“Shut up” place!

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By MARIA RITA KEHL*

What would become of democracy if each one of us was only allowed to express himself in relation to themes concerning his personal experience? What would become of the public debate?

I decided to participate in the debate between sectors of the Black Movement and Lilian Schwarcz regarding Beyoncé, because I admire both Lilian and the MNU. I followed the divergence with interest; I admire Lilian for her public recantation, considering that she was convinced by the Black Movement's criticisms. I don't like to think that she did it just because she was told to shut up. I believe that the word, when used to argue and invite the other to think and debate with us, is the best resource to resolve, or at least dialecticize, ideas and values ​​located in apparently opposite poles of the vast field of public opinion.

I decided now, based on what also happened with Djamila Ribeiro, to discuss this issue of Identity Movements and Culture of Cancellation. Despite the huge difference between my life experience and the life experiences of the descendants of enslaved people – a horrendous practice that, in Brazil, lasted 300 years! – I consider us equal in rights and in the ability to understand the world beyond our different backyards. Yes, I am aware that the backyard where I was born is privileged compared to Djamila's. Even more in relation to that of many descendants of poor Africans. I apologize if I still insist on considering myself, as in Baudelaire's verse, his equal, his sister.

What would become of democracy if each one of us was only allowed to express himself in relation to themes concerning his personal experience? What would become of the public debate? To each his own little house…? What would become of solidarity, this attitude based on identification with our fellow man in difference, if we could only sympathize with those who live the same experiences as us? Well, there are people who are like that, they don't leave their playpen. I don't belong to that group, and I don't think you, Djamila, do either. If I was tortured you would care, I imagine, regardless of the color of my skin. Same goes for me for you.

My “place of speech” is that of someone who identifies with the pain of others. But it is also that of those who allow themselves to criticize prejudiced or unfair attitudes, wherever they come from. While it is important to recognize the dignity of being the victim of oppression – economic, racial, sexual – there is no reason to believe that the oppressed are saints. It doesn't matter. You, a “sinner” like all of us, were victims of discrimination by your brothers of color, members of the Unified Black Movement.

I consider identity politics as essential resources to command respect, demand reparation for all crimes of racism, as well as fight (still!) for equal rights. I abhor all forms of discrimination based on skin color, country of origin, religious faith or differences in cultural practices. No “slogan” has remained more current, over the centuries, than the motto of the French Revolution: equality, liberty and fraternity. It seems to me that what is at stake, regarding what happens to people of European descent and those of African descent, is “equality”. How to consider equal people coming from social classes, ethnic groups and life experiences so unequal?

But yes, in some ways we are the same. In rights (although, in Brazil, many of them are disrespected). In dignity. In the ability to produce culture, be it musical, pictorial, theatrical. In this aspect of cultural production, freedom of expression comes into question. We can participate, without asking anyone's permission, in all the debates that interest us. We can pronounce on problems and issues that are not part of our daily lives. These are questions of the “others”. But what do we care. We want to talk. If the word is not free, what else is? But, of course: I abhor the word that induces virtual lynchings.

I don't want to imagine a world in which each of us could only dialogue with our supposed “equals” in gender, skin color or social class. Otherwise, how could I, a white girl from the urban middle class, have been accepted by the MST “compas” with whom I worked between 2006 and 2011, until I joined the Truth Commission? How could I be respected among indigenous groups to report, in the chapter that fell to me to write, the genocide suffered by them during the dictatorship if I had never, before that, even set foot in a village?

During Nazism, one of the most horrendous periods humanity has gone through, some non-Hitlerist German families sheltered Jewish families in their homes, saving many of them. Some of these anti-racist Germans were denounced by their neighbors and murdered by the Gestapo. Even belonging to the “Aryan race”, they were martyrs in their solidarity action against the genocide.

My last name is German. My grandfather, who was very affectionate with me as a child, was anti-Semitic for “eugenic” reasons. I understood, as a teenager, that he defended the supremacy of the “good news”. What a sleazy concept, to say the least. It's fairer to say: what a criminal concept. None of his six grandchildren share those ideas. And I argue that none of us should be silenced in a debate about “race” because of our ancestry and our grandfather.

Incidentally, because of this ancestry that I did not choose (for me, he was just a sweet grandfather), perhaps the Black Movement considers me the last person authorized to dialogue with its activists. But I want to take the risk. Above all differences, I always bet on the free circulation of words and debate. And I say that our habitat “natural” is this melting pot of cultures that constitutes the vast world of the word – outside of which, what would become of the human being? As Pessoa wrote, just a “postponed corpse that procreates”.

I have already participated, with joy, in many manifestations of the Black Consciousness Day. I have countless affinities with the culture that your ancestors generously bequeathed us. I'm from samba, since I was a child. My maternal uncles, bohemians, played and sang. “I fell into the cauldron”, like Obelix. Sometimes I think I know all the sambas from the end of the XNUMXth century to the end of the XNUMXth by heart. I'm a daughter of Santo: what a pretense, isn't it? I didn't even ask for this to happen, it was the saint who "sent". This affiliation encourages me a lot at the time of difficulties.

