I’m Black, I’m Poor, I’m Not Brazil

Brazilian minority
During the past few months, I have spent my free time traveling around
Brazil, spreading a campaign called Educação Já (Education Now). As in the time
of the Diretas Já (Direct Elections Now), which mobilized Brazil for the end of
the military regime, I am defending the idea that it is time for a revolution in
the country through education.

To make certain that each child has the same chance in life with the guarantee of a school of the same quality, no matter his or her family’s income or the size of the city where he or she lives.


A couple weeks ago, I visited Zumbi dos Palmares University in São Paulo, founded and directed by Rector José Vicente. The majority of students in that university are black, as if there were a quota for white students. It has a good physical plant and offers quality courses.


Our first impression upon entering the premises and seeing dozens of young black people is that we are not in Brazil but, rather, in Africa. Nevertheless, that is the face of Brazil. We should instead find it strange to encounter the opposite: only white students in the university classrooms.


That strange feeling explains why, at the end of the lecture, a young student asked permission to speak and then spoke his mind. “I’m not Brazil,” he declared. “All of you are one Brazil; I’m another. I’m not the Brazil of the rich, of the whites, of the Senate, of the Chamber of Deputies, of the government, of the Justice branch. I’m not that Brazil that’s ignoring me. I made a great effort to arrive here in the university. I’m going to earn a diploma, but what good will it do me if I don’t have a job? And I won’t have one. Because I’m not Brazil.”


When a young person states that he or she is not Brazil, this is a very serious declaration. What this means is, “All of you are Brazil; I am not. I’m not that Brazil that is in the newspapers, on the official TV, in the Executive Power’s publicity campaigns or in the impunity fed by the Justice branch.”


But if this young man does not assume his nationality, he will have no future. Even if he becomes rich and tranquil, he will be threatened, assaulted, kidnapped. If he earns his diploma, Brazil will not be his if he lives surrounded by the illiterate, the miserable, the excluded. Either Brazil is good for everyone or it will be good for no one.


That young person needs to understand that he is Brazil, even if he does not want to be. Even if he decides to leave, to emigrate. Wherever he goes, he is Brazil. Because of this, I asked him not to give up the struggle to help change Brazil. Because if he does not do this, he will not have a future by himself.


But what he declared when he spoke his mind should serve as a warning for all of us in the government. That young man may not be a portrait of Brazil in its totality but he represents a significant segment of the population, one that does not feel that it is part of the official Brazil – the country of the executive power, of the Congress, of the judiciary.


That he sees no relation between what is said and done in the official Brazil and in the Brazil of each person, nor does he see us as the solution for his problems. It is as if, divided as it is by individualism, corporativism, officialism, people and State, Brazil were transmitting to its young people the idea that they are not Brazilians. And that division will destroy us.


I hope that that young man’s declaration will alert us to the necessity of changing the way that we, those in government, think, speak, act. Either we wake up, or there will be no future. We need to hear the people who are there outside. Indignant, unhappy, frustrated and, above all, lost. They have no confidence in the country; they do not know their leaders; or, even worse, they have no leaders.


Brazil is stalled. It can grow in its economy, in the number of universities, but it will not be a civilized nation if we do not put an end to the chasm separating us. Were it not for Brazil’s evolution in the past few years, that young man would not be in the university.


But his university presence is not enough because what he learns there will not give him the job that he would like to have. And if it does give him such a job, it will not give the same to others. And even if it gives a job to all the university students, it will not solve the fundamental problems of Brazilian society. It will not be enough to construct our future.


There will be no future for any of us as long as a young person looks us in the eye and says that he or she is not Brazil.


Cristovam Buarque has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PDT senator for the Federal District and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04). He is the current president of the Senate Education Commission. Last year he was a presidential candidate. You can visit his homepage – www.cristovam.com.br – and write to him at mensagem-cristovam@senado.gov.br


Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.

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