Episode 2: Culture is a political force
J Welcome all to the podcast Brazil Culture Connections. In this second part of our second episode “Culture is a political force,” we continue our conversation with Clediana Ramos. She is a Bahian journalist with a PhD in Anthropology at the Federal University of Bahia. She is also an iaô of Oxum [daughter-initiate of Oshun] at the Terreiro do Cobre [a Candomblé temple]. Currently she is a visiting professor at the Bahia State University Campus XIV - Conceição do Coité, Bahia. She is the publisher of the collective Flor de Dendê, specializing in Afro-Sertaneja Culture, and a columnist for the independent journalism collectives, Midia Ninja and Midia 4P. She recently started producing the Column A Tarde Memória for the newspaper A Tarde in Salvador, where she worked for 17 years covering racial issues, Afro-Brazilian cultures, and religions. Since August she’s been on the team for the @espelhodefestas channel, specializing in information about popular festivals in Bahia.
This interview was recorded in the beginning of December of 2020.
Cleidiana Ramos covering the first mass of the Santa Dulce of the Poor in the Salvador Fonte Nova Arena
In the first part of the interview, available on Spotify and the complete transcription on our website, Cleidiana and I talked about various topics, such as her project, Flor de Dendê to better understand the Afro-sertaneja identity in the construction of Brazil and the complexities of the Black movements throughout the history of the country. I recommend you listen to the first part to get more context for the continuation of our very rich conversation, which addresses the Brazilian municipal elections in 2020, health policies of the indigenous and black populations, and comparisons between anti-racist fights in Brazil and the US.
And you also touched on the issue of the dictatorship, of Brazil’s political system, of this history. And we are in a historic moment for humanity. We are every year, but today, this year, the pandemic, the presidential election in the United States and the municipal elections in Brazil are also transforming the world. And I wanted to know a little more about the election process in Brazil and the importance for the recent political changes in the country and in the world. And I also wanted to touch on the Black Lives Matter Movement between Brazil and the United States, and for this I want to cite your article that you published about Black Consciousness Day, November 20th, which is titled “The Hurricane of Sadness that Arrived on this 20th of November Insists on Staying,” which appeared in Flor de Dendê and Mídia Ninja. And I want to cite just an excerpt here. You wrote:
“Brazilian Black girls and Brazilian Black boys don’t need to copy the American model. If there is anything that is certainly in our DNA, it is the latent knowledge that we don’t need to imitate the United States because our day-to-day racism is not the same as theirs. It’s worse. More virulent because it lives in the midst of a pact of silence.”
Cleidiana Yeah, we had an election, a municipal election, and it is very complicated here because people are doing some analyses, which is to say that there was a victory from the center-right. Here it is very complicated how people use these classifications and go vote. My colleagues from political corporate media often have a difficult time precisely because of this. They don’t know Brazil, the Brazil I call “Brazilzão” [Big Brazil], the Brazil within. So, it’s very complicated for you to say it like this, as you already saw a few kinds of readings that the PT, the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores) ended because it didn’t win any capital cities. The left couldn’t unite. The same pool on the left insists on supporting the PDT, which is the Democratic Labor Party (Partido Democrático Trabalhista), led by Ciro Gomes. Ciro Gomes is a politician from Ceará. He has already been through almost every party you can imagine. And here...there in the United States, Ciro Gomes could possibly be a Republican. Maybe even a Democrat because your guys’ system is very interesting, oddly enough, because perhaps he can handle it better than he can here in Brazil. Brazil has many parties, and these parties don’t have anything to do with the ideological platform. So, we see… it’s a joke to me, the PR the Republican Party (Partido Republicano) ...The Republican Party belonged to the Universal Church. How can you imagine the religious party defending republican ideas that are based on the Secular State, right? So, the