I wrote an essay on the history of samba that begins with the abandonment of enslaved people after Abolition; it is clear that the “sinhozinho” who exploited three hundred Africans, having to pay at least one starvation wage to each, preferred to throw two hundred and fifty on the street and exploit the other fifty to the bone. Contrary to what happened in some southern states of the United States, here nobody received any reparation for the abuses suffered for generations. It took a worker to come to power to introduce some reparatory policies, such as quotas for people of African descent to enter universities or the legalization of quilombola lands.

In the United States, a country today governed by one of the idols of the Brazilian leader, there is a large middle-class Afro-descendant population. An African descendant presided over the country, for two terms, in a relatively progressive way – as far as the congress allowed. Another one is a genius filmmaker. Spyke Lee's production company is called "Forty Acres and a Mule" in reference to the reparation that should have been received by his ancestors after the Civil War.

Let's also count jazz composers, musicians and singers. They played in spaces that non-racist whites were never forbidden to attend and listen to.

Here in Brazil, faced with the abandonment of newly freed enslaved people, Brazilians descended from Portuguese, Italians and other racist Europeans established a shameful association between dark-skinned people and “vagrancy”. One more bad thing, among many others. But the former slaves, without work after the Abolition [1], who gathered at Pedra do Sal, in the port area of ​​Rio, waiting for the heavy work of helping to unload ships that arrived, in the his spare time created samba: one of the strongest marks of Brazilian culture. That we whites were never forbidden to sing and dance. In Bahia, Candomblé terreiros emerged, which not only serve black people. Whites can consult with each other and, if necessary, at the behest of the saint, join.

Lest you think that the audacity of identifying myself with the very rich culture that you share with “more than fifty thousand brothers” is an exclusive “abuse” in relation to Afro-descendants, I tell you that I am incurably heterosexual, but I participate every year in the Gay parade. None of my gay friends, one of whom has suffered homophobic harassment at work, disallowed me from identifying with them. But no one was offended on occasions when we disagreed on any subject, even regarding their identity cause.

Sometimes, in the debate, I was convinced. Other times I convinced them. Freedom of opinion combined with equal rights can give excellent results. However, you know, there are black racists – not against whites, which would be understandable. Against other blacks. Sérgio Camargo, who chairs the Palmares Foundation in the current government, faced controversy because of racist statements.

One of the reasons for my initiative to write, in public, to fellow members of the MNU, is that I believe that we are also equal in our ability to empathize. I don't need to have been tied to the stocks to be horrified by it. The whole country, even the indifferent ones, suffers from low esteem because of our long period of slavery. And we, anti-racist whites, are indeed able to emotionally put ourselves in the shoes of those who still suffer what we never suffered. However, I have no doubt that even today, people of African descent have suffered and are still suffering, in Brazil, much more than people of European descent.

We're equal. Not in life experience, not in skin color. In rights, in dignity and, as I try to do now, in freedom of expression. I would disrespect members of the Unified Black Movement if I were condescending. Or if I pretended to agree so I wouldn't suffer virtual lynchings. Consideration and respect authorize me, in cases like this, to disagree. Equal to equal. That's why I don't accept that, due to our different origins – and the privileges I'm aware of – fellow MNU members would eventually demand that I keep mine quiet.

Finally, I leave it to readers who still don't know the lyrics of one of the most touching songs ever written to denounce one of the many acts of racist barbarism in the United States: a former slave who was hanged from a tree. of you know her. There you go, in the version of the (white) poet Carlos Rennó:

strangefruit

(strange fruit)

Southern trees bear a strange fruit:
Leaf or root bathes in blood:
Black body swaying, slow:
Leaf hanging from a branch in the wind.

Celebrated southern pastoral scene:
Crooked mouth and puffy eye
Smell of magnolia comes and goes
Suddenly the smell of burning flesh

Here is a fruit that the wind follows,
So that a crow pulls, so that the rain wrinkles.
So that the sun dries up, so that the ground swallows.
Here is a strange and bitter fruit [2]

As I type these verses, I already want to cry. You should know that it was not written by a black man but by a New York Jew, Abel Meeropol (pseudonym Lewis Allan). How to disallow it with the argument that it does not have the appropriate “place of speech”? To stretch this argument to the point of absurdity: how could we even manage to dialogue with our non-equals? Would empathy and solidarity always be hypocritical? Is the proposal “to each his own little box”? I don't want to live in such a world.

*Maria Rita Kehl is a psychoanalyst, journalist and writer. Author, among other books, of Displacements of the feminine: the freudian woman in the passage to modernity (Boitempo).

Notes

[1] Evidently the slave owner who exploited 500 individuals, having to pay them at least a starvation wage, preferred to send 400 to the street, God will give, and abuse the workforce of the remaining hundred to the maximum.

[2] Southern treesbear a strangefruit/ Bloodontheleavesandbloodatthe root/ Black bodyswuiguing in the Southern breeze/ Strangefruithangingfromthepoplartrees. //Pastoral sceneofthegallant South/ The bulguingeyes ande thetwistedmouth/Scentofmagnoliasweetandfresh/ Andthesuddensmellofburningflesh! // Here is a fruit for thecrowstopluck/ For heraintogather, for thewindtosuck/ For hesuntorot, for theteetodrop/ Hereis a strangeandbittercrop.

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