A “class struggle” among blacks?

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By RONALDO TADEU DE SOUZA*

Today there is the presence of two black groups with different material and symbolic interests and demands.

"Das Wahreist die Wahreit [right is truth]…” (Max Weber).
“Perhaps the role of advertising is more political than economic […] Perhaps it serves, above all, to suppress Mallarmé and his machine gun” (Viviane Forrester).

Brazil is the western country that perhaps most presents specific traits. It is not necessary to list them here to save text and not bore the reader. One of the last Brazilian peculiarities – is the conformation of an eccentric modality of “class struggle”. A “class war” between blacks. Or to be more nuanced in the formulation: what is happening today is a society structurally founded on the enslavement of people with black skin, that the interests (material and symbolic) of those who supposedly should have the same political, social, cultural, economic horizon and racial, above all, are in certain respects distinct – even antagonistic.

In other words, we currently witness the irrefutable fact of two asymmetrical racial-social groups with perspectives and objectives that do not converge to the same search for emancipation and liberation from racism. However, it could be said that this has always been the case and that it has its positive features; that concretely the interests of blacks were never homogeneous; that it is a virtue that there have never been common demands, as there is a diversity of black peoples and groups in Brazilian society; or yet, treating blacks as a single group is an expression of certain prejudice and lack of knowledge of their history in general and the history of their struggles in particular. These “commonplaces” formulated with pretense of sociological sophistication do not hide the factual argument that follows.

But let's see then. Since the times of slavery, it is true that there were peculiar demands between black men and women. It is more than obvious that the captains of the bush had a horizon to reach. That black men and women in the slave quarters certainly had another social, cultural and political perspective. And they were different from those who lived in the big houses. In the same way that the inhabitants of the quilombos, evidently, had urgencies that related to their ways of existence lived there. Indeed; Even in pre-modern Brazil, when violent and cruel slavery prevailed, immediate demands were not confused. Historically, therefore, the various and multiple black movements were constituted, with their struggle repertoires and collective action arrangements, especially from the 1920s onwards (with the outlining of Brazilian modernity) with the formation of the first organizations to combat racism and important figures who voiced this struggle. (The bibliography here is vast, just check the work of my peers and leading researchers on the subject in our social sciences.)

Irrefutable evidence, however, is present in all these circumstances from Colonial times through the Empire, the First Republic and reaching the performance of initiatory black entities and from there to the historical arc of struggles until the last decades of the XNUMXth century and the first years of this century. Variations in the struggles to eradicate racism had the declared objective that black men and women in Brazilian society needed, in an indelible way, to seek in every imaginable and unimaginable way to fight boldly to put an end to the national wound of racism: a consequence of the slave-colonial mode of production. There was, for example, the conviction that the organization would be decisive. That the formation of associations, cultural clubs, the creation of social movements, debate circles could not be postponed if the former slaves truly and concretely wanted to end racism and its consequences (or at least mitigate the impacts of this scourge open).

Participation in political parties, preferably those of the left (an always tense and unresolved relationship, if that ever comes to an end...), was a “consensual” point. (Clóvis Moura and Minervino de Oliveira were from the PCB – and Lélia Gonzalez, first from the PT and then from the PDT, both in Rio de Janeiro, are figures of a relatively unique experience in the fight against racism.) Unity in diversity. Or synthesis of profuse peculiarities. The fight of black-skinned women and men was constituted by the practical understanding that, despite the heterogeneous demands and differentiated feelings before and under the structure of domination that caused racial suffering, the fight against racism and its most cruel manifestations was, of course, in a way, the same.

In other words, throughout the entire period in which slavery prevailed and, after its “end”, in the Brazilian twentieth century in particular, the arrangement of black men and women’s interests was presented as the well-configured understanding that the ways to put an end to racism they had to be concentrated in the political and organizational struggle – social and economic. This never excludes the demand for “representativeness” anachronistically speaking: Samba Schools, Black Dances in the 1970s, Candomblé/Umbanda (the good old Macumba), the claim of black actresses like Zezé Motta, Dona Ruth de Souza, and our Grande Otelo were modalities demanding the presence of black culture in the formation of Brazilian society.

So it was a black people – crushed by the materiality of slavery that served the interests of the white ruling class, a highly restricted group, violent, cynical, petty, discriminating and fully aware of the ways in which to secure their gains (the systematic reproduction of the logic of colonial society) – envisioning the effective freedom of oneself and, consequently, of the nation. Furthermore: those who had managed to become intellectuals, male and female writers, male and female researchers, men and women of practical action, decisive figures in the black and political movements knew that they were voicing the needs of those who would not have their voices heard given their own relationships. racist social groups that were constituted here.

