Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Black Awareness Day (Dia da Consciência Negra)

Today, November 20, is Black "Consciousness" Day in Brazil as part of the "Black November" (analogous to Black History Month in February in the United States). It is also a homage to Zumbi de Palmares, the famous warrior who defended the quilombo (escaped African slave society) in the 17th century from Portuguese colonization.

I have been very impressed by the amount of activities, debates, events and expositions occurring in the city of Salvador this month, but am a bit disappointed today is not an official holiday. I am most troubled by this because Brazil has a holiday for almost every catholic saint, family member (mother's, father's, children's, girlfriend's, grandparent's day), and local or national historical event, so I've gotten used to many days off of work for celebration. But today most people (including myself) still have to go to work, and can't attend or participate in all that is offered by the state and private organizations to explore this holiday.

Following are some of the highlight events I've encountered during Black November (which is not over yet!):

The main newspaper in Bahia, "A Tarde" had a special spread on the musicians of candomblés, explaining their lineages and nations deriving from Africa, their generations in Brazil, how the men construct the instruments and the women dance to the music to call the orixás into possession. (see http://atarde.uol.com.br/materias/1468123) In addition, the main mãe de santo of the big, famous, traditional terreiro in Salvador Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá welcomed a famous visitor from Nigeria, the first Black African Nobel Prize winner, Wole Soyinka. He had a book launch for the Portuguese translation of his book, The Lion and the Jewel (O Leão e a Joia). His presence was considered the highlight event for Black November.

A friend of mine who actively takes part in the Black Movement in Brazil created a video and posted it on youtube about the Quota System (or Affirmative Action) which has been recently instated and then challenged in Brazil. The video is entitled "Quotas: This Conversations is not about you" and openly confronts white students who criticize or complain about the quotas for supposedly "lazy" or "undeserving" black students. In just 5 days the video has gotten over 20,000 views and about 3,000 commentaries. Most of the comments are extremely racist, calling the actress a "monkey", "slut" or suggesting that "Queen Isabel should have never abolished slavery, because that's where you all belong". My friend published this video as a confrontation for Black Awareness Day, but had no idea it would stir up so many deep, racist feelings and resentment between black and white youth competing to get ahead in Brazilian society. I found the responses to be shocking, and indicative of the great divide that still exists, even in a supposedly harmonious, racially mixed country like Brazil.

The main black "blocos" of Carnaval including Ilê Ayé and Olodum are going out into the streets for two marches as a sort of mini-carnaval intended for a more political purpose. Of course, like most festive street events in Brazil, I am sure it will unwind into a big party.

The Public Library (Biblioteca Barris) has created various expositions using the original archives of the library to show black resistance, the history of terreiros in Salvador, as well as many children's events to encourage black consciousness at a young age.

Beyond this there are capoeira shows, book readings, plays, singers, film festivals and everything in between to celebrate the beauty that is black Brazil.

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