In recent times, from the recent anti-racist mobilizations in the United States and in the countries of Latin America, there has been a strengthening of black and feminist movements in Brazil and in other regions of America called “Latina”, as well as the resumption of the debate on race.
In this context, there has been a renewed interest in ideas and theories of the past, such as those developed by authors such as Abdias Nascimento and Lélia Gonzalez. The ideas of the two Brazilian intellectuals innovated the reflection on blacks in the diaspora and “intersectionality”, in particular the ideas of “quilombismo” (de Nascimento) and “amefricanidade” (de Gonzalez), which claim a preponderant place in the critical theory produced in the global South.
Quilombos as spaces of resistance
Abdias Nascimento (1914-2011) founded the Teatro Experimental do Negro in 1944 and introduced the movement of darkness in Brazil. He has been a professor at universities in the United States and Nigeria, helped found the Unified Black Movement in 1978, was a member of parliament and senator, as well as a writer, visual artist and actor. His book “Quilombismo: Documents of a Pan-Africanist Militantism”, published in 1980, received a new edition in 2019. In this and other books, Nascimento addressed the historic need for resistance of the black diaspora in the Americas.
Hence the tradition of the quilombos: an effort to save freedom and dignity through flight from captivity and the organization of a free society. The Quilombos were rural communities formed by slaves fleeing captivity, where they took refuge and attempted to resist attempts at recapture. They received this name in Brazil, but in other parts of America, similar phenomena became known as “cimarrones”, “palenques” and “bruns”. The formation of quilombos became a general and permanent movement, even after the abolition of slavery. But for him, the notion of “quilombo” went well beyond the historical quilombos and those which still survive: it was a metaphor for all the spaces of resistance and black sociability.
Therefore, the “quilombismo” transcends the physical existence of the quilombos. It would also be in organizational models that are more or less tolerated: in black Catholic brotherhoods, in syncretic expressions such as candomblé, in sports societies, in mutual aid funds or in cultural institutions such as samba schools.
Regardless of their declared function, all these spaces have played and are playing a role in maintaining the African community as spaces of resistance. All these activities would constitute a unity, a practice of liberation, making the negro an agent of his own history.
For Nascimento, in each of them, the “community” would be the central element. It would be a historical and psychosocial legacy of the black African, rooted in his history, his culture, his experience. Echoing the ideas of the Darkness movement, the author has bet on the “reinvention of an Afro-Brazilian way of life based on its historical experience, on the use of a critical and inventive knowledge of its institutions struck by colonialism and racism ”.
In his work there is a deliberate effort to reflect on the Negro’s Brazil and to produce original concepts. There is a clear intention to overcome Eurocentric mental colonization and replace it with “quilombist liberation”. The enslaved African would have brought to Brazil (and the Americas) the communal character of the socio-economic organization that existed in Africa, and reproduced it here. Quilombism would thus constitute an alternative to capitalism: it was not a project of the past, but of the future.
There is also a clear notion of “internal colonialism” in Nascimento’s work: the Portuguese colonial state, and later the Brazilian state, would have taken on a terrorist and illegitimate character in relation to blacks. His intention was to eliminate them, through the genocide that Nascimento analyzes in his other fundamental work, “The genocide of the Brazilian blacks” (1977). This genocidal state should then be replaced by a “national quilombist state”, through a “quilombist revolution”, to “ensure a healthy life for children, women and men, animals, sea creatures, plants, jungles, rocks and all the manifestations of nature ”. We are a family business.
“Améfrica” for “amefricanas”
The reflections of Lélia Gonzalez (1935-1994), historian, anthropologist, black activist and feminist, offer an originality to black and feminist thought. At the end of 2020, “For an Afro-Latin American Feminism” was published, bringing together the main works of the author. In them, Gonzalez addresses Eurocentrism and neocolonialism, the inferior form by which the colonized sees himself in relation to the colonizer. In this way, he seeks alternatives to the idea of ”Latin America”, in which the indigenous and black peoples do not fit. “Latin America” is opposed to that of “Anglo-Saxons”, but what would be the place of non-whites in this equation?
If your fate can no longer be the contested project of dissolution by interbreeding, what can you offer as an alternative? Gonzalez proposes an “Afro-America” or an “Améfrica”.
Besides the racial question, the author reflects creatively on feminism, proposing a feminism that is not white, European, Western: but Afro-Latin American, for “amefricanas”. According to Gonzalez, amefricanas (as well as Native Americans) initially realize that they are oppressed by their race, only to become aware of discrimination based on gender.
Class exploitation and racial discrimination would be the basic elements of a common struggle between men and women of a subordinate ethnic group. After all, black slavery was experienced by men and women, and “it is within the enslaved community that political and cultural forms of resistance have developed which allow us today to continue a struggle. centuries for liberation “. The same argument could be extended to indigenous communities.
For Gonzalez, this explains the considerable presence of amefricanas and Amerindians in ethnic movements. But this participation has led them to become aware of the gender discrimination from which they suffer: “our fellow movements reproduce the sexist practices of the dominant patriarchy and try to exclude us from the decision-making spaces of the movement”.
This led them to research the feminist movement and its theories, “believing to find in it a solidarity as important as it is racial: fraternity.” But what we really find are the practices of racist exclusion and domination ”. With that, the cycle was closed: oppressions of class, race and gender overlapped. Gonzalez thus anticipated contemporary debates on intersectionality, patriarchy and sorority.
Reading Abdias Nascimento and Lélia Gonzalez contributes to understanding the multiple oppressions in a peripheral context, and provides elements for building emancipation projects that overcome them. This work anticipates several debates and can contribute to our necessary mental decolonization. In addition, its relevance stands out, especially in a context of social regression and the deepening of the genocide of the black and indigenous Brazilian population.