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Racism and Luso-tropicalism

by ace
Racism and Luso-tropicalism

Since mid-January, I have been talking to Luís Aguiar-Conraria about racism or non-racism in Portuguese society. It all started with the tragic death, at the end of the year, of Cape Verdean student Luís Giovani, violently attacked in Bragança. The dialogue took place on the pages of PÚBLICO, based on the article “Justice for Giovani”, By Aguiar-Conraria, which I continued in“#JusticeParaGiovani”. Conraria replied in “We are stupid and lazy, but nice!”And I again on“We are nice, but stupid and lazy!”, In which I introduced the theme of Luso-tropicalism, of which I am, I confess, an assumed follower. Our pleasant cavaqueira rolled, for days, to the pages of EXPRESSO, where Aguiar-Conraria wrote “A lusotropical look at racism”And scrolls now to the OBSERVATOR for this text of mine.

In Conraria's article, two weeks ago, a Luís (a fantasized name) was on Facebook, who considered that “the Portuguese were of the most racist peoples, because they did not even recognize that they were racists”; and an Isabel (also a fantasized name), who “found the argument silly (…) to (with) a hint of indignation”. Closing the article, after an argumentative trip, Conraria was right about Luís about Isabel: “if we want to not be racist, we must start by being aware of our racism.”

I don't agree: I think Isabel's reason is. In this conversation of racism and Luso-tropicalism, I take sides, without hesitation, for Isabel against Luís, even though Luís's position cannot be totally disregarded. Strictly speaking, the two positions are not completely opposed. I, like Isabel, believe that the Portuguese are not racist. I believe, moreover, that they are culturally linked to building non-racist societies: it is Luso-tropicalism, as I see it and I have already stated in another stage of these conversations.

But this is a standard reading, a view of comparative dominant behaviors; it obviously does not exclude that there may be Portuguese racists, or that there are racist behaviors (even in typically non-racist individuals), or that they can happen and accumulate negligence with racist incidences, etc. To put it another way: the claim that Portugal is not a racist country and the conviction that the Portuguese are not racist does not correspond to blind negationism, neither about the past nor about the present. They do not require turning a blind eye to any facts that contradict the norm or attack it. On the contrary. Rather, they correspond to a cultural statement that should favor the embrace, not disinterest. They are assertiveness and, therefore, commitment. They are not bullshit and, therefore, indifference.

Aguiar-Conraria tells us about the black boy with whom he played ball, as a child, in Coimbra, with other friends, and to whom, sometimes, in the heat of the dispute, they shouted "Preto da Guiné, wash your face with foot!" . This is very different from the episode he recalls below: the long cascade of racist provocations and insults that Marega was subjected to, at the stadium, for about an hour, until he decided to leave the field, as a protest and just refusal. In the first case, of children, the strongest sign is integration: it was a game between equals, in which boys, in the fight for the ball and the game, sometimes insult and provoke themselves, mocking physical characteristics – in my childhood, frequent targets it was the fat ones, the ones who walked with their feet out (the “patolas”) and the “box of glasses”. Whether it was good or bad, it didn't matter as long as there was no burden of humiliation. And there was no burden of humiliation. It was fun and play. We were all friends and everything ended in hugs, in a great laugh and with skinned knees. In the case of Marega, it was not a game between equals: it was a liturgy of insults and a long ritual of humiliation, in which the crowd abused the power of the number and the bench over the target athlete. It's bad, very bad. It is intolerable. There or in any other stadium. I believe – I also go to the stadiums – that many were not aware of the seriousness of what they were doing and that the psychology of the crowds took care of the shouting. I believe that many, even the majority, are not racist. But, for that very reason, they have to recognize that what has been done is a gesture of racism, an intolerable attitude, that spoils football and spoils society. And, not being racist, they have to make sure that it never happens again. In Luso-tropical Portugal, we don't want this. Nor is it just the Portugal of Eusébio, Coluna, or others; it is also that of Vitória, who, at the same time as the collision with Marega, played with four athletes with black or mixed skin. It's ridiculous, ignoble. Does not make sense. We don't want this anywhere in the world; but the part of the world for which we are responsible is our land. Not here! Never! Never, at any time! If we want to be something, it is exemplary in which this does not happen.

