The thorns and the flower



We live in a racist, sexist, homophobic and elitist country: few of us escape all these scrutiny unscathed, and that makes us much more like our students

The condition of sociocultural vulnerability is a complicating factor for the school learning of a large number of Brazilians, since long before the emergence of the new coronavirus. Even so, this factor has not received due attention in our Basic Education schools. Now, in the midst of a health crisis that has everything to hypertrophy our worst ills, it is no longer possible to close our eyes to something so decisive for the lives of millions of people.

Part of the relative neglect of the problem perhaps lies in the apparent self-evidence of the meaning of the expression. Assuming this hypothesis and affirming its misleading content, I propose here first a reflection on the real contours of this condition of constant exposure of subjects to the imminent risk of physical extermination (resulting from the necropolitics) and/or symbolic (effect of semicide). After this initial reflection, I come up with what I have been calling psychopedagogy of empathy and I think it is the zero degree of the problem solution. Due to space limitations, for the time being I will focus the analysis on the city of Rio de Janeiro, but, at the end of it, I hope to at least insinuate its applicability to Brazil as a whole, after making the necessary adjustments.

A thorn: a necropolitics

Necropolitics, conceptualized by the philosopher and political scientist Achille Mbembe, is the most adequate description of what has been experienced in relation to public security in Rio de Janeiro for at least ten years – a sad milestone: it was in 2000 that Anthony Garotinho resigned in front of the cameras of TV its Secretary of Public Security, the anthropologist Luiz Eduardo Soares. Today, if the Cameroonian researcher lived in Rio, he would certainly incorporate into his analysis other nuances that the death management policy can assume. I explain.

“The most successful form of necropower is the contemporary colonial occupation of Palestine”, said Mbembe in 2003 (the year of the first publication of his essay). I've never been to the Middle East, but it's worth noting that all the traces of necropower pointed out in the tension between Jews and Palestinians can be found in the large slum communities in Rio: they are the main territory in which the so-called “war against drug trafficking” is waged; in them the highest law is not the Constitution, but the circumstance; there the state of exception is the rule, and the state of siege can be decreed at any time, by the public power or by the parallel – which, in turn, can emanate from the drug trade or the militia, depending on the occasion. The resemblance is such that, unfortunately, an excerpt from Av. Leopoldo Bulhões, in the North Zone of the city, was nicknamed the Gaza Strip.

There is, however, in terms of topography, to which Mbembe is also dedicated, a peculiar element that slightly differentiates the necropolitics in force in Jewish settlements from that which flourishes in the hills of Rio de Janeiro: here, the person at the top of the panopticon is the marginality, not the state. Even though the Palestinians certainly do not consider Israel as their State – nor do the residents of the communities grant this status to the marginalized – this difference in spatial order puts the overwhelming majority of people who live in the slums of Rio de Janeiro literally in the middle of the crossfire, between criminals shooting down, and State shooting up. In such a scenario, it is sadistic for the authorities to talk about “stray bullets”.

It is exactly in the midst of this crossfire that many public school students find themselves. One third of the units of the municipal Education network are in so-called “critical” areas, with frequent clashes; we speak of “168.139 students” and “14.139 civil servants”, cf. the Jornal Extra on 29/09/2019[I]). And these are numbers for municipal schools only; there are also state and federal ones. There are also spaces beyond the communities but surrounded by them, spaces where students (and workers and the unemployed… in short, everyone) pass every day, exercising with almost suicidal courage their right to come and go. Anyone who has only heard of Piaget and Vygotsky cannot deny that the formal learning of these students is negatively impacted by such adverse socio-environmental conditions.

But this is not the most unthinkable face of Rio de Janeiro's necropolitics. The most unthinkable is the one that has been statistically proven: the lack of formal education, the alienation to hate speech and the fear of violence are such that residents of these regions most afflicted by the politics of death have elected politicians whose platform is precisely to intensify even more the State oppression over such areas and, as a consequence, cause more violence, more hatred and more ignorance. This is what happened in Complexo do Alemão, which, in 2018,[ii], voted heavily for Wilson Witzel (the governor who celebrates when police officers “shoot in the head”) and Jair Bolsonaro (the current resident of Palácio da Alvorada, who needs no introduction). It was there, in Complexo do Alemão, for example, that a PM rifle shot killed the 10-year-old girl Ágatha, in her mother’s lap, in 2019; it was also there that, last May, at least 10 people were killed during another police operation that brought terror to the community, in the middle of the pandemic.

