Xavier vs: 19/06/2021 08:24:07
Is Brazil more racist than the United States?
Brazilian police killed six times more than the North American in 2019, with 75% of the victims were black. Worse data reflect different approaches to the United States race issue. It's also no less. In fact, experiences of racism should not be compared in a quantifiable way. What is essential is that both countries have a past of slavery and are, even today, structurally racist. But each society was formed in a different way, with different values. And each one took different paths to deal with the racial issue, also producing very particular developments, as pointed out by the historian Luciana Brito, the sociologist Flavia Rios and the lawyer and philosopher Silvio Almeida. Today, 13% of the population in the United States is black. In Brazil, 55%, according to the IBGE.
Comparisons between the two countries have been normal since at least the 19th century, according to Rios, but gained momentum in 2020 because of the Black Lives Matter movement. A new wave of protests began in the United States after the strangulation murder of George Floyd by a white police officer on May 25th. The episode had an impact on the results of the electoral race for the presidency of the United States. While the case gained attention in the international press as a result of racism, every 23 minutes a young black man is murdered in Brazil without the racial issue being analyzed on a daily basis. The Network of Public Security Observatories analyzed more than 7,000 police actions that took place in five Brazilian states between June 2019 and May 2020. In just one piece of news about these actions was found the word “negro”.
A taste of this violence occurred just days after Floyd's murder. When images of his strangulation were circulating around the world, a military policeman from São Paulo even repeated the scene and stepped on the neck of a black woman in Parelheiros, in the southern part of the city. “The police who do this and then come back to threaten the victim want to tell Brazilian society, especially the black community, that nothing is going to happen here,” explains Brito, a professor at the Federal University of Recôncavo Baiano. “He is counting on the lack of empathy from a large part of the population, but also on the State's impunity. That's where structural racism comes in,” she adds.
This Thursday, November 19, the eve of Black Consciousness Day, a black man ?João Alberto Silveira Freitas, 40 ? was beaten to death by two white men at a Carrefour unit in Porto Alegre (RS). The network lamented the “inexplicable episode” and announced that it terminated the contract with the company responsible for surveillance after the criminal act. One of the perpetrators was site security and the other a temporary military police officer. Silveira Freitas' brutal death caused a commotion on social media this Friday.
Companies with different values
For Almeida, if the United States could be portrayed with a human face, it would have a big scar, the result of a “civilizing cut” important to the construction of American nationalism. He refers to the racial segregation laws made after the end of slavery and the Civil War and recognized by the Supreme Court in 1896. “In the fight for civil rights, they dealt with the cut, but they never did an operation to say that this cut cannot Continue. They disinfected the cut, but sometimes it bleeds. They didn't take the knife out”, explains Almeida, professor at Mackenzie
Brito emphasizes, however, that North American society was built from values ??that soon served as the basis for the struggle of the protest movements. “There has been a strong idea of ??civil rights since the formulation of the Constitution, at the end of the 18th century. The 1960s movement against segregationist laws was not only anti-racist, African-Americans were demanding participation in the life of the country as men and women with rights”, explains the historian, an expert in slavery, abolition and race relations studies in the Brazil and the United States.
And Brazil? In addition to being the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888, Brito highlights its monarchic past. “The country founds the foundations of its society from privilege. Neither white nor black were educated as citizens endowed with civil rights. The policeman in the elite neighborhood hears 'do you know who you're talking to?'
If in the United States “white is white, black is black, and the mulatto woman is not the one”, as Caetano Veloso would say, both in Brazil and in other Latin American countries the racial issue “involves the frontal denial of racism from ideologies that we conventionally call racial democracy or whitewashing”, explains Rios. “These two ideologies form a broader idea called mestizaje. All Latin American societies, each with its own particularity, have a standard of praise for miscegenation”, he adds.
In legal terms, it means that “Brazilians never had segregationist legislation”. In practical terms, however, racial segregation has always existed, whether in the prohibition of black athletes in football clubs at the beginning of the 20th century, or in the persecution -which was institutionalized for decades- of black culture and African-based religions, or in the lack of public policies that left the black population abandoned to their fate, explains Rios. In the words of Almeida, author of the best seller 'Structural Racism' (Editora Polén), "while civilization as such is understood in the United States from a stuck knife that cannot be removed", in Brazil "someone is sticking the knife in you all the time, it's making you bleed, while they say 'that's in your head, there's no knife'”.
When protests over Floyd's murder erupted in the United States, it was not uncommon to see questions on social networks —mainly from white people— about why Brazilian blacks did not show similar revolt. Brito once again cites the history of denial of racism and the myth of racial democracy, which only began to be dismantled in the 1970s. “Strategies are more effective when the enemy is clearer. In the United States, black workers may be conservatives, they may not be activists or militants, but when they suffer racial discrimination, they know what happened. He has had family literacy since he was a child,” he explains.