very PT (Workers’ Party) to me...I’m not a political scientist, but from what we observe, the PT, the Workers’ Party, if we paid the administrations that they had, Lula Luiz Inácio da Silva’s 2 administrations and Dilma Rousseff’s administration and a half...When we look at it, it’s a party that perhaps...it’s a center-left party, or a social democracy because from an economic point of view, the PT didn’t stray far from the liberal model. The Central Bank had autonomy. We can see differences in PT’s politics in relation to PSDB’s politics, which came first and were said to be neoliberal. You imagine that their acronym PSDB (which was Senator Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s party, he was the president of the 2 administrations, and he invented the re-election model here) -- The Brazilian Social Democracy Party. There isn’t anything more conversative, mainly in regard to policies of inclusion. What makes the PT different from the PSDB is this: The PT centered itself, and mainly because of Lula’s initiative. The PT fixated on policies of inclusion because this country is a ticking time bomb. The poverty is unbelievable. You know? The people often in the capital cities have a hard time understanding what it’s like to go hungry. The interior of Brazil is hungry. And hunger, as we are saying, is hunger indeed. In my region, for example, I never, thank God, my family...we always had...we never had a need like this, but I knew people that went through it. I knew families. And there was a—so you can get an idea, going hungry is so undignified that people didn’t say they were hungry. My father was mayor in my city, a progressive political leader just as well, that was 16 years ago. So, he was still talking about political negotiations. And in this kind of game that we have at home, we received...there was a lot of contact with people from the rural area. My mom had many godchildren, we have this here, this heritage from slavery. You hand your children over to baptize to people that you know in your absence will be there, in the place of the father and mother. It was this, which was handing a daughter or a son over for someone to baptize them. And if the godfather was missing, the godmother, who would be the mother, would take on the child, mainly in Black families, whose kinships were often formed in friendship. I remember a period in my mom’s life, during my entire childhood, which was the following: When she received visits from various godmothers, in fact, it was because of friendship, she would very discreetly arrive in the kitchen and say: “Godmother, you look hungry. What shall I do?” And my mom would go there, because you couldn’t...and they took with them whatever they had at home to give as a gift. So, they would come with a pumpkin. They’d come with a hen, with eggs, and she’d feel anguished because she knew that this is what there was to eat. But they brought it because they had to keep etiquette in their relationships. And my mom would often prepare a little bag with canned goods and things like that, and she’d give it to them. And to not offend them, to not embarrass them, she’d say: “This is for my godchild.” Or she’d get some money and say: “For the child to get a snack this week.” “No, godmother, you don’t need to.” “Please, please, I’ll be upset if you don’t take it.” During the holidays, Holy Week, Good Friday, there was the habit of making a lot of food, food with dendê (palm oil), caruru, fish, etc. I already knew that. Around noon...and there was a list of people my mom sent and took food to, she shared and took it to people who she knew didn’t have anything to eat that day. So, she gave them fish. So, when you look at this, there isn’t much for you to need because the DEM [democrats] who won, I don’t know, I’ll pick a random city, this isn’t something that happened, but the DEM who won in the city X aren’t the same Democrats from Eduardo Paes in Rio de Janeiro. Because often in the interior, people stick to a political party because of the political system. You can’t run if you aren’t affiliated with a party. So often people don’t have any kind of...this is for better or for worse, they don’t have any proximity to the party’s ideological banner. So, it’s hard to imagine these elections mirroring 2022, when the presidential elections will take place. They give a few clues.
It’s very complicated here. We have a republic, a republic system that began...we are the last--we are the last in almost everything--Brasil was the last in abolishing slavery, Brasil was one of the last ones to become a republic.
