GATHER UP THE FRAGMENTS - NOTES FROM BRAZIL (SLAVADOR, BARREIRAS, ITAPARICA, MADRE DE DEUS)
I”m for the Negro. I’m not anti anything.
Black women are not here to compete or fight with you, brothers. If we have hang-ups about being male or female, we’re not going to be able to use our talents to liberate all of our Black people.
It’s time for Black people to stop playing the separating game of geography, of where the slave ship put us down. We must concentrate on where the slave ship picked us up.
John Henrik Clarke
I have always known that being very poor, which we were, had nothing to do with lovingness or familyness or character or any of that . . . . We were quite clear that what we had didn’t have anything to do with what we were.
Making do when DON’T prevails is, quite simply, a kind of genius.
Johnnetta B. Cole
What has become my favorite place in the world, Brazil, is very complicated. Not complicated when it comes to its beauty; aesthetically as well as that of the everyday walking around people, but instead its systems and structures that promote division and separation simply based on skin color and in particular the degree of one's Blackness, external as well as internal. Even though Brazil has a wide disparity in wealth between the rich and the poor, however, it does have a burgeoning middle class with all aspects of advancement and progression yet it is connected to skin color and/or denial of one’s Blackness. The complication: Brazil is a predominately Black country and those who identify with African origins, as well as those who visibly are of African origin, make up the majority of the country. Brazil has the largest population of Black people outside of Africa and when you include the Motherland, it is second only to Nigeria, thus since colonial times Brazil's African population has dominated and mixed with the indigenous people of Brazil as well as colonists creating a sense of African identity that dominates not only bloodlines but more importantly culture in which Black and non-identifying Black people relish. This cultural identity can be seen everywhere and in everything; music, food, socialization, etc all have deep roots in the African slaves who were brought there in huge numbers dominating everything and everywhere. It has created a genuineness that despite the anti-Blackness that exists, however, a sense of genuineness on the ground that is manipulated by Euro-Western standards that forms a basis for divisions that informs and supports Anti-Black structures and systems. It was during the years of dictatorship that the Euro-Western leaning powers within Brazil sought to “whiten” Brazil, inviting Europeans to come and settle in Brazil with governmental support. Many Europeans took advantage of the offer and many settled in the south of Brazil, dominating politically but also economically and since have maintained control, nevertheless, they could not dominate culturally and too succumbed to a Brazilian culture that is obviously and authentically African. The genuineness of what is and what has become authentic Brazilian is African in origin, a legacy of the slaves who dominated the land, including its food, music, and engagement with nature. However, the "whitening" of Brazil has and is seeking to surgically detach Brazil from its dominant cultural experience so as to control the social, economic, and political experiences to reflect Euro-Western values in order to dominate and maintain that domination, creating a deep internal and external conflict and complication within the country and among its people. Therefore, it is not hard to advance the cause of Blackness in Brazil because the genuineness of the people who culturally identify with Africa is so widespread, despite the efforts to whiten the place, the new call for whitening has emerged through a spread of white evangelical religious institutions that seek to separate the Brazilian format from African roots by the means of creating an anti-African religion perspective that intentionally promotes and supports Euro-Western domination and the whiteness of Brazil in all aspects, including a "whitening" of the faith that justifies anti-Blackness and anything associated with Blackness. However, let the music flow, the aroma of the food, the congeniality of socially connecting and it becomes a great wave of resistance to the whitening that brings out the African roots that lie just under the surface. It is this sense of community, Ubuntu, and often organically created spaces in Brazil, I have come to understand is our greatest weapon to resist anti-Blackness, the power within for being who we are (psychologically, socially, economically, and politically). As we create spaces that nurture and develop who we are as a people, although different from Euro-Westerners, we are empowered as Stockley Carmichael says, "I’m for the Negro. I’m not anti-anything" - the promotion of Blackness which cannot be defined as anti-anything but instead the building and nurturing of the greatness of whom we are. Further, it develops a resilience that unifies instead of divides, thus as Euro-Western liberal thinking in which we are challenged to believe that because we have unresolved issues then we must be anti; anti-women, anti-men, anti-gay, removing that barrier uniting and creating resilience within for our thriving as Shirley Chisholm said, "if we have hang-ups about being male or female [or non-binary], we are not going to be able to use our talents to liberate all of our Black people."