Luís Aguiar-Conraria also uses an example of an academic test that impresses me little: the TAI, Implicit Association Test. Myself I went to take the test to know what it’s about and what I’m talking about. By chance, I didn't even get very badly “quoted”. But I admit that, already alerted, knowing what I was going to, I could have applied myself more than usual. However, the test – which is very different from what I imagined – is very prone to keyboard errors, acts under the pressure of time and I do not think it allows drawing conclusions about individuals, groups or peoples, from the content of those I have seen in the press. For example, after the seizure of her assets in Portugal, at the request of the Angolan PGR, Isabel dos Santos came to retrieve a news item from 2017, which, based on aggregated results of the same test, titled: “Portugal is among the most racist countries in Europe”. This is nonsense! Conraria does not echo this bombastic statement, but the test will only serve to measure (albeit with the imperfections of the process) the speed of associating words "positive" or "negative" with "blacks" or "whites". It does not allow drawing conclusions about racism at all – the association of words, incidentally, is not spontaneous, it is shaped by the test itself. They may be interesting sophistications in the field of research in the humanities, but they escape the essential. The essential thing is, even by empirical verification, by the social evidence of the common experience, if there is exclusion or not, if there is violence or there is no violence, if there is discrimination and inequality or not, if they happen because of the color of the skin or other factors, etc. It is also essential not to stop. For example, if there is equality of opportunity, it is not enough to say "there is equality of opportunity": it is necessary to check whether it works, or not, and to see why it works.

More than curiosities or sophisticated academic exercises, I am interested – and should be interested – in other statistics: employment, education, housing, etc. These statistics are indeed relevant and, unfortunately, still unsettling. Conraria cited some in one of the articles in our conversation. And I added, in the following article, the issue of political representation statistics, which are very weak and disappointing. These social and political reality statistics always need to be compiled. And read and answered, both in speech and above all in politics. This is what makes Luso-tropicalism go. Luso-tropicalism is not a tropical hammock where we lie down to sleep in the shade of the banana tree: it is a call, a mandate, a responsibility.

It is hard for me to believe that Luís Aguiar-Conraria revealed exactly the truth about data published in the European Social Survey, which give us as the worst Europeans in terms of biological racism. This does not correspond at all to the empirical observation that we normally do. But, if, in fact, the numbers mean this and these studies are done every two years, then this is a data so worrying that it deserves continuous verification and a systematic social and educational response. To my knowledge, there is no one today who takes social Darwinism and “scientific” racism seriously – things that died, I hope, in the first half of the last century. And, on the other hand, I believe, as I have already written, that it is essential that all parties, from right to left and left to right, encourage the political militancy of Portuguese of different ethnicities, so that representation in the Assembly of the Republic and in local authorities it can more intensely translate the multiethnic diversity of Portuguese society.

Returning to the beginning, the reason is with Isabel: Luís's argument is absurd, according to which the Portuguese are of the most racist peoples, because they do not even recognize that they are racists. It is absurd, from the outset, that those who recognize themselves to be racist become ipso facto less racist than others. And it is also absurd to think that those who consider themselves non-racist are automatically indifferent and are not able to recognize racist facts or acts when they come across them, nor to react against them. I think it is exactly the opposite.

This is, in my view, the attitude that is right in a Portuguese, a son of Portuguese culture and a cultivator of the Portuguese way of being in the world. This Portuguese is bound, committed to defending and building a non-racist society. This is the legacy of Luso-tropicalism, one of the most brilliant discoveries in the field of social sciences and in the context of interracial relations. We are not condemned to be racist.


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