A hymn to racism

Image: Vladislav Serov
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By SANDRA BITENCOURT*

White supremacy reacts, on a global scale, seeking to maintain privileges

The last few days have been full of racist demonstrations that appear in the form of news, notes and opinions in different media spaces, showing that white supremacy reacts, on a global scale, in the quest to maintain privileges based on the odious idea that certain people may be inferior in rights and recognition.

The most recent fact is the movement of the extreme right in the gaucho parliament to prevent the debate and prevent a passage of the Rio Grande anthem from being revised insofar as its connotation is offensive to a significant portion of our population.

What is the role and position of journalism in the face of racial categories and racial inequality? Hidden in a supposed neutrality, it maintains its contribution to a system that reproduces the exclusion of voices and affirmative actions of equality. This trajectory of professional journalism and corporate media is long, at least in Brazil. Let's go to concepts and facts.

What seems like a trivial discussion in the case of the anthem of Rio Grande do Sul that dares to say that “people who lack virtue end up being slaves” actually reveals a complex construction that over the years protects elites and massacres people. What do we understand by race? According to Bashir Treiler's (2016) concept, race is a human classification system that aims to classify humans into distinct categories according to a constellation of physical, cognitive and cultural traits, whose existence is believed to be hereditary, distinctive and largely inescapable. Scientifically it has no support.

It is a social construction in which a dominant group creates hierarchies of human beings and systems of racial logic that guarantee its own racial domination. It is something so sophisticated, a construct that involves various instances and expressions of societies, that it manages to persist for centuries. When we think of progress, of mechanisms for racial categories to incorporate non-whites, especially when new people emerge through processes of conquest and emancipation, retreat manifests itself.

Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, and the language of freedom and equality in its founding documents, the United States of America has embraced racism since its founding. Over the nearly 250 years of the nation's existence, white elites in the United States deliberately built and sustained a society based on white supremacy. This slave society serves as an inspiration to many.

The US Supreme Court ruled last week that US universities can no longer take race into account as one of the determining factors in the admission of students. The resolution ends with an “affirmative action” or positive discrimination that for decades has mitigated racial inequalities in academic institutions. While the ruling specifically overturns the race-based admissions programs instituted at Harvard and North Carolina universities, its effects extend to the entire higher education system in the country.

In Brazil, the adoption of racial quotas was a process of extreme dispute, with a shameful role played by a large part of the press. In 2004, then-Minister of Education Tarso Genro participated in a series of public hearings. In a hearing in the Senate, he defended: “the government has a project of profound reform of Brazilian education. We want to achieve a republican, democratic, qualified, modern education with broad access. Quota policies for blacks and indigenous peoples and people from public access to higher education are impulses through which we can reach our main objective”.

The Brazilian corporate press did not share this thought. In the doctoral thesis “Public debate and press opinion on the policy of racial quotas at the Brazilian Public University”, available on the website Public Communication Observatory [https://lume.ufrgs.br/handle/10183/49272?locale=pt_BR], the author Ilídio Medina Pereira shows that in addition to the active role of the Brazilian State, universities and social movements, the press was a very relevant and active actor.

In 2010, reveals Ilídio Medina Pereira in his study, the newspaper The Globe refused to publish an ad for the Assert yourself campaign, in defense of affirmative action, justifying that the ad had an opinionated content. The same newspaper brought the principle of merit as an argument, classified affirmative actions as injustices and decreed that the admission of these students would represent a drop in the quality of universities, which later proved to be the opposite. The newspaper's discourse in its editorials maintains that quotas would promote racism and that Brazilian problems were social and not racial. This position is summarized in the book we are not racist, by the director of journalism at Globo Ali Kamel.

The traditional framework of debates on the racial issue in Brazil was changing after the discussion of quotas, and most of the press played its elitist and conservative role in trying to block change, using its privileged role of fixing meanings, to intervene and build an idea that there is no problem of race relations in Brazil. There are many tensions and controversies to try to obtain a general answer that explains inequality by class, race and gender.

There have been advances, of course, also because the results of the quota policies that colored the universities are extraordinary and have even had repercussions on the representation in our parliaments of young black men and women who are politicized, prepared and legitimate representatives of population groups and peripheral populations traditionally excluded from everything.

After voting by 38 votes in favor and 13 against, two projects that make it difficult to change the anthem of Rio Grande do Sul were approved in the Legislative Assembly. The choice of headline for this by the newspaper Zero hour was: “Approved texts that protect anthem of RS”. As I always insist, the choice of words for a title is never random. It condenses the main meaning, the framework given to a given fact. I can imagine dozens of other headlines for this news, including thinking about who or what needs protection against racism, inequality and exclusion. It certainly isn't the anthem.

In the opinion part, newspaper columnists showed different positions. There is even a rather peculiar definition of slavery: “working conditions that make you tired just thinking about it”, but the fact is that there were different opinions. This produces, however, a false idea of ​​symmetry. We put both sides together, maintained neutrality and fulfilled our role. Perhaps this mission should be to discuss in depth an issue that is fundamental today for the vitality of democracy and, therefore, for the public interest that should guide journalism.

That's because racist manifestations are recurrent in our gaucho land. A few days ago, the Medical Union of RS (Simers) released a note criticizing the possibility of the Federal University of Pelotas (UFPel) creating vacancies for MST settlers in the medical course, as already occurs in the veterinary medicine course that won the maximum grade in your performance. The interior director at Simers, Luiz Alberto Grossi went so far as to say the following: “these people who come from the countryside, come not very qualified to practice medicine”. “So, we will certainly disqualify the profession by agreeing to this. This will set precedents. It won't take long, the Indians will want to do it too”.

The public speech of medical entities is a case that deserves further study on the imaginary and social role of this category. It should also receive a critical spotlight from the press. After all, journalism that has no virtue...

* Sandra Bitencourt is a journalist, PhD in communication and information from UFRGS, director of communication at Instituto Novos Paradigmas (INP).


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