One of the clues is, thankfully on the one hand, that we feared, we saw that Bolsonarism didn’t uphold, meaning that the followers of this man who is destroying Brazil, because this is true, he entered to do this and he’s a sociopath because he has no commitment to anything or any empathy for anything at all. It’s an isolated phenomenon, meaning he doesn’t have any, let’s say this, he doesn’t have loyalty from any powerful party leaders. And we see this clearly. He didn’t win anything. There is a case in Amapá where he supported a candidate from the capital who won, but it isn’t something we...I’ll put it like this: he joined the campaign, he helped, he was there, he did it—No, on the contrary. There were cases of candidates who went onto the runoff with this campaign message and stood back because they knew they would lose, mainly in the Northeast. Other cases of candidates who didn’t make it to the runoff. They couldn’t reach, they were unable to summon any kind of significant vote. And this is a relief for us because we feared this as a movement. It isn’t appearing to uphold. It’s something that is very attached to him, and it’s a specific situation. We hope this was the case. So, there was this reading. On the other hand, the relationship of the oppressed groups, we can call it that, or the marginalized groups in the sense of being pushed to the margins with the vote. It’s very complicated here. We have a republic, a republic system that began...we are the last—we are the last in almost everything—Brazil was the last in abolishing slavery, Brazil was one of the last ones to become a republic. And so, differently for example from...I know very little about you guys’ history, I can’t speak here with ownership, but from the little that we know, different from you guys who are a movement inside, from inside, and with a lot of participation, if you will. I know there are many issues that I’m not familiar with, but the movement of a civil war, etc, civil, and this word “civil,” which speaks about independence, is fundamental. The case of our independence, or of our republic, is a military coup. It’s a military coup. So, a group of wound-up military men with...and they were also worried because Emperor Dom Pedro II was already over 70 years old and senile. And who was his successor? His daughter, Isabel, who was married to a French man, and this messed everything up, the landowners didn’t want a stranger because they knew that Isabel’s husband would rule over them and they’d be possibly governed by a Frenchman. And the Conde d’Eu, who was her husband, was hated by practically everyone. That man, everyone hated him, including the poor population because he was a landlord, owner of the cortiços [Historical note: The cortiçoswere very precarious dwellings in the 19th century. They are the grandfathers of the current slums without any kind of infrastructure. The landowners and economically powerful groups didn’t accept Isabel on the throne. She was a woman in the 19th century and still married to a foreigner. They feared being in the hands of another foreign power, in this case in France’s hands, when Brazil had just freed itself from Portugal with some effort. The Conde D’Eu was French. The abolition, which was already expected, even under pressure from England, was used as an excuse to overthrow the monarchy. He rented out, so he oppressed the people. He even charged people who had left slavery. The slums, in this case, are the grandfathers of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the “communities” as the slums are called more or less. So, as you’d imagine, there was chaos at the Ministry of War. There were 2 civilians there who circulated around these ideas about the republic: Benjamin Constant and Ruy Barbosa, who is even our fellow Bahian...And so they went there. They needed a military man because without him, the movement wouldn’t move forward. Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca. Sick with gout, he got on his horse thinking that he was defeating, knocking down the Ministry of War cabinet. And so he went there, got out of bed sick and mounted his horse, and some historians say—unfortunately I’m not a historian, I can only talk here, I’m giving more general information—he went there and they screamed, “Long live the republic! Long live the republic!” and he even felt bad because he really liked Emperor Dom Pedro II. And the republic of Brazil was established like this. The republic was born like this. The first 50 years of this republic, we never had peace. We had this moment of instability that was always dragging people through this democratic process. For example, during the republic’s first elections, only those who had an income would vote. A specific income. After that, you enter this moment in which the coups begin. So in 1930, the republic, which was barely 50 years old, entered into a dictatorship, as I was referring to here, 1930-1945. It’s the Vargas dictatorship. There wasn’t peace. Vargas, for example...Bahia lived through almost 40 years of interventions, excuse me, 15 years of interventions, governors who are chosen by the president of the republic, in this case, Vargas was elected indirectly. Bahia only had direct elections again for the governor of the state in 1946. In 1964, there’s another military coup. We suffered 20 years under the dictatorship. No one voted. We voted...the interior voted again in 1966, in the municipalities and in the bipartisanship system: ARENA, which was the military’s party and MDB, which was everyone, it was utter chaos there, that you could be in the MBD. We trudged through this until 1985. Even so, there was a democratic transition with the indirect election, the House of Representatives, voted for Tancredo Neves [as president] and for José Sarney [as vice-president]. Just imagine. We got out of 20 years of a military dictatorship. A negotiated amnesty such that the military paid absolutely nothing at all for what they did. In this period everyone took up arms...And even so, just imagine, there are events that still feel like fantastic realism. On the eve of the inauguration, the president was elected, Tancredo Neves, who was this figure that was, that negotiated, who was the accepted figure to make this transition, became seriously ill and died on April 21st [before his term began]. And then José Sarney who even on the eve of ARENA became president of the republic. That was how we voted. Brazilians could vote for the president again, but in 1989, do you think everything is all fine and dandy now? No. Three years later, the elected figure was removed by an impeachment process due to corruption. Once again there was despair, but the country got through the crisis.
