Black Consciousness

Image: Madison Inouye


The issue of inequality, especially that of race and color, needs to be present on the national agenda in search of a fair, open and democratic society

Today, November 20th, is National Zombie Day, a quilombola hero, killed by the repressive forces of Colonial Brazil, 328 years ago. It is also Black Awareness Day. Then, the question arises: what is the relationship between these two dates and the current Brazilian reality?

This is what we will try to reflect a little on in this article. First, however, we will try to synthetically answer what is the Brazil of our dreams, the Brazil we want, replacing the Brazil we have.

We want, and the people of this country are more than deserving, a fair, supportive, equitable, sustainable, modern, fully developed Brazil, with truly transparent and efficient governments and institutions, but to do so we need to fight tooth and nail, without ceasing for the end of poverty, misery, hunger, environmental degradation, slave labor or slavery-like labor, underemployment, unemployment, social, sectoral, regional and economic inequalities, violence, structural racism, prejudice against diverse demographic, ethnic and religious segments, of the privileges and tricks that blatantly benefit the “Maharajas of the Republic and those in power”, true familiocracies and, more than all of this, of course, for the end of corruption that steals resources necessary for the execution of public policies and enriches dishonest politicians, businesspeople and public managers.

A few days ago (on November 15th) we “celebrated” 134 years of the Proclamation of the Republic, which occurred through a military coup, supported by coffee growers from the Southeast region and other potentates of the Empire's economy, enraged with the Royal Family who, through the Act of Princess Isabel, had determined the “liberation” of slaves, black people coming from Africa and their descendants born here, without compensation from the State/government, as the slave owners wanted, since both land, production, animals and also people (slaves) were his property.

Before the proclamation of the Republic, Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca was a friend of the Imperial Family, mainly of Emperor Dom Pedro II; but it ended, thanks to some fake news spread about him, joining the republican side and accepting to lead the military coup that overthrew the Empire. Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca said, upon assuming office as (interim) President of the Republic “Until yesterday, our mission was to found the Republic; Today, our supreme duty before our country and the world is to preserve and enrich it.”

The republican movement had two currents, one of slave farmers who were much more dissatisfied with the Empire than they were, properly, imbued with republican ideals and another of liberal republicans who wanted not only the end of the empire, but also the total end of slavery and its consequences and other values ​​such as freedom, the separation of Church and State and popular participation, that is, something that was close to what we understand today as democracy.

But with the military coup, liberal ideas ended up losing ground and the abolition of slavery meant little or almost nothing in terms of improving the living conditions and citizenship of former slaves and their descendants and the poor of the time, who, to this day, they represent the abandoned, excluded and discriminated part of Brazilian society.

This is the reality that even today, 135 years after the signing of the Golden Law, and 134 years since the Republic, is considered structural racism, which is why the black movement began to consider November 20th as its historical milestone (and not the 13th of May, publication of the Lei Áurea), the date on which the greatest quilombola leader, in the history of the slaves' struggle for freedom, Zumbi dos Palmares, was killed.

Thus, in the space of just five days, two important moments in our history are celebrated, the Proclamation of the Republic on November 15th and Black Consciousness Day on November 20th. Between these two events there is another important date, which is linked to the previous two, which is the World Day of the Poor, established in 2015 by Pope Francis, as a way of reaffirming the preferential option that the Catholic Church and, I believe, by similarity, all others churches and religions do for the poor.

Then some more questions/questions arise: who are the poor in Brazil? Is there a relationship between poverty and race? Are poverty, race, structural racism and violence in our country part of the same social mosaic?

There are three dimensions that intertwine: the Empire (state power), the slave system as the basis of the economy and politics during the periods of Colonial Brazil (of Portugal) and Empire, and the presence and position of the Catholic Church in the face of slavery and abolitionist movement.

According to an academic article, the result of extensive research, authored by Tulio Augusto de Paiva Pereira, entitled “The Catholic Church and black slavery in Brazil from the XNUMXth Century onwards”, it condemned the slavery of indigenous people, but accepted slavery of black people coming from Africa and their descendants born here, that is, a very different position from today, especially after the Second Vatican Council and the emergence of Liberation Theology, in which the Church defends the poor, oppressed and excluded, such as slaves were and free Afro-descendants until the end of the Empire.

Let's look at the initial summary of the aforementioned article “The participation of the Catholic Church in the process of implementing and maintaining black African slavery in Brazil, from the XNUMXth century onwards, took place in different ways and this was made possible by the institution of a union between the State Portuguese and the Church, called “royal patronage”. This union, in fact, subordinated the Church to the Portuguese State in exchange for the exclusivity of evangelizing action in discovered lands, aiming to increase its number of followers. On the other hand, the Church and religiosity were used to justify the colonial system, with a mercantilist nature, aimed at generating wealth for Portugal. Black slavery became one of the pillars in the structuring of society and the colonial economy. However, this was a heinous system of human exploitation to be linked to an institution that was created to promote brotherhood, justice and peace among men.”

It is worth noting that during the colonial and imperial periods, Catholicism was the official religion and only when the publication of Decree 119-A, of January 7, 1890 and, constitutionally, with the promulgation of the first Republican Constitution in 1891, did the separation between the Catholic Church and the State, which, consistent with the “republican spirit” should be secular and guarantee freedom of worship and other individual and collective guarantees.

