#BlackLivesMatter: Globally Interconnected

The recent BLM demonstrations in Brazil against the current administration’s colorblind policies is one of the international branches of the BLM movement that should be widely supported, especially by those living in the U.S.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Cover Image
By Ka Seng Soo

Mass demonstrations erupted across Brazil on Friday, November 20 to protest the killing of a Black civilian named João Alberto Silveira Freitas. Videos uploaded onto social media showed Freitas being escorted out of a grocery store by security guards for unknown reasons, before he punched one of them. The security guards began to beat Freitas, the situation escalating and eventually culminating in his death.

November 20 is widely celebrated as Black Awareness Day in Brazil. Over 56 percent of Brazilians have some African descent, and similar to the US, Brazil was built on the labor of slaves. The Portuguese and other Europeans who had settled in Brazil continued to import slaves up until 1888, when the Golden Act, which enacted nationwide abolitionism, was passed. However, unlike in the U.S., which has a long history of legal racial segregation, Brazil never implemented any major and widespread laws that cemented segregation between Black civilians and the rest of the population. Rather, the country chose to adopt a more colorblind attitude: in history classes, Brazilian students are taught that Brazil is a democracia racial, or a racial democracy where race doesn’t matter.

Post-slavery governmental policies and actions tried to mask the history of slavery. For example, the first census taken of the country’s population in 1890 post-abolition didn’t ask about an individual’s race but rather their skin color. In successive surveys and collections of statistics, individuals continued to use terms like canela and morela, two terms that refer to different shades of brown. While the focus on colorism resulted in more opportunities for a more nuanced view of race and allowed for a culture that enabled more fluidity in expressing one’s identity, there was—and still is—a hierarchy within this societal view. The idea that having lighter skin and looking more ‘white’ allowed one to have a better chance at succeeding in the workplace and having better opportunities continues to permeate 21st century Brazil. And the statistics only reinforce this. There exist vast disparities between Brazilians of color and those who identify as white. More than 75 percent of civilians killed by police last year were Black, and two-thirds of prison inmates are individuals of color.

Not only does there exist a colorist hierarchy within Brazil, but the country altogether has also turned a blind eye to the history of slavery and eugenics in its country. Slavery is barely touched upon in school curriculums. The concept that, because Brazil did not struggle with racial tensions, race relations do not need to be addressed became the reigning ideal propagated by government officials. Furthermore, Brazil’s past of eugenics continues to remain unaddressed: in the late 19th century when slavery was on the decline, white European immigrant labor was brought into the country because of a fear by the Portuguese colonists that the disproportionate majority of Black Brazilians would outnumber them and “pollute” future generations.

This historical amnesia indicates that Brazil’s institutions remain stuck in a tunnel-visioned mindset—in which they perceive that racism isn’t an issue because it doesn’t manifest itself in explicit violence. Such a perception is highly problematic because it ignores the more systemic ways in which racism continues to permeate. Racism has evolved, moving from physical acts of violence to racist comments in the media and cultural appropriation. People commonly use derogatory language or racial slurs because they don’t know the racist history behind them. Perhaps even worse, these offenders are let off the hook because these comments do not fit within Brazil’s outdated definition of racism. This compliance and oftentimes, feigned ignorance, allows racism to persist in Brazil with no legal consequences.

Despite this bleak outlook, current actions by Brazilian activists in influencing and reshaping the public opinion toward race offer a more promising future. A recent survey conducted by the Locomotiva Research Institute has shown that the majority of Brazilians believe that Black people are more likely to experience police brutality and violence compared to whites. Black activists’ protests surrounding the colorblindness of Brazil’s government has begun to find support among prominent white leaders. In fact, in October, when a full-length letter addressing anti-Blackness in the wake of George Floyd’s death began to circulate political communities around Brazil, some of Brazil’s own prominent white leaders also agreed to sign the letter, indicating that the change in mindset experienced by activists across the country is one that the entire country shares.

Black Lives Matter demonstrations not only in the U.S. but also globally continue to remain important for several reasons. The U.S. is not the only country in which systemic racism remains, and the spread of the BLM demonstrations toward Brazil shows an international struggle against anti-Blackness and police brutality. Regardless, as people living in a country which is still struggling to reconcile with a history of systemic racism, we should continue to express our support for the BLM movement in other countries. Movements like these open up new spaces for criticism and discussion about the future of racial politics internationally. Otherwise, while change may be effectuated in one country, status-quo mindsets about race relations will continue to remain the same, which forecloses any possibilities for racial progress and society to move forward.