Black Lives AbroadEncounters of Diasporic Solidarity in Brazil
From the pacification of favela communities in Rio de Janeiro to the heavily militarized police presence in Ferguson, Black citizens in Brazil and the United States must constantly assert why our lives matter. In what way does the common struggle for our humanity work to create community and solidarity among Black-identified individuals of diverse national origins? What happens when Black people encounter the suffering of other Black populations? In what ways does Black solidarity abroad open the possibility of an international Movement for Black Lives? Through a comparative analysis of the state of Black citizenship in Brazil and the United States, based on fieldwork observations, autoethnographic reflections, and interviews, I argue that the transnational vertigo of violence can connect local Black experiences with patterns seen across the diaspora, inspire sentiments of solidarity among disparate communities, and serve as a basis for a worldwide Movement for Black Lives.
I am not only a casualty, I am also a warrior.—Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider
For this very reason, when we fight for our rights, we fight alongside those who, all over the world, suffer the same discrimination, and whose grandfathers are our own: The victims of the greatest holocaust ever to occur in the history of mankind, the chattel slavery of Africans, which counted more than two hundred and twenty million victims.—Abdias do Nascimento, Africans in Brazil
I am Black. I am a Black woman. I am a Black woman from New Orleans, Louisiana, in the United States, but for several months, I have been living in Salvador, Bahia, in Brazil, conducting research about Afro-Brazilian percussion. It's nightfall as I walk back to my host family's house after an evening drumming lesson with my host father at his music shop. It is dark, but streetlights illuminate the narrow cobblestone roads as I journey home alone.
I have almost arrived at my destination. I start to turn down an alleyway. I hear yelling and spot two military police officers towering over a man curled up on the ground in front of the doorway to a bright yellow building. They continuously strike him with their nightsticks. Like me, he, too, is Black; unlike me, he is bloody and bruised. A third officer stands apart, keeping watch. This is my first time coming face-to-face with the visceral reality of police brutality; it's much worse than bearing witness through a screen.
I know that assault is wrong. I want to do something to help the man, but instead I just stand there at the end of the street—overwhelmed with [End Page 831] emotion, paralyzed, terrified—trapped in an act of participant-observation unlike any other. This man could be me. I am Black; I am a social scientist; I know the statistics. Brazil's police have killed more people in the last five years than police in the United States have over the past thirty years; seventy percent of their victims were Black, young, and impoverished ("Brazilian Police Kill 6 People a Day"). I could easily become a victim too. I remember the warning of my host aunt, a Black woman originally from São Paulo who had lived in Chicago for twenty years: "You look like any other nigger in the street." The police strike first and ask questions later. Blackness supersedes all else. My foreignness will not protect me. Shaken, I back away and find another street to take home. I never learned whether the man survived.
During the ten months in 2013 and 2014 I spent conducting ethnographic research in Brazil, I witnessed countless instances of police brutality—in the street and on television. Widespread protests and violence against Black bodies throughout the summer of 2014, both in the United States and Brazil, made it difficult to know whether I was at home or abroad. Moments like the one described above induced what anthropologist Christen A. Smith refers to as the "transnational vertigo of violence," or the dizzying combination of terror and sadness of being Black and witnessing the common experience of violence in a different national context. Through the lens of citizenship and the transnational vertigo of violence, this article explores the intangible affinity cultivated among persons of African descent within the larger narratives of anti-Black violence in Brazil and the United States and its potential to inspirit a global movement for Black lives.
There is a seemingly never-ending struggle for humanity faced by individuals throughout the African diaspora. The cases of the US and Brazil are particularly notable. The state of race relations in Brazil has long been compared and contrasted with that of the United States. Brazil has been applauded for its supposed racial democracy, the belief that Brazil has escaped racism because of perceived racial integration and the plethora of unstigmatized racial categories in everyday life. However, Afro-Brazilian scholar, artist, and civil rights leader Abdias do Nascimento claims this racial democracy is a myth, asserting that, "the color of our skin, in all its varied and sundry shades, functions only as a badge of our African origin, the root of our identity. Mulato, cafuso, negro, escurinho, moreno: all the famous euphemisms converge towards this identity, which the ruling elites in Brazil have always tried to disclaim" (71). Structural racism, socioeconomic discrimination, and racialized police violence have and continue to play just as significant of a role in Brazil as they do in the United States, if not more so.1 Although there are substantial differences between the US and Brazil, the similarities are profound, considering [End Page 832] the ubiquitous denial of racism and blatant disregard for Black life in both countries. Fifty-one percent of the Brazilian population identifies as preto (Black/dark-skinned) or pardo (brown/multiracial), while African-Americans only make up approximately thirteen percent of the US population (IBGE). In both nations, Blacks are three times more likely than whites to die from police violence (see Buehler; Oliveira).
Brazil's Black population is concentrated in the north and northeast regions. In Salvador, a city known as "A Roma Negra" (The Black Rome), 76.3 percent of the population self-identifies as preto or pardo (IBGE). This means that more than three-quarters of the population of Salvador is also targeted for large-scale state violence. Every year, 77 percent of the thirty thousand young Brazilians who die from violence are negro (Black, denoting the conglomeration of the preto and pardo categories) and 93 percent of those thirty thousand murdered are male (Waiselfisz 9). While a portion of these deaths is related to drug trafficking and other criminal activity, many deaths are a direct result of police brutality; such cases go unsolved and unreported. Silvia Ramos, coordinator at the Center for Security Studies and Citizenship at Candido Mendes University, warns that unfortunately, "Na medida em que o perfil das vítimas de homicídios fica mais negro, mais pobre e mais nordestino, a tendência é que a indiferença e a naturalização aumentem" [As the profile of homicide victims continues to be Blacker, poorer, and more northeastern, there is a tendency for indifference and naturalization to increase] (Trevisan). From the pacificação (pacification, meaning subjection to oppressive, military police control) of favela communities in Rio de Janeiro to the heavily militarized police presence in Ferguson, Black citizens in Brazil and the United States must constantly assert why our lives matter.
Throughout my time in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador between 2013 and 2014, I conducted one-on-one interviews, carried out participant-observation, and engaged in what anthropologist Clifford Geertz refers to as "deep hanging out." Additionally, I took lessons in Afro-Brazilian percussion with a local drumming master, volunteer-taught a dance workshop series at a grassroots nonprofit community organization in one of Salvador's peripheral neighborhoods, and, through photography, documented protests, regional festivals, performances, and public gatherings during World Cup games.
