Nearly seven years ago, a new hashtag appeared. It was the summer of 2013, and George Zimmerman had just been released after fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black teenager. New movement #BlackLivesMatter quickly became a national sensation.
However, the movement to protect the lives of black people is not exclusive to the United States, nor did it begin in 2013.
For the Spring 2020 semester, Professor of History John French collaborates with Silvio Luiz de Almeida, Mellon’s visiting professor at the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, to examine the race and movement of the Black Lives Matter in the United States and Brazil in their combined class, Black Lives Matter : Brazil-US.
Almeida, a native of Brazil, serves as a professor of law and philosophy at the Presbyterian University of Mackenzie, and as a professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation School of Business Administration, both in São Paulo, Brazil.
Almeida’s presence played an important role in Christopher Simmons’ second student decision to enroll in the course.
“Being able to hear from these people – what they really have to go through and the physical things they have to do and experience – is something I appreciate,” he said.
Simmons also said that he had followed the U.S. Black Lives Matter movement. and interested in learning about its global presence.
In some ways, the movements of A. Lives Matter from the US and Brazil are similar. In both countries, “racism is an enemy of democracy,” Almeida said.
However, these two movements are also very different in several ways. In particular, French said that many students were surprised at the level of racial genocide in Brazil.
“Very interesting watching [the students] struggling to understand the Brazilian case after understanding the U.S. case, “French said.
But Almeida stressed the importance of making the Black Lives Matter movement a narrative of what he described as “vitapolitic” rather than necropolitic, or the politics of fear and death. The struggle against racism must show hope, he said.
Another difference noted by professors is that Brazil defines race based on phenotype, not genotype. According to France, two-thirds of the Brazilian population are of African descent, so not all of these people can be considered Black; categorization is not based on appearance. Meanwhile, people of African descent are a minority in the United States and can thus more simply “all be part of the black population.”
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The diversity of racial definitions shows that race is not a fact, Almeida said. Conversely, racialization is a process.
To publish some of these key takeaways, the class hopes to open a gallery exhibition at the Franklin Gallery at the Kenan Institute. Students will work together at the exhibition in the last few weeks of this semester, but now they make individual posters. French noted that some of these posters will enter the gallery in the fall.
For the poster, Simmons focuses on how athletes use sports as a platform to drive action in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Sport adds new audiences and follows issues,” he said, noting that some people who participate in sports will not follow the movement through traditional news media.
Simmons said that having the gallery aspect would have a physical and lasting impact on himself, other students in the class and viewers. He explained that this class is not about memorizing information, but learning and synthesizing global issues and then producing something tangible.
Although French said that the project was still a work in progress, he and Almeida both hoped the exhibition would have a video component, as well as some additional performative aspects, which were being worked on during the summer.
“It is important to emphasize the performative character of Black Lives Matter,” Almeida said. “It is possible to work with many, many forms of cultural manifestations – for example, dance, sports, music.”
Almeida added that various backgrounds and interests of students will greatly enrich the gallery.
“Everyone can join the exhibition,” he said.
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