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Breaking the Taboo: The Myth of Racial Democracy in Brazil and the Call for Justice for Marielle Franco

By Pâmela de Almeida Resende

“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” —Angela Davis

In Brazil, the 20th of November is remembered as Black Consciousness Day. On that same date, in 1685, one of the greatest leaders of the quilombola[1] resistance was killed: Zumbi dos Palmares. The event is remembered through the Black Consciousness March, where anti-racist militants denounce racism as a structuring element of Brazilian society in the present day. At the same time, it is very common for folks to question the importance or necessity of the Black Consciousness Day, whether in casual conversation or speeches of officials. The mythology of Brazil as a “racial democracy” is a placating idea meant to obfuscate the reality of structural racism embedded in Brazilian society. In June 2018, current president Jair Bolsonaro said, “here in Brazil there is no such thing as racism.”[2]

Brazil is a racist country. There is no doubt about that. Misunderstandings of the state-encouraged miscegenation of our people contributed to the construction of the idea that we are a racially friendly country. Many don’t understand that the policy of miscegenation was a genocidal strategy to “whiten” the Black population and eliminate the Black majority. Racial democracy is a myth. One hundred and thirty years after the abolition of slavery, we must ask ourselves: Why is the percentage of Black people in the job market so low? Why are Black youth still a minority in Brazilian universities, despite the majority of the population being Black? Why does police brutality against Black Brazilians persist? In Brazil, people die every day because of the color of their skin. The homicide rate for Black youth is hard to ignore. 

Photo Credit: Elias Rovielo (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

One of the voices that denounced anti-Black racism was the Partido Sociolismo e Liberdade (Socialism and Liberty Party) councilor, Marielle Franco. But her voice was silenced on March 14, 2018 when she was brutally murdered in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Marielle’s assassination is a political crime. She was an important voice in the fight against state violence, which most adversely affects the poor and the Black population. She was also a critical voice against the military intervention in favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Marielle also talked openly about women’s lack of representation in politics and the high rates of rape and domestic violence in Brazil.

This week would have marked Marielle’s 39th birthday. A beloved figure, her assassination sparked massive protests in the streets of Brazil and worldwide outcry. The permanence of Marielle’s memory on the public scene indicates that it is necessary to continue fighting for the dignity of women, Black people, the LGBTQ community, and the poor. The demand for justice for Black people that Marielle represented lives on in her memory. As philosopher, teacher and activist Angela Davis stated, “the Black feminism of Marielle Franco was meant to understand and transform the world.” 

Light projected onto the side of a building reads "Marielle Franco Lives".
Photo Credit: Pâmela de Almeida Resende. São Paulo, March 14, 2018.

We call for justice for Marielle Franco. The chants of “Marielle is here” and “Marielle lives” are still present today, one year after her death. As the Mexican proverb reminds us: ‘They tried to bury you but didn’t realize you were a seed.’ And that is why she lives in us who struggle daily for a more just and tolerant world.


Pâmela de Almeida Resende is 34 years old and lives in the city of São Paulo, Brazil. She holds a PhD in history from the University of São Paulo and her research topics focus on military dictatorship, human rights, and the history of Black feminism. She is an activist in the struggle for the emancipation of women, the decriminalization of abortion and the end of domestic violence.

[1] [Editor’s note: quilombola refers to communities in Brazil who live in quilombos, which are territories of Afro-