The new black power movement in Brazil is big.
Brazil is known for its beautiful beaches, beautiful women, samba, sun and celebration. For decades, millions have enjoyed the music, food, dance and culture of the fifth-largest country in the world, especially now as the nation has taken center stage as host of the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.
But also, in a not-so-glaring spotlight, are Brazil’s new black “Gladiators.” These new young voices are leading a growing socialist movement and spreading their message of black pride through social media.
Despite their contributions to the growth and development of their nation, black Brazilians fall behind all others in what’s been described as a “racial paradise.” They are the country’s poorest, most disenfranchised, and victims of overwhelming levels of systemic discrimination.
Now many blacks there are saying that enough is enough.
Cetilá Itas is 29 years old. She is the leader of the newly formed #VidasNegrasImportam movement in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.
"#VidasNegrasImportam is an initiative inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States,” says Itas.
“The goal is to focus on the lives of black people that have been claimed in the name of the ‘myth of a racial democracy,’” Itas adds. “This myth denies the perspective that there is a political genocide of the black population occurring.”
Brazilian millennials are now seen as a reckoning force, using their growing presence on social media to take the new black power movement and their new changing attitudes about race and skin color to a whole new global level.
“The use of digital technology has been a game changer in terms of linking individual experiences to a collective struggle. Social media, such as Facebook, has been boiling over with posts, videos, with conversations that we haven’t seen before,” says Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, author of The Color of Love: Racial Features, Stigma, and Socialization in Black Brazilian Families and an assistant professor of sociology at the University of South Florida.
Just take a look at many of the “modern-day struggle posts" Brazilians are sharing on social media in relation to the new Brazilian black power movement:
On domestic work and exploitation:
- A Facebook page created by a black domestic worker exposing how race, class and gender shape her exploitation and mistreatment. This page has over 100,000 likes.
On police brutality:
- The dragging of the body of a black woman in a police vehicle drew outrage all over social media from groups including #BlackWomenofBrazil.
- More social outrage after the killing of a group of boys celebrating their first paycheck in Rio de Janerio. Police officers shot 111 rounds at them.
- “Era meu sangue”: The mother of a man shot dead in a favela wiped the blood of her son on her face and declared "that blood was mine." That powerful image was posted on multiple social platforms.
On racism in education:
- Black Brazilians and college students share pictures of people holding signs to depict the racist comments they face at the university where they are often not welcome.
On racist internet attacks:
- Exposure of black celebrities Maju and Tais Araújo, who, instead of deleting racist posts, leave them up for everyone to read.
These self-described, young black Brazilian militants indeed have a major battle. Consider some of the harsh realities of black life in Brazil:
- Every 23 minutes, a black adolescent male is murdered; blacks are overwhelmingly, spatially relegated to the favelas and profiled when they leave.
- Black Brazilians represent more than 50 percent of the population but represent a small portion of all university students. In 1997 the percentage of black students in college was 2.2 percent. In 2011 it was 11 percent. This number is expected to continue to rise to more than three times the current level because of recent affirmative action policies.
- Black women are overrepresented as domestic workers and are paid less than almost every group, even while they often maintain entire families.
- In 2012 the income of a white Brazilian worker was nearly two times that of a black Brazilian worker.
- African descendants occupy only 10 percent of the seats in the House (while they are 51 percent of the population). In the Senate, there are only two black senators.
Anti-racist community organizations across Brazil have prioritized training young people to forge a different future. They are using resources available to them to continue changing the movement.
In the city of Salvador, Bahia’s Black Lives Matter movement leader, Itas, is studying anthropology at the Federal University of Bahia. After attending public schools her whole life and entering the university under Brazil’s brand-new quota system, Itas is on track to earn her degree in two years.
Hordge-Freeman is currently conducting research with a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Grant in Brazil to complete her new book, tentatively titled, Second-Class Daughters: Informal Adoptions as Modern Slavery in Brazil.
She has seen a lot over the decade conducting research in Brazil and is now optimistic.
“Afro-Brazilians are doing exactly what they need to be doing,” she said. “Through political engagement, social activism, giving visibility to injustices, and by articulating their struggle in ways that resonate with global communities, I’d say Brazilians are on the right track.”
Leesa Dillon is an Emmy Award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Las Vegas. She is now spending time in Latin and South America producing stories focusing on all aspects of Afro-Brazilian and Latin American culture.