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News > Latin America

Racism Intact As Brazil Commemorates Black Consciousness Day

  • Afro-Brazilian women activists fighting for inter-sectional, radical Black feminist equity and liberation in Brazil.

    Afro-Brazilian women activists fighting for inter-sectional, radical Black feminist equity and liberation in Brazil. | Photo: Twitter / @blkwomenradical

Published 20 November 2018

Brazil celebrates Black Consciousness Day amidst a military crackdown on impoverished Afro-Brazilians.

Brazil celebrates Black Consciousness Day every year on Nov. 20 to commemorate the struggle of Afro-Brazilians and to celebrate the influence of African culture in the country. The date was chosen in honor of Zumbi Dos Palmares, a leader of African slaves, who died on Nov. 20, 1695.


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The South American country was the last in the Western hemisphere to abolish slavery. It did so in 1888 when the imperial family passed Lei Aurea, or Golden Law. However, formal abolition did not have a real effect on society.

That lack of material effect in post-slavery society inspired Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre to define Brazil as a racial democracy, an allegedly post-racial society where racism does not affect social mobility or relations between people in the country.

However, 130 years after abolishing slavery, Afro-Brazilians are still facing the repercussion of racism and slavery, especially since the military gained more power regarding civilian issues.

In Oct. 2017, the Brazilian Congress passed the Law No. 13.491 which gives the military court jurisdiction over their personnel accused of human rights violations. This was done because the Ministry of Defense made a case against civilian courts handling military cases.

Previously, incumbent President Michel Temer widened military power by ordering them to handle domestic policing duties, which do not fall under the mandate of Brazil's armed forces.

“I heard the shot from my home, but I didn’t imagine that it would be the shot that killed my son. He was 21 years old, shot in the back, and the police had the nerve to declare the case as an ‘act of resistance.’ It was the first time that I felt racism on my skin,” said a 47-year-old woman residing in a favela in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year. Her son had been killed by military police.


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The military has gained power since 2008 when the country’s “pacification” policy led to the deployment of the military in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, then militarization of police during the 2014 soccer World Cup and the Olympic games of 2016.

In Feb. 2018, Temer’s administration implemented the military intervention to “crackdown on violence” using exceptional legal instruments such as Operations for the Guarantee of Law and Order (GLO).

The military exercises these exceptional powers mainly against the Black community in Brazil who live in the country's favelas (low-income informal urban areas).

The increase of military patrolling the streets, the presence of war tanks, random searches, enforced disappearance, mass assassinations is a new normal in Brazil. Hence the increase in these ‘act of resistance,’ especially among the Black community and an increase in repression by the state through the military.


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Deployment of military personnel has had dire consequence and it was widely used during the last military dictatorship (1964-1985), which is fondly remembered by President-elect Jair Bolsonaro.

Data from the Institute of Public Security (ISP) indicate an increase in homicides as a result of militarization. In the first six months of 2018, a total of 766 cases were documented—the highest number since 2003. In the first five months of the military intervention, 4,005 shootings or gunshots in the Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan Region were registered via Fogo Cruzado (an app that monitors shootings in Rio). There were 2,924 shootings in the previous five-month period.

If these shootings are investigated, a military court will be responsible. Something human right defenders believe will increase impunity.

The United Nations estimated in 2017 that seven out of ten people killed in Brazil were black and that about 23,000 black youth die violently every year; that is one Black youth every 23 minutes.

Apart from the threat to life, the Black community also suffers from discriminations in everyday life, especially regarding education and employment.

The future also seems grim. President-elect Bolsonaro is openly racist and the next legislature will see only 13 Afro-descendants among 594 members of both houses.

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