My identity as a Black woman of African-American and Bahamian heritage from New Orleans—as well as my Portuguese fluency—determined the spaces I could access and the way people treated me in Brazil. To a certain extent, I was invisible, an "outsider within" (Collins). Born and raised in one of [End Page 833] the world's diasporic capitals, I matured in a city that constantly grapples with its legacy of colonialism. There, the deep-seeded ancestral trauma of Africans in the Americas incessantly swells beneath a cracking veneer of carnivalesque celebration, which survives by capitalizing on the genius of Black cultural production. That is to say, the local context of New Orleans undoubtedly informed my ability to move through the local context of Salvador with some familiarity. When paired together, my Blackness and my Portuguese fluency erroneously marked me as a member of the community whose musical practices I was studying. Until I disclosed my country of origin and Afro-Caribbean roots, I easily passed as Afro-Brazilian.
Though my passing began as misrecognition, I soon realized the benefit of intentionally choosing to do so. I have chosen to use the word "passing" to reimagine what many social scientists refer to as "going native," because it encapsulates the particular way my skin color and upbringing allowed me to navigate space in Brazil with unexpected ease. Furthermore, it speaks to the ways in which Brazilians related to me and oftentimes claimed me as kin, saying I possessed uma alma brasileira. Perhaps my informants' belief that my soul was Brazilian speaks to a larger, shared Black experience not limited by borders—an innate sense of connection linked to the color of our skin, the suffering of our ancestors, and our common struggles in the present.
In an interview following the weekly dance workshop I led at a community center in Salvador, the founder, Ubiratan Assis, commented,
Our roots are very strong. When you have a person, you [Maris] for example, who came from the United States and teaches dance class, when you are dancing with the girls it seems like you are from Bahia. … There is a gingado [swagger], a jeito [way of being], that's different and belongs to us. This is good. I've seen other [non-Black visitors] teach dance classes. There isn't that energy. There isn't that thing we have in our bodies.
I was part of an "us," and consequently my informants were more willing to share their stories with me during interviews and eager to know about parallels in my life experience in the US.
In the United States, racial passing has a particularly fraught history that does not exist in Brazil, where individuals are categorized phenotypically into a multitude of color categories rather than by ancestry. Nevertheless, colorism is prevalent in both countries. As a lighter-skinned Black American, I was endlessly frustrated when my host mother in Rio de Janeiro would make comments like, "Se passasse menos tempo tomando sol, você poderia ser mais clara" [if you spent less time in the sun, you could be fairer], or when the doorman to our building would refer to me as the moreninha (little brown [End Page 834] girl) as if calling me Black would be offensive, even after I repeatedly declared "Eu sou negra" [I am Black].
During my time in Brazil, the color of my skin functioned much like a hall pass in school, permitting me access to spaces from which my Americanness would have otherwise excluded me. Being read as Afro-Brazilian afforded me certain allowances. I was never harassed in the way that many of my white American colleagues were. Subsequently, I could venture into more "dangerous" (read: impoverished, non-white) areas without fear of attracting unwanted attention with my foreignness.
However, I also experienced racism and discrimination in ways that my white American counterparts did not. One afternoon, while waiting to meet a friend at an upscale hotel in the Zona Sul of Rio de Janeiro, my Blackness identified me as other. Despite being well dressed, I was being watched. Several staff members came to ask if they could help me. I politely responded in Portuguese that I was waiting for a friend. Black women in high-end establishments are often perceived as sex workers; this idea is so pervasive that my host mother asked that I not invite my platonic male friends upstairs in our Copacabana apartment for fear that the neighbors might gossip. To be Black is to be constantly surveilled. Though hotel staff continued to watch me with unease, I was not asked to leave. When my white, Brazilian-American friend arrived and we began speaking in English, I could feel the tension in the room ease. This kind of subtle racism gave me a glimpse into the everyday experiences of Afro-Brazilians. Yet they did not have the possibility of pulling the "foreign Black card." When navigating situations like this one, when I felt targeted because of my race, I always had the option to invoke my identity as a university-educated, native English speaker, and an American to approximate whiteness and gain access to a higher social status in a way I never would be able to at home.
Black bodies bear trauma intergenerationally and transnationally. With that in mind, this article provides a comparative overview of the state of Black citizenship in Brazil and the United States and seeks to address the following questions: in what way does the common struggle for our humanity work to create community and solidarity among Black-identified individuals of diverse national origins? What happens when Black people encounter the suffering of other Black populations? In what ways does Black solidarity abroad open the possibility of an international Movement for Black Lives?
To answer the aforementioned questions, this article employs autoethnographic analysis based on experiences I garnered while conducting fieldwork on Afro-Brazilian cultural activism in Brazil. It also draws on interviews with Afro-Brazilian informants completed during and after fieldwork. While [End Page 835] ethnography provides a detailed description of a people and place, and oral histories allow informants to voice their own stories, life writing opens space for a more fluid and reflective conversation between researcher and interlocutor—a way for narratives that are usually kept separate to interlock and form a more intuitive, complete account. Because of my personal stake in Black liberation, it became imperative to weave these narratives together and tell a collective story, one that is irrefutably ours.
I begin this article by discussing the unequal realities of Brazilian citizenship and state violence against afrodescendentes (the descendants of Africans). Moreover, I explore the history of parallel movement building in the United States and Brazil through the voices of some of my informants. I specifically focus on the movimento negro (Black movement) and the influence of the African-American civil rights movement on the re-Africanization movement in Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s, in addition to more contemporary organizing efforts. Over the course of this paper, I reflect on my experience in Salvador following the death of Michael Brown and discuss the emergence of the Movement for Black Lives in Brazil through solidarity protests, social media, and the founding of Vidas Negras Importam in Salvador, within the context of existing resistance to police violence. Finally, I argue that the transnational vertigo of violence can connect local Black experiences with patterns seen across the diaspora, inspire sentiments of solidarity among disparate communities, and serve as a basis for a worldwide Movement for Black Lives. I posit that these points of connection can be observed both in face-to-face interactions and within the realm of social media.
brazilian citizenship and state violence
Whether in protest or celebration, people filled the streets of Salvador throughout the summer of 2014. The atmosphere surrounding the World Cup was both tense and electric. Brazilians and foreigners alike huddled in front of television screens, bathed in a blue-grey glow as they watched broadcasts of the games. The night of the Brazil-Colombia match, I found myself standing outside of my drumming teacher's shop looking through the windowpane; he had propped a television in the window for passersby to watch the soccer match as they crowded the cobblestone streets of Pelourinho, the historic city center. The neighborhood was named for the whipping post in its central plaza where enslaved Africans were publicly punished. That day, those same streets were a sea of yellow with crests of green. Streamers fluttered in the wind, and every time Brazil scored a goal, firecrackers whistled and crackled as they whizzed toward the sky. Everyone was yelling their support, encouragement, and disappointment when not a single goal was made [End Page 836] on either side. Hands were thrown up in distress, and the public groaned in unison. Neymar, Marcelo, and Fred were among the names shouted loudest, as if the players might hear the frustration of their exasperated fans. I joined in the collective swing. Black faces of different sizes, shapes, colors, and ages surrounded me, and I felt at home. In that moment, I was glad to feel settled after being anxious for so long about doing fieldwork in Brazil; being Black is not easy there—or anywhere.