There are no doubts left: in RJ the tree has sharpened the axe, and death, leading life, without metaphysics. And I draw the reader's attention to the fact that, until now, I have only spoken about the socioeconomic and geographic aspect (public school students, residents of slum areas). Returning the analysis to categories such as race, for example, I am personally and empirically led to believe that the picture of violence is a little worse in relation to us, blacks, and the indigenous populations; if the focus is on the sex/gender aspect, women and the LGBTQI community+ are the biggest victims. The “mutability of observed categories” paradox versus “immutability (or little mutability) of the results of the analysis” indicates that necropolitics is perhaps a constant, and more: a bad spell not only contemporary in Rio, but national history, perhaps even a founding aspect of our controversial “national identity”.

Another thorn: the semicide

Semicide is, according to Muniz Sodré (in reinventing education), the attempt to extinguish the senses of the Other, the denial of the attribution of value to the interpretations that this Other makes of the world. Such a phenomenon, despite its strength in times like ours, is not so noticeable at first glance, especially because it is often mixed with more general forms of necropower. However, with a little attention you can distinguish them.

Let us consider, for example, the persecution of samba and religions of African origin between the end of the XNUMXth century and the beginning of the last century. The theme permeates important works of our literature, such as Sad end of Policarpo Quaresma (by Lima Barreto) and tent of miracles (by Jorge Amado). Today, the target of police persecution is no longer the sambista, but the MC; on the other hand, after a certain lull in the last thirty or forty years, now umbanda and candomblé have again suffered serious attacks, and religious intolerance has returned to the charge in Rio de Janeiro[iii]. These are clear attempts at semicide.

It also smells like semi-cide the treatment that the City Hall of the city – since 2017 led by a licensed bishop of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God – has been dispensing with various artistic and cultural expressions that are frowned upon in the belief system adopted by the mayor. There was censorship of an Arts exhibition at Casa França-Brasil and a comic book at the 2019 Book Biennial; Jongo da Serrinha was forced to vacate the municipal building that had served as its headquarters for years; the Slavery Museum did not get off the ground... Not even the parade of the carnival blocks and the show of the samba schools on Marquês de Sapucaí escaped the budget cut guided by the new priorities of the bishop-mayor, who seems not to consider even the financial loss that such measures cause to its management.

It is possible to argue, of course, that these storms do not have enough power to shake the power of such cultural manifestations. But this is not what the facts have shown. In 2016, in the midst of financial difficulties, Império Serrano, one of the most traditional and successful associations of the Rio de Janeiro carnival, now has a new sponsor. Good news? Not so much: the school's supposed new “benefactor” is evangelical and declared himself unwilling to support “spiritist” plots. Now, given the close, original relationship between samba and candomblé, this would already be an inconsistency from birth. However, in the case of the Serrano Empire (from the same Serrinha where Casa do Jongo came from, evicted by the “secular” city hall), this inconsistency takes on absurd contours: the Empire is like a large terreiro. Coincidence or not, three years after the declaration of the “benefactor”, the group of Bahia women – precisely them, the visible link between samba and candomblé – paraded without a skirt, and the association was almost demoted from a group again. It was one of the saddest moments in school[iv].

It is precisely in cases like this that one of the cruelest faces of semi-cide can be caught: the cascading effect that it ends up generating in this type of institution where the transmission of knowledge is the core activity – it is a school, one cannot forget. Imagine the suffering of the old Bahian imperian, the “aunt” who couldn't spin her full skirt on the parade; Now imagine the psychological effects of the just revolt that this suffering caused in her “nephews” (her children, grandchildren, neighbors, acquaintances… us, samba lovers) in the face of her dear aunt’s frustration. Is it worth continuing this tradition? Is it worth fighting against political forces (of a neo-Pentecostal State) and economic forces (of evangelical patrons) who say in every way that such a tradition is an error, is retrograde, or, worse, “is the Devil's thing”? How many answered (answer and will answer) “yes”? Frantz Fanon, in the fifth chapter of Black skins, white masks, talks about the weight of seeing oneself as a hostage to the gaze of the Other. Hundreds of children and teenagers from families linked to samba are threatened by this gaze.

However, as complex as the situation of semiocide already seems to be, everything can always get a little more complicated around here. Because in Rio there are also “Jesus traffickers”: groups of respected illicit narcotics dealers who updated the seventeenth century of Jesuit conversion and, in the middle of the century. XNUMXst century, in areas under his control, Umbanda and Candomblé cults are prohibited and seek, like the mayor of the city, to spread the Christian faith[v].

Summary of the immense panel of the semi-cide to which everyone (but, for this text, especially children, adolescents and young people of school age) is exposed by the public power (of the city) of Rio de Janeiro in 2020: repression of funk dances, contempt for the jongo, contempt for the joy of carnival and the hard but necessary memory of enslaved people, repression of umbanda, candomblé and artistic manifestations on the LGBTQI theme+ or about the period of military dictatorship in Brazil. With the pandemic, the charm dance on the Madureira viaduct and the samba at Pedra do Sal are still prohibited! But those were just icing on the cake. Well before COVID-19, at the opening of the 2014 World Cup, in Maracanã, misogynistic Rio and Brazil cursed President Dilma in chorus. There went the drop of water: we were a pot so far of heartache disguised as intolerance and cultural monism.

