What does Antonio Risério want?

Image: G. Cortez


The Folha columnist and the convinced dissemination of racist positions

"every opinion is also a hiding place, every word is also a mask” (Friedrich Nietzsche).

“It can be noted that such literature flourishes in the most characteristic moments of political-social crisis, when the separation between rulers and ruled becomes more serious and seems to announce catastrophic events in national life” (Antonio Gramsci).

“– I'll tell you, they're taking over, that's all you see on TV today, [black] niggers selling soap, toothpaste, cars, everywhere it's [black] niggers that never ends [...] [Walter Breachway – Ku Klux Klan Organization] – A little while ago these motherfuckers weren't on TV […] I'll have to admit the kitchen is where they belong […] [Ivanhoe Ron – Ku Klux Klan Organization] – For us nowadays there's nothing left, can't say anything, can't say this, can't say that be polite, can't even say they're colored anymore [...] [Walter Breachway - Ku Klux Klan Organization]” (Spike Lee, Klan infiltrators).

The poet, novelist and anthropologist Antonio Risério became an “important” reader of debates on racial issues, especially in Brazil – he became, in fact, a convinced opponent of the struggle of blacks against the cruel racism that affects them on a daily basis. His last interventions dealt with what he called the black women of Bahia, a text corroborated and mobilized by journalist Leandro Narloch,[1] and now addressing black racism: “black anti-white racism”. And that says “no one wants to know”.

But what does Antonio Risério want when he proposes the observation that blacks are equally racist like whites, reverse racism? What are the implications of the poet and anthropologist's assertion that it is also necessary to “look” with “microscopes” at supposed black racism, just as white racism is looked at?

The substantive core of the argument in Risério's text is that blacks can, and are, in view of several recent circumstances, racist. But how does he support this formulation?

Our poet resorts to historical examples and factual occurrences to demonstrate black anti-white racism, or simply racism against whites. He quotes in order: “Coloring the News, William McGowan” and black-on-white attacks on the Washington subway; “white elderly attacked in Brooklyn”; “in Michigan, black boys beat up white girls”; in “Crown Heights in 1991 Blacks Screamed Heil Hitler to Jews”; “the black boycott of Korean warehouses in Brooklyn”; “Marcus Garvey was an admirer of Hitler”; and let us follow our poet with patience, the “Brazilian Black Front of 1930 praised Hitler and Abdias Nascimento was an integralist”; “Black Lives Matter calls for the death of the Jews”; “Yusra Khogali, a Sudanese mulatto, says Risério, has an urge to murder whites”. That's right, we're not reading the Wikipedia with the entry “black racism in the last 500 years” – yes, we are reading the article by an anthropologist who proposes to be a talented antagonist to the fight against racism.

Whether such events actually occurred or not, whether Risério took them out of context, whether he misinterpreted all these cases, and whether or not he is a scholar of what he talks about is of no concern to us. That is entirely up to him; and moreover it is written, said, and published. (Ironizing van Middelaar who says he wrote in defense of the invasion of Afghanistan in the 2000s when he was just 28, Perry Anderson remarks that we can't blame Tocqueville for writing Democracy in America with the same age. Unlike van Middelaar in his time, Risério is an old man.)

Risério, astute that he is and writing a controversial rhetorical piece, does not forget to say that the position of black movements and their figures is a cliché when they claim that reverse racism is inappropriate since black people do not have an instrument of power – economic, political- state and symbolic to exert exploitation, oppression, cultural discrimination and psychic crushing. I will return to this theme later on.

The fundamental issue is that Antonio Risério writes a text with theoretical, intellectual and argumentative quality that is dubious to say the least. His unconfessed desire perhaps to “put himself” as a pseudo-eloquent “voice” of sectors of the white elite/bourgeoisie and of the conservative middle class (which “understands” competence as white and that life is meritocracy) limits the positions he advances . Simple logical-historical reasoning is enough for us to ascertain the weaknesses of Risério's article: could it be that a slave or a group of slaves in ancient Greece, in the midst of all caste culture, even offending some of them would be being prejudiced and oppressive, and if whatever the result of a slave or group of slaves offending and even doing violence against those sectors in Attica?

