eviction room

Dalton Paula, Esperança Rita, 2020.
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By MICHEL AIRES DE SOUZA DIAS*

Commentary on the book by Maria Carolina de Jesus

Behind the history of the western world that we know from books, there is another subterranean history, which acts in the sense of transforming the body into a thing, into an object of domination. It is the story of the destiny of man who had his instincts and desires repressed and deformed by civilization. The diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus, dump room, it is one of those subterranean tales that tell the story of the reified and subjugated body.

The diary's title arises from a contrast between the illuminated, glittering city, with its shopping malls and mirrored buildings, and the favela, like a dump room, where the odor of excrement mixes with the rotten clay. In this environment, Carolina felt like a refuse, like an object that no longer served: “And when I'm in the favela I have the impression that I'm an out-of-use object, worthy of being in a dump room. […] I'm rubbish. I'm in the storage room, and what's in the storage room is either burned or thrown in the trash”.[I] (p.37).

Carolina Maria de Jesus is not a fictional character, she is a real person who only studied until the second grade of elementary school. Her diary, written in the 1950s, describes the daily life of the inhabitants of one of the first large favelas in São Paulo, the Canindé favela, located on the banks of the Tietê river. The diary reports the habits of the residents, the violence, the misery, the prejudice they suffered and the great difficulty to feed themselves. It is an extemporaneous work, which still reverberates in the daily life of many favelas throughout Brazil.

The story of a black woman, poor and from the slums, who lives in subhuman conditions, in the middle of the 38th century, is an indication that the promises of Enlightenment reason did not come true. The technical-scientific advance, which should make possible the end of the struggle for existence, putting an end to hunger, misery and suffering, has become a new form of slavery. Technical controls became instruments of domination by a powerful minority over the rest of the population, forcing people to lead a tough and aggressive life in cities. Man has regressed to the state of nature. He was forced to mobilize all his instincts in the fight for his survival. Carolina, at the height of her lucidity, was able to perceive this regression: “For me, the world, instead of evolving, is returning to primitiveness” (p. XNUMX).

This feeling is due to his brutal experience of hunger and misery. His penurious life in the favela contrasts with the comfort, wealth and luxury of the big city. For her, “the only perfume that exudes in the favela is the rotten mud, the excrements and the drip” (p. 47). People live there on the leftovers of the city and its spoiled food: “I ate that pasta from the garbage yesterday for fear of dying” (p.39). In another passage, when eating bread, she evaluates: “What a surprising effect food has on our organism! Before I ate, I saw the sky, the trees, the birds, everything yellow. After I ate, everything returned to normal in my eyes” (p. 44).

The most common food in the Canindé favela was bone with fat residues. In several passages, Carolina reports her search for bones: “When I passed by the slaughterhouse, the bone truck was parked. I asked the driver for some bones. He gave me one that I chose. There was a lot of fat” (p. 119). Today, almost 70 years later, this shameful scene is still repeated in large urban centers. Hunger continues to be a serious problem in Brazil, even though this is the breadbasket of the world. This demonstrates that the experience of hunger not only represents the condition of thousands of people who live in the favelas, but represents the tragedy and failure of civilization itself. Instead of man reaching a truly human state through progress, he fell, through these new powers achieved, into a new state of barbarism and social regression.

What shocks us in the reports of the paper collector is not only the experience of hunger, but also the adversities faced by the residents. Carolina reports all kinds of tragic experiences, such as violence, alcoholism, illness, insecurity, discrimination, conflicts, injustices and deaths. She knew that much of the drama and suffering faced by residents was the fault of politicians. Throughout the diary, she reflects on the abandonment of favela residents by the political class: “Who should drive is who has the capacity. Who has pity and friendship for the people. Those who govern our country are those who have money, those who don't know what hunger, pain, and the affliction of the poor are. If the majority revolts, what can the minority do? I am beside the poor man, who is the arm. Malnourished arm. We need to rid the country of hoarding politicians.” (p. 39).

Despite the displeasure of living in the favela, Carolina's greatest happiness was being able to feed her children. She rejoiced in this: “When I make four dishes I think I am somebody. When I see my children eating rice and beans, the food that is not within reach of the slum dwellers, I smile for nothing. As if I were watching a dazzling spectacle” (p. 49). Even living in poverty, Carolina was a proud woman, she did not depend on the Church or the State to feed her children: “My children are not sustained with the bread of the Church. I face any kind of work to keep them” (p. 16). In every diary, one senses in her words the moral strength, dignity, and uprightness of her character. She was aware of her own worth: “I've only been in school for two years, but I've tried to form my character” (2014, p. 16). She also understood the human condition and analyzed it and drew lessons from it. When asked what she wrote about, she answered without hesitation: “All the memories that the favelado practice, these projects of human people” (p. 23).