The flower: the psychopedagogy of empathy

The COVID-19 pandemic is a tragedy and tragedies do not create opportunities: they demand positive and swift responses. The same is true of Brazilian public education. It is disrespectful to the dead, irresponsible to the living and pedagogically innocuous for students (of Basic Education) to think about resuming the normality of a school routine that, before the coronavirus, was so excluding and – often – ineffective, it should no longer be had by normal. Thinking seriously about what quality education is, the fact is: the 2020 school year is lost, even more than many others were for millions of Brazilians. The demand posed, then, to us, teachers, and, in equal intensity, to managers, is what Muniz Sodré has already signaled – to reinvent education – and I dare to stress: reinvent it by replacing the paradigm of violence (which causes sociocultural vulnerability) through psychopedagogical and empathetic lyricism. As? It wasn't me who did it, but I saw it and I show it.

Affection in the treatment and availability is necessary (cf. the italics, mine): “Brazil, my, let me tell you / the story that history doesn't tell / the other side of the same place / in the struggle is that we meet// Brazil, my dengo,/ Mangueira arrived / with verses that the book erased / Since 1500 there has been more invasion than discovery / there has been trampled black blood / behind the framed hero / Women, tamoios, mulattoes / I want a country that is not in the picture […] Brazil, the time has come / to listen the Marias, Mahins, Marielles, malês” (…). The verses scream, in addition to the historical-materialist booklet, an unmistakable pedagogical and, at the same time, paternal tone. The same tone that can be perceived, with another guise, of course, in the words of the intellectual Leonardo Boff, in his last article, entitled reinvent humanity, published by the earth is round.

Boff lists ten “virtues for another possible world”. Among them, I highlight (and underline) the first seven: “care essential, feeling of belonging, solidarity e cooperation, responsibility collective, hospitality as a duty and as a right, coexistence of everyone with everyone, social justice e equality foundation of all”. It's a teacher and a father (a priest, after all) talking. But, more than that: he is someone who practices and preaches empathy, putting himself in the place of the Other (the reader, in this case), taking care of him, of his physical and emotional well-being. Attitudes that will allow us to reinvent humanity and education.

Boff lists ten “virtues for another possible world”. Among them, I highlight (and underline) the first seven: “essential care, feeling of belonging, solidarity and cooperation, collective responsibility, hospitality as a duty and as a right, coexistence of all with all, social justice and fundamental equality of all”. He's a teacher and a father (a priest, after all) speaking. But, more than that: he is someone who practices and preaches empathy, putting himself in the place of the Other (the reader, in this case), taking care of him, of his physical and emotional well-being. Attitudes that will allow us to reinvent humanity and education.

But this can still seem very abstract. How to take this proposal to the classroom floor?

The first step is for us teachers to be aware of the fact that, in Brazil, for one reason or another, some more than others, the absolute majority of us are also vulnerable from a sociocultural point of view. We live in a racist, sexist, homophobic and elitist country: few of us escape unscathed from all these scrutiny, and this makes us much more like our students than we might believe on a daily basis. Thus, for example, if any fellow teacher, of any discipline, looks at his female students and sees in them other potential victims of machismo or feminicide, as she herself, a teacher, unfortunately also is, that colleague will have justifiable reasons to talk about violence against women. women in their classes, because all Brazilian girls and boys need to hear and talk more about this than about syntactic analysis or Bhaskara, Fr. Similar things can be said, after making the necessary adjustments, in relation to colleagues who are black, indigenous, poor... or disabled, or old. Yes, because these are the people most affected by sociocultural vulnerability in Brazil: black people, women, indigenous people, the poor, the elderly and the disabled. As you can see, there are very few people left who can afford to think about the (simple!) subject of the first sentence of the national anthem, or the zero root of an incomplete quadratic equation.

Finally, the post-pandemic reinvention of education and humanity in Brazil will only happen if, finally, teachers and students, we are able to i) recognize our own weaknesses and ii) learn to articulate and strengthen ourselves horizontally, with empathy. More or less like plants that seek to survive in arid soil: creating rhizomatic structures…

But that's another conversation.

* Luciano Nascimento, teacher of basic education, he holds a PhD in Literature from UFSC.


[I] Available in>. Accessed on 22jun2020.

[ii] Available in>. Accessed on 22jun2020.

[iii] Available in>. Accessed on 22jun2020.

[iv] Available in>. Accessed on 22jun2020.

[v] Available in>. Accessed on 22jun2020.

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