity is not a characteristic of murderers of black people, but something widely practiced in Brazil.
As far as racial offenses, a quick search in the newspapers shows us interesting cases. The Special Jurisdiction Appelate Court of Minas Gerais, for example, has condemned a lady to pay R$ 5,000 (US$ 1,700) to her neighbor for pain and suffering. The lady in question had publicly called her neighbor "monkey", "stinking negro" and "vulture". In Rio de Janeiro, the judge of the 7th Criminal Court sentenced a businesswoman to two years of detention, with probation, because she had referred to a candidate for employment as "little ragged and ill-mannered negro girl".
The judge of the Children and Adolescents Court of Florianópolis convicted a minor who, during a soccer game at school, called his buddy "ugly negro". The minor was sentenced to six months of parole. This is heavy punishment for verbal offenses, which would never deserve punishment if they were directed to a white person.
Meanwhile, a popular singer scored a hit on the radio and TV with a song called Lôra Burra (Stupid Blonde). There was no lawsuit, no accusation of racism, no condemnation at all. Imagine, Mr. Wells, if someone went in the airwaves with a song called "Nega Burra" (Stupid Black). That person would be immediately sued. That's what happened with singer Tiririca, accused of the crime of racism because of his song Veja os Cabelos Dela (Look at Her Hair), which contains the verses "Essa nega fede / Fede de lascar" (This black woman stinks / Man, how she stinks".
About this case, Henrique Cunha Júnior, professor of the University of Ceará, wrote: "as if the insults and other imposed chagrin were not enough, we now have a beast singing on the radio that the black woman stinks and no social statement of justice or human dignity to forbid and to punish this racism". The caricatural aspect of all this is that the song was dedicated to the wife of the singer himself, who didn't see in the lyrics any intention to insult, and instead took it in stride, as a good-humored reference.
What I have been stating, since my first article is that law degrees are creating racial strife in Brazil. Law # 7.716, of 1989, for example, which establishes crimes linked to race or color prejudice, has been brandished left and right not to solve, but to incite conflict. Five years ago, during a Portuguese language exam in the vestibular (college entrance exam) at the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul (UFMS), an incident occurred that illustrates this new type of racism very well. The phrases "she is pretty, but she's black" and "although black, she is pretty" caused indignation in organizations fighting for black rights in that State.
The Instituto e Casa de Cultura Afro-Brasileira (Icab) (Afro-Brazilian Institute and Cultural Center) filed criminal charges with the Department of Justice and a complaint with the Public Safety Secretary's office, asking it to ascertain an accusation of crime of racism on the part of UFMS. The group Trabalhos e Estudo Zumbi (Tez) requested elimination of the question from the exam and a public apology from UFMS. For Aparício Xavier, president of Icab, the issue was an aberration, made for medieval times. "If I were taking the exam, I would tear the sheet and burn it."
Based on two phrases, the candidate had to indicate the correct answers. One of the answers considered correct stated that in the phrase (a) ("She is pretty but she's black") the color of the girl was an argument disadvantageous to her beauty. Another answer considered correct, in phrase (b) ("Although black, she is pretty"), said that the color of the girl was a restriction that can be outdone by her beauty. For Odonias Silva, president of the Vestibular Permanent Commission responsible for drafting the exam, the question was "an unfortunate slip".
The president of Icab asked the head of the Human Rights Department of the Department of Justice, Ivair Augusto dos Santos, to officially register the indignation of blacks before the Interministerial Group for the Advancement of Black People, created by President Fernando Henrique. Both Icab and Grupo Tez filed for damages claiming pain and suffering. It did not occur to anyonethe organization representatives, the professor or the university presidentthat in order to burn and tear the evidence for that phrase, one would have to start by tearing and burning something much biggerthe Bible.
Because in the Bible, at the opening of its finest book, the Song of Salomon, we find: "I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon". If we go to the Latin Vulgate, which originates most of the translations used today, there it is: nigra sum, sed Formosa. The Vulgate, in turn, comes from the translation of the Septuagintadrafted from the Hebrew originalwhere we find the Greek: Melaina eimi kai kale.
During the last administration in Brazil, the Associação Brasileira de Negros Progressistas (Brazilian Progressive Black Association) filed a petition with the Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF) (Supreme Court) to sue the Secretary of Health, José Serra, for racism. The issue was the choice of a black actress to appear in the AIDS prevention campaign to air during Carnaval celebrations; it was offensive for the black woman to be exposed in the ad as a prostitute. The Health Department reacted: the actress was selected among thirty candidates, which included blondes, browns and blacks. It would have been racism only if the best candidate were not able to star in the campaign because she was black.
You can't win, it seems. If the black model had not been the chosen model in the contest, it could have been disputed because it gave preference to whites. Curiously, it did not occur to any of the insurgent progressive blacks to ask the opinion of the party most interested in the issue, actress Carla Leite. She never felt any inferiority, by the way. "On the contrary, I'm proud to have conveyed an important message, regardless of the controversy", said Carla.
If we go by the indications, there are no black prostitutes in Brazil. The Director of Communications of the Associação Brasileira de Negros Progressistas, Aguinaldo Triumpho Avellar, claims that blacks should be consulted about the content of the public announcement. According to his claim, every black actress, if she wants to find work, will have to get prior permission from the progressive blacks in order to know if she can or not audition for certain jobs.
Still in Florianópolis, that same city where a minor was convicted for calling a classmate "you ugly black", another case took place which demonstrates very well the absurdity of anti-racist laws. Some 30 employees were fired from a government agency. One of them was black. The black ex-employee sued for racism. He was re-hired and got a fat check for damages. The other employees, because of their misfortune of being white, were left high and dry. But the most caricatural story related to this hysteria took place in Brasília, where a black man was sent to jail because he called another black black.
Because racial conflicts in Brazil were never as intense as in the United States, our local insurgent progressive blacks are doing what they can to allow us to reach the enviable levels of racial hatred of a First World country. For that purpose, they have the valuable support of this new generation of activists bringing degrees from American universities in the past few decades. Instead of the Soviet apparatchiks, we now have academic factories of racism called `centers for black studies'. With the typical arrogance of the citizens of the empire, these Yankee afrobrazilianists aspire to understand Brazil better than Brazilians themselves.
Our country is sliding down a dangerous slope by creating different laws for different people. There is already a federal Act protecting Brazilian Indians. They can kill as they please, like Raoni. Or rape at their will, like Paiakan, but they can't go to jail because they are Indians. Blacks can get into universities cutting in front of whites by getting a better ranking in the entrance exam. They can also insult whites, because it's not a crime. Crime is to insult a black person. Off with class warfare, in with racial warfare. To paraphrase the Marxists: hatred is the forceps of History.
I will not join your digressions about Africa, Mr. Wells. Obviously, I disagree with them. I will only mention that when I condemn certain African institutions, I am in no way endorsing the atrocities of Christianity or the ailments of Latin America and Brazil. But this subject would require an even longer discussion, with no end in sight. Neither do I want to abuse the patience of my translator, on whom I depend for this dialogue.
Janer Cristaldohe holds a PhD from University of Paris, Sorbonneis an author, translator, lawyer, philosopher and journalist and suffers São Paulo. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Translated by Tereza Braga, email: email@example.com