Massacre of the black population in numbers
The various social and economic indicators — income, average salary, average age at death, among others — show that black Brazilians are at a disadvantage both in relation to white Brazilians and in relation to African Americans — the United States is the main power planet, which in itself also explains a better quality of life for its population. “And yet, non-white Americans are the hardest hit economically. Poverty is with them. Death in the pandemic is with them, the effects of the 2008 crisis are with them, they who lost their homes, they were evicted, they are living on the streets, they are in jails”, emphasizes Almeida.
Among the data, it is worth highlighting those of public safety. The numbers indicate that 'Brazil's black population suffers a massacre'—or a genocide, in the understanding of the black movement—and is worse off than African-Americans. Still, in both countries blacks are about three times more likely to die at the hands of the police than whites.
In the United States, African Americans represent 13% of a population of 333.9 million people, but they are 25% of those killed by law enforcement officers. In Brazil, blacks —the sum of blacks and browns— represent 55% of the total of 211 million Brazilians, but they are 75% of the victims of the State. Even though the US population is larger, US police killed 1,099 people in 2019, while Brazilian police killed 5,804 people, nearly six times as many.
Looking at homicide figures, the United States recorded 14,123 occurrences in 2018, according to FBI data. Brazil registered 57,956 deaths that year, according to the IPEA's Atlas of Violence. Despite the brutal numerical difference, the vulnerability of blacks in both countries is once evident. There, they were 52.4% of the total deaths that year, an alarming proportion considering that they represent only 13% of the American population. Here, 75.7% of those killed were black. In addition, the number of homicides of Brazilian blacks increased by 11.5% in eleven years, while that of the others fell by 13%.
To understand these numerical differences, it is necessary to look not only at the racial issue in each country, but also how their respective police and justice institutions developed, according to Rios. “In Brazil, the police themselves are investigating their action. We have an expertise that is not independent. The entire process of police organization prevents effective justice for agents of repression”, he exemplifies.
For Almeida, Brazil has developed “a highly repressive, highly sophisticated apparatus of violence”. The problem, therefore, is not that institutions work badly, but that they work the way they were originally intended. “The Brazilian State is sensational: at the same time it manages to create an apparatus of racialized repression that serves as a model for other places in the world in terms of violence, but which appears as if it were not racialized. This is great. Are you thinking we're amateurs?”, he quips.
Miscegenation, colorism and identity
The different approaches to the racial issue also generated different understandings about what it means to be black in each country. According to Brito, being black in Brazil has to do above all with the person's phenotype, that is, the tone of the person's color, the width of the nose, the thickness of the lips and the texture of the hair, among other physical characteristics —the which boosted the debate on colorism, a concept that addresses the racial hierarchization of Brazilian society by promoting its weakening. This subjectivity also means that 'identity borders are not always clear'—or, as Caetano Veloso would say once again, “down here, the indefiniteness is the regime”.
In the United States, physical characteristics also count, but being black is mainly related to the person's origin, according to Brito. The idea of ??nation was created from the white citizen, while the others were left aside from the national discourse. Thus, the black community saw the need to call itself African American. “As these men and women are stateless, they seek to belong to the African continent. So they are Afro, in the sense of national belonging, and Americans, with rights in that country”, explains the historian.
She uses as an example Senator Kamala Harris, elected vice president by the Democratic Party. Daughter of an Indian and a Jamaican, “in a middle-class neighborhood in Bahia, she could even be seen as a dark, mulatto or even white person”, explains Brito. In the United States, the historian continues, "if she calls the police to say that the car was stolen, the treatment will be different just for saying her name is Kamala, they don't even need to see what she looks like."
Back in Brazil, the Vargas era (1930-1945; 1950-1954) consolidated the idea that “the people are mixed and that we are all Brazilians”, according to Brito. Unlike African Americans, Brazilian blacks have always been included in the national discourse, even if unevenly. Therefore, there was never a need to assert oneself as a Brazilian citizen, nor does the expression 'Afro-Brazilian' make sense. Also because, because of miscegenation, which in the past was even promoted as a public policy to whiten the population, citizens considered white may be descendants of enslaved Africans — and that is why, for example, socio-racial quotas in public universities are intended for blacks and browns, and not for Afro-descendants. “Regardless of whether the person is of African descent or not, what matters in daily life are the physical characteristics. It is these characteristics that, socially constructed, can form an image of danger, threat, inhumanity... They are stereotyped images”, .