Despite the festive air created by the cheering fans and the booming reverberation of Olodum, one of the oldest and most famous blocos afros [socially engaged, Afro-Brazilian percussion groups], the legacy of dehumanization by means of physical violence persisted. Midway through the second half of the game, everyone around me looking at the television screen started to shy away from a sudden outburst of movement offscreen. I turned to see what was going on, and I saw a group of military police beating people with nightsticks. I shied away, too. Within minutes, everyone's attention was drawn back to the screen. A while later, the cycle repeated. Black and brown bodies streamed into the Largo do Pelourinho through a security checkpoint controlled by the officers. To be Black is to require permission to enter public space. Every person darker than a brown paper bag—essentially anyone who was not a white tourist—was stopped at the checkpoint. The darkest of the young men were frisked with their hands held captive behind their heads by the hands of a military police officer standing behind them. Their legs were kicked open so that they were spread more than shoulder width apart. From this position, the officers could force them to contort their spines in any direction using the young men's restrained hands as they aggressively felt over their captives' clothes, roughed up the area around their crotches, and dug into their pockets, supposedly checking for weapons and drugs. Hordes of young men lined up relatively patiently to receive the same treatment. This checkpoint was only a few feet away from where I stood watching the game with my host family. No one around me reacted to the violating searches. It was as if they were as mundane a sight as someone walking a dog—as if state violence against Black citizens' bodies is the norm, the status quo, and socially acceptable.
Citizenship can be defined as the legal status of membership in a state with shared civil, political, and social rights and duties, dependent upon a sense of belonging to a greater community with a shared heritage. As a concept, citizenship can be considered a universal ideal—universal in the sense that everyone has access to citizenship and should experience citizenship in the same way. However, Abdias do Nascimento asserts that access to citizenship depends on one's skin color rather than one's legal status, saying, "the abolition of slavery did little or nothing to return the citizenship that the [End Page 837] regime of chattel slavery stole from us along with our very humanity. On the contrary, the living conditions imposed on African Brazilians after the 'Golden Law' of abolition stripped us of our citizenship for the second time" (73). Citizenship is often negotiated. Despite the enduring myth that racial democracy in Brazil grants all citizens equal rights and opportunities, for Afro-Brazilians the discordance between the ideals and realities of democratic citizenship in Brazil persists.
In his article "A questão da cidadania num universo relacional," Brazilian anthropologist Roberto da Matta asserts that citizenship in Brazil is partial and contingent—constantly in flux. The degree to which an individual's rights are respected heavily depends on their social status in relation to that of others in that instance. From da Matta's perspective, Brazilian citizenship is inundated with multiple, incongruous meanings and practices, which give rise to the "relational" citizen (75–83). The relational citizen's rights are determined by the power dynamics present in any given situation and the assumptions made about the bodies involved. There is a Brazilian adage dating back to the Old Republic circa 1900 that says: "Aos amigos, tudo; aos inimigos, a lei" [Everything for friends; for enemies, the law]. The existence of relational citizenship suggests that it is less about what the law says and more about who one is in relation to the law, its creators, and its enforcers. Individuals of African descent experience this reality most strongly. While laws are used to oppress and infringe upon the rights of Black citizens, the state's legitimacy is rarely questioned.
In 1988, exactly one hundred years after abolishing slavery with the Lei Aurea, Brazil promulgated its seventh constitution. Unlike the laws that governed the country during the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, this document delineates the rights and responsibilities of a Brazilian citizen, regardless of their social status, color, ethnicity, or religion. Undoubtedly, it projects the citizenship ideal. However, the existence of racialized police checkpoints in public space, like the one described earlier, illustrates that citizenship theory and citizenship practice are entirely different things for marginalized communities in Brazil—afrodescendente, Indigenous, impoverished, or otherwise. The discrepancy between theory and practice of citizenship is rooted in structural inequality, a condition in which a group of people is perpetually ascribed an unequal status in relation to another more dominant group. This bias is built into the structure of institutions and limits the subordinate group's access to opportunities for social mobility and most of the rights guaranteed to citizens. In Brazil, structural inequality is inseparable from systematic, and often invisible, racism. [End Page 838]
Afro-Brazilians' civil rights are regularly infringed upon. Most favela communities I visited in Rio de Janeiro have been pacificado (pacified) and remain occupied by Pacifying Police Units. More recently, residents were forced from their homes to make room for construction for the World Cup and Olympic Games and to hide the rampant poverty from visitors. Murders and other violent crimes, committed by drug traffickers and police officers alike, often remain uninvestigated and unsolved. Fearing for their lives is commonplace for Afro-Brazilian citizens as they deal with police brutality. While political rights are technically assured through compulsory voting, afrodescendentes tend not to benefit from laws passed by politicians who occupy the upper echelons of society. Additionally, social rights are few and far between. While government-sponsored racial quotas in universities and welfare programs like "Bolsa Família" seek to supplement the income of impoverished families and improve their access to education and public health, many Afro-Brazilians continue to live far below the poverty line. Possession of citizenship does not eliminate social inequalities, nor does it guarantee justice. The situation of Afro-Brazilians indicates that, despite the idealism of universality associated with citizenship, access to its various aspects is proportional to the quantity of melanin in one's skin and one's socioeconomic status.
Because Brazilian society is relational, the citizenship ideal disrupts a system of mérito pessoal (personal merit)—where people believe they deserve to be treated a certain way because of status—and creates an undesirable level of equality. Mérito pessoal greatly influences how one is treated in day-to-day interactions, especially if an individual can show they have powerful friends. In a relational society, if a person is unknown or cannot demonstrate a superior status, they are perceived as worthless. Their access to rights and resources is immediately limited. Subsequently, individuals of African descent must prove why their lives matter.
