Racism and the hateful inversion of reality

Carlos Cruz–Diez, Physichromie 113, 1963


In Brazilian society, an education that is complicit with racism or itself racist forms individuals whose racist actions cannot be considered as occasional or “excessive”

Everywhere, racism continues to produce intolerable scenes. In Brazil, and it is not recent, daily scenes express the racist horror that exists in society, especially against black people. If racism, at its core, is supported by an ideological construction that is, in itself, a distortion of the truth, by producing the valuation of human beings based on the color of their skin and other physical traits, hierarchizing them, discriminating them, it also occurs that racist actions, and not infrequently, seek to produce inversions of facts, becoming the basis of another violence: the inversion of reality.

Recent cases, with many of the same ones that are repeated throughout the country, which occurred in São Paulo and Porto Alegre, are paradigmatic of the inversions of racist horror. In the first case, a black social worker is accused of theft by salespeople and security guards from a store in a shopping mall in the city and, faced with the revolt and protest over the false accusation, the accusers asked the social worker to “calm down”, also accusing her of “being nervous”. In the second case, a black motorcycle courier, after being stabbed in the neck by a white gentleman, was handcuffed and violently thrown into a police vehicle, despite the protest of people who followed the entire case and testified to the police that the motorcycle courier had been attacked and could not, therefore, be treated as an aggressor. Seeking to escape the violent attack, the motorcycle courier takes the weapon with which he struck his attacker out of his attacker's hands. When they arrive at the scene, what do the officers see? A black man, holding a knife, in a fight on the street with a white man, who was on the sidewalk of the building where he lives. And the conclusion is immediate: “black man attacks white man”. The motorcycle courier was violently surrounded by police officers, handcuffed and taken to a police station in the back of a state vehicle. The white man was able to enter his house, get dressed and only then go to the same police station, in the same police vehicle, however, inside the vehicle, accommodated in a seat and next to the police officers. In this case, the police also asked the black motorcycle courier to “calm down” and, violently, ordered the boy not to resist their forced and aggressive driving.

Daily life has revealed: in Brazilian society, an education that is complicit in racism or itself racist forms individuals whose racist actions cannot be considered occasional or “excessive”. The effectiveness of this education has been such that it is the being of these individuals, with lesser or greater consciousness, that acts entirely and permanently, supported by the conviction of the justice of what they think and do. As in the examples above, salespeople, security guards and police officers treat black people with racism, without considering making mistakes, committing injustices, discrimination or not taking the truth into account. It is not possible to dissuade them who are wrong, who promote or are complicit in false accusations and offenses against the dignity of others, who practice or accept racism.

The brutality of the effectiveness of internalized racism is such that (scenes show!) the aggressors (be they salespeople, private security guards, doormen, police officers, etc.) do not listen, do not question themselves and are not even capable of the sensitivity to hear the desperate plea of ​​the attacked. They act brutally, asserting the convictions of a hateful racism, which does not allow itself to be stopped by any appeal, and which is sustained by the inversion of reality: the person being raped quickly becomes a rapist (the person attacked by racism becomes the one who is “ nervous”, “defends himself aggressively”, “screams”, “protests”, “loses his line”, “loses his reason”…) and thus loses the right to indignation and the right to demand moral and legal reparation for the harm caused by racist discrimination.

Indifferent to the revolt and the appeal of those who are violated, the agents of everyday racism also seek to annihilate what remains for those who suffer racist violence: to scream, protest, contest; as if, in the face of the outrage to their dignity, those who were violated still had some hope that their screams might be heard. Screams that racism seeks to silence, discredit, stigmatizing them as “unreasonable” and, it is also said, cowardly, “disproportionate to what happened”. At the same time that it causes pain, racism seeks to invalidate and silence it: there can be no protest, no cry for the pain caused by humiliation, the feeling of oppression, marginalization and also (as in many cases) criminalization of steps and acts of black people in the different situations of their social circulation and participation.

It is believed that the human scream is a sign of despair, but, in fact, it is one of the signifiers of the demand for protection, in the face of our ontological helplessness as creatures of a species without a “natural species” to cling to in order to exist, as these are the cases of all the others; which makes us dependent on similar others to reach the condition of human beings; only through this other do we have access to properly human language to live qualify as human.

