wicked society

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By João Sette Whitaker*

Brazilian society, or rather its middle and upper class, is perverse. She feels safe because she sees the phenomenon (covid-19) moving towards the poor peripheries, which she never really cared about

The UOL website published this week: “Neighborhoods with slums and tenements concentrate more deaths from covid-19 in SP”. According to the report, “Sapopemba, in the east zone, registered 101 deaths, ten times more than that verified in central neighborhoods”. Deaths drop in wealthy neighborhoods, but rise very quickly in the periphery. In a commented “live” this week, Átila Lamarino predicted a catastrophic scenario. What will happen when the epidemic arrives for good in the poorest and densest regions of the country? In fact, as seen in Manaus, Belém, on the outskirts of Rio and São Paulo, it is already coming.

I have written two or three texts about this in the last two months (for example 'The shadow of the Apocalypse is projected on the cities“, on the website Other Words, on 20/03), and I was not the only one. In fact, all urban planners minimally engaged in the fight for the right to the city warned: the tragedy would explode when it reached the poor and dense peripheries.

It is impressive how the news now confirms the prediction, just when, in the rich neighborhoods, the population is less tense and starting to go out on the streets. As if it were ending.

In Riviera São Lourenço, says UOL, a “lawyer and businessman Fernando Vieira” held a birthday party today, gathering dozens of luxury cars at his door, with the same number of guests loudly playing. Everyone should be fine, rest assured. At most, 24-year-old whiskey drunks.

Brazilian society, or rather its middle and upper class, is perverse. She feels safe because she sees the phenomenon heading towards the poor peripheries, which she never really cared much about.

Quarantine, which is easy for this population to carry out, is actually an act of solidarity with everyone, especially the poorest. If it had been adopted radically from the beginning by the residents of the expanded center, by those who arrived from their international trips, Covid would have spread more slowly, and would have taken a long time to reach these neighborhoods, perhaps enough to even flatten the curve.

But this top-down solidarity in our social pyramid is not our characteristic. If the pandemic begins to claim victims in the “distant” Brasilândia, it has already become part of the normal. It's like watching police homicide rates against poor black youth in the periphery, and like watching landslides on TV. It's like watching a dam break in distant Mariana.

Had there been a thousand warnings, it would have been useless. The guy will run on Av. Sumaré, because he knows that – for him – it is safe. Understanding that the act of isolating oneself is an act to protect others more than oneself is asking for something that is not in the DNA of a patrimonialist society, where those who have everything can do anything, by definition.

To make matters worse, as I also wrote, the Bolsonaro effect on many simpler people who religiously believe in his boçal speech – he is the myth – also played its part in this uncontrolled spread. As has happened since the halter vote, a part of the poorest population, with little access to information, harmed by the life without privileges that this Brazil has given them, falls into the most vile political manipulations.

Now, let's hope that the intense battle of health professionals from public hospitals, the incredible mobilizations of neighborhood associations and popular NGOs in the periphery neighborhoods (making flashmobs and spreading awareness podcasts, distributing water, masks and food, promoting solidarity of the elderly, etc.), which replaces the ever-absent State in these regions, has some effect.

Otherwise, the pandemic will reap a lot of people, always the poorest, in the majority. And the richest, if there is a lack of vacancies in hospitals. In this, the coronavirus even tries to be democratic.

And the clown in Brasilia is still there. Without impeachment, apparently there would still be no reason for it? How I miss a miserable fiscal pedaladinha, which no one really understood what it was. But those who at that time called for the seriousness of the “crime” and turned a blind eye to “Viva Ustra” in the name of presidential removal, today “fear that a third impeachment in a few decades will be fatal for our young democracy”. Okay. In 2016, nobody thought about it.

Stay at home. Yet. Not for you. For others.

*John Sette Whitaker is a professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at USP (FAU-USP).

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