In an idealized version of democracy, all citizens would feel that they could count on representatives of state authority to protect them. However, as da Matta points out, in a relational society, a hierarchy of citizenship exists along a color gradient and on a scale of social class. Indeed, in the last decade, Brazil has gotten safer for white people: "homicides among whites have decreased 24 percent. But among the Black population they have increased 40 percent" (Garcia-Navarro). An individual's perceived race and socioeconomic status determine how they will be treated. Blackness is associated with poverty and criminal activity, and this normalized association directly impacts the exercise of police power. As a result, Afro-Brazilians are more likely than any other group to be assaulted by the police, and a close analysis of the relational and regulated nature of citizenship in Brazil, combined with the attitudinal [End Page 839] dispositions of actors within the criminal justice system, suggest that Afro-Brazilians are likely to benefit from fewer protections than their white counterparts (Mitchell and Wood 1001).
Wave after wave of popular uprisings over the past several years indicate that Brazilians are frustrated with the existence of longstanding inequities. In June 2013, shortly after I arrived in Brazil to start my fieldwork, nationwide protests began. These demonstrations stemmed from public outcry regarding the public transportation fare increase. Yet they evolved to incorporate the dissatisfaction with public services guaranteed by the constitution, including public health and public education, in addition to calling for an end to racism and homophobia. Crowds of fed-up Brazilians of all colors and classes filled the streets in each of the country's major cities. While demonstrators sought to voice their frustrations, they did so knowing that those in positions of power "continue to use the implied threat of immediate and exaggerated violence to maintain a precious order—order defined by them and conducive to them, and order often defiled by them" (Rose 7). Expectedly, the state responded with force. In the name of ordem e progresso (order and progress), the words written on the Brazilian flag, the military police fired tear gas, stun grenades, and both rubber and real bullets into the crowds, blatantly infringing on citizens' right to protest peacefully. Anti-police brutality demonstrations have received similar responses.
Although I had no direct interaction with the police, as a Black woman moving through the streets of Brazil I felt more threatened by their presence than protected. One afternoon in Salvador after my percussion lesson, a man walking the opposite direction said to me, "Tá em guerra menina, não vá!" [It's war, girl, don't go!]. The Batalhão de Choque had arrived and was headed to meet protesters in Campo Grande, where I hoped to catch my bus home. I walked on. I refused to live in a state of constant fear; nevertheless, my host aunt's warning was always in the back of my mind. The closer I got to the main square, the more military police I saw amassing on foot with rifles and shields at their sides, lining the streets on motorbikes, sitting on the backs of pickup trucks in full battalion gear, and flooding out of camouflaged armored buses wearing helmets, bulletproof vests, and what appeared to be a standard-issue, tight-lipped grimace. Indeed, it seemed like I had walked out of my music class and into a war—one where protest warranted violent state suppression.
In Brazil, the word cidadão (citizen) is directly connected to the relational nature of citizenship proposed by da Matta. The term cidadão can be used to refer to an unknown individual with whom the speaker has no relation, and denotes that person's insignificance in the world—in other words, [End Page 840] a person without rights (Holston 4). This term tends to be invoked by persons in positions of power and carries undertones of race and class as those occupying the subordinate position are usually impoverished Afro-Brazilians. Too often, I saw young Afro-Brazilian men stopped by police who had yelled "Ei cidadão!" and then physically assaulted the men. Using the word cidadão here is a mechanism to verbally strip away a person's humanity and thrust upon them the egalitarian quality of "citizenship"—it is much easier to violate someone's rights if they do not have an identity.
What's more, in Brazil "institutionalized racism expresses itself in such a way as to blame the victim for the violence inflicted upon them" (Trevisan). Thus, to justify the lethal violence caused by police, innumerable cases of civilian deaths involving officers are labeled autos de resistência (death caused by resisting arrest) or resitência seguida de morte, em comfronto, em legítima defesa (resistance followed by death from confrontation, self-defense). These controversial categories allow police killings to be classified as suicides and do not account for the death squads of off-duty officers carrying out vigilante-style executions (Smith 384). Though the constitution assures the right to not be treated in a degrading or dehumanizing manner, one could argue that the use of the word cidadão and the targeted police violence demonstrate a violation of this right. The level of impunity enjoyed by the military police is astounding, and justice is scarce. To quote one of my informants, Joselito Crispim dos Santos de Assis: "We are a violated community; we are not a violent community."
These themes of marginalization and anti-Black state violence appear in Michael Jackson's controversial song "They Don't Care about Us," for which he recorded two music videos directed by Spike Lee. One depicted scenes from a United States prison and was banned; the other incorporated Olodum, a well-known bloco afro, and was filmed in two historically marginalized, Black neighborhoods—the Santa Marta favela in Rio and Pelourinho in Salvador. My drum teacher's music store was located right next to where the Brazil version of "They Don't Care about Us" video was filmed. Every day across the street from the store, a Rastafarian woman named Vitória would sit on the stoop selling artisan jewelry and accessories, many of which she designed using the pan-African colors of red, green, and yellow. While I lived in Salvador, Vitória became a permanent fixture in my mental map of the Pelourinho neighborhood and a person I talked to daily. During the summer of 2014, Vitória would cook meals in the music shop's back patio kitchenette for the block parties that inevitably happened for each of Brazil's World Cup matches. When I offered to help, she opened up to me, and it felt like I was back home cooking with a favorite auntie who made fun of the jeito [End Page 841] americano (American way) I made the vinaigrette salad. In that moment, she went from fixture to friend.
One August evening, not long after Michael Brown's murder, I spent the window of time between percussion lesson and dinner like a true New Orleanian in Bahia: sitting on the stoop, watching the people go by, and chatting with Vitória. During this conversation, Vitória told me about some of the difficulties that she had faced in life. Like many throughout the African diaspora, Vitória has a tenuous relationship with the state and law enforcement due to racial profiling, abuse of power, and corruption. As she crocheted a red, yellow, and green scarf, Vitória recounted how hard she fought to be able to sell her wares on this stoop; most street vendors and artisans are prohibited from staying in one place. The police regularly confiscated or vandalized her wares. Vitória shared how she worked hard to make sure her children had a better life. In the same breath, she told how the police had kidnapped and murdered her nephew the week before. Misidentified as a suspect in the murder of a military police officer, the teenager was picked up near his home. The police had beaten him, shot him to death, and left him to be found in a local landfill. Vitória worried that the same thing could happen to her own children. I sat with her in grief-filled silence.
