Negritude, reason and affection

Marcelo Guimarães Lima, Red and Blue Still-life, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 cm, 2020
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By LUCIANO NASCIMENTO*

One of the most perverse consequences of slavery – of racism, by metonymy – is the affective dullness that so commonly silences us.

“From the bottom of my heart \ From the deepest corner of my interior, \ To the decaying world \ I write like someone who sends love letters”
(Emicida, “Cananéia, Iguape and Ilha Comprida”).

My teenage daughter had me up against the wall demanding that I show her pride. It wasn't a tantrum; the charge was fair.

I am proud of my three children. At that specific moment, she was very proud of her, who had just performed successfully in an event at the largest federal university in the country, in whose Junior Scientific Initiation Program she is an intern, thanks to an interinstitutional agreement UFRJ-CPII. My daughter is only fifteen; it was beautiful to see it framed by the imposing façade of the National Museum of Quinta da Boa Vista.

The neoclassical façade built during the empire by enslaved black hands served as a backdrop for the black girl to speak to little children of all colors about the history of that institution and its museum collection. It was beautiful mainly because this black girl, my daughter, knows where she came from, boasts about being black, and was not alienated. Obviously I was – am – proud of her. Of them three, of course! So why do I say this so little to them? It may seem like just a personal matter, but it's not.

Because one of the most perverse consequences of slavery – of racism, by metonymy – is the affective dullness that so commonly silences us (silences us, moves us and, above all, fills us with calluses). Because it is not easy to enjoy positive feelings in the midst of the relentless struggle against the four-hundred-year-old ghost of dehumanization. I say this without intending to decline a universal truth; I recognize some black people (all public) who seem to be sources of tenderness, affection, welcoming, love... in short, everything that common sense understands by affection. But I live (privately) with a huge number of black people who have tremendous difficulties expressing – or just intimately dealing with – their own affectivity. And the reports (real or fictional) that I hear and read about people in similar conditions are countless.

The demand to “be twice as good at everything all the time”, the certainty that “any of your slips will turn into a tumble”, the constant fear of being found by a stray bullet, the dread of walking down the aisle of the mall that leads to statistics of the thousands of “isolated cases of racism” that happen every hour in Brazil, the common attacks on the already millionaire Vinícius Jr. in stadiums in Spain… all this puts us on constant alert, always ready to react and fight for our lives.

Worse: also ready to teach our intended children to always be ready to fight for theirs all the time. Yes: it becomes a loop, an inhuman reduction of entire lives to the sole purpose of repeating day after day and microphysically the search for one's own survival. In a word, fathers and mothers of black children live the “neurosis” of trying not to succumb to the “neurosis” to which daily racism wants to chain us.

In the midst of this emotional swamp, immersed in this constant “State of rot” (Cf. https://aterraeredonda.com.br/estado-de-podridao/), it is almost unnatural for the simple flower of spontaneous positive affection to sprout. The atavistic toughness is the apparent face of the continuous need to be “above all, strong”; Stoicism is less an intellectual than a spiritual luxury. For us, sailing is necessary, and living, even more so.

But “Exu killed a bird yesterday with a stone that he only threw today”. Today's stone, the scolding I received from my daughter (a black girl as feisty as she was sweet), led me to this reflection on our journey here. A reflection that, without any romanticism, may have been recorded in a written text submitted to professional evaluation with a view to publication in a vehicle authorized less by altruism than by a certain type of egocentrism (even if dubious) arising from the subjective need for social recognition. Alienation is tricky...

One way or another, thinking about the scolding I received made me see the “crude flower” of time (of harvesting) right in front of my nose: I was thirty years old in 2004, when, for the first time, I was already the father of two boys older, I became a student at UFRJ, in the master's degree in Vernacular Letters; it's 2023, my daughter is only fifteen and is already attending the same university on a scholarship – something I could never be because, ironically, I was always working while I graduated. Yes, it's a lot of information, it's a lot of paradoxes. But, looking at it fondly, you might even want to believe that “the world can be beam, Sebastian”…

In one way or another, thinking about the scolding I took these days from my daughter, my teenage black girl, made me see the urgency of overcoming affective dullness and living and declaring our love and pride. Even if these gestures-feelings need to be mediated by the purest critical reason.

So, my children, let you (and the world) know that I am proud of you. My youngest daughter's “crying” fearless sensibility; of my eldest's quiet ability to make people smile with his music; and my middle son's gift of simply being a smile. I, "left in life” without being “Carlos”, I am flattered, above all, for the fact that the three of you are People – with a non-negotiable initial capital letter –, honoring the edifying presence of your mother who, by the way, always declares on behalf of both of us the pride that I and she we feel for you three. Also for this reason, the words “pride” and “vanity” do not convey the happiness of having such a partner.

Anyway, for now to see and be able to say all this to you, I end up also being a little proud of myself. Today and yesterday. Hopefully tomorrow too. Even if, at least for now, reason alone allows this black man to say that about himself and to think, at this moment, that perhaps reason is the essential component of Exu's timeless stone... Who knows?

But, without a doubt, what sets this stone in motion is affection.

* Luciano Nascimento He holds a PhD in Literature from UFSC and is a professor at Colégio Pedro II.


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