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Today in Smart Thinking



This group of right-wing Brazil politicians is thinking smartly and taking a page from the National Rifle Association by deciding that the only solution to their nation’s murder problems is allowing people to buy more guns. Of course, what this is really is about is scared wealthy people who don’t really feel much of the effects of this violence. In the favelas, where people do die violent deaths from guns, the response is quite different, as the videos at the link will show. And despite Brazil’s myths about its own racial democracy, the real impact of this will be white people empowered to shoot poor black people anytime they feel uncomfortable. Hard to see what could go wrong!

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  • sonamib

    There was a referendum back in 2005 about banning commercial sales of firearms and ammunition in Brazil*. The gun control side lost by a landslide, unfortunately.

    *except for the police and military personnel of course.

  • LeeEsq

    Brazil is not and was never a racial democracy as they advertise themselves but calling their self-image as one a myth is more than a little strong. Despite slavery lasting for a generation longer in Brazil than it did in the notice, White Brazilians did demonstrate a lot less racism against Brazilians of color in theory and practice than what existed in the United States. Inter-racial romantic relationships never caused the amount of hyperventilation in the Brazil than it did in the United States and there was never a systematic system of socio-economic-political exclusion of Brazilians of color written into Brazil’s law. This makes them a lot better in actual practice than the United States already. There is still a lot to be desired about race in Brazil but they also have things that they can feel genuinely proud of compared to many other nations in the Americas.

    • sonamib

      You’re just saying that racism in Brazil is different than in the US. That’s true, but that doesn’t make it somehow less bad than in the US :

      – The Brazilian police kills a lot of black people too, there it’s called “autos de resistência” – acts of resistance, as in the person shot resisted arrest.

      – Cities don’t care at all about the favelas, absolutely no services are provided there except for schools. The police only enters to kill off a bunch of people then go home.

      – Public schools are tragically underfunded. Anyone wealthy enough sends their kids to private schools.

      – Public humiliation of accused black thiefs is common. A man was stripped of his clothes and tied to a goddamn lamp post on the street in Rio.

      There are no laws directly targeting black people because very few people actually consider themselves black, they prefer the term “mulato”. It’s more of a spectrum, where the darker your skin, the more likely you are to be poor and undeserving.

      • Ronan

        I have a friend who married a Brazilian then moved to Sao Paulo to work maybe 5 years ago. (It’s a well paying job and he lives in a wealthy area, his wife worked at the same place and so is at a similar income level and has a similar educational background. I just metion that to note that theyre probably quite insulated from a lot of Brazillian poverty)
        But he would generally be a type of personality that would be interested in and aware of the larger economy and society of the country he’s living in, as would his partner(who Id imagine has taught him a lot about Brazillian politics,from her perspective)
        That’s a long lead in to ask a question. I was talking to him over the summer (coinciding with the BLM protests in the US) about how he enjoys living over there, and he made the point that Brazilian society really doesnt have the racial divisions that the US does (which I was somewhwat aware of, at least that it was racialised differently) But he expanded that to say that there really isnt a collective black identity like there is in the US and that there have be *no* (I dont know if this is true) race based movements for greater rights, or against poverty etc Not that there were no social movements in these areas, just that it was never organised around a collective racial identity.
        Is that true?

        • sonamib

          Yes, that’s true, there has been nothing comparable to the Civil Rights movement in Brazil. There have been a lot of protest movements of poor people (so, mostly people of color) against their oppression, but it was always context-specific. Small farmers fighting for land, strikes, mutiny (Revolta da Chibata, I think the guy from Americas North and South did a guest post on that here), that sort of thing.

          More recently, there was the “rolezinho” campaign, where young people from poor neighborhoods would take walks in large groups in high-end shopping centers. The shopping managers (and most of the patrons) were furious and reacted very badly as was expected. There was no explicit racial angle in the campaign, but it’s pretty obvious that it played a role. How do you know, just by looking at someone, that they come from a favela?

