The transformative concepts of "revolt" and "resistance" are at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement, which is now a global force.
Brazilian black movements have been organising and protesting against racial violence and injustice for decades. When the Black Lives Matter movement became a global force, activists in Brazil adopted the rallying cry to bolster their own historical fight. In July 2016, the month before the Olympic Games, US delegates from Black Lives Matter travelled to Rio de Janeiro for what became known as 'Julho Negro', or 'Black July' – a conversation between leaders of the movement and local groups working to highlight issues such as escalating police killings and militarisation in Brazil (particularly in the favelas); the continuing incarceration of black youth; and the racist structure of the state, based on centuries of exploitation. Brazil's black movements continued to grow in 2017, with numerous protests in São Paulo, Rio and elsewhere. Here, Brazilian sociologist Tulio Custódio describes the black experience in relation to revolt and resistance. This article is part of Right to Protest.
Abdias do Nascimento (1934-2011) was
one of the leading black intellectuals in Brazil. He was active in theatre, art
and politics. His life was marked by activism and he managed to reconcile creative
activity and political thinking.
In 2006, sociologist Antônio Sérgio
Guimarães published an article clarifying the notions of revolt and resistance
present in his own thinking as an academic. The article showed how revolt
and resistance have been fundamental to breaking free from the logic of racial democracy and allowing the development of a questioning
perspective in black culture.
In what sense are these two notions
relevant today as we witness the emergence of movements like Black Lives
Matter? What are the effects of racism on
the experience of the black diaspora?
It is necessary to go deeper to find the despair, the burden that's carried, the collapse and the loss of meaning of black life experience
We can look at it from two
dimensions: material and subjective. From the material, objective perspective,
the situation of black people is marked by racism as the basis of political and
economic power: the exploitation of black labour, the objectification of black
bodies, the trauma and the death of black people. This material situation is
what can be seen with the naked eye, in the black bodies lying on the ground, begging, in our big cities, abused by the
repressive power of the state and imprisoned in unequal proportions: leading
the statistics of violence, vulnerability and mortality.
On the other hand, when seen from the
subjective perspective the effects of racism are less obvious, but are nevertheless
extremely important. As philosopher Cornel West points out, it is necessary to
go deeper to find the despair, the burden that's carried, the collapse and
the loss of meaning of black life experience. He calls this experience – which
includes psychological depression, lack of self-value and social despair found in all black communities – “black nihilism”. Nihilism has to do with the experience
of leading a life with no meaning, no hope and no love. It is an experience of living
in humiliation and moral devaluation.
Integration into the capitalist system did not heal
the scars and wounds caused by racism. Market ethics replaced the associative
(and protective) traditions of black communities. The beliefs and images of
white supremacy assail the intelligence, the skills, the beauty and character of
black people daily, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Without hope there is no
future, without meaning there is no struggle. Existential anxiety heightened by
nihilism is the historical experience of blacks before white supremacy.
We know that the cumulative effect of wounds and scars is anger and rage. And it is that anger that is captured as a transformative energy for action
In so far as it denies hope, black nihilism transforms anxiety into rage, into black-against-black violence, the main victims of which are black women and children. These are the adverse consequences of this process.
That lived experience is externally
stamped on blacks as being NOBODIES, as Marc Lamont Hill explains in his book Nobody: Casualties of
America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond. Being a NOBODY is being
vulnerable. It is to be subject to ordinary violence by the state, to daily
terrorism and to the injustices of daily life. It is being abandoned by the
state and being considered disposable. We know that the cumulative effect
of wounds and scars is anger and rage. And it is that anger that is captured as
a transformative energy for action.
That diagnosis can be called, states
Cornel West, Niggerisation – a
process that transforms black individuals into Nobodies. Niggerisation is a process that can even be "transferred"
to other social groups, for it means "being insecure, unprotected, subject
to random violence and hatred" – which are all direct consequences of a
continuing process of nihilism and structural racism, which leads to the
hopeless acceptance of domination.
Thus we come to the relevant
concepts of revolt and resistance. Against nihilism and niggerisation there exists
a power that turns into revolt. Subjectivities and historical collective memory
try to fight back against the process of niggerisation. We know that the
cumulative effect of wounds and scars is anger and rage. And it is that rage
that is captured as a transformative energy for action.
In the tradition of black thought,
there is a special place for this rage, as Audre Lorde points out: "My
response to racism is rage: rage over exclusion, rage over unquestioned
privileges, over racial distortions, over stereotypes, betrayals and
cooptation". Lorde, like other black thinkers and leaders, presents us
with the challenge of turning rage into transformative energy – so that rage
becomes revolt and rises as a form of resistance against oppression and
nihilism. Rage becomes power for change, it becomes revolt as a form of
transformation and resistance.
The value that a black person invokes when revolting is his value as an individual, his value as black, his value as a citizen
Abdias do Nascimento incorporates the notion of revolt from the works of Albert Camus: "What is a revolted man? It is a man who says no. But while denying, he however is not renouncing: he is also a man who says yes from his very first move". That move is the organisation of revolt, which allows for protest.
Let us now go back to the notions of
revolt and resistance. The richness of the concept of revolt (or "revolted
being") is that, almost as a traumatic shock, it describes a movement that
contains the possibility of insurgency for existence, for action. If conscience
is born out of revolt, it is from that movement that black revolt arises.
By turning rage into energy, the revolt is transformed into the essence of freedom. For
black revolt is about liberation. As Abdias says, "the revolt is the
result of a lucid, well-informed conscience that does not compromise or make any
concession with its identity and its rights". The value that a black
person invokes when revolting is his value as an individual, his value as black,
his value as a citizen.
The Black Lives Matter insurgency against state violence is an ideological and political intervention in a world where black lives are systematically and intentionally considered an object of failure. It is a statement of the black people’s contributions to this society, of our humanity and our resilience to deadly oppression. It is not a "moment", it is a "movement".
All this can be seen today as we
witness the surge of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The concepts of revolt and resistance as ways of turning rage into transformative energy and resistance
against the genocide of black people are at the core of the Black Lives Matter
movement. It is a form of insurgency that is a form of resistance - for life, for
a life that matters, for lives that matter.