Black and white anti-racism

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By ANTONIO SERGIO ALFREDO GUIMARÃES*

The protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, of intercontinental scope, took place in all countries where the black population is subjected to this form of racism.

Protests against police violence that have constantly victimized blacks in the United States for decades have recently given rise to a wave of street demonstrations throughout the United States, and later throughout the western world, which showed a face that was not seen before: whites , blacks and Asians, of different shades of color, of different ethnicities, took to the streets en masse against racism. In the 1960s, there was the same pluriracial alliance in the fight for civil rights, but restricted to the United States. The murder of blacks by the police had already motivated the movement a few years ago. Black Lives Matter, but without obtaining such a wide and diverse adhesion.

As usually happens, the great Brazilian press once again questioned why the same did not happen in Brazil. If before, the underlying answer was that we didn't have the same racism - at least as violent -, this time the question was different: why, suffering the same police violence, did blacks in Brazil not rebel? Likewise, voices emerged warning that the problem was for all of us – whites and blacks, that an active anti-racism was needed by whites.

Without being able to face the issue in all its complexity, I will limit myself to just one facet of the problem: the change in the understanding of what racism is.

To be short and direct, my answer is: the understanding of what racism is has changed and this has made it possible for police violence to be understood as such, and for white citizens to begin to realize that they are treated differently by the police because they are white, not because be peaceful, or be well dressed, or any attribute other than race. And more: the violence that has become naturalized against another human being, against blacks, sooner or later, also affects him.

We considered racism, in the 1950s, a doctrine that preached the existence of human races with different phenotypes, moral qualities and intellectual capacities that were also different. Nina Rodrigues, the founder of our social anthropology, at the beginning of the 1930th century, believed in the superiority of the white race and in the natural inequalities between races, which did not prevent him from being a defender of African religions and a friend of the people of saints. All that changed in the late 1940s and XNUMXs. Our social sciences abandoned racist doctrines and instead began to fight them. But, unfortunately, the social structure experienced during the validity of the racist doctrine was little changed, and we began to attribute to culture, the lack of education of blacks and the violence of poor peripheries, what were previously seen as intrinsic qualities of race. Even more, we started to feel proud of not pronouncing the word 'race' (color seemed irrefutable evidence) and to boast about maintaining relations between whites and blacks permeated by intimacy and by the sharing of the same Luso-Brazilian cultural heritage – the our football was mestizo in black and white, as well as our music, our food, etc. I have already analyzed elsewhere what our racial democracy was, it is not necessary to repeat it here.

Well, at the beginning of this century, we continued to unmask racism in our society by denouncing the systematic preference of our universities in recruiting white students, even if they selected anonymously, through entrance exams without declaration of color. We achieved this through a massive mass campaign, which lasted more than a decade, against the unanimous opinion of the mainstream press and a good part of our establishment intellectual, to convince, first the deliberative councils of our public universities, then our Federal Supreme Court, that the absurd absence of blacks in our higher education was unjust and could only be attributed to a racism that was no longer individual – restricted to attitudes and behaviors – more systemic, structural. Quotas for blacks were imposed as a bitter but necessary medicine, if we did not want to continue barring the development of black talent and intelligence in this country, in the XNUMXst century.

Now the time is different. We need to think about what is really at stake in the brutal way in which the police treat urban periphery residents. The excuse that triggers the violence of drug trafficking and the sheltering of bandits in these locations needs to be better understood, as most of the time it covers up a violent, unnecessary and racist police approach.

What then is racism today? In addition to attitudes and behaviors, two traits are always present in racism.

First, a system of social inequalities that systematically reproduces itself, affecting the same groups, benefiting some and penalizing others, even if it does not use racist doctrine, but which can be statistically identified as affecting groups with characteristics considered racial or ethnic. That is, it is not about class exploitation, classically studied by Marx, which plunders workers without any physical coercion or any cultural marker. Or male domination, or another system of systematic inequalities. But, equally, it is inscribed in the logic of functioning of institutions – in language, in civil organizations, in state apparatuses, in our way of living life and not thinking about it.

Second, it is a morally unfair system based on disrespect. Disrespect in the New Zealand philosopher Joshua Glasgow's sense ("failure to adequately recognize people as autonomous, independent, sentient, morally significant creatures" in "Racism as Disrespect", Ethics, P. 85). Disrespect that does not only show in interpersonal relationships, but in social institutions, when they lastingly ignore the values, interests and lives of people of a certain racial origin.

Well, I think that the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, of intercontinental scope, took place in all countries where the black population is subjected to this form of racism. In Brazil, our understanding of what racism is is starting to show that it has changed. A new generation of black intellectuals works in our universities and in our press and it is necessary to strengthen the dialogue with them. They are on several blogs and are already in the mainstream media. Something has changed, the perception of racism has changed, racial violence has become a language and, as the vigilante oligarchs say, the stick that hits Chico, hits Francisco.

*Antonio Sérgio Alfredo Guimarães is a retired senior professor at the Department of Sociology at USP. Author, among other books, of Classes, races and democracy (Publisher 34).

 

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