So then everything is reasonably okay when in 2013, we began to live in instability and economic groups, segments who mainly didn’t accept inclusion policy, Bolsa Family, [welfare], etc, and a whole construction of an idea that the PT is corrupt begins, the anti-petismo and so we arrive at what we consider—I’m part of those who make this narrative—President Dilma Rousseff suffered a coup, a civil-military coup because the military was there. So much that Michel Temer just wrote a book saying that the military was there, and they deny it. But we saw, they regained power via...it’s very ridiculous. These people formed an alliance with an egress of the Army who was thrown out of the army. Bolsonaro was thrown out of the army because they discovered a plan to blow up the barracks because he had this goal. So, he was removed and even received a report of insanity. And now they go and join this guy in power. We have a Minister of Health, who is a general who doesn’t understand anything at all. He says that he discovered SUS just some time ago because he didn’t even know what SUS was, the Universal System of Health. This figure is an active general, he understands logistics. According to logistics, Brazil wasted, Brazil is to waste 6 million COVID tests they never distributed. So you might wonder, how do the people vote? These people vote without any kind of...so to speak...powerful participation of full citizenship, understood in this sense, and with battles we discovered some time ago. The very constitution, our fantastic federal constitution that if it were abided by, we would be in Paradise, it was a very advanced constitution in 1988, which emerged after the dictatorship. It still, I came to find out, keeps the illiterate as an optional vote. The illiterate are not required to vote. They vote if they want to. And with this detail, they can’t run even for an elective office. If someone didn’t have an official schooling test, they have to submit a test before an electoral judge. It’s a reading and writing test, normally the judge dictates something and that person has to copy it down, they have to pass 50% of the test, otherwise they lose the right to have their application approved. So you can imagine, it’s kind of a selective citizenship. The illiterate are in the same category of people from the age of 71 who vote if they want to and of youth of 16 years old, but who only vote if they want to. Voting is obligatory from the age of 18, so from 18 to 70. Here you are required to vote. The others aren’t. So, when we look at it, who are the illiterate in this country, huh?
Olodum band on the launch of the 20th of November (Black Consciousness Day) issue of the A Tarde newspaper in Salvador.
"So then, you’re in a country that denies these communities the right to exist, they are rendered totally invisible. It’s another type of racism, which is why I say that Brazilian racisms, the Brazilian racism is very efficient, because it protects itself in silence—in negation, who I speak of silence, it is negation."
J Those who have an oral culture and a very precarious education system.
C Very precarious. If you really think about it, you’d imagine that the indigenous are required to vote or are listed to vote. No, they are denied. Here in Brazil, people still repeat that there are no indigenous, there are no indigenous, they call them Indians, that there is no Indian, that the “Indian is an invention.” Seriously people, I heard from a journalist colleague around 2010 more or less, he said to me, “Look, I was in Coroa Vermelha” ([in Bahia], Porto Seguro, which is one of the places where there is a greater presence here in Bahia). “I was there in Porto Seguro in that village” — and he still spoke like this —”of Coroa Vermelha, those Indians are all fake. They were there in jeans and had cell phones.”
I stopped there and said to him, “The Indians of Coroa Vermelha? Are you sure you’re speaking of Coroa Vermelha?”
“Yes, they were there in jeans and had cell phones. How is it that Indians can wear jeans?”
I said, “Come close, do you think the world ended in the 16th or 17th century? Why can’t they have cell phones? What’s wrong with having a cell phone?”