Her nephew's name was Rangel. His story did not make the news. The officers involved were never charged. The stories of Vitória and Rangel resonated with me so profoundly because they are two of the countless narratives of how Black bodies are undervalued and targeted around the world. Their stories exemplify some of the many ways in which Afro-Brazilians' citizenship rights are infringed upon every day. The complete disregard for the life of Vitória's nephew clearly illustrates the excessive use of violence by the police. In the end, he was a cidadão qualquer, a nobody. While his life held little value to the state, his death was important to his family and friends—their suffering extends beyond that moment of confrontation. As Jackson says, "They don't really care about us," but Rangel's life mattered.
From the physical to the institutional, state violence takes various forms and is experienced to varying degrees by Black Brazilians. As a foreigner of African descent living and learning in Brazil, I could not help but see the similarities with my home country. Sadly, one could substitute "African-American" for "Afro-Brazilian" in almost any of the previous statements, and they would still ring true. Our countries are different, yet our experiences are parallel. I felt the same horrified chills sweep over my body in 2015 when I read that ten-year-old Eduardo de Jesus was shot in the head point blank in the Complexo de Alemão in Rio de Janeiro, and in 2014 when I learned that twelve-year-old Tamir Rice had been murdered for playing with a toy gun in [End Page 842] Cleveland, Ohio. The rage I felt my freshman year when a white student told me that affirmative action was the reason he had been waitlisted was just as strong in my junior year when, while studying abroad in Rio de Janeiro, one of my two Afro-Brazilian classmates told me that a professor told him "with his way of thinking he shouldn't be at the university" in front of the entire class. The unease that I felt passing by a military police post in Brazil was the same as when I was pulled over by the police for the first time in the United States. In her 2014 article "Blackness, Citizenship, and the Transnational Vertigo of Violence," Christen A. Smith writes, "Diasporic realities of anti-Black state violence resonate far beyond national boundaries, constitute the paradox of Black citizenship, and indicate the need to expand our definition of race to also include the affectual economies that produce ourselves as racialized, political subjects" (Smith 386). It is in this space that movements of resistance emerge. In the following section, I explore how identity politics, cultural production, and diasporic solidarity have influenced such movements in Brazil and suggest how they, along with social media and the transnational vertigo of violence, have the power to foster a global movement for Black lives.
movement building, solidarity, and the transnational vertigo of violence
From quilombo (maroon community) defiance during slavery and the first Black newspapers published in the 1910s to the short-lived Frente Negra Brasileira political party in the 1930s and the Movimento Negro Unificado Contra a Discriminação Racial in the 1970s, Brazilians of African descent have a long history of resistance and mobilization. As authoritarianism began to decrease during late the 1970s and early 1980s, following the abertura democrática (democratic opening), there was increased space for the establishment of oppositional movements, as the oppressed struggled for political space, long denied rights, and an end to police violence.
Racial and cultural identity politics in Brazil, which seek to organize people based on group differences in a society that preaches universalizing Brazilianness and the existence of racial democracy, are intrinsically linked to marginalized communities' fight for full citizenship. On the local level, there is evidence suggesting that embracing racial-cultural pride has the potential to mobilize the masses. To redefine civil society, the movimento negro has sought to reconceptualize democracy and citizenship in regard to racial issues, and has called for discussion of the lines that separate quotidian issues and institutionalized power relations. The primary goal of such movements has been to secure social rights and address issues such as racism, inequality in education and employment, land rights, and reproductive health that their [End Page 843] constituencies have traditionally lacked. Despite its goals to unify Afro-Brazilians against racism and structural inequality, state violence, and economic exploitation, the movimento negro is a collection of groups with distinct ideological commitments, but little political coherence, that "suffers from the absence of concrete strategizing and coalition-building" (Hanchard 99).
The limited success of the movimento negro has been attributed to the use of racial identification in a society where racial categories are unstable (Hanchard 132). Those who would be considered Black in the US because of their ancestry fall under the two official census categories of preto and pardo. While straightforward within the context of the Black-white color binary of the United States, governed by the one-drop rule, movements based in identity politics are difficult to foster in Brazil because of its anti-racialist history and the long-term impact of whitening ideology. Given that Brazilians self-identify themselves phenotypically in a variety of ways from marrom bombom (brown bonbon) and canela (cinnamon) to café-com-leite (coffee with milk) and puxa-para-branca (leaning toward white), racial stratification is the norm. Brazil's societal structure—in which racial categories are fluid and whiteness is privileged within the socioracial and socioeconomic hierarchies—discourages people from self-identifying as Black and joining the movimento negro.
Even so, Black transnationalism has greatly influenced Afro-Brazilian activism, through appropriation of symbols and encouragement of groups to build a social movement based on racial identification. The 1991 census boasted a campaign with the slogan: "Não deixe sua cor passar em branco—responda com bom c/senso" [Don't let your color pass for white—respond with good sense/census]. An effort to get more Brazilians with African ancestry to self-identify as Black, the slogan plays on the image of pencil lead darkening the bubble on the presumably white census form—an image that directly contrasts the long history of whitening in the country.
Like his views on using racial identification as an organizing principle for sociopolitical movements, Michael Hanchard's views of using culture as a means to organize around racial identity are equally pessimistic. In Orpheus and Power: The Movimento Negro of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil 1945–1988, Hanchard proposes that the movimento negro has been led away from strategies of political change and more toward symbolic protest and fetishization of Afro-Brazilian culture by its preoccupation with genealogical inquiries and cultural artifacts (99). Yet, in part, it is this focus on racial identity and cultural heritage that has allowed Afro-Brazilians to confront the nationalization of their cultural production and connects them to other diasporic communities. [End Page 844]
In Salvador, Black culture and music have been at the heart of the local struggle for justice for decades. From the 1970s into the 1980s, the process of "re-Africanization," a term first coined by anthropologist Antonio Risério referring to the new affirmation of Black identity, began to develop in Salvador. In this era, Black traditions and institutions were reinterpreted, and symbols from the African diaspora were embraced locally, including the Black Power salute and the Pan-African colors. Blocos afros were at the forefront of this movement, utilizing rhythm as a tool for resistance and creating new strategies for identity-based, collective organizing. Though somewhat naïve in their reliance on picturesque images of Africa, blocos afros dared to engage Africanness and Blackness as a political positioning by using "revitalized ancestral knowledge to shape its resistant ideology" (Sterling 92–93). Black transnationalism also played an important role in the growth of re-Africanization paradigms, especially in the context of the Black Power and civil rights movements in the US and the development of Jamaican reggae. Significantly, the first and most well-known blocos afros, Ilê Aiyê and Olodum, fused international symbols of Blackness with those of local Afro-syncretic religions to create a unique visual and lyrical lexicon that speaks to diasporic belonging and displacement. While "there is no indication that this process [of re-Africanization] goes beyond the 'propaganda' of Carnival" (Afolabi 242), by drawing on these visual aesthetics and musical styles, blocos afros could align themselves with a larger, transnational affirmation of Blackness—an alignment epitomized by Olodum's performance in Michael Jackson's "They Don't Care about Us" music video.
