AFRICANGLOBE – Note: Why don’t we just make it official? Blackface is and has been for many years part of Brazil’s historical catalog of “comedy”. There’s simply no way to deny it. Recently we covered another story on a controversial Blackface skit as well as a Carnaval group that regularly dresses up as Black maids. I continue to see nothing humorous about this, and in fact, I now see it as an open challenge to Black activists to attempt to shut it down! ‘It’s satire’, they’ll say. ‘It’s all in fun’, they’ll say. But making fun of something as painful as slavery simply shows, once again, the place Black Brazilians hold in society. And we see this everyday in the ways Afro-Brazilians continue to be treated today, nearly 127 years after the inhumane practice ended, at least in wide practice.
Before we get into this latest controversy, a little background. Brazil’s top TV network Globo broadcasts a comedy program Tá no Ar, meaning ‘it’s on the air’, that recently aired a skit in which it satirized the sale of Black slaves in a satirical skit using the Brazilian retail store Casas Bahia as the backdrop. Casas Bahia could be translated as ‘Bahia houses’, referring to the northeastern state of Bahia. But the skit changed the name of the retail giant to ‘Escravas Bahia’ meaning ‘Bahia Slaves’. It’s also no coincidence that the state of Bahia was a port of entry of African slaves shortly after the colonization of Brazil and today has one of the largest Black populations in the country. Below is how activist Douglas Belchior broke down Globo TV’s latest display of ‘non-racist racism’.
“We interrupt this program to present a commercial of the nineteenth century:
Extra, extra, attention! Don’t buy a slave today!
It’s that tomorrow is a day of a mega promotion here in “Escravas Bahia” (Bahia Slaves)
Cabindas, Guineans, Angolans (1)! The overseer’s gone crazy!
How many do you want to whip?
That’s right! Buy two plantation slaves and take a wet nurse entirely free!
Come check out our new affiliates: Pelourinho and Pedra do Sal (2)!
Escravas Bahia: Total servitude for you!”
This was the script interpreted by Marcius Melhem, in a program skit from Tá no Ar, which aired recently by Rede Globo, where the actors “make plays on TV commercials.”
We’ve already discussed several times in this blog the debate on the limits of humor, by the way, a recurring theme. Just to mention one case, remember the unfortunate “Baú do Baú do Fantástico”, in November 2013, when Bruno Mazzeo brings life to a reporter who is covering the abolition of slavery in Brazil. Sad!
I need to repeat here the “clichê” – true to my view – that the Globo television network is indeed a produce of ideologically committed contents, always in the service of certain political and economic interests and its art, most of the time, always has the intention of reinforcing stigma, stereotypes and values, all with two fundamental motives: to sell products of its advertisers and to shape collective opinion.
The program Tá no Ar, a creation of Marcelo Adnet, Marcius Melhem and Maurício Farias and that has other major players such as Danton Melo and Maurício Rizzo, since his debut in 2014, has been celebrated by critics precisely because of the acid mood and in large part for the criticism of the programming itself of Globo TV traditional TV. I know that many will respond to this text with arguments for freedom of expression, criticism of the politically correct, and accusations of “coitadismo negro” (Black victimization) or error in perception, since the program’s intent would have been exactly the opposite: to criticize and denounce how TV displays Blacks. One mistake. And I will explain:
I borrow the thought of Black professor and activist Adriana de Cássia, when the controversy over the content of the cartoons of the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which resulted in the murder of several artists, with no intention of disproportionate comparisons, but relevant:
“The idea of race that organizes the understanding of what racism is established from a social constant, non-biological, which relates certain phenotypic an traits to an expectation of cognitive development and determined social behavior, in this way, as much the place of social groups in the structure as the expectation that people have in relation to these groups.”
Even if the intention of the Tá no Ar comedians had been to criticize racism on Brazilian television, one has to ask: Do groups who demand rights for the Black population make fun of slavery? Does the Movimento Negro (Black Movement) do this? It’s possible to also argue that the program uses the strategy of irony to express an anti-racist idea, however, the image must speak for itself, it could not give room for other interpretations. If, by observing the image, a racist interpretation is possible, the task was, in this regard unsuccessful. Two other issues: Was there research directed toward the Black population to assess how they feel, having its image and its history lampooned on national television? I, as a descendant of enslaved people did not feel comfortable with the joke. Nor was I amused to hear the “mega-promotion” in which a wet nurse comes free, after the purchase of two male slaves. After all, it’s impossible not to associate it with my mother, sister, daughters and all Black Brazilian women, principle victims of racist and sexist violence at all levels. Thus, the theatrical piece, the way it was constructed, reinforces the racist logic of representation.
And I repeat what I’ve already written here when it was an analysis of the Fantásticohumorist: A slavery regime of slavery that lasted 388 years; What was the cost of the kidnapping and murder of approximately 7 million African humans and so many other millions of their descendants; and that was widely denounced as one of the greatest crimes against humanity ever seen, should or can be the reason for jokes?
How many scenes of “intelligent humor” are related to the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; or the victims of the World Trade Center or – to stay on Brazil – the victims of the fire in the Kiss nightclub (in Santa Maria, Rio grande do Sul), we will see as a fruit of the good intention of writers who don’t know what they are saying or cynicism of the mass media? Ah, but men and women put on sale and were always reminding us that they were – Black men and women – treated as a commodity, dehumanized and objectified, on national television and at the mercy of collective laughter, this can! And with the right to status of critical and intelligent humor.
If it is true that criticism and self-criticism are concept elements of Tá no Ar and the network’s initiative, they fail at the moment in which they don’t break with the logic of manipulation of representations and reinforce racial stereotypes, placing themselves in this way as a communication vehicle that, through such content, strengthens and promotes racism.
It’s necessary to be alert. To escape the rule of racist cognition is one of the most difficult tasks. If the mission is to combat racism, one cannot use the same structural logic that organizes racist thinking. Therefore, no jokes about slavery, please!
By: Douglas Belchior
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