photo: Danila Bustamante
Nadia Fadil, Kelly Gillespie | photo: Danila Bustamante
Marina de Mello e Souza, David Goldberg | photo: Danila Bustamante
photo: Danila Bustamante
Archives of the Non-Racial
At a debate held last Saturday (1/25), on the anniversary of the city of São Paulo, Associação Cultural Videobrasil, in partnership with Sesc São Paulo and the Goethe Institut, presented the Public Panel for the first São Paulo edition of the “Summer Conversations” workshop. The workshop was a sample of the upcoming Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism – a South African think-tank that tackles global issues from the perspectives of Southern countries, in partnership with the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), the Johns Hopkins University (USA), and the Humanities Research Institute at the University of California. In São Paulo, the topic of debate was Archives on Non-Racialism.
With two main premises as its starting point – “Can we envision a society where race is not a predominant factor?” and “What challenges face us on attaining that vision, and what would it be like?” – the debate took place over the course of two days of meetings at the Goethe Institut headquarters, featuring artists and intellectuals from Brazil, South Africa, and the United States.
The debate was held at the Sesc Pompeia Warehouse, which is currently hosting the 30 Years show of the 18th Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil, and featured the filmmaker and researcher Joel Zito Araújo; USP historian Marina de Mello e Souza; the director of the Humanities Research Institute at the University of California (UCLA), David Goldberg; the researcher with the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, Danai Mupotsa, and the UCLA assistant professor Nádia Fadil. The debate was mediated by the anthropologist Kelly Gillespie, of the University of the Witwatersrand.
The director of films Raça, Negação do Brasil and O Negro na TV Pública Brasileira, Joel Zito said post-racialism, one of the matters at hand, arose in Brazil in the 1930s, as the country’s intellectual elite began to discuss the issue of race from that vantage point. Said elite used to claim Brazil was a “racial democracy” – a notion that remains in the collective imagination about the country until this day. The reality and the practice, however, were something else altogether. “The ideology of miscegenation contradicts the notion of whitening which has driven Brazil since its independence,” he said. “The miscegenation discourse was and still is used as a way to demobilize the historical needs of black and Indian populations.”
A historian specializing in African and Afro-Brazilian history, Marina de Mello e Souza concurs with Joel Zito in that the racial issue was the means by which Brazil structured itself as a nation. “You wanted to whiten society up, to rid it of its African heritage,” she said. The goal was building a society with European airs, and this can also be ascertained from the architectures of major urban centers, such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, as well as from the artistic and intellectual circles.
She, however, believes the issue of post-racialism in Brazil “makes no sense,” “even though genetics and science show that race is a thing of the past,” given the country’s social inequality. “At the moment in which post-racialism presents itself, we use race in order to take a stand and conquer social equality. The issue of equality, to us, becomes an issue of citizenship,” said the historian who, despite acknowledging the social progress achieved in Brazil throughout the past decade, claimed inequality among races persists.
The South African Danai Mupotsa echoes Marina’s thoughts. “The issue of anti-racialism has been imploded. There is a revival of the racial issue underway,” she said.
To the professor Nádia Fadil, the issue of “race is an organized social structure,” a means by which society structures itself, builds its ethnic identity, and tells those who are part of it from those who aren’t, “what is human, what is not human.” “If you think of Paris, you think of the Champs Elysée, rather than some place where a lot of immigrants live,” she said.
According to her, secularity, which is on the rise in European societies like France and Spain, “is a means societies have employed in order to keep themselves white,” This, she says, is a consequence of Arab immigration into the continent. “Islamism is how racism is debated in Europe,” she said.
A professor at the UCLA, America’s David Goldberg said “race emerged as a concept in the 19th century” as Europe began shielding itself “from those who were not considered European, the blacks and the Jews.”
Now, he said, “the racial issue has been replaced with the color issue” and that ironic as it may seem, “we should no longer be talking about racialism, and yet we do it all the time.” This is partly due to increasing social inequality in the Northern countries and in relation to regions such as Africa. “Racial difference represents the differences in the world. Eighty-five people hold the same combined wealth as 3.5 billion people do.”
The former secretary for culture of São Paulo during the Serra (2005-2006) and Kassab (2006-2012) administrations, Carlos Augusto Calil, was in attendance, and lauded the initiative of holding the Summer Conversations in São Paulo, as well as the fact that debate and intellectual production is taking place in the Southern Axis regardless of endorsement from the United States and Europe. “South Africans were tired of European and American intermediation. I hope that in Brazil they will find an ‘echo’ to their proposal,” he said.
Regarding the debate, he said it is important for Brazil and São Paulo to look not only at the issue of black people, but also at that of Indians. “There are Indians living right here in São Paulo, in the Parelheiros area (in the South Side), who are living under terrible conditions, in extreme poverty,” he said.
Prior to the debate, VB collection videos which address the racial issue were shown, including Luiz de Abreu’s O Samba do Crioulo Doido performance, winner of the 18th edition Grand Prize, and Barrueco, by Ayrson Heráclito, winner of the ongoing Sesc_Videobrasil edition’s residency prize with his FunFun (2012). Heráclito also took part in the Summer Conversations workshop in São Paulo for two days.
In addition to the artist and the debaters in attendance, the two-day long workshop featured the historian and anthropologist Lilia Schwarcz; the researcher with Associação Museu Afro Brasil Juliana Bevilacqua; the photographer Eustáquio Neves, from the state of Minas Gerais; the artist Marie Ange Bordas, editor of Caderno 09 Sesc_Videobrasil Geographies in Motion, among others.