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Manifestantes caminham na Avenida Pennsylviania, em Washington, contra a violéncia political. (Foto: Andrew Caballero-Reynalds/AFP)
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Alexandra Mustaf
Professor, Department of Social Service, Federal University of Pernambuco

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Luanna de Cássia Melo
Student, Federal University of Pernambuco

a reflection


This article presents the hypothesis that structural racism is one of the greatest expressions of inequality in the world today, especially as a political and ideological practice by ultra-neoliberal and conservative governments. In this article we discuss a movement to combat racism in Brazil and the Americas, which emerged after the Durban Conference (2001). Currently, police violence against poor black youth legitimizes the state's Hobbesian and alienating attitude, promoting constant insecurity and fear in the lives of black women, mothers and grandmothers who fear for the lives of their children, nephews and grandchildren, constituting psychological and physical violence for them. In conclusion, we can see the reaction of these women, through protests in demonstrations with slogans such as “Black lives matter”, of great importance in the USA and in the mobilizations of black Brazilian women.


This article aims briefly presents the legal achievements of black and female segments of society, especially identifying the aspects that have helped confront political power by the far-right governments in social democratic governments. These governments that have assumed an ultra-neoliberal and authoritarian character with a neo-fascist and neo-Nazi matrix, configuring a racist and violent modus operandi, against the working class are being challenged by black women especially in Brazil and the Americas.

In Brazil, racism has left irreparable traumas in the lives of black people. According to the data collected by IPEA (Institute of Applied Research and Economics), blacks and browns account for the vast majority of the Brazilian population, but even so, they are the ones who suffer most from gender and race inequality. Half of this black population is made up of women who suffer from double discrimination, racism and sexism. Black women are the most affected when it comes to maternal mortality, domestic violence and also obstetric violence. According to the Atlas of Violence (2018), the homicide rate of black women was much higher than that of non-black women - 5.3 and 3.1 respectively, which demonstrates the great vulnerability of these women and how strongly their lives are linked to systemic racial discrimination.

Women's March, Copacabana, Rio

The data demonstrate how much the violation of rights is present in the lives of all black people since historically the white population of the country has privileges over black people due to the myth of racial democracy installed by the white bourgeoisie in an attempt to not be responsible for the consequences of this historical past. The myth of racial democracy arises after abolition and the colonial ideal of Brazil as a territory that has overcome racism and that there is racial equality between the three races. The data shows how contested this theory is as there are several rights violations that affect black people, especially women and lack of reparation polices to redress this inequality.

Angela Davis, a key author on black feminism focuses her studies on the intrinsic relationship between class and race, rescuing the roots of the slave system in which blacks were seen only as a profit unit, a commodity to be exploited, having an extremely dehumanized life, especially when it comes to black women. From Davis' analysis, we can say that, man's domination over man, since Antiquity, in Mesopotamia, based its class oppression on race, by dominating its aesthetic, economic and political-cultural superiority over those differentiated from them by race and gender.

Sueli Carneiro, a philosopher, writer and activist of the Brazilian black movement and founder and current director of Geledés - Instituto da Mulher Negra argues that racism is embedded in the structural relations in Brazilian society and its resistance has been made through the struggle of the black movement to bring citizenship to black Brazilian people. This movement was given impetus after the IASSW Durban conference (2001), from which several public policies were created, and governmental actions were spearheaded to combat racism, such as SINAPIR (National System for the Promotion of Racial Equality) and others.

Racism today

In Brazil, before this date, the Citizen Constitution of 1988 prioritized the social rights of black people and the following year (1989), the Lei Caó defined racism as an unspeakable crime. However, this law was insufficient to promote a status of racial equality in Brazilian society, and the black movement, led mainly by black women, actively participated in the Durban Conference (which had as its main merit the awareness of the myth of racial democracy). From the point of view of combating racism, the policies and initiatives that were adopted in the Lula and Dilma governments that came after the Durban Conference (2001), in South Africa was a significant development. Measures to combat racism such as: creation of SEPPIR (Secretariat for Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality), PNPIR (National Policy for the Promotion of Racial Equality),were all introduced in 2003. Further, Affirmative Action policies were adopted and, in 2010, the Racial Equality Statute was created, and quota policies were adopted, especially for vacancies in public universities. Author Sarita Amaro (2015) analyzes the positive impacts of affirmative action in Brazil, emphasizing the quota policy on access to higher education, which is one of the main and most effective policies to combat structural racism in the country. Indeed she argues that the positive impacts of affirmative action in Brazil, especially those that emphasize the quota policy on access to higher education is regarded as one of the main and most effective policies to combat structural racism in the country.

Affirmative action policies emerge to repair gaps left by slavery in the country, which left blacks to fend for themselves without any policy that would insert them into society. According to Sarita:

The premises of affirmative action are the recognition that historically excluded segments, due to culturally ingrained prejudices, should receive different treatment in the promotion of social justice since without this they are deprived of effective citizenship that is perpetuated and constitutionally guaranteed. (AMARO, 2015 p.100). The 21st century is marked by several conquests for the black population, but also by several tragedies caused by police violence, whose brutality caused the death of men like George Floyd (murdered by a policeman in Minneapolis in the United States) and whose death resulted in a wave of protests in the country and in the world. Similarly, in Brazil, on July 12, a black woman had her head trampled by a military police officer in the south of São Paulo. This is one example of the violent actions that explains how the Brazilian military police operate (with immunity) as apparatus of the racist and authoritarian state.

