National Day of Zumbi and Black Consciousness, celebrated on November 20, was officially instituted by Law No. 12,519, of November 10, 2011. The date refers to the death of Zumbi, the then leader of Quilombo dos Palmares - located between the states of Alagoas and Pernambuco, in the Northeast Region of Brazil.
Zumbi was killed in 1695, on that date, by pioneers led by Domingos Jorge Velho. Currently, there are a series of studies that seek to reconstruct the biography of this important character of the resistance to slavery in Brazil.
Why the 20th of November?
The date of his death, discovered by historians in the early 1970s, motivated members of the Unified Black Movement against Racial Discrimination, in a congress held in São Paulo, in 1978, to choose the figure of Zumbi as a symbol of struggle and resistance of enslaved blacks in Brazil, as well as the struggle for rights that Afro-Brazilians demand.
With that, the 20th of November became the date to celebrate and remember the struggle of blacks against oppression in Brazil. For this reason, Treze de Maio, the date on which the abolition of slavery took place, was left out. The argument used is that Treze de Maio represents a “false freedom”, since, after the Golden Law, blacks were left to their own devices and were left without any assistance the public authorities.
The choice of November 20 happened in the context of the decline of the Military Dictatorship (late 1970s onwards) and the country's redemocratization. The weakening of the dictatorship gave strength to opposition movements and social movements, such as the black movement.
With the redemocratization of Brazil and the promulgation of the 1988 Constitution, various segments of society, including social movements, such as the black movement, gained greater space in the scope of political discussions and decisions. The participation of these groups in the political scenario was successful, and measures were approved that had as their proposal to promote a certain historical reparation.
Among these measures, we can highlight the race or color prejudice law (nº 7.716, of January 5, 1989) and laws such as racial quotas, aimed at higher education, and, specifically in the area of basic education, the Law nº 10.639, of January 9, 2003, which instituted the obligation to teach Afro-Brazilian history and culture. These laws provide for some reparation for the damage suffered by the black population in the history of Brazil. Behind these laws are initiatives to end the blackout and the history and culture of Africans in Brazil.
In the case of the National Day of Zumbi and Black Awareness, the date was created by means of the aforementioned Law No. 12,519, on November 10, 2011, during the government of Dilma Rousseff. This law did not make the date a national holiday, so the governments of each state and city in Brazil must choose to be a holiday or not. Journalist Laurentino Gomes says that, until 2018, November 20 was a holiday in 1047 municipalities in Brazil (out of a total of 5561 municipalities).
Zumbi dos Palmares
The figure of Zumbi dos Palmares is especially claimed by the black movement as a symbol of all these conquests, so much so that the law that instituted Black Awareness Day was also the result of this claim. The name of Zumbi is even suggested in the National Curriculum Guidelines for the Education of Ethnic-Racial Relations and for the Teaching of Afro-Brazilian and African History and Culture as a personality to be approached in basic education classes as an example of the struggle of blacks in the Brazil.
This suggestion is guided by one of the determinations of Law No. 10,639, of January 9, 2003, which states the following: “The syllabus […] will include the study of the History of Africa and Africans, the struggle of blacks in Brazil , the Brazilian black culture and the black in the formation of the national society, rescuing the contribution of the black people in the social, economic and political areas pertinent to the History of Brazil. ”
But after all, who, in fact, was Zumbi dos Palmares? This is a complex question to answer, since the sources and evidence regarding the life of this historical character are rare. What historians know today is that Zumbi dos Palmares was one of the leaders of the largest quilombo in the history of Brazil, Quilombo dos Palmares.
Some facts in the life of Zumbi dos Palmares that were taken for granted some decades ago are now questioned by historians for the lack of sources and for inaccurate information raised by some of the studies done in the past. Something almost universally attested by historians is that Zumbi was born in Quilombo dos Palmares.
For decades, the version written by a journalist named Décio Freitas was consolidated, who said that Zumbi was born in Palmares, but was kidnapped as a child and raised by a priest. As a teenager, Zumbi would have run away, returned to the quilombo and became an important general who defended Palmares the bandeirantes.
This version is currently not supported by historiography, as it is based on documents to which only the author of the book had access. Numerous studies on Zumbi have been carried out and all are faced with the lack of historical evidence to support some of the conclusions reached. Recent analyzes, however, point to the way in which different versions of Zumbi were built and their political uses.
Laurentino Gomes states that the current image of Zumbi is a construction idealized the end of the 19th century by the abolitionist movement. In this construction, Zumbi became the “hero of the struggles for freedom, not only of slaves and blacks, but also of peasants, Indians, minorities” | 2 | It was this image that was behind all the recent conquests of the black movement and, even today, it is still in force.
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What does Black Awareness Day represent?
In addition to the issues involving Zumbi and Quilombo dos Palmares, Black Awareness Day is a significant date, as it brings to light important issues: racism and inequality in Brazilian society. It is a date that recalls the struggle of Africans enslaved in the past and that reinforces the importance of carrying out new struggles to make our society more just.
Black Awareness Day is important to remember that our society was built through slavery. As much as improvements and changes have taken place, the lack of opportunities for the black population, the racism present in the details of daily life and the attempts to erase African culture show that we still have a long way to go. That is what Black Awareness Day is all about.
Some indications may help us to understand the problem of racism in Brazil, since numerous researches on this subject have been carried out in recent years. In a survey carried out after the 2018 elections, only 4% of politicians elected to the Legislature declared themselves black. The survey indicated that, among district, state, federal and senatorial deputies, only 65 of the 1626 elected declared themselves black
Other data indicate that about 56% of the population declares itself to be black (blacks or browns), but among the richest, blacks represent only 17.8%. In contrast, blacks represent 75% of the poorest, in addition to corresponding to the majority of prisoners in Brazil: 65%.
In addition, blacks are more condemned than whites when they are prosecuted for drug possession. However, paradoxically, they are apprehended with lower doses of illicit substances compared to white convicts. Not only does justice prove to be stricter against blacks, but so do the police, since 76% of those killed by the police are black.
It is also worth mentioning that, in the job market, blacks also suffer prejudice, as they receive, on average, 1200 reais less compared to white workers. Even in unemployment, blacks suffer more, since more than 60% of the unemployed are black.
Racism was so pervaded in the culture of the Brazilian that even in the vocabulary it manifests itself. Expressions such as “the color of sin”, “denigrate”, “mulatto”, “bad hair” (to refer to curly hair), among many others, clearly denote racism and arose the legacy of more than 300 years of slavery in the Brazil.
Religious culture black Africans also suffers greatly prejudice in Brazil. In the 1930s, so-called African religions were banned in Brazil. Currently, although the Constitution provides for religious freedom, what we see in our country is that religions of African origin are intensely persecuted. A recent phenomenon is the actions of vandalism committed against terreiros in which umbanda and candomblé meetings are practiced.
Even at school, there is enormous resistance to African culture, as there are parents of students who refuse to allow their children to have access to knowledge and knowledge related to cultures of African origin. Even teachers often refuse to teach subjects related to Afro-Brazilian culture to students, although there is a law that requires them to do so.