So then, you’re in a country that denies these communities the right to exist, they are rendered totally invisible. It’s another type of racism, which is why I say that Brazilian racisms, the Brazilian racism is very efficient, because it protects itself in silence—in negation, who I speak of silence, it is negation—that story there of Gilberto Freyre that racism...slavery, led by the English in the United States was much more violent than that of the Portuguese because the Portuguese mixed here, the English didn’t. So then, he says it in his book, he puts it in his book, he says in his book, The Masters and the Slaves for example, he is a man, he is a boy who grew up on the sugar plantations. He did high school in the United States. This is serious because he was the first figure to do work using sociological methods in The Masters and the Slaves. What he says in it is: the indigenous women threw themselves at the feet of the colonizer. They offered their bodies, he didn’t say it exactly like that, ipsis litteris, as I’m saying here, but more or less it was in this sense. They offered themselves up in exchange for [gifts and objects like] mirrors. He doesn’t tell of the rape, he doesn’t say that it is [genocidal] politics. Since Tomé de Sousa came here in 1549 to build Salvador—and Salvador is a city built to be, so that the colonization enterprise of Brazil actually happens. Salvador is not a city, it’s not a town that became a city; Salvador was built for this purpose. Tomé de Sousa didn’t take advantage of the Town of Pereira, which had been in Porto Barra for decades. He chose a place to build the city, in this case, it’s our historic center today, where Castro Alves square now is and Taboão is on the other end. And why? When you look from above, you can see the Bay of All Saints. What does Bay de All Saints, Forte have? It protects the city. And why was Salvador chosen? Because of its location, it’s in the middle of the path. So, it becomes a city between military posts. When Portugal was sending its ships and its interests to Africa and Asia, it passed through here on the way there and back to fuel up. And from here slaves leave to other provinces. So Salvador was the capital of Brazil from 1549 until 1763, when it became Rio de Janeiro. But it doesn’t stop being an important, strategic city. So, when we see all this, he says clearly in a letter, in the letter that he gives to Tomé de Sousa. Tomé de Sousa comes with executive powers. He is the president, more military, the military head. And with this mission of building a city. We spent 3 years here. The king said clearly to him, “Look, the Tupinambás are there.” (He calls them correctly.) “And the Guaranis” (the Guaranis he’s talking about are the Guaranis do Recôncavo). “They don’t get along. They hate each other. And you have to make, you have to promote the conflict.” Those who were friends, look, accept to sell products, including…”, and he said this, “you have to begin to give him manufactured products, machetes, hoes, but don’t give them firearms. And those who don’t submit, those that don’t listen to what I am saying about our friendship policy, are for you to treat in an exemplary way.”
J Here, Cleidiana explains how the king of Portugal tells Tomé de Souza, the first governor of Brazil based in the capital, Salvador, of Bahia, to only prioritize the groups who accept the terms of the Portuguese colonization: go to the villages; don’t go to war. Whoever does not accept these terms should be punished as an example to discourage revolts. The example of this was put into practice in the following:
C It is to exemplify the king. The leaders. To discourage others. He tied the bodies [of the revolt leaders] into the canyon, where the Elevador Lacerda is today, and ordered them to fire it in the direction of the 3 villages, sending them a message: “I will treat you like this.” These indigenous peoples went to the Sertão, escaping from the repression, and those who stayed fought. There are various tales of how they broke the sugar plantation’s equipment. You can imagine what it was to bring equipment from Lisbon in the 16th and 17th centuries...and those guys arrived at night, broke everything. They set fire to the sugar plantations. So it wasn’t an easy war. And they were paid, after they hired people from São Paulo, the so-called Sertanists arrived in the Sertões to destroy the villages, confrontation policy, but these peoples survived.
Cleidiana Ramos and Isabelle Sanches at the march against Religious Intolerance in the Engenho Velho neighborhood of Salvador, Brazil.
So there, the northern region of Brazil, for example, when we look at it, we see the Amazonian States of Brazil—Pará, even from the Midwest because Goiás, that region of Goiás, the region of...anyway, sorry, it’s more north actually—but there are indigenous like there are here in the Northeast, etc. The whole country has indigenous groups. But that northern region catches on fire. So, the states of Pará, the Amazonian States, Acre, Amapá, but also Mato Grosso do Sul and yes, this is why I spoke of the Midwest, which is in the Midwest, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, where soy grows. We have a case. I was in Dourados [a city in Mato Grosso do Sul] on a project from the UN that facilitated a course from the UN women’s [sector] on gender, race and ethnicity. You have villages in Dourados that have the Guaranis peoples and the Kaiwá peoples, as we call them Kaiwá, but in front of you there are the Bororós and other groups there, other groups. The are...There are almost 20 thousand people in a small place, in a small area, but it is a reservation, and when you go passing through, you see the indigenous living in a situation of extreme poverty without water, without any electric light, and without any infrastructure, and when you look from the side, there are soy plantations. What they