Race and Gender Violence

Black Lives Matter – Across Languages and Geographies: Brazil

March Black Lives Matter 20 June 2015

photo by MAD Mothers

On June 20, 2015 Amsterdam hosted the Empowerment & Solidarity March: ‘We Rise by Lifting (M)Others’ organised by MAD Mothers NL (Mothers Against Discrimination and Racism – Netherlands). The March and the speeches that followed aimed to express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement from an explicit feminist intersectional perspective. It was a modest in numbers however powerful event, which stopped traffic and took over the streets of Amsterdam. I was inspired by the words and chants of Black women. I was moved and honoured to have been part of it. This was my brief speech.

Dear friends,

We are here to mourn the loss of Black lives. We are here to denounce anti-Blackness that pervades our societies and guides State policy and practice. We are here to cherish movements of Black dissent and resistance in the Netherlands, across the Atlantic and the wider world, and to learn from them. We are here to celebrate Black Lives.

This week 9 persons were murdered in a historical Black Church of resistance in Charleston, USA. Their suspected killer is a young white supremacist. We mourn for Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Daniel Simmons, Susie Jackson, and DePayne Doctor.

As we speak two hundred and ten thousand Dominicans of Haitian decent along with hundreds of thousands of Haitian immigrants are threatened with deportation from the Dominican Republic, which will make them stateless. The criteria the government will use in deciding who is to be deported is “dark-skinned Dominicans with Haitian facial features.”

Last week a young South African (unnamed by the press) committed suicide in an asylum prison facility in Rotterdam. He was detained for the ‘heinous crime’ of requesting asylum in the Netherlands. His visa was rejected; he was expecting deportation. This is yet another precious life that is condemned by the Dutch State. It is another of the recurrent ‘incidents’ in the systematic detention of non-Western immigrants to the Netherlands.

Such ‘episodes’ are not extraordinary but the rule. Only in the first 6 months of 2014, 2.741 ‘incidents’ in Dutch asylum centres were officially registered. There is no public outcry though, as Black and brown Lives are considered worthless in this country. In fact, they are seen as a threat to the Netherlands. Facilitating their deaths is actually deemed necessary to safeguarding our welfare. This young man was mothered by someone or, most likely, by several ones, as it takes a village; he belonged to a community. His life has been taken away; their lives are shattered.

Last week, as every other week of the year, 574 Brazilian youngsters were murdered. According already to the report Map of Violence 2012, ‘violence has a colour’ in Brazil. Afro-Brazilians make a little more than half of the Brazilian population. In 2012, violence claimed the lives of 56,000 people in the country, of which 30,000 were aged 15 to 29 years of age. Of these, four out of five were black. Black Brazilians are also more likely to be victims of police killings: 58 per cent of all people killed in the state of São Paulo by the military police were black. They make up 62 per cent of all people incarcerated nationwide, Brazil having the fourth highest prison population in the world. The bloggers Black Women of Brazil recalled that, as Brazil’s black movement says, “if you want to know who is black in Brazil, ask the police, they know.”

According to Amnesty International Brazil, that launched the Campaign Black Youth Alive, these figures exceed the deaths in war zones. These deaths are gender and race specific and don’t affect the entire Brazilian society equally.

Brazil occupies the 7th position (among 84 countries) on feminicide (that is gender based murder). Every 1,5 hours, a Brazilian woman is killed as a victim to sexism. 61 per cent of those victims of feminicide are Black women. Violence to LGBT is sky-high. Every 28 hours a LGBT is murdered in Brazil; and the country accounts for 40 per cent of the murder of transsexuals and transvestites in the world. “In Brazil, Race [and Gender are] Matters Of Life And Violent Death”.

There has been consistent protest and mobilisation in face of raced and gendered violence, since colonial times, when 4.5 million enslaved Africans arrived in Brazilian harbours, that is far more than any other part of the Americas—ten times as many as North America, and more than all of the Caribbean and North America combined. Enslaved revolts and resistance, such as the communities of the fugitive enslaved, the Quilombos, are the mothers of Brazil’s contemporary Black movement. This movement is alive and thriving despite criminalisation and violence against Black activists. They struggle for justice, against racism that is structural and insidious and manifests itself, before and alongside physical violence, through various forms of dehumanisation of Black people.

Last May, Stephanie Ribeiro, a young Afro-Brazilian woman, launched a campaign on social media against a theatre play that would figure one actor in blackface. She gathered strong support from Afro-Brazilians, which ended in the play being cancelled. This shows that mobilisation against the dehumanisation of Black people is not only meaningful but it can be successful. In the Netherlands we know the successes we booked against blackfacing in the recent years. But we are not done yet. Stephanie’s campaign also shows how much the struggles of the African diaspora cut across language and geography, and how intimately interconnected they are.

It is fundamental to learn from sister movements, make improbable though fruitful connections, and support each other.

I will end this very brief window into the Matter of Black Lives in Brazil, with the words of the Afro-Brazilian lead Campaign Reaja ou Será Morta, React or You’ll Be Killed. Reaja organised a series of Marches Against the Genocide of Black People, the second of which took place in more than 17 Brazilian states and embassies across the world. This is the call for the second march, in August 2014:

Whatever the case may be, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!! It’s time to take to the streets! Tomorrow, in various states across the country as well as around the world, people are marching to voice their anger, their sadness and their despair in what appears to be a clear agenda to exterminate non-white peoples. In Brazil, Afro-Brazilians are being killed not only [by] everyday violence and [the] lethal [State force of the] Military Police; they also face vigilante death squads, often composed of Military Police as well. We march for the five black men gunned down in one month in the US (Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, and Michael Brown), against the on-going slaughter of Palestinian men, women and children, but also for [B]lack Brazilians such as Cláudia Ferreira, Amarildo, Raissa Vargas Motta, the dancer DG (Douglas Pereira) and so many others who were purposely killed or struck by a [so-called ‘police] stray bullet’. We march because we must. We march because we want justice. We march for life!

Thank you.