Carolina's biggest regret was not living as a paper picker, but living in the favela: “I am not unhappy with the profession I practice. I'm used to being dirty. I've been picking up paper for eight years now. What I hate is living in the favela” (p. 22). What the paper collector was looking for was a little dignity, a little respect, she didn't want to feel like a useless object. Her dream was to live in the city, own a house, feed her children and buy beautiful clothes: “When I go to the city I have the impression that I am in paradise. I find it sublime to see those women and children so well dressed. So different from the favela” (p. 85). The only time she could dream was when she listened to soap operas on the radio. It was only in soap operas that the bourgeoisie tolerated the realization of its humanist ideals. Through the culture industry, the bourgeoisie produced the dream in the minds of the oppressed and knew how to justify the class exploitation that the vast majority suffered in automated work, bureaucratized administration and miserable everyday life.

Carolina also reported in her diary the prejudice and discrimination she suffered. Being black, poor and living in the favela were enough reasons to produce a great stigma. Discrimination was common in their daily lives. But she wasn't put off by that. This is what she demonstrates in this passage: “White people say they are superior. But what superiority does white have? If the black drinks drip, the white drinks. The disease that strikes the black, strikes the white. If whites are hungry, so are blacks. Nature does not select anyone” (p. 64-5). When reflecting on the prejudice she suffered, Carolina showed great sensitivity and resilience in order not to be affected.

To escape her reality of misery and discrimination, she sought a little comfort in art. She read classic books of literature that she found in the trash, listened to the Viennese waltz on the radio and wrote about the drama of her life. Nietzsche once said that “we have art in order not to die from the truth”. The truth for Carolina was her cruel and miserable life, that she had to support three children as a paper picker, in order not to die of hunger. Truth is objective. It is historical and social. In this way, Carolina wrote to give voice to suffering as a condition of her truth: “Since suffering is objectivity that weighs on the subject, what he experiences as his most subjective element”.[ii]

In the middle of the XNUMXst century, capitalist society continues to produce the objective conditions for the proliferation of favelas. Every day a new Carolina is born, who must face a life of unemployment, hunger and misery. According to Locomotive Institute in partnership with Data Favela and the Central Única de Favelas (CUFA), there are now at least 17,1 million people living in favelas. The black population corresponds to 67% of its households. Nowadays, the greatest symbol of misery and discrimination is represented by the low socioeconomic indexes and the access of this population to positions in the social pyramid.

Research has shown that the black population has the lowest wages, suffers more from unemployment and is less educated. According to data from the last National Household Sample Survey (PNAD), although blacks account for half of the Brazilian population, they represent 64,2% of the unemployed, that is, two thirds of the Brazilian population. They are also the ones who suffer the most from informality, representing 47,3% of informal work. In the North and Northeast regions this rate reaches 60%. With regard to income, they also earn less than whites. In 2018, while whites received R$2.796,00 on average, the black or brown population received R$1.608,00 on average. The black woman, for being a woman, for being black and for being poor, is triply discriminated against. While a black man earns 56,1% of a white man's salary on average, black women earn less than half, 44,4%.

The big question that arises is how to solve the problem of racial inequality? In our view, the problem is primarily political. It is necessary to develop more affirmative public policies to promote racial equality. It is necessary to offer equal opportunities to revert to the negative representation of blacks. It is up to the State and municipalities to promote the socioeconomic inclusion of the black population historically deprived of access to opportunities. It is also necessary to promote respect, protection and fulfillment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of people of African descent, as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The most important thing is the educational background. It is not just a question of better qualifying individuals for the job market, it is also necessary to educate the new generations by giving visibility to the culture, history, music, values ​​and religion of Afro-descendants. The curriculum is not a neutral element, but is constituted by power relations, as it disseminates behaviors and ways of thinking, acting, feeling and valuing. The school, as a privileged area for reflection on our training and cultural identity, should promote greater recognition and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of Afro-descendants to the development of Brazilian society. The absence in the curriculum of the culture and history of the Afro-descendant population contributes to greater racial inequality. This omission affects the formation and construction of the black child's identity, damaging their self-image and self-esteem.

*Michel Aires de Souza Dias He holds a PhD in Education from the University of São Paulo (USP).

 

Reference


Maria Carolina de Jesus. Eviction room: diary of a slum dweller. São Paulo: Ática, 2014, 200 pages.

 

Notes


[I] The Portuguese errors were kept to ensure greater fidelity to the original diary.

[ii] ADORNO, Theodor. Negative dialectic. Trans. Marco Antonio Casanova. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge. Zahar, 2009, p. 24.

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