say is, “we continue fighting for just one thing: our land.” They are foreigners in their own country. Treated like foreigners. Now, for example, we can imagine what is happening with the indigenous groups in this COVID pandemic. They talk about washing your hands, these places, for example, go three days without water, four days without water, water that collects into containers. They undo all the indigenous health policies. I have a fantastic film-maker, journalist friend, Graciela Guaraní, who participated with me on this project. She is from there, from Mato Grosso do Sul, but she’s living here in Ceará because she got married to an indigenous man from another ethnicity, the Pankareré, so they live here [near Bahia], but she has information all the time because she is an activist. She was telling me that in this process, the ones who are helping the indigenous populations are the collectives on their own. On their own. Because this government is incentivizing the loggers, the prospectors. And you already know that the indigenous are mainly those who live semi-detached or isolated. They don't have antibodies even for the common flu, which is a huge worry. You can imagine this issue, the amount of sick indigenous, and who don’t have any kind of assistance. So it’s a country in which you...the racisms, they are made in this way, from the silencing, from the negation. So, Gilberto Freyre said, “No, it’s not like that. The United States has segregation. We never had that.” So here in Brazil, it is what Florestan Fernandes said, Brazilians are prejudiced against saying they are prejudiced. No one here declares themselves racist. No one. I spoke here about the group Globo. Ali Kamel, who is of Arab descent, because here we also have...This is a very multi-ethnic country. I’m talking about the indigenous peoples... you can’t even imagine what the Cigano [Romani] people go through here. The Cigano communities. The Syrians and the Lebanese are all called Turks, and with time they all mixed together, but they are here. They also face a lot of prejudice, Japanese descendants, etc. And Ali Kamel, who is of Arab descent, he said, he wrote in 2006 when the quota policies began appearing, the decree of the quilombos, he wrote, “We aren’t racists.” A guy who doesn’t have anything to do with social science is merely the Globo journalism director. And he thought himself in the right to write a book denying everything. “We aren’t racists.” So here, if you want to offend someone, call them a racist and they’ll get extremely offended. Then he contradicts himself because he says this: “I’m not prejudiced, but.” There you go, there you have it...but this is a state that denies this. How can you combat this if you deny it? We saw a light from the Lula administrations for at least a little while. Brazil and the United States signed the JAPPER, which was a bilateral technical cooperation agreement to combat racism. The only visit I made to the United States was to attend one of the conferences that took place in the Atlanta. I loved it, I even told a [North American] sister initiate that you all need to improve your [external] marketing because people said so many things, I loved the North Americans. I really liked it. And then we had this thing of recognition [with Black Americans] that we had an exchange of looks and greetings, it was really cool. So, then this project was a bilateral agreement, as I said before, to combat racism, with the idea to exchange experiences. For example, your country was very interested in ours at that time. It was interested in our health policies for the Black population, mainly the initiatives regarding sickle cell anemia, as we were well ahead. The so-called tie test [for dengue fever], mainly because of Abadfal, who was called on by Altair Lira, who’s an interesting figure here. He’s an activist from this movement and was one of the people who left the greatest impression on, so to speak, you all, the North Americans. You all were very interested in the health policies that we have specifically for the Black population. They are being dismantled as well. I was there. It was interesting because one of the collectives with the head, the second to the department head of the state, I confess I don’t remember his name, my apologies, but it was whoever was the head, it was Hilary Clinton, so he was the second to the department head, and he was cast for this interview with us, with the journalists who were there, there were I think 10 or 12 Brazilian journalists invited to go, and I remember a colleague from the Southeast, from a big newspaper in the Southeast, asked him a question, “You all have just elected Barack Obama, a Black president, and does this really mean you guys are racists?” And I remember his response, which was the following: “Look, we are very happy with the President Barack Obama’s election, but I’ll tell you” —he said some other things but I thought this was fantastic— “My country just signed with your country a bilateral agreement to combat racism, and I think that answers your question.” Unfortunately, this is a problem that we have to face, so when I say that it is this, in you guys’ case, it is very explicit somehow for you guys. And of course, movements like your Black Lives Matter, I said it in Portuguese, have a visibility that overtakes the borders. And in our case, it’s all as I said, our fragmentation perhaps impedes our visibility. But also because the lack of visibility is strategic politics. They don't want that, and when I say “they,” it’s the whole system which is framed by the corporate and commercial media, the governments, the single-minded market, they don’t want this discourse.
J And that’s why the work that you do, the journalism that you do is so important, and it stands out from the more commercial media or the national networks that are committed to the invisibilization of racism.
