Erundina and the general

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By PAULO CAPEL NARVAI*

Denialism is one of the traits of the way racism is expressed in Brazil

The reaction of the Vice President of the Republic, Hamilton Mourão, to the murder of João Alberto Silveira Freitas, by beating and suffocation in the parking lot of a Carrefour supermarket in Porto Alegre, regretting it, says a lot about several aspects involved in the homicide. One of them is the training of generals in Brazil.

Freitas was 40 years old and his skin color was black.

Mourão and other authorities recognized and repudiated the violence whose tragic outcome, on the eve of Black Consciousness Day, celebrated on November 20, motivated reactions and public demonstrations in Porto Alegre and other cities.

But General Mourão did not see racism in the homicide. For him “in Brazil there is no racism. This is something they want to import, it doesn't exist here. I tell you with complete peace of mind, there is no racism”. Said import would have the United States as reference. Having lived in Washington for two years, the general stated that “there is racism there”, because at the school where he studied [in the late 1960s] “the colored people walked separately”, “sat in the back [on] the bus” and that he would have been “impressed”, because “I had never seen that here in Brazil”. Mourão admitted that “we have brutal inequality here, the result of a series of problems, and most of the poorest people, who have less access to the goods and needs of modern society, are people of color”.

When commenting on a friend's post on a social network on this subject, I wrote that “his statement gives the exact dimension of the level of social and human training of the Brazilian military. Listening to him gave me that unpleasant feeling of being in front of a general (general!), Vice President of the Republic, who talks about something of this relevance based only on common sense. It's as if he had never read or studied anything on the subject. As if, to form a general, it was enough to instruct him in military matters...

The language is inappropriate for someone with his rank, exercising the function he performs today, the second man in the hierarchy of the Brazilian State. It is, above all, heartbreaking. What elite is being formed in our military schools?” This question, I admit, was just rhetorical, on the pretext of stimulating reflection, as I know very well how insufficient and excessively ideologized this training is, under the theoretical framework of the “internal enemy”.

For Mourão, either racism is expressed as segregation or it does not exist. The manifestation is frighteningly simplistic in a general and should serve as a warning, as an important indicator, for leaders and those responsible for the curriculum content of the training schools for officers of the Armed Forces. There is something very bad about the contents, far beyond the well-known ideological problems of this training. The depth of the water mirror with which burning contemporary issues are addressed compromises training and poses a risk to the country.

However, the expression “people of color” took me back to the period when Luiza Erundina was mayor of São Paulo (1989-92), when the Unified Health System (SUS) began to be organized in the city, with intense popular participation. . Permeable to social movements, the municipal government accepted their demands. One of them, originating from the Black Movement, called for the introduction of the “color issue” in patient records and health information systems.

It soon became clear that the “color” in question was “skin color”, as people are only human beings and therefore have no color. But skin color, oh, that had a lot of implications for health too.

Until then, the leaders of the movements said, practically nothing was known about infant mortality, maternal mortality, life expectancy at birth, conditions of access and use of public health services, specifically for people whose skin color it was black. General data on these indicators, they said, only served to hide inequalities and inequities, as they contained, but diluted in the “general” data for population groups according to skin color. It was necessary to change, in more detail, the data recording instruments used in São Paulo.

After the proposals for changes were analyzed at the Municipal Health Council and were the subject of a decision at the Municipal Health Conference, Ordinance 696, of March 30, 1990, introduced the “color issue” in the Health Information Systems (SIS) of the Municipal Secretary of Health (SMS).

Currently, this ethnic-racial variable is present in different SUS SIS, such as Mortality (SIM), Live Births (SINASC), Notifiable Diseases (SINAN), Hospital Information (SIH), Outpatient Information (SIA), pregnant women (SISPRENATAL) and in population epidemiological surveys such as, among others, the National Health Survey (PNS), the Longitudinal Study of Adult Health (ELSA), the Health, Wellbeing and Aging (SABE), the Surveillance System of Risk and Protective Factors for Chronic Diseases by Telephone Survey (VIGITEL), the National Household Sample Survey (PNAD) and Oral Health Brazil (SB Brasil). There is, at present, wide recognition of the importance of this variable, often identified as “race/color”, since it is essential for the production of data and information that support the elaboration, planning, implementation and evaluation of public policies.

In 2015, the Municipality of São Paulo, through Law No. 16.129, of 12/3/2015, expanded (art.1) the requirement to include the race/color item to “all information, evaluation, monitoring, data collection, censuses and programs with the aim of identifying the profile of people, as well as mapping and registering said profile with a view to directing public policies aimed at meeting the needs of this social segment”. On May 8, Decree No. 59.406 regulated Law No. 16.129/2015.

With routinely collected data available, the assumptions about this topic in health services gradually gave way, since the beginning of the 1990s, to consistent analyzes that revealed what its lack of existence concealed: racism is undeniable and, systematically practiced, assumes multiple expressions in everyday life. Institutional, professional, structural.

It was in this way that, among other actions, especially in the areas of culture and education, the government of Luiza Erundina in São Paulo made a great contribution in the field of health to the fight against racism as a wound that corrodes us all, nationally. The day after Hamilton Mourão's statement, President Jair Bolsonaro supported him, denying the existence of racism. This denial is, however, one of the features of the way racism is expressed in Brazil. Recognition contributes to coping with the problem. Its denial, on the contrary, perpetuates it, seeking to hide it.

It is no exaggeration to say that by recognizing racism, SUS was born anti-racist, despite its own institutional difficulties in dealing with this problem. The first decisions about this, taken in response to social demands in São Paulo in the death throes of the last century, proved to be opportune and of strategic importance, as can be seen in the present. This experience could certainly inspire our military schools. Brazil would win.

*Paulo Capel Narvai is senior professor of Public Health at USP.

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