George Floyd's death
25 May 2020

Although in Brazil, the genocide of young blacks affects mostly men, it still has dire impact on black women whose lives are marked by the fear of losing their children, partners and family members because of racial violence. We can conclude that the lives of these women are closely linked to loneliness and fear, and this type of psychological violence is yet another facet of racism.

In this respect, the data produced by the Atlas of Violence (2018) updated the scenario of racial inequality in terms of lethal violence in Brazil and revealed that the risk of a young black man being a victim of homicide in Brazil is 2.7 times greater than that of a young white man. The Brazilian Public Security Yearbook of 2015 and 2016 shows that, of the number of deaths as result of police action, 76.2% are black.

The conclusion is that racial inequality in Brazil is expressed in a crystalline way with regard to lethal violence and security policies. Blacks, especially young black men, are the most frequent homicide profile in Brazil, being much more vulnerable to violence than non-black youth. In turn, blacks are also the main victims of police lethal action and the predominant profile of the prison population in Brazil. In order for us to reduce lethal violence in the country, it is necessary that these data are taken into account and subject to deep reflection. It is based on evidence such as these that effective violence prevention policies must be designed and focused, guaranteeing the effective right to life and security for the black population in Brazil. (IPEA, 2018, p. 40-41).

The fear of losing family members, due to police violence, reveals an awareness of the dimension that racism they are exposed to. This phenomenon expresses the level of alienation in which the black population in general is immersed: whites with their apparatus of power, in capitalist societies, feel “owners” not only of the product or of the workers' work process, but feel like owners of the very life of the black people. It is an attempt to update the mentality and practices of slavery. It is the mentality that prevails among emperors such as Leopoldo II of Belgium who committed such atrocities and cruelties with blacks in the Congo, who went from cutting off the hands of black children to opening holes in the lips of black people to put locks there.

These acts reveal the extent of alienation that a police act involves, to the point of murdering a person, or carrying out a massacre in a slum or isolated community, randomly murdering black and poor people, justifying their actions by saying that it is an action against drug trafficking. It is worth examining the meaning of actions and what goes through the subjectivity of these policemen. We believe that this mechanism expresses the intentionality and the need for power over the other, from man over man, the need to feel superior and to have the power and control over the lives of others. This is not an expression of a natural instinct for dominance, but it is apprehended by the training process received, through ideology, which spreads discrimination and demonization to the point of justifying the action of dominance over the other that characterizes capitalist society. In reality, these are theories elaborated by organic intellectuals of the bourgeoisie to legitimize their false superiority and the need to subjugate in order to institutionalize the practice of prejudice and discrimination that materialize in the form of murder. Among these theories, the Hobbesian of the Leviathan State and the imposition of violence stand out as if it were necessary to maintain order and avoid the war of all against all. In order to subdue someone, it is necessary to humiliate them to the extreme, make them lose their identity, make them suffer to the point of losing the taste for life, so domination is installed and institutionalized for others who, by watching the suffering of those who suffer, can take two actions: submit to domination or be indignant and react with dignity to that demeaning act.

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Protest of mothers in Goiania - Brazil

It is in this perspective, that black women decided to protest to prevent this abominable act from continuing, to denounce its illegality, its wickedness and antiquity, its absurdity. Brazilian and North American black women protest, in marches, such as those that took place in Minneapolis, USA, Goiânia and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to give visibility to the monstrosity of acts of suffocation, massacres, invasions of households, finally the extermination of black people. They shout “Black lives matter” because they want to make their fellow citizens see the perversity of racism, Nazism and fascism that underlie the racist practices of police officers and the discriminatory acts of far-right governments. With this slogan, the Brazilian Social Work is in solidarity with black women against racism, against false assumption of Brazilian racial democracy and it allies itself with affirmative action policies to make everyone see that the life of blacks belongs to every black and not be vulnerable to gestures of cruelty by white people or the ideology of white supremacy. “Black lives matter” and more than that: black lives belong to black men and women who have the right to live and to live without the specter of the threat of death motivated by racism or color prejudice.

Alexandra Mustaf is a Social worker, has a PhD in philosophy from the Salesian University of Rome, is a Professor in the Department of Social Service at the Federal University of Pernambuco - UFPE, is a Coordinator of GEPE - Group for Studies and Research on Ethics and a Member Large at IASSW.

Luanna de Cássia Melo is a student of the Social Work course at the Federal University of Pernambuco - UFPE, a Scientific Initiation Researcher at GEPE, and member of the Global Agenda discussion forum for IASSW.


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Davis, A., Mulheres Raça e Classe. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2016.
El país. As mães ‘órfãs’ de filhos que o Estado levou. 08 de julho de 2019.  Disponível em: brasil.elpais.com/brasil/2019/06/10/politica/ ... 1560155313_626904.html?fbclid=IwAR20q84qBy_bPTxCTspmSkeBDLC3p4x3-t0Mg9yqhLzQQsrSgxEZd04sP6k> . Acesso em: 24 Set. 2020 
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