For Afro-Brazilians, a tension exists between inclusion in Brazilian national identity and access to citizenship. Through the means of culture, Afro-Brazilians are purported to be included in the face of the nation. However, the "inclusive" nature of the Brazilian national identity suppresses Blacks' upset with the ambivalence of the system. In his article "'Tradition as Adventure,'" Afro-Brazilian anthropologist Osmundo Pinho asks, how does one "reconcile particularities rooted in ethnic or local traditions and universalism required as the language of modernity and citizenship … how to be at the same time Afro-descendant, modern, and a citizen?" (258). Together with racial politics, Afro-Brazilians have long attempted to use elements of cultural citizenship2 to fight for their rights as citizens, for institutional change, and for justice. The law operates as a significant social force, and the transformation of local sociocultural practice has the power to reshape the meanings of the law. Music has been one of the primary mediums of cultural production through which marginalized communities express grievances and critique the state. Music is participatory when democracy is not. In Salvador, many blocos afros use music [End Page 845] as a starting point to affirm Black identity and encourage community engagement and political activism. Embracing a genre that began in the US, São Paulo has seen the rise of a conscious hip-hop movement denouncing wealth disparities, government corruption, and disadvantages experienced by Afro-Brazilian youth. Even within seemingly apolitical situations, such as Rio's carnival parades or a celebratory performance after a soccer match, Black-identified music specifically "functions as a unifying tool for citizens to assert their claims to citizenship in Brazil" (Jones 2).
The legacy of racial politics in the fight for citizenship in Brazil can be observed in current iterations of the movimento negro. Intrinsically tied to state violence against Black bodies, one example is Reaja ou Será Morto!, which means react or die, or react or be killed. Predating Black Lives Matter by a decade, this Salvador-based campaign began organizing against police brutality, prisons, and death squads, in addition to advocating for reparations for the families of the victims of state violence in 2005. On August 22, 2014, the day after I left Salvador, over fifty-one thousand Brazilians nationwide took to the streets for the campaign's second "Marcha Internacional Contra o Genocídio do Povo Negro" in protest of racial profiling and police violence (Smith 384). Even though this protest was not motivated specifically by Michael Brown's death in the US earlier that month, it does speak to global patterns of anti-Blackness and police violence, which connect local Black experiences to transnational ones.
In the United States, the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) has filled a similar role and has resonated with the movimento negro activists. In the wake of the increase in mass media attention given to police violence against African-Americans, there were several solidarity protests across Brazil. Many were concentrated in Brazil's largest cities and in the northeast region, where the Afro-Brazilian population is concentrated. Most people present at these protests were Black. In São Paulo on December 18, 2014, two thousand people participated in a march called "Ferguson é Aqui! O Povo Negro quer Viver!," which declares that Ferguson is here, and Black people want to live. This march was a direct response to statistics like "between 2009 and 2011, 61% percent of the people killed by the police in São Paulo were preto and pardo, and 77% were between 15 and 29 years old. In 79% of cases, those responsible for their deaths were white police officers" (Vianna). Protests like Ferguson é Aqui build upon the mobilization efforts of Black women fighting for justice after the police murdered their children. Such groups include the Mães de Maio in São Paulo, Mães de Cabula in Salvador, and Mães de Manguinhos and Mães de Costa Barros in Rio de Janeiro, and parallel US-based groups like Mothers of the Movement. [End Page 846]
The connection between M4BL and the movimento negro solidified in 2016. July of that year saw another wave of protests throughout the United States following the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and St. Anthony, Minnesota, respectively. July also brought a delegation affiliated with the M4BL to Rio de Janeiro to meet with local Brazilian organizers fighting the increasing police violence in the city. Between 2013 and 2014, the year Brazil hosted the World Cup, police shooting fatalities increased 40 percent in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The number continued to grow in 2015 as the 2016 Olympic Games drew closer and the need to make the city safe for tourists increased (Waldron). A month before the Olympics were set to begin, activists hoped to use the spectacle to highlight their common struggle for justice and safety for Black communities. Daunasia Yancey, one of the visiting American activists and the founder of the Boston chapter of Black Lives Matter, told the Huffington Post, "the movement that came before and during and after Ferguson has already been intentional about a global struggle and understanding that our freedoms are all tied to each other" (Waldron).
Anti-Black racism is global, but so is solidarity. While some have found hashtagged names of victims of police violence to be reductive, the force of social media in raising awareness about these issues worldwide cannot be denied, especially for millennials. Hashtags like #FergusonToPalestine, #BLM-London, and #BLMToronto illustrate the potential for social media to foster solidarity and amplify the common struggle of geographically dispersed communities. In this vein, Celitá Itas, an anthropology major at the Federal University of Bahia, started #VidasNegrasImportam in Salvador not long after BLM activists visited Rio. In her own words, "the goal is to focus on the lives of Black people that have been claimed in the name of the myth of racial democracy. This myth denies the perspective that there is a political genocide of the Black population occurring" (Dillon).
Many of the friendships I made with Afro-Brazilians both in Brazil and abroad have proven to be an invaluable source of support. While studying abroad in 2013 at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio), a predominantly white institution, I befriended Kellvin de Andrade, a young Afro-Brazilian studying geography. I will never forget my first day of classes at PUC-Rio when Kellvin walked up to me and hugged and kissed me on both cheeks as if we already knew one another. When I asked him what made him greet me, a stranger, this way he said, "é mais do que a minha obrigação receber as minhas irmãs e meus irmãos bem" [It is more than my duty to receive my brothers and sisters well]. With three Black students, our geography class of fifteen was my most diverse; in all my other courses I was [End Page 847] alone. After I left Rio to return to the US, Kellvin and I kept in touch through Facebook. At least once a week, Kellvin posts a status about the casual racism he experiences at his university, as well as Brazil's political unrest and the targeted police violence he observes regularly living in Rio de Janeiro. In a recent Facebook exchange, Kellvin shared his thoughts on the potential for a global movement for Black lives:
For me, Black Lives Matter is an important movement that works against the racism we face and [find] in every part of the [capitalist] structure. Racism, which is not about speech only, but about a political project of global dimensions represented by the prison system and the social division of labor.