Or let's assume, contemporaneously, that in a school 15 teenagers practice bullying against a single young person who responds cornered, offends and even practices acts of aggression against one or two or three members of those 15, would this young person be practicing reverse bullying or being prejudiced, racist, depending on the occasion? But what about the opposite? Could it be that a tall, standardly handsome, white, blond, blue-eyed young man with perfect abs, heir to a traditional family at the same school, when going through inconvenient situations and even bullying perpetrated by 15 or 20 teenagers, would have the same social and economic consequences? psychic? Let us suppose that Bismarck's Prussia (1815-1898) was treated at its time by the other German states with contempt and prejudice, than this would result in the political arrangement and for Prussian history itself at that time, it being the most important, powerful and decisive region of the then German Empire?

It is more than evident that these are random hypothetical moments gathered together. If Antonio Risério did not have his conscience reified – in the terms of George Lukács a mind that assaults reason, typical of intellectuals from the era of ideological decay of the bourgeois classes – with the desire to write something that converges (involuntarily or voluntarily, little concerns us …) with what is most putrid in Brazilian society should understand that human relations have “[historical-social] determinations of existence” (Marx) – and in these and from these acquire meanings.

But the age of obscenity has no end: our poet managed to compare the Black Lives Matter to the aggressive State of Israel. No, we haven't gone crazy, rather we would have been and set ourselves to definitively transform the sweet society that the poet loves so much and present him with the justice of the Guillotine or the Pedro Paulo fortress – it was Antonio Risério who asserted that “the multicultural-identity hatred Israel seems to have no limits” and that “today, Black Lives Matter calls for the killing of Jews in public demonstrations.” (Dear Risério, I suspect that Israel already has good defenders, with a technically prepared army and an exceptional diplomatic service spread around the world, don't worry: don't waste your good time in Bahia.)

As for the dogma and cliché, which according to Risério, permeates the claim of black movements that we do not have power structures to exercise reverse racism, what can we say? Before let's see; he says in response to the supposed commonplace: “It is nonsense. No one needs to have power to be racist, and blacks already have instruments of power to institutionalize their racism”, and further on, “Even if the thesis were correct, which is far from being the case, there are already means for the exercise of black racism”.

Here Risério does not even present information, possibly extracted from the Wikipedia; as already said, we don't care about the poet's degree and/or level of knowledge about what he is talking about. Now, the fundamental problem is that Antonio Risério has a defined position in the field of debate of ideas and in the political spectrum; whether or not he enunciates them as part of what o Machado de Assis de Roberto Schwarz called it class impudence. For stating in an article, published in the largest newspaper in the country, and very likely on the continent, clearly that “it is foolish” the fact that blacks are exterminated day by day by the military police of all states of the Brazilian federation; that the main black (left) politician of recent years, Marielle Franco, was murdered by white parastatal assassins with nine shots in downtown Rio de Janeiro (before midnight on a Wednesday); that over 80% of the faculty at our public universities are white people (just to realize what that means in the history department of University of California-UCLA, where Robert Brenner, Carlo Guinsburg and Perry Anderson teach, there are eight black professors, eight, if we bring together the history departments of the three public universities in São Paulo and the federal ones that are here, it is almost certain that we will not reach that number: and the United States is a segregated country, imagine dear reader what “is Brazil then”); that a considerable part of black women (gentlemen with white hair at times) are still maids; that black boys work hours and hours in deliveries without any rights at all; that the Brazilian capitalist system was founded, developed, reproduced and maintained from the arms of thousands of black men and black women; that despite the talent of hundreds of black artists from all areas, our film production (a country like Brazil has managed to produce a single great black filmmaker, Jefferson Dé), drama (television and theater) and plastic arts is overwhelmingly in the hands of whites; and that the elite of all areas (and don't waste your time with another text about this, the majority of the black nation does not want to be part of the elite), economic, political, judiciary and cultural is white - denying all of this is someone's business who definitely knows what he wants and knows what he's talking about.

At the end of his text, Risério comments that the “implications” of reverse racism seem “obvious”. Our poet-tartufo does not openly express what he wants, but we have no doubts about that and the implications of his opinions: it is to spread with conviction and essentially racist, reactionary, conservative and right-wing positions that are contrary to the heroic and fierce struggle of black men and women for a better life. The good Bahian just forgot that now we stand up – and we will no longer lie down, no matter what the cost.

*Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Political Science at USP.



[1] I replied to them on another occasion. Cf. https://aterraeredonda.com.br/leandro-narloch/?doing_wp_cron=1642543023.0001039505004882812500).

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