In the case of former slaves and their descendants (today called Afro-descendants, which include black and brown people), since before the legal end of slavery they have been fighting to guarantee rights, including historical reparations, as is currently the case with quilombolas, whose territories are not respected.

Formally or legally, countless “achievements” have already occurred, however, in the vast majority of cases, these “achievements” remain only on paper. We only need to examine statistical data of an economic, social and political nature to realize that there is still a large gap between the Afro-descendant population and the white population, mainly from the middle and upper classes, since poor whites enjoy socioeconomic conditions and living standards very close to or equal to those of people of African descent.

In the quest to guarantee rights, people of African descent have fought on several fronts, including in relation to political rights (voting and being voted for), as well as economic, social, civil and other rights.

In the “Inclusion Series: previously excluded, today Indians and black people actively participate in the electoral process”, prepared by the TSE on 19/04/2013, we can learn a little about this trajectory, which is also an achievement, similar to the current Quota Law.

“In the political history of Brazil, for a long time, women, black people, the poor and the illiterate did not vote. It is impossible to address the citizenship of black Brazilians and the promotion of their human rights without reading the past. This is because, with regard to black voting, there was never a formal ban, but a veiled one. During slavery, enslaved people were considered the property of their master, therefore, they had no rights. Then, the impediment came due to the prohibition of voting for the illiterate”.

Returning to the issue of Black Consciousness Day, six states: Alagoas, Amazonas, Amapá, Rio de Janeiro, Mato Grosso and São Paulo, November 20th is already a holiday and in ten other states at least in one or more municipalities as well, the even occurring in three capitals: Goiânia, João Pessoa and Florianópolis.

The Federal Senate has also approved a bill authored by Senator Randolfe Rodriges (PT-AP) considering Black Awareness Day as a national holiday. The aforementioned bill is in the Federal Chamber and, if approved, should be forwarded to President Lula, which will certainly sanction him.

Another advance in this fight was the constitution of the bench of black deputies in the Federal Chamber, on November 01, 2023. According to information from the Federal Chamber in this Legislature, there are 134 parliamentarians who declare themselves black/black or brown/brown, that is , Afro-descendants and 120 of these parliamentarians participated in the initial constitution of the Afro-descendants bench.

The existence of thematic benches is an advance in the fight to conquer rights and spaces and will certainly be very important in the fight of the unified black movement, especially in the drafting of legislation that meets the agenda of the aforementioned movement and of all people of African descent.

Finally, we will mention some statistical data from IBGE, which demonstrate the size of color and racial inequality in Brazil, still a long way from characterizing our country as a nation under the primacy of social justice.

Data from an article published on July 20 of this year (2023) by Agência Brasil indicated that according to the Yearbook of the Brazilian Public Security Forum, published on the same date, in 2022 there were 442.044 black and brown people incarcerated in Brazil or 68,2% of the total number of prisoners. The same trend is observed in relation to the number of people murdered, where people of African descent are the vast majority, especially when it comes to people killed by the police.

Article published on the website Congress in Focus brings shocking data “Research released this Thursday (16) reveals that nine out of ten police victims, in eight states, have black skin. The number of people killed by police in just eight Brazilian states it reached 4.219 in 2022. Of this total, 2.700 were considered black (black or brown) by police authorities, that is, 65,7% of the total. If only those with informed color/race are considered (3.171), the proportion of blacks reaches 87,4%”.

In the population of the richest 10% in Brazil, white people represent 70,6% and people of African descent (black and mixed race) only 27,7%; and in the poorest 10%, representation by color/race is diametrically opposite: whites 23,7% and Afro-descendants 75,2%. It is worth noting that in the following two years, poverty increased by more than 15 million people, due to Covid, and the Afro-descendant population was the most excluded.

In 2021, according to IBGE data, 62,5 million people in Brazil lived below the poverty line, with 75% of this population being black and mixed race (Afro-descendants), a percentage much higher than what they represent in the total population that is of 55,8%.

In the case of access to higher education, young people between 18 and 24 years old, even after the institution of racial quotas ten years ago, in 2022 78,8% of white people were at university and, in relation to black and brown people, only 55,6% %, still a big difference.

Among the unemployed, underemployed or unemployed people in 2022, no less than 64,2% were of African descent. In relation to basic sanitation, 42,8% of the Afro-descendant population did not have access to this service, compared to 26,5% of poor white people.

The same observation can be said in relation to garbage collection, 12,5% ​​of people of African descent did not have it compared to half, 6% of poor white people did not have it either.

In relation to occupational mobility, that is, in management and board positions in public or private companies, white people occupied around 2022% of these positions in 85,9 and people of African descent only 11,9%.

The same disparity, but much more striking, can be observed in the Judiciary, much more than in the other powers, especially in the Superior Courts, where the presence of black men and women; browns/browns is almost non-existent, which has demanded a public discussion and also in the high echelons of the aforementioned power in the sense that the quota system is also instituted in the same, both on the issue of gender and with regard to the issue of color and race .

The issue of inequality, in all its dimensions, especially inequality based on race and color, as well as others such as gender and income inequality, need to be present on the national agenda and in several other debates that are currently being held in search of of a fair, open and democratic society. This is the meaning and meaning of Black Awareness Day!

*Juacy daSilva He is a retired professor of sociology at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT).

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