          I think the revolt that comes closest to an explicit racial struggle was the Malian slaves revolt in Salvador in the 1830s. They were pissed off about slavery, of course, and also that they were forced to convert to catholicism when most of them were Muslim. They were pretty clear that their enemies were white people.

    • DrDick

      There is certainly much less racial consciousness in Brazil, but the statistics clearly show that racism is just as strong there as it is here.

      • MAJeff

        The embraced “color-blind” racism long before the US figured that shit out.

        • DrDick

          They may even have invented it. There is some interesting scholarship on the recent emergence of a degree of racial consciousness among Afro-Brazilians.

          • sonamib

            Dunno, France seems like a strong contender on the colorblind front.

            But yes, it’s true that after the end of slavery, racial oppression in Brazil never relied upon explicitly racialized laws. It’s more like : let’s raze that neighborhood, it’s a matter of hygiene (and that neighborhood is always a poor neighborhood with people of color). Naval officers had the right to flog their crew if they “misbehaved”. Of course the officers were mostly white while the sailors were mostly black.

            Recently, Brazil has had to confront that colorblind lie when the Lula administration instituted affirmative action in public universities – there was a social as well as a racial component to it. Upper middle class people threw a shitfit over it, especially over the racial affirmative action : “how do you define exactly the boundary between black and white, huh?” They dug up a story of two twins, one was considered white and the other black. It was a terrible couple of years, but the government held strong and now all public universities have 50% quotas for people socially and racially discriminated.

            So things are slowly changing, but there’s still a long way to go until it becomes common knowledge that yes, racism exists in Brazil and it’s a real problem.

  • cpinva

    “And despite Brazil’s myths about its own racial democracy, the real impact of this will be white people empowered to shoot poor black people anytime they feel uncomfortable.”

    we’ve had this in some U.S. states for a while now, it’s called “Stand Your Ground”. from what I’ve been able to gather so far, the victims, while not wholly people of color, seem to be in the vast majority. the “SYG’ers”, on the other hand, seem to be majority persons of lack of color.

    • Latverian Diplomat

      It’s another example of the “Shock Doctrine” in practice.

      “Got a problem? The solution is this thing we want to do anyway, that may have nothing to do with really solving the problem or, as in this case, will probably just make it worse.”

  • John Selmer Dix

    It’s a terrible idea, that is very much based on racism. I will never defend the idea that Brazil is a racial democracy. However, I will say that it’s misleading to say that this is just “scared wealthy people who don’t really feel much of the effects of this violence.”

    It’s also very much so scared poor people and middle-class people (whatever that means in Brazil today) who actually do feel the effect of the violence, though of course not as much as the people in the favelas. I lost one of my cousins in a robbery. He was driving a bus. I’ve been shot at, and held at knife point. My parents have been kidnapped for 24 hours. I think basically every Carioca I know has at least one of these stories. The violence really is ubiquitous, though not uniformly distributed.

    So I don’t think it’s wealthy vs. favelas. The wealthy, as far as I understand it, have bodyguards and gates and they spend most of the time in Miami or NY anyway. They might like this idea because they’re dumb or because they’ll profit off of it, but I doubt that they care too much about carrying a piece.

    • sonamib

      That’s right. A lot of middle-income people are pro-gun too. They don’t trust the police and want to feel in control*. As I linked in my first comment, the 2005 referendum proposing a ban on firearm and ammunition sales lost by a landslide. It can’t be just the wealthy’s votes.

      *That feeling is misguided, obviously. If you’re packing heat, you’re way more likely to get killed by your thief.

  • Warren Terra

    This group of right-wing Brazil politicians is thinking smartly and taking a page from the National Rifle Association by deciding that the only solution to their nation’s murder problems is allowing people to buy more guns.

    Oh, “more guns” isn’t the only solution to gun violence; as we’ve seen in this country it’s somehow possible for “more guns” inexplicably not to solve the problem of gun violence. If they follow our lead, at that point they’ll move on to trying Even More Guns, then Way More Guns. I still hold out hope for the solution to violence being Hand Grenades.

    • BubbaDave

      Oh, I think we can do better than that.

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