Ms. Franco. Photo: Midia Ninja, Wikimedia Commons.
Black political candidates, and the struggle for Black representation, is growing in Brazil. I vote for Black candidates whenever there is an option. This country has a long way to rectifying historical wrongs.
When there is an option, there is a feeling of representation for Black Brazilian people. Talking about representation is important because we all know that politics here is controlled by White men.
Recent municipal elections that took place in Brazil, for mayors and councilors, had a strong “Marielle effect.” We can see the impact of her murder. In the various campaigns people san “Marielle became a seed” in unison, in Praça da Cinelândia, in front of the council camera, in Rio. Her murder has unleashed a powerful Black force. We are on a path no return. We are making much progress.
For those unfamiliar, Marielle Franco was murdered in March 2018. She was a vocal socialist critic of police brutality and the murder of African Brazilians. She ran for city council in Rio de Janiero in 2016 and won. She vowed to stand up for African Brazilians and people trapped in the favelas, the so-called ghettos. She was a fighter—and Black woman struggling to raise a daughter. The feminist, human rights activist, and sociologist was only 38 when assassinated in a hail of bullets.
We can celebrate even the candidates that were not elected. What is at stake is a long term project of power. If the choice is made by the vote and power emanates from the people—Power to the People—then of course things would be different in this country. After all, Brazil comprises majority Black people—African people. Even though Black women make up more than 26% of the population they have less than 5% representation in legislative councils. Black candidates gained grown in the November 15 local government elections.
Nineteen years ago there was a historic conference—the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa. It was then that Brazilian social inequality and racism against African Brazilians was recognized. In this land of football (soccer) and carnival, invaded by Portugal and White supremacy 520 years ago, it’s been barely two decades since this continuing injustice was openly discussed at a major forum of this magnitude.
Electoral democracy returned to Brazil in 1985 after 21 years of military regime. Color/race category was removed from the census, allegedly because this country is now post-racial; it’s supposedly a race haven. With the President Jair Bolsonaro government, and the president of the Fundação Cultural Palmares, Sérgio Camargo, this historical process has also been erased from institutions. However African heritage it will never be erased from the social imagination and our struggles will be fought without the support of government. The destruction of the legacy that our ancestors left for us will never happen. We will carry on.
The case of Sérgio Camargo, a Black man, at the service of the extreme right, as president of the Fundação Cultural Palmares, an institution that bears the name of the greatest symbol of Black resistance and freedom, which was the Republic of Palmares, is a classic example of how a Black person can be manipulated by White hegemony—a Black man with a White soul. In the United States he’d be referred to as “uncle Tom.”
On December 2, 2020, Camargo and his team removed names of celebrities from the Black Personality List, including Léa Garcia, Zezé Motta, Elza Soares, Gilberto Gil, Martinho da Vila, Conceição Evaristo, Sandra de Sá, Milton Nascimento, Leci Brandão, Grandfather do Ilê, among others.
In another moment, he had already referred to Zumbi—the African Brazilian who led the resistance against Portuguese enslavement— as a “son of a bitch who enslaved Blacks,” and that the Black movement should be extinguished because it only has vagabonds and that it was a “cursed scum.”
He also said that the day of Black conscience should end because it was a day when “the Brazilian left appropriated itself to cause victimhood and racial resentment,” and also that “we will revalue May 13 for the role of Princess Isabel in the liberation of Blacks” and that slavery had been “beneficial.”
It is right that Black candidacies are the big news in Brazilian life. They are candidacies without money and with a lot of force of expression. In Brazil voting is compulsory and yet the population has been discredited for decades with so much corruption in national life. Many people vote for “null” or blank, which is a way of not wanting to agree with anyone. To get out of this marasmus, Griot Abdias Nascimento said in his historic 1954 candidacy for councilman, “Don’t vote White. Vote for Black.” He wanted to break the monopoly of White Supremacy.
There was dilution of the Movimento Negro Unificado—Unified Black Movement—during the resumption of political parties in the return to democracy in Brazil.
The young Black candidates, born from that period onwards—the 1980s—represent a new era in Brazilian political life.
I am attracted to Black autonomy and a Black national state, as envisioned by Marcus Garvey. History tells us that there were peace agreements between Quilombo and Casa Grande. However, we cannot forget that in one of these agreements we were betrayed by the Whites and had our greatest symbol of resistance and existence totally destroyed.
In a globalized and sick world, it has never been more necessary to reclaim our ancestral practices of political order, and medicinal and spiritual science.
Paulo Mileno is an actor, a writer, and a researcher in the Nucleus of African Philosophy at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and editorial advisor of Africa and Africanities Magazine.