In Brazil, it is about reproduction. We can't understand racism in here by the lens of the ones who made us [a] colony. We can't just define white people just as white people if we don't deal with them as Latinos in front of the USA white people like Donald Trump. The same thing for African countries, the ones we don't even see by the mass media or even in the iconic [film] Thirteenth. For me, in Brazil, BLM needs attention because it is not just about being free as Black people from the claws of the government, but being free from a production system that makes our Black lives the main resource for every social relation … lives that can be thrown away if they lose utility. It is not about being a libertarian movement. It must be revolutionary …
When I meet Black people from other countries and somehow we work or study together or just meet for some unspecific reason, I feel happy to see a web of possibility.
Here, Kellvin not only points to the multifaceted nature of racism and its institutions, but also to how subjects are racialized in different ways depending on their national and social context. He asserts that Black lives are commodified, yet what gives him hope is the "web of possibility" that comes into existence in the moment of encounter for Black people, regardless of nationality. Solidarity, then, becomes a tangible resource for collective liberation.
I have cultivated a similar relationship with Iago Hairon Souza, a young Afro-Brazilian climate activist from Salvador, Bahia. Iago and I met in December of 2014 at the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, and immediately bonded over how much we loved Bahia despite its many challenges. Since the conference, we have stayed connected via Facebook. From gossiping about the Rachel Dolezal scandal to conversing grief-stricken about the police execution of twelve young men in the 2015 Cabula Massacre in Salvador, our shared Black identity has brought us closer together over the last three years. Though he is fair enough to pass as white in Brazil, he chooses [End Page 848] not to. In one of our exchanges discussing the implications of the Black Lives Matter movement, Iago wrote:
My father is Black and my mother is white. I am socially white here in Brazil and I have all the privileges associated with this. I enjoy these privileges and my Black friends tell me that I am socially white, so I don't experience color discrimination and it's true. For me, the BLM movement is a movement that denounces and affirms how important it is to be conscious of the fact that prejudice kills and that this prejudice has a color and a race. I know that the contexts of Brazil and the USA are different, but there, as much as here, to be killed by the police, or to suffer discrimination because of the color of one's skin is [a] recurring [issue]. In the Brazilian context, I believe that all the analysis is even more profound. The majority of our population is Black, which isn't reflected, for example, in the job market or in politics. Our inequality also has a color, if you were to analyze our social contexts. Beyond that, because of the myth of racial democracy, it was difficult to speak about topics like racism here in Brazil. It was as if it did not exist and was justified by the fact that we are all mixed, all of our races are mixed together.
I like to understand the contexts of Black people from other countries because of my peculiarity of being socially white and be conscious of my privilege. I am curious by nature and I believe that the more we unite and are conscious of all the social ties that are important for the questions of race and also skin color, we could be part of the solution, creating new perspectives of how to see ourselves and others as well.
As Iago indicates, recognition of racism is a necessary first step in the fight for justice, and solidarity is integral to the foundation of a global movement for Black lives. With his closing thoughts, he hones in on the importance of social ties among individuals across the African diaspora.
When I moved back home to New Orleans in 2016, I found myself thinking often of my time in Brazil and feeling saudade—the untranslatable Portuguese word that encapsulates a profound longing and melancholic nostalgia for something that once was and can never be again. Yet, just as I found echoes of home in Salvador, I encountered pieces of Brazil in New Orleans. In the spring, I began attending a local bate-papo (Portuguese conversation circle) once a week to maintain my language skills. There I met Kelly Quirino, a visiting scholar at Tulane University in the process of finishing her PhD in Communications at the University of Brasília. As two of the three Black people at the bate-papo, Kelly and I inevitably found our way to each other. Over the course of our conversation, we began talking about living in each other's countries and what it means to be Black in the US and Brazil. In a formal interview later, Kelly shared some of her reflections on her experience as an Afro-Brazilian woman living in New Orleans as well as her thoughts about the limitations of a movement for Black lives in Brazil: [End Page 849]
People [are] mobilizing to show that Black lives have value, that we can no longer accept the murders of Black youths as something common or that the State and society don't do anything to change this reality. It is not enough for the families of young people to mourn these deaths. Everyone must do something to prevent [them]. Black Lives Matter's actions in the streets and on social networks are amplifying the voices of a social segment that has been silenced throughout history from saying that we are Black people. The Brazilian context is complex. … Black people die … because of … police violence, but Brazilian society does not admit that this is a racist practice … only the movimento negro denounces these deaths. White people do not show solidarity following the deaths of Blacks. It would be difficult to see a movement like Black Lives Matter in Brazil as it happens in the United States.
It was magical and tragic [living in New Orleans]. The magic was realizing that the Black diaspora creates the possibility of similar cultures. New Orleans is a city very similar to Salvador or Rio de Janeiro. It … breathes music, [it's] cheerful with human warmth. The delicious food, the architecture of the city—all this has the influence of the Black diaspora. … The tragic was encountering a city with a Black majority, with anti-Black racism. I was so moved seeing the Mississippi River and imagining Black people working on the plantations, [my] tears spilled in this river—the same river that overflowed in [Hurricane] Katrina. Seeing Black people suffer, having the worst socioeconomic indicators in New Orleans bothered me a lot. I thought that Black Americans lived better than Black Brazilians. Living in New Orleans showed me that a better place for Blacks to live does not exist. … Brazil and the United States are spaces where racism is structural. They are two bad places for Blacks to live. There are some positive aspects in Brazil for Brazilian Blacks, as there are positive aspects for Black Americans, but the outcome is negative because of racism. It was tragic to see the murder of Eric Harris by a police officer on Monday [the day before] Mardi Gras, and then to see his family protesting demanding justice for the death of another murdered young Black American. I'm a Black woman. … My life story, my social standing as a Black and poor woman made me have solidarity with all people just like me who are in any part of the world.
Kelly's reflections resonated with me in a profound way. In her interview, she understood the echoing of home and ancestral pain that I felt in Salvador and Rio because she herself felt them in New Orleans. For many African-Americans, Brazil is imagined as a utopic space where Black people can exist without the realities of racism. With her words, Kelly easily dispels this illusion as she grapples with the shattering of her own illusions after observing circumstances parallel to those of Black people in her country while living in the US. Ultimately, it is her life story that connects her to other diasporic Africans.