When a human child cries at birth, and everyone wants to hear that cry, it lets us know that it is alive. At birth, the baby's cry is equivalent to the first human cry, to remind other living adult humans that a new being has arrived into the world, that he is alive, but that, outside of intrauterine life, he is in total helplessness. He will need another human to take care of him, until he can live on his own, which will never be so completely that, at some point, the living being can do without the other. Philosopher Judith Butler has a good idea on the subject, which she likes to remember: our ontological dependence on others accompanies us from birth to grave. And it really is! Although, as the American philosopher also observes, the other that can correspond to some support that we always need, is, simultaneously, through his absence or through his actions, the one that can also correspond to our death. Our primary (ontological) dependence on others is also our vulnerability, which can, under certain conditions, be greatly exacerbated. [I]  This is what psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan thought about the human scream: in childhood, the scream is not a mere “sign”, but something inscribed in a symbolic system, where language is already established and the human being is immersed in it; the scream assumes the significant function of alluding to something that is missing; and he will say: “the cry is made so that people can become aware of it, even so that, beyond, it can be reported to someone else”.[ii] What is said here about screaming in childhood situations will find their equivalents (metaphorical or not) in everyone's adult lives – and until their last breath.

Well, because we are this creature of ontological helplessness and dependence (on the other), and because, in human language, the scream assumes the significant function of referring, among other things, to the lack of some protection (support, reception), when It happens that others act with exclusionary, marginalizing discrimination, as in the situation of racism, we scream! The fact is that breaking the “ontological pact” of protection between human beings and between them and other living beings is an act that abandons the other to a situation of helplessness and, therefore, to the risk of seeing aggravated vulnerabilities inherent to the human condition – in a situation of racism , as in others, the protest of the scream is not “nervousness”, but an expression of the preserved capacity for indignation, which, as such, conveys a demand for protection and demands equal rights.

In situations of violence, such as racism, when human beings protest, scream, it is neither correct nor fair to ask for “calm”, because, in a situation of racist oppression, anger becomes a denunciation of the inversion of reality, of denial of the truth and, therefore, denunciation of injustice. The feeling of oppression experienced by black people in the situation of racist discrimination is increased with “appeals” to “calm”, “appeals” to avoid “nervousness”. Basically, the victim is asked to consent to his submission and his silence is asked.

In the anti-racist cry, what is sought is to be heard regarding a truth that is kidnapped and hidden in the inversion of facts. And sometimes (or many times) what we seek is even to avoid death, in societies in which being black, or mixed race or even white, but, mainly, belonging to the so-called popular classes, is living under the shadow of death. where are you going? The actions of the military police in Brazilian states do not allow us to think differently when comparing data on “death”, by social class and ethnic origins, each time these police carry out what they call their “operations”. The panic-horror towards the military police on the part of residents of popular neighborhoods in different cities across the country is not without reason: it appears that the police are convinced of transforming the act of killing into a true “public security” policy. Faced with the constant fears and insecurity caused by murderous racism, also practiced by state agents, the cry is an alarm, a cry for help!

Racism is a practice that violates the equal value of people's dignity, as it is based on principles of hierarchization and discrimination of individuals' beings, due to their intended belonging to what racism itself invented as existing: the “races”; to which he added the (ideological) idea of ​​“racial superiority”, with which – through racist education, under the baton of the ideology of racial superiority – discrimination, humiliation, offenses, injuries are practiced, depriving people of freedom and rights, due to considerations in relation to what their ethnic-racial origins and/or belongings would be.

Utopizing a society without racism is a condition for us to escape imprisonment in the social imagination of our societies, deprived of imagining that another reality is possible, due to the monopoly of the ideology of “racial superiority” or the monopoly of ideology tout court, which colonizes the social imagination and the minds of many.

*Alipio DeSousa Filho is a sociologist and professor at UFRN.


[I] BUTLER, Judith. Unshak the gender. Barcelona: Paidós, 2012, p.35-66

[ii] LACAN, Jacques. The seminar – book 4: the object relationship. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 1995, pp.182-199

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