Struggles of people of African descent

Keith Arnatt, Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self, 1969–72


Struggles and legal support are fundamental to ensuring respect and preservation of black memory and history

As a result of the celebration of Zumbi's death on November 20, sectors of the media and school units, especially public ones, took charge of highlighting black people and their cultural creations and recreations. They tried not to let his multiple contributions to the social and cultural formation of Brazil go unnoticed.

Without a doubt, it is impossible to highlight the formation of national society without referring to black people, despite the fact that throughout the country's history they were prohibited from publicly expressing their beliefs and cultural productions, as evidenced by the infamous law of 1890, which persecuted and punished them, interpreting their beliefs as healerism or spiritualism, as highlighted by researcher Giumbelli (2003).

Furthermore, it is important to highlight that in the initial period of national formation, the Jesuit catechesis imposed on black people forced them to reject their cultural productions, such as beliefs, after all beliefs are cultural activities, making them accept Christian doctrine in the Catholic version, which clashed with their worldview and ways of expressing their spirituality, especially because the European's faith was built within a rationality that contrasted with that of the black African, who expressed his belief in harmony with others and above all with nature.

This contempt for culture has its roots and links with the mentality of the white European, who considered himself the center or the only true cultural reference – the so-called Eurocentrism –, and the alleged black anthropology created by the Maranhão doctor Raimundo Nina Rodrigues, who anchored and inspired mainly by English evolutionism and the Italian school of criminology, he forged an anthropology based on a negative and derogatory conception of black people, and mainly of their physical complexions and their cultural activities.

According to this so-called anthropology, black people were seen as being devoid of intelligence, incapable of complying with laws, with behavior prone to crime and serious psychological disorders, and their miscegenation would not contribute anything to civilizing progress due to the generation of inferior races and degenerate, as highlighted (RODRIGUES apud MUNANGA, 2009).

Now, destroying, denying or imposing a culture on other people means the loss of identity, the rupture of the meaning of life and the loss of references in their social relations, interaction with the world, etc. To assert myself as the only cultural reference and one that other people should follow as a model, or to treat those who do not conform to my culture as outsider, was not the privilege of Europeans, as the Greeks also did it by calling them barbarians. Treating people and their cultures in hierarchical terms, even if they are different in their technologies and references, is an erroneous attitude, since differences do not demand inferiority. (LEVI-STRAUSS, 1993).

Aside from the cultural denials – which were a severe blow to the cultural productions of people of African descent –, it is worth highlighting that this population lived for a long period of national history on the margins of the schooling process. According to records, during the colonial and imperial period, between 1822 and 1889, and part of the Republic, people of African descent were prohibited from attending school. In the two initial periods it was due to the fact of their condition as merchandise, and this even applied to freedmen.

In addition, there were other impediments such as the law of the Southern Province of 1837 and decree No. 1331 of 1854 and Imperial Notice 144 of 1864 which prohibited the attendance of slaves, freed blacks and those with contagious diseases in public schools. During this period, school education was reserved for the children of landowners, who, after completing elementary school, sent them to study in the metropolis. (BAKKE, 2011).

Now, in the republican period, despite the defense of universal education, the public policies of whitening the population, which consisted of encouraging European immigration with the aim of adding white blood to the Brazilian population and thus avoiding backwardness, were decisively reflected in the policies educational and pedagogical model that considered the white European man as a civilizing model. And because of this, the implementation of the selection system and entrance exams between cycles excluded black people both as students and as subjects in the content covered by the disciplines.

For the effective schooling of the black population, and the inclusion of their history and culture in school curricula, it required historical struggles, and broad participation of black movements, including the Brazilian Black Front (FNB) created in 1931 and the Unified Black Movement ( MNU), an organization formed by left-wing middle-class blacks founded in the 1970s. In addition to these movements throughout history, there is also the intense mobilization of society, which culminated in the inclusion in the 1988 Constitution of the fight against racism, the defense of beliefs and religious freedom, and later in the National Education Guidelines and Bases Law (LDB) of 1996, with the defense and appreciation of black culture and its history. (BAKKE, 2011).

We emphasize that struggles and legal support are fundamental to guaranteeing the respect and preservation of black memory and history. Furthermore, if there is no continuous work to break stereotypes and discrimination – present in minds and hearts – people of African descent will continue to be made unviable and strange in society and in the school space.