In September of 2017, I attended a fundraiser in New Orleans for a Rio de Janeiro-based nonprofit showcasing different facets of Brazilian culture. [End Page 850] While samba dancing with a friend, I was approached by Hellen Oliveira, a young Afro-Brazilian woman from Riberão Preto, São Paulo, living and working in New Orleans as an au pair. Her first question, "Você é brasileira?," made me laugh out loud. My mind instantly returned to the roda de samba in Rio where I had learned to samba from Afro-Brazilian elders. They, too, had thought I was Brazilian at first, though after noticing how focused I was on watching their feet for guidance, they incredulously asked me the same question, now doubting their initial assumption. Fortunately, my samba moves had improved under their tutelage, and Hellen was impressed. We kept sambando (samba dancing) together for the rest of the evening, and at the end of the event she told me that back in Brazil she had been quite involved with the movimento negro. Hellen confided in me that though she had been living in New Orleans for a few months, she missed spending time with other Black people. I invited her to an event just for Black women, and we have kept in touch ever since. When I asked her about her understanding of the movement for Black lives and her experience living in New Orleans, she shared the following:
For me, the BLM movement means liberation and primarily struggle so that all can be seen and have equal rights. In Brazil the rate of genocide is frightening. It is not easy to be Black and on the periphery in such a racist country. Blacks are killed simply for being Black and beyond "normal" racism we also need to deal with the police. Just as in the United States, we are always accosted. That is why the movements that fight for our rights are so important. The world needs to understand that Black lives matter, and that we are tired of white supremacy and this whole structure that was created to make our lives difficult.
Whenever I can, I participate in Black movements, whether cultural or protests, in search of some of the rights that have been stolen from us. Beyond being militant in the streets I think it is very important that you do this in your backyard as well. Lifting up a Black friend … or talking about racism to your white friends. This struggle must be lived daily, not only in the streets. … We Blacks have had our self-esteem stolen and our capacity questioned, so for me besides protesting in the streets we must also motivate and strengthen the Black people around us. If we encourage each other, we will win together.
Coming to the United States made me … very scared of experiencing some sort of prejudice, even coming from a super racist country like Brazil and knowing that a large part of the population in New Orleans is Black. To live here was to see "Black American" life up close; here we see many high profile Black people, but the situation of poverty is still bigger, exactly as it is in Brazil and that made me a little sad. … I feel a lot of empathy and sometimes I feel that I could be living the same thing for the simple fact of being Black. [End Page 851]
There is no single way to experience Blackness, but anti-Black sentiment manifests itself everywhere. During my time in Brazil, I often recorded personal reflections in my field notes. The day I learned of Michael Brown's murder I wrote the following:
Although I am appalled and terrified by what is happening back home, I am far from surprised. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in. Since coming to Brazil, I've heard so many stories of violence against Black bodies at the hands of the police force. I've seen people bullied by military police officers in full battle regalia as they tried to watch a soccer game. Everyone in the street, including myself, was tear-gassed. Not two weeks ago, my friend's nephew was kidnapped, killed, and left in a ditch on the side of the road by the police. I see no difference in what's happening here in Salvador and at home. Apparently, there is no place for Black people. Solidarity is a must. No justice, no peace. This isn't happening in a vacuum.
I remember feeling consumed with sadness and rage, helpless, split in two—filled with an overpowering sense of belonging and displacement. I experienced a deep depression while living in Brazil, a country marketed so heavily as a "happy" place that I felt guilty about the state of my mental health. This depression stemmed from constantly being asked to conform to white ideals, as well as the prevalence of Black death all around me. I regularly recall when I climbed Dois Irmões, a mountain in Rio de Janeiro that overlooks the wealthy Zona Sul beach neighborhoods of Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon on one side, and Rocinha, the largest favela in Brazil, on the other. From its peak I could see the two Brazils—the privileged and the marginalized, the white and the Black—side by side. From its peak, it felt like I was suspended between them, trying to figure out how and where I fit. From its peak I wondered if my own life was still worth living.
As a Black woman and a scholar, the realities of anti-Black state violence skulked like a shadow—always near, always ready to engulf me, unbounded by geographic location. Yet, empathy tied me to the struggle of other diasporic Africans; bearing witness solidified my commitment to seeking justice for all of us. This work is about solidarity, but it is also about survival, and, for better or worse, the transnational vertigo of violence opens a space within which connections can be forged between disparate communities in this critical moment in history. My experience showed me why a global movement for Black lives is necessary.
Though #BlackLivesMatter began in the United States, the need for this framework is not limited by nation. The Movement for Black Lives is about the global politics of race as it intersects with citizenship and violence. It [End Page 852] extends beyond Black death and seeks to impact the quality of Black life. Worldwide, a genocide is targeting Black people. One need not look farther than the cases of Brazil and the United States. Just days before she was assassinated in a spray of bullets on March 14, 2018, Afro-Brazilian city council-woman Marielle Franco tweeted, "Quantos mais vão precisar morrer para que essa guerra acabe?" [How many more must die for this war to end?]. Franco's question is a poignant one, and her legacy will live on in those who protest and vehemently speak out against police brutality. Campaigns like Reaja ou Será Morto in Brazil and the Movement for Black Lives in the United States continue and expand the legacies of the early movimento negro and civil rights movements in their respective countries of origin. In the age of digital technology, social media plays a crucial role in uniting disparate communities by linking individual experiences to a collective struggle (Dillon). Together with Black identity, common experiences across the African diaspora and cultural links forged by sharing our stories with one another can serve as a basis for a global movement for Black lives.
Gillian Maris Jones is a Blacktivist scholar from New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Bahamas. In 2015, she graduated magna cum laude from Brown University with a degree in Anthropology and Portuguese and Brazilian Studies. Her honors thesis focused on the relationship between race, cultural production, and citizenship in Brazil. Currently, Maris is a PhD student in Anthropology and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research, supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, explores climate change vulnerability and adaptation in coastal communities and small island states across the African diaspora.
1. Scholars such as Howard Winant and Thomas Skidmore have explored the myth of racial democracy and produced extensive comparative analyses of race relations in Brazil and the United States.
2. In his 1994 article "Cultural Citizenship and Educational Democracy," Renato Rosaldo defines cultural citizenship as "The right to be different and to belong in a participatory democratic sense. It claims that, in a democracy, social justice calls for equity among all citizens, even when such differences as race, religion, class, gender, or sexual orientation potentially could be used to make certain people less equal or inferior to others" (402).