Image: Kim Ryu


Brazilian racism is such, so perverse and disguised, that we run the risk of the background taking the place of the figure.

“Language is such a sinixxtra shit, Fessô!” I've heard this phrase a few times, uttered by male and female students of basic education (from the sizzling metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro), after they had better understood the idea that language is a human mental faculty, the one that promotes our interaction (not even always conscious) with ourselves (both subjective and intersubjective) and with the environment around us.

Speaking like this, in such an abstract way, the concept inhibits a little, but I imagine that the little stupor of these students comes, to a certain extent, from the intuition that language is to the human brain more or less like an operating system ( DOS, Windows, IOS, Android…) is for the processor of a computer or smartphone: without it, it is more complicated for us to “run”.

We live immersed in air and in language. This explains the relative difficulty of perceiving them and reflecting on their importance for our bio-psychosocial existence. For most people, it seems, they – air and language – are just there and that's it, why dwell on these things? millions of deaths from lung diseases caused by pollution, climate change resulting from the destruction of forests, the greenhouse effect... Ironically, the fatality of language, oblique and disguised gypsy, tends to be more silent. Let's see.

In the evolutionary cycle of haute cuisine on the sidewalk in Rio, between the Jurassic “hamburger” and the post-modern “podrão” there is “X-tudo”. What is “X-everything”? It's a sandwich based on bread and ultra-processed beef or chicken meat (hopefully!), to which a more or less large variety of ingredients is added, among which, by antiquity, cheese stands out - or rather, cheese. cheese. Therefore, by ancestral link, the modern “X-tudão” (cousin of the “podrão”) is a direct descendant of the honorable cheeseburger.

Deviating a little from the gustatory-genealogical confusion provoked by the previous paragraph, and paying attention to the linguistic aspect of the described phenomenon, what can be concluded is the following: from the culinary point of view, the hamburger continued to be the base of several sandwiches that are eaten as quick snacks on the streets around; however, from a linguistic point of view, cheese (the cheese, the “X”) came to occupy this fundamental, nuclear place. That is to say: for those who prepare and/or eat the sandwich, the (supposed) meat is, along with the bread, the first ingredient to which all the others are added; for those referring to the delicacy, however, the “X” is the main thing, and the rest is the rest (including the “meat”). Hence the classics “X-bacon”, “X-egg”, “X-picanha”, “X-pepperoni” et coetera, until we reach the neophyte “X-tudão”, “mutador de munchies” of the most competent.

Being only a little more rigorous, what is seen is that, in the case of the popular naming of these sandwiches, the background has taken the place of the figure. Figure is how photography and psyche studies refer to the foreground element in an image (real or symbolic) on display; that is, in our example, the hamburger, the “meat”. Background is the background component of that same image; in case, the cheese, morphophonemically transformed into “X”. It doesn't hurt to remember, for example, that in several names of these delicacies there is no mention of the citizen. Not to mention the obvious socioeconomic and cultural trait intrinsic to this labeling, because, at the other end of the rope, symbolically distanced from the proletarian “bad” is the “handmade hamburger” offered by bourgeois “hamburgers”…

As students sometimes say, “language is a sinixxtra shit”.

And what does all this talk have to do with the title of this text? Let me explain: Brazilian racism is such, so perverse and disguised, that, also in relation to it, we run the risk of the background ending up taking the place of the figure. In my modest opinion – in which someone may even catch false modesty, but not illegitimacy –, this is what a good part of the national media tries to do, again led by the Folha de S. Paul, by forging a non-existent controversy between intellectuals, researchers, writers and professors Muniz Sodré and Sílvio Almeida.

In an attempt to hide the clumsy vulgarization of the debate on one of the most fundamental issues in our country, the Folha de S. Paul creates a rhetorical arena in which he seeks to make two of the most important black intellectuals in Brazil clash. This is all to the delight of a mostly white middle class that, as a rule, is too lazy to look deeply at everything that is not a mirror, and has become accustomed to meager thinking in patchwork – at best.

In an interview with that newspaper, Muniz Sodré stated that he disagrees with the adjective “structural” placed alongside the noun “racism” – a construction proposed by Sílvio Almeida in his most famous book. At no time did sociologist Muniz say he disagreed with philosopher Sílvio regarding the existence of racism; he just doesn't agree with that adjective. It is a reflection that cannot be said to be strictly linguistic only because the arguments of the two professors transcend language studies. But precisely for this reason, it is undoubtedly a question of language, that is, of the plastic and productive human capacity for attributing meaning to the world.

Sílvio Almeida speaks of “structure” precisely because he sees racism as a fundamental trait, founding (and therefore structuring) of Brazilian society; Muniz Sodré argues that we speak of a “slavery social form”, since, after abolition, there are no longer, in Brazil, institutions or official legal rules supported by racial criteria. It should be noted that, if on the one hand the divergence between the two goes far beyond a mere lexical choice (and involves specific concepts from the field of sociology and history, for example), on the other hand the slightest hint of shadow of denial of the ostensive presence of racism in Brazil.

And this is the real “X” of the question, I mean, this is the figure, not the background; and it is around this evident, undeniable fact that the Folha de S. Paul seems to want to stir up controversy. Because, at the limit, the conclusion of countless readers (and, later, commentators on social networks) will have been: “not even black intellectuals agree with each other in relation to racism, therefore there is no racism in Brazil”. A few years ago, His Excellency, the general-former-vice-president-and-current-senator-of the Republic Hamilton Mourão literally said this, that in Brazil there is no racism, here anyone can go anywhere; Yes, in the United States, there is racism there, he lived there, he saw it...

Excuse me, but it's quite the opposite, Your Excellencies. It doesn't take a logic genius to understand that, even if it's not a dining table, a coffee table is a table. They are different features, different functions, but the nature is the same in general terms, and, above all, tables exist. It's undeniable. Party balloons, blimps and oxygen balloons are all quite different, but they are still balloons and they exist. It's a fact, it's not up for debate.

I am far from being excellent in anything, but, for my part, with all due respect to teachers Sílvio Almeida and Muniz Sodré (who was actually my teacher, by the way), I think that we live in a slave-owning social form, yes, and also that the Brazilian racism is structural, but, in my opinion, it is, above all, organic. Like a cancer. It appeared in the form of a cellular mutation in our newborn social body, it grew, corroded a first organ, spread to others, compromised all the systems it reached... and could end up leading the “collective organism” that we are to total bankruptcy, to the death. Racism is a cancer in an advanced stage, destroying the already weakened Brazilian historical and social body. A body increasingly full of scratches, bruises, fractures, and even cracks.

For this reason, and because I learned to try to think of the world from the point of view of what language allows or forces me to see, I understand that it matters little what characterization (theoretical or even literary) is made of racism in Brazil, whether it is “ X”, “Y” or “Z”. It is important that it is no longer transformed by the mainstream media into a background for any discussions about figures with more epistemological features than ethical-political ones. In fact, for me, the construction and implementation of anti-racist policies and practices that are capable of spreading throughout our collective organism are even more important, freeing our systems, recovering our organs, to the point of founding an unusual health in our social fabric and, with it , the real opportunity of a dignified life for each one of us, black cells dragged here in the bloodletting of Africa.

Until that longed-for day comes, let us be attentive to what is most ancient and sordid about Brazilian racism: the habit of (us) cracking (much) in order to dominate (us).

Or, not to waste the X or the pun, the habit of always being the same cynical RaXiXmo.

Luciano Nascimento He holds a PhD in Literature and is a professor at Colégio Pedro II.

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