Furthermore, it is necessary to emphasize that although society is conservative and opposes the struggles – believing that we live in a paradise of social and racial coexistence –, the recreation of the Ministry of Racial Equality – whose purpose is the elaboration of affirmative action policies, to combat to racism and the promotion of racial equality –, represents the affirmation and perception that the road to overcoming racism, and the terrible living conditions and misery of people of African descent – ​​as a result of slavery – is long, and that, therefore, they are majority in favelas, in prisons, and as a result of these low living conditions, they suffer all kinds of rejection.

However, the actions of the State alone are not enough, but the commitment of the entire society, and I would highlight religious institutions due to their power to aggregate and form public opinion. And for this, a speech based on the doctrine that we are all brothers is not enough. It is necessary to face this reality that is so hostile to the black population, and the means is the political struggle for social promotion, and acceptance that we are a racist country, and that these people of African descent find themselves in a degrading situation that needs to be overcome.

Improving the quality of life of people of African descent necessarily involves education, and data from studies on black education in Brazil show us that they are a minority in school spaces – from elementary school to university – despite being the majority in population terms. And in this regard, it is not enough to simply welcome Afro-descendants in educational institutions, but to include their creations and recreations in curricula, celebrations and school calendars, and understand them on the same footing of equality with other creations of people who form the national culture, without prejudice or stereotypes, as determined by the 1996 National Education Base Law (LDB).

Furthermore, welcoming black culture into the school universe does not mean restricting only its cultural productions, or highlighting those that in a certain way managed to overlap and become references – despite being important –, but also bluntly highlighting slavery, enrichment that enabled the elites, the conditions of trafficking, the grooming in black Africa, the treatment given to descendants, the silencing of political elites in the face of their socioeconomic situation, racism, social marginality, and above all, the rupture of false ideas and fantasies imposed on black people, which instead of elevating them contributed to keeping them in social marginality.

In this way, we understand that this helps to produce a critical awareness regarding slavery, and the deconstruction of the erroneous understanding that compulsory work in Brazil was less cruel than in other colonies. And finally, expressing black consciousness and demanding better living conditions is not an unjustified complaint as people say.

I think it is still time – despite it being more than a hundred years since the end of slavery – to build a different history, especially for the huge population of Afro-descendants, who seek not a friendly hug, but overcoming social and economic adversities. It is a shame for a country that preaches patriotism, and claims to be the largest producer and exporter of food, among the largest economies in the world, but on the other hand, subjecting a large part of its population, especially those of African descent, to situations of poverty or minimal conditions. of survival, and being foreigners in their own country.

According to scholars on the subject, overcoming poverty is a political struggle and the absence of social justice, and explaining it through the lack of resources or economic difficulties in the country is nonsense and deceit. Breaking the country's glaring inequalities is done in addition to public policies, also with the taxation of the richest, and the creation of a more balanced social and economic model.

If the naturalization of poverty continues, and the greed of some prevails, and we believe that the solution can only be achieved through works and attitudes of assistance, we will see the continuation of glaring inequalities and the repetition of a shameful future.

* Geraldo Oliveira holds a master's degree in social sciences from PUC-Minas.


BAKKE, Rachel R. Baptista. At school with the orixás: teaching Afro-Brazilian religions in the application of Law 10.639. 2011.222 f. Thesis (DOCTORATE) – Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences, Postgraduate Program in Social Anthropology, University of São Paulo, São Paulo. 2011.

GIUMBELLI, Emerson. “Low spiritism” and the history of mediumistic cults. Anthropological horizons, Porto Alegre, v. 9, no. 9, Jul. 2003. Available: in:

LEVI-STRAUSS, Claude. Race and history. In: LÉVI-STRAUSS, Claude. structural anthropology two. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Time, 1993.

MUNANGA, Kabengele. Blacks and mestizos in the work of Nina Rodrigues. In: ALMEIDA, Adroaldo José Silva; SANTOS, Lyndon de Araújo; FERRETTI, Sergio (org.). Religion, race and identity: colloquium for the centenary of the death of Nina Rodrigues. São Paulo: Paulinas, 2009. (ABHR Study Collections; 6)

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