“When black women move, the entire world moves with us.” This important statement by philosopher and activist Angela Davis is becoming more and more real and objective for Brazilian black women.
Looking back at Brazil’s history, the understanding of intersectionality between gender, class, and race, an increasingly strong black feminism, and the rise of governments connected to social movements as of 2003 has opened room for the demands of women’s and black movements to be included in the country’s political agenda.
Aiming to strengthen the Afro-Latin American and Afro-Caribbean Women’s Day, celebrated on July 25th, and responding to the demands of Brazilian black women’s movement, the then president Dilma Rousseff signed a law in 2014 establishing the day as the National Tereza de Benguela and Black Women’s Day.
Tereza de Benguela was a quilombola leader who lived in the state of Mato Grosso in the 1800s. A quilombola is a resident of a quilombo, settlement set up in Brazil’s rural areas, mostly by escaped enslaved people of African descent. After her partner died, she became the leader of the Quilombo do Piolho, between 1750 and 1770. For two decades, the quilombo she led gathered more than one hundred black and indigenous people. Not only did they fiercely resist slavery, they also created a solid social organization.
Addressing Tereza de Benguela, black women, and Afro-Latin American and Afro-Caribbean women by establishing a day of struggle is, undoubtedly, an important tool for Brazilian black women to have the opportunity to strengthen a sense of identity, by seeing themselves in the story of so many black women who were central characters in the struggle for freedom and rights, but have been silenced and invisibilized in official historiography.
On the following day, July 26th, the state of São Paulo celebrates the Curly Hair Pride Day. One of the several goals on this day is to strengthen the African-Brazilian ethnic identity, as hair straightening was one of the most common forms of oppression of black people’s ethnic identity in post-slavery Brazil. The bill that proposed the Curly Hair Pride Day was brought forward by member of state parliament Leci Brandão, a black woman with strong ties with black culture, social, and political movements. It is worth highlighting that strengthening and expanding these agendas is fundamentally about including women – black or not – in political power and decision making. The two awareness days mentioned, for example, were proposed and/or signed into law by women.
These lawmaking efforts are directly reflected in political mobilization. Both on the Afro-Latin American and Afro-Caribbean Women’s Day and the Curly Hair Pride Day, thousands of black women take to the streets all over Brazil, marching for their right to be and exist in a society without violence, where well-being and equal opportunities prevail.
These demands are hard to comprehend, especially in a country that is effectively racist, sexist, and classist such as Brazil. But they are not impossible for those who are willing to acknowledge their own privileges and look at our own history through critical lenses.
For starters, I invite you to check the many events scheduled to happen around this agenda, and also to take part in the Black Women’s March in São Paulo today. This year’s slogan is “For us, for all of us, and to live well! We demand the end of State violence and negligence.”
The Black Women’s March will start at 5pm local time at Roosevelt Square, in downtown São Paulo.
Edited by: Daniela Stefano | Translated by Aline Scátola