The glue that appears to transcend economic and social division in Brazil is a legacy of faith. The traditional colonial expression of faith, Catholicism, is dominant, however, anyone who knows and/or has experienced Brazil understands that the practice of Catholicism is a cloak for other religious practices such as Candomble and Umbanda. Candomble derived directly from African slaves who were permitted to maintain their culture upon arrival but subsequently forced to convert to Catholicism as an official practice of religion. Umbanda is a mixture of indigenous and African spirituality that has also been maintained over the years under the radar screen. The African slaves were savy, although they were forced to embrace and practice Catholicism, they used Catholic saints as fronts for their own deities, intermediaries. Beneath their Catholic altars, you would find a hidden altar that housed representations of their Orixás. Such a legacy within the practice of faith, especially among the majority of Brazilians; indigenous and Afro-Brazilians, made room for a tradition of faith that transcended social and economic divides, providing continuity to traditions and customs, permeating the entire culture and providing a common denominator that connected them as a community. Today with the introduction of the West's version of Evangelicalism, in particular Pentecostalism, a schism has been created that on the surface seeks to break Brazil's tradition and legacy of faith, especially among Indigenous and Afro-Brazilians in a God who is and can be understood as a multifaceted God as opposed to a God who can only be seen in one dimension, which happens to be dictated by a Western limited understanding and thought of God in which there is an established and maintained status quo, theologically as well as for people's lived experiences. The rise of the Western version of faith as manifested in Evangelicalism can be both an albatross around the neck of the community of Blackness in Brazil in order to oppose Anti Blackness, but it also can be a unifying factor under the surface, creating and expanding the legacy of resilience found within the practice of faith among Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian people that would feed and empower resistance. Some politicians, as well as some community leaders who are Evangelical, have chosen to side with Western Evangelicalism and as a result sway and persuade the people down a road of division and strife, within the community as well as within their families and their traditions. However, I discovered a quiet but firm resolve and respect for the faith and spirituality of their ancestors and the space they know and genuine to their lived experiences in which resilience is developed and thus, resistance is nurtured. Other leaders such as Lula, while as President paved the way for a more open and just society for those who would practice faith in the traditional sense giving fuel for the movement and struggle for Blackness, community among those who would identify as Afro-Brazilian whether they practiced Candomble or other faith practices, including various versions of Evangelicalism. This trend, though rolled back by subsequent politicians like Bolsonaro, who is supported broadly by the leadership of Western-style Evangelicalism, has only driven the connection to traditional practices of faith and respect for the practice and practitioners underground, somewhat, but has failed to extinguish its impact throughout Brazilian culture and its people. The spirituality of African traditional practices and symbols of faith along with its mysticism is rooted in the cultural identity of Brazil, those who identify as Black as well as those who do not. You can not enter a home or be among a group of people in Brazil and not at least have the majority in respect of if not practitioners themselves of African traditional practices of faith, whether they openly admit it or not, and then there are seasons and national events that bring forth the African origin and dominance of traditional faith practices that make it virtually impossible to deny as critical to and aa part of the culture of Brazil.
The legacy of faith I found in Brazilian culture, whether their practice of faith was public or clandestine, offered a vehicle for the development, nurturing, and sustaining of community that transcended social, economic, and political statuses as well as various identity labels; gender, sexuality, age, etc. I have observed scene after scene of the dynamics of individuals from different walks of life, socially, politically, and economically, in which there is a sharing and caring that goes beyond the norm of what I have seen in America and elsewhere. I would suggest this is rooted in a legacy of faith and in particular an outgrowth of the dynamics of African religious traditions and the African sense of community, Ubuntu. This sense of community is manifest is manifested as a reflection of - the image of a multifaceted God. penetrating divisions and the complexities of human relational dynamics. Is there a divide and does that divide create divisions along color and economic lines, yes it is visible in the wide disparities that exist in Brazil according to color and economics, however, the one thing I have found that transcends the differences to create community is found in traditional Brazilian culture which is overtly African! The overabundance of existing and creative spaces for community has been the most compelling factor for me to return to Brazil over and over again and promote my thoughts concerning a community and investigate it at its core in which I saw African roots, that of Ubuntu. When in comparison to African Diaspora communities in Europe and America, I see the strains of what has been better preserved in Brazil, although similar to the space of my rural upbringing in Southwest GA as well as other predominantly African Diaspora spaces globally, there appear less polluted challenges of being accepted by others and conforming to their level of acceptance, losing both our identity and community, our Blackness.
The legacy of faith I found in Brazil as a by-product of having existing as well as creating spaces for the development and nurturing of community is an entrepreneurial spirit that transcends economics to also encompass a psychological and social perspective for freedom. The entrepreneurial spirit produces confidence, if not also a necessity to be the drivers of our own narratives as well as owners of our tables, whereby others can join and/or come, however, they are not in charge. This spirit permeates what is the community for Afro-Brazilians, always thinking and advocating for their own, both for the family and also their communal spaces. Former President Lula, a by-product of this legacy of faith that has developed and nurtured his sense of community and connection to it, produced federal policies that allowed Afro-Brazilians to be authentically themselves and provided support, systems as well as structural support as an example of what impact one can have for our community as to create and nurture spaces, our spaces of community that insist on our driving our own narratives and building our own tables that will transcend and allow us to leverage our positions to transform society in general for us to thrive. The by-product of this sense of confidence as well as the necessity for thriving; psychological, social, economic, intellectual, etc. independently fuels the confidence required for us to be genuinely and authentically who we are so as to honor our ancestors, traditions, and legacy for producing and driving our own narratives, thus building our own tables for the purposes of our thriving both locally and globally in connection with our larger community of Africa and the African Diaspora and our Blackness. As Lucile Clinton said, I have always known that being very poor, which we were, had nothing to do with lovingness or families or character or any of that . . . . We were quite clear that what we had didn’t have anything to do with what we were." It is in our confidence that we can reject Western Eurocentric standards that cause us to be in conflict with our authenticity, ancestors, traditions, and legacy producing a spirit of resiliency that births resistance, which leads to our demanding and establishing our freedom, our independence from others to be, live, and move in our Blackness and thrive. We as a result realize that we have what it takes and it is more than enough. Dr. Johnnetta Coles says, "making do when DON’T prevails is, quite simply, a kind of genius." In conclusion, I believe Brazil has taught me that it is in our spirituality; our legacy of faith which connects us to a God who is multifaceted, a Spirit, in whom we all are in the image thereof, allows us to transcend both time and space to operate in confidence in who we are authentically and genuinely in the very powerful nature of our Blackness.