Does racism kill?

Image: Marcio Costa
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By ÉRICO ANDRADE & PAULO FERNANDO PEREIRA DE SOUZA*

And what is structural in racism is the understanding of race as a device of social control

What guarantees that a crime was racist? The answer to this question in the field of law involves the classification of the crime. That is, the framework for what is described as a crime in the Penal Code involves identifying the crime of racism or the crime of racial injury. Racism as a criminal aggravating factor was voted by the Senate recently, but it is not yet applied.

It is important to emphasize that the criminalization of racism was a step forward towards recognizing the practice of racism in Brazil as one of the most recurrent forms of injury, but in the legal game, proof of the crime of racism involves notions of causality, responsible for explaining the factor decisive for the occurrence of a phenomenon, which are far from exhausting the structural dimension of racism. That is, the legal discussion on the aforementioned crimes may not recognize that they were strictly cases of racial injury, but this does not matter for the recognition that those deaths reflect a structurally racist society.

And what is structural in racism is the understanding of race as a social control device, as Achille Mbembe very well points out. Thus, the use of disciplinary physical violence is a fundamental element in social relations in Brazil and clearly has its origins in slavery. In this sense, historically, black people were exemplarily punished in the public square, whipped, punched, slapped, etc., without, however, occurring a substantial change in current days. There is a continuity of this colonial logic in the sense of the authorization – tacit and often unconscious – of violence against black people, the omission of care for black people, especially children and with violence directed mainly at black people.

In this perspective, if, on the one hand, it is essential to recognize the importance of criminalizing racism, on the other hand, it is essential to understand that change does not pass through the legal sphere that works, or should work, as a repairer of the law, since justice it does not promote the conditions for the realization of the right. Therefore, the structural character of racism must be fought with an anti-racist education focused on the understanding that the racist formation in Brazil is the cause, understood as a material and structural condition, of the inequality not only of poverty, but of the violent deaths that have in the black body its most common destination.

*Erico Andrade is professor of philosophy at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE).

*Paulo Fernando Pereira de Souza is a psychoanalyst.

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