This historical and political scenario no longer exists today. What we currently witness in Brazilian society are the interests no longer of a black people with varieties of claims that merge, the synthesis of the diverse, articulated by the “common” organization and political struggle with a “left bias”, but of two groups – who have fundamentally different desires. A group of black men and women was formed in Brazil who today “managed” to enter (it is true that with effort, blood and sweat) the places of the dominant white elite, which in the formulation of a type of literature specialized in social sciences called become spaces of white power and privilege.

It doesn't take a closer look to verify the presence of black figures “winning” programs in large media conglomerates; to circulate in institutions and together with members of the white elite (debates with businessmen, judiciary actors, renowned journalists); to advertise for big brands (clothing, cosmetics, accessories, etc.); to give interviews on highly prestigious channels dealing with themes of blackness (these interviews are like “fireside conversations” governed by wine – and at most they become “diversity consultancy”[1]); to give lectures in places of high standard of refinement; and in some cases to become businessmen and women with some capital, obviously small.

And there is a group, actually a nation, of people with black skin who have interests that are radical and essentially different from those I presented above: resulting from a society forged by slave labor, class racism and its systematic and sometimes conscious reproductions of the dominant white elite. These are black women who are working two, three jobs a day to support their families; young girls, really black, in queues at thousands of UBS's spread across the Brazilian peripheries waiting for a vacancy at the pediatrician or in the emergency room with their sick boys and girls while their companions, when they have them, reproduce the vile patriarchy by letting them take care of everything, when they are not imprisoned or have already been exterminated by hired assassins (state and parastatal police) of the dominant white elite; black men, some already with white hair, under the scorching sun building buildings and more buildings and collecting unusable waste; black boys aged 15 to 20 on motorbikes and bicycles delivering delivery for hours and hours to the more affluent (the white middle and upper middle class) and they are black families, in the last period, in queues at the butcher shop waiting for leftovers of flesh (bones) in the current economic crisis and unemployment that hit the country with the Covid-19 pandemic and the country project of the Bolsonaro-Guedes-Mourão group.

The true reality that forms before us is irrefutable. If that group of the black “elite” mobilizes the historical “problems” (if we are problems… and not the “white”, especially the dominant class) of the black people in order to “conveniently” forge a sphere of recognition “consciously” or not in conjunction with the white ruling elite, at first and in a first analysis it doesn't matter to us. As well as what are the causal or explanatory axes of a critical perspective for the existence of such a phenomenon, neither. Studies and research will surely appear to test analyzes and explanations of much greater breath than this very brief text of occasion. Immediately, what we witness is a “class struggle” among blacks; things well understood – they are considerably different material and symbolic demands, needs, requirements, yearnings, claims and objectives.

In this particular aspect, it is suggestive to inquire about the group that operates in an, so to speak, intermediate zone. As black researchers trained in the last 10-15 years in centers of excellence (high quality public universities in research production), with a new disciplinary arrangement that presents other epistemological and cognitive possibilities, and with a “heterodox” science literature Are the humanities circulating in academic and scientific-intellectual culture environments taking a position or will they take a position, directly and indirectly, in the face of the above circumstances?

My hypothesis, quite rudimentary obviously, and which will need accurate treatment by researchers interested in the subject and with better training than mine in this area: is that there is somehow a tendency of “hegemonization” of the academic group by the “black elite” group. in terms of symbolic disposition (vocabulary, social self-perception, cultural gestures) – but not material. (It is perceived, for example, that there is an exchange, a circulation, of the current theoretical structure, the literature of social sciences, philosophy, cultural studies, which deals with issues of race, racism, prejudice, etc. among the groups of the “elite black” and public universities of excellence; of course with different levels of understanding, approach, method, problematization and rigor.) But this, again, requires a more careful approach.

At this point, a diagnosis (critical in a way) about the presence of two black groups with unfortunately different interests and material and symbolic demands is enough. And sometimes even antagonistic. “We wanted” that all and all black-skinned people together with white-skinned people (from the elite… or not) were talking in front of a cozy fireplace ruled by wine, fine cheeses and other spices on various subjects – from ancestry even how powerful is the book by author or author X or Y passing through the Orixás of each one in the chat. For the moment, and whether it is regrettable or not depends on the political, theoretical and intellectual position of those involved in this debate, including those who write here, it is only immediately and concretely verified that there exists today in Brazil with unprecedented eccentricity: a “ black class struggle.

*Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Political Science at USP.

 

Note


[1]On the terms “fireplace talks” and “diversity consulting” see Hari Kunzru. “The Wages of Whiteness: whiteness is a concept that can be made to serve many interests and positions, not all of them compatible”. The New York Review of Books, September, 24, 2020, Issue.

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