Black Press in Brazil: Another Chapter of Black History

Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto

The UN Year of Afro-Descendants, 2011, has just passed. We are in the Black History Month. March 21st is the time of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; and in July 25th it will be the Day of the Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Women. In Brazil, November 20th is the National Day of the Blackness Consciousness. Days, weeks, and months have been utilized to highlight important facts in the history of Black population around the world.

It is obvious that these punctual celebrations do not solve problems related to racism; however, that was never their function. The dates are not responsible by the equivocate acts of historical subjects. So, the simple disqualification of these political struggle’s tools for recognition tends to be useless. If one day or month is not enough to catch up our experiences, we, producers and consumers of information, finally have the option of fomenting a more critical debate in our quotidian life.

Actually, if the legitimacy of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s dream to institute the Black History week in 1926 is undeniable, the present aspiration of diverse points in the African Diaspora is also legitimate. Beyond a localized project, the interest for the past as a path to transform the present and to generate a better future is an ancestry principle that can be found in the Sankofa, an adinkra ideogram, for instance, which means: “We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today”. In this sense this occasion is an opportunity to exercise the recognition of the shared histories. We have been learning a lot and we can learn more with each other by what we produced in music, images, movies, texts, verse and prose; our culture, indeed.

I have a special appreciation for Black newspapers. Beyond the limitations and contradictions of time and place, the contact with the writings which were published by and for black people, since slavery, with the objective of combating all kind of daily injustices have incalculable worth. I venture to say that reading a newspaper such as Freedom’s Journal, The North Star, Chicago Defender, The Crisis Magazine, The Black Panther – Intercommunal News Service, among others, should be stimulated and facilitated not only in this country. Via these newspapers we can see questions as well as a framing of how dialogs and alliances among stigmatized groups by the racism in diverse parts of the world had the strategic function of confronting injustices which were perpetrated in the Occident and Orient, with or without capitalism. Although I am interested in Black newspapers produced in the United States, I prefer to take the chance to share some information about the Black press in Brazil.

Brazil was never a racial paradise; it is completely different from what has been purported. This country emerged and depended on slavery of African and African-descents that presently represent the majority of the population (51%); however, African-Brazilians live in one of the most racial unequal countries on the planet. Since the racism problems are ancient, the resistance actions also represent an old framing.  Black newspaper production symbolizes the possibility of grappling with racism in Brazilian society.

The first titles were published in Rio de Janeiro in 1833. Although the slavery system was still powerful, free and freed Black people increased in numbers, and most gathered in the cities. The motto of the following newspapers was the defense of free black people citizenship: O Homem de Cor ou O Multato (The Colored Man), Brasileiro Pardo (Brazilian Brown), O Cabrito (The Kid) e O Lafuente.  Articles criticizes projects that intended to constitute a racial hierarchy. They aimed to classify people by their skin tones. Also in the 19th Century were newspapers that approached abolitionists themes and defense of rights to Blacks in the post-abolition period: O Homem: Realidade Constitucional ou Dissolução Social, published in Recife (PE) (The Man: Constitutional Reality or Social Dissolution), in 1876; A Pátria (The Homeland), in 1889; O Progresso (The Progress) in 1899, both edited in São Paulo (SP); and O Exemplo (The Example) that was written in Porto Alegre (RS), 1892.

The 20th Century saw the outcome of a larger number of press publications.  A few can be highlighted: A Alvorada (The Dawn); O Menelick, Clarim da Alvorada (The Dawn Clarin), Getulino, Progresso (Progress), A Voz da Raça, (The Voice of Race) – all of them produced between 1907 and 1937. They, among others, registered how Blacks protested against racial prejudice and State’s whitening attempts of the population.  They participated in public debates in several cities in Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, for instance. We must take in account that during this period the newspapers was added up with black women signatures.

As the newspaper publication started to be a common action in organization, the number of small Black newspapers increased considerably. A first example to be remembered is Quilombo: Vida, Problemas e Aspirações do Negro (Quilombo: Life, Problems and Black Aspirations), published between 1948 and 1950. This newspaper was a Teatro Experimental do Negro’s (Black Experimental Theater) product, and it was directed by Abdias do Nascimento. It was an essential source to access the Black intellectual thought in the mid century. In the final phase of military dictatorship, which last from 1964 to 1985, two edition of the Revista Tição (Tição Magazine) were published in Porto Alegre in 1978 and 1979, as well as the Revista Nêgo (Nêgo Magazine), instituted in 1981 by Movimento Negro Unificado’s (Unified Black Movement) activists in Salvador and became, in the end, the movement’s national entity by receiving a new title: Jornal Nacional do MNU’s (MNU National Newspaper). They overhung among all the other information sources.

Presently, almost all organizations have their own communication vehicles. It is also kept the efforts to the consolidation of more elaborated newspapers with national reach and ability to follow the daily life of black people. From the recent examples, we can cite the Revista Eparrei (Eparrei magazine), the Afropress, the Ìrohìn, the Correio Nagô and the Revista Áfricas (Áfricas Magazine). The problem is that these contemporary newspapers and magazines deal, practically, with the same social-economic-political maintenance difficulties which the past Black press experienced. This is represented by the intervals of publishing and closing of many of them as well. Lamentably, Ìrohìn (news in Ioruba language) experienced this difficult situation, and it was one of the most combative representatives of the black Brazilian press, which had all its activities canceled in 2010.

Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto is a Historian, journalist and activist of Black Movement in Brazil, visiting research at African and African Diaspora Studies Department of University of Texas at Austin.

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