- Our Issues, Our StrugglesA Conversation Between Activists Daniela Gomes and Janaya Khan
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Janaya Khan, the Canadian co-founder of Black Lives Matter–Toronto, and Daniela Gomes, a São Paulo-based journalist and scholar, are part of the same fight to end anti-black racism. They’re just doing it some 5,000 miles apart in different countries and languages. But in their conversation with each other, it became clear that they face many of the same challenges.
The campaign to assert black lives matter in Canada, whose black population makes up less than 3 percent of the country’s total, might seem different from the movement to end “black genocide” in Brazil, where the black population holds a slim majority.
Yet both countries have constructed naïve national narratives: “Things are better here, because they’re not as bad as the States … because there was no formal law segregating black folks from everyone else, that, suddenly, it’s better,” Khan explained, echoing earlier statement from Gomes.
In both Canada and Brazil, black rights activists are struggling to change the fact, as Khan put it, that “how America treats its black population is still considered the moral compass of the world.”
In opposing these notions, Khan and Gomes highlight the importance of activists, artists, scholars, and others in helping communities learn about their countries’ history of violence against black bodies. Khan mentioned the book Hanging with Angélique about the execution of a 29-year-old Canadian slave. To this day, many Canadians think of their country as a “racial haven” at the end of the Underground Railroad—totally unaware of their own histories of slavery.
Both Khan, who has toured the U.S. speaking at universities, and Gomes, who is pursuing her Ph.D. in African and African diaspora studies at University Texas, Austin, work across borders to ensure the struggle against anti-black racism is worldwide. “Globalized resistance,” Khan said, “is more likely than ever.” [End Page 47]
I did some research on movements that have been happening in Afro-Brazil, and I realize that so much is not accessible because of the language barrier. I just wanted to tease that out a bit, because there’s such a high level of political consciousness amongst Afro-Brazilians and a long history of struggle. The majority of people I know in North America don’t really get that Brazil has the largest population of black people outside of Africa. I wanted to know more about how you see the struggle of Afro-Brazil in relation to the rest of the world and how language barriers impact that or not.
Yes, thank you, Janaya, for your question. Brazil has the second-largest population of people of African descent in the world. First is Nigeria, second is Brazil. We are more than 100 million people, around 52 or 53 percent of Brazil’s total population in the country. Our history of diaspora and enslavement is similar to other diasporas, but the difference is that, one, Brazil was the last country in the world to eliminate slavery. Our ancestors were enslaved here until 1888. The second thing that is different in Brazil is the way the racial thought was constructed. The first period was constructed to whiten the country after abolition. They encouraged European immigration to mix the population so there were no black people anymore. Then, after an initial period, it was like, “OK, now we are all mixed. There is no racism in this country.”
It all happened at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, and this mentality is still noticeable in the country. People still say there is no racism. Black people, too, deny racism.
And how do those things implicate the political reality now for black people? What are the key points in Afro-Brazilian movements right now? Is it police brutality? Is it mass incarceration?
Brazil is a huge country, so we don’t have a single subject that is the focus for everyone. We...