C Yes, but now. You saw, I spent 17 years in commercial media. I spent 17 years doing it, because it is transporting what we learn from the Afro groups, from the Candomblé temples, from the afoxés [Afro Brazilian carnival groups], I put them in the newspaper. It's a guerrilla war. You know? You find the hole and continue. I often even had stockholders in the newspaper, and the stockholders owners because it’s not traded publicly. You know? They were all against this discourse, they defended the meritocracy. Then one day during a conflict with one of them, he said exactly this, speaking about the quotas [affirmative action policies]. He really wanted to see material of my own that had people against the quotas. I said to him, “but you know that there isn’t anyone who’d speak against it. Even the voices that said ‘no’ don’t want to speak anymore because people are beginning to understand why this is necessary.” So he went: “Oh, we have to be careful sometimes, when they speak. We have to be careful because this discourse is ‘activist discourse.’” Then I kind of said to them: “Yes, but look at the newspaper. It has an editorial program. The newspaper’s editorial letter goes against any kind of discrimination prejudice, defends human rights, defends basic rights? So we are not doing activism. We are applying the newspaper’s editorial policy because they are all done based on the letter, on the declaration of human rights.” So I used this reasoning a lot. But sometimes we find strategies, but it works out. It is much more difficult, it is very difficult indeed. I had very hard moments at the newspaper, many joys, many more joys, but moments like this, so to speak, getting close to falling ill emotionally. Because there were 10 steps forward in the month, and I sometimes took 8 steps back. You know? And I had to start all over again. But at the same time, the first special issue we did sold out at the newsstand. The newspaper had to go into its reserves. So the newspaper discovered that there was an important issue there. So they went and navigated it. So there is a lot of this as well. Today, for example, it is more difficult for you to find products for straight hair than it is for curly hair here in Brazil because the cosmetics industry embraced the ethnic discourse. So, they like what they can control, what they think they can control, art, Carnival, then you make these timely discourses, but when you go to say “Oh, racism is killing.” They say hey just stop there, stop there…
J Wow, well Cleidiana, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your experiences. You said you’re not a historian, but for me it was a super, super rich history lesson, and I think it opens up a debate for these connections, or not, with the United States, and I want to hear more from our listeners. I’d like to debate this topic with the networks who’ll listen to this interview. I’m so thankful for your time, your effort in making this connection with us. And please, follow Cleidiana Ramos, the Flor de Dendê, the magazine, and also @EspelhodasFestas on Instagram, which is creating fun as well as important debates and discussions. Thank you so much, hugs, I miss you. Is there anything else you wanted to ask me or add?
C I wanted to thank you, thank you because I really like this exchange of dialogue. Sorry, I speak a lot. It’ll be a whole lot of work for whoever has to edit this. A thankful hug and sorry again to whoever has to edit, because I spoke a lot.
J It’s just me!
C Oh… I feel for you Jamie. Haha. But it’s because it’s very complicated because these are issues that we often process even as we go on thinking about them because it is not such a solid discussion. We sometimes have to try to understand how these issues are happening.
J And dive into the complexities as well because without this, we have generic discourse that even perpetuates stereotypes or simple ideas that have effects in the world, and we want to break all this and have these dialogues that are more open and have space for the complexities in order to not have a summary that really doesn’t have anything to do with the lived experiences.
J So I understand the importance of this very well. And a big hug.
C Another hug, at your command always. I’ll come back, it’ll have to be another day, you’ll have to invite me back. I want to talk about popular festivals. One day we will do it again just to talk about popular festivals because it’s a whole other world.
J Yes! Wow! You are a fountain of knowledge about Bahia and Brazil, which is so important for me and for many people, so thank you once again.
I thank Cleidiana Ramos for this complex and difficult two-part interview, which was recorded at home between Pennsylvania and Salvador, with the difficulties of the pandemic.
As mentioned earlier, the audio editing was done by me. I also thank the help of our team at Brazil Culture Connections, the interns from The Pennsylvania State University, Amanda Talbot and Madeleine Tenny, and technical support from Jonatas Borges Campelo. The music is called “Batente de pau de Casarão” by Túlio Borges, with fair use.
Please follow us on our social media @brazilcultureconnections and don’t forget we have the complete transcriptions of the interviews along with the translations in English on our website, brazilcultureconnections.wordpress.com.
Thank you very much for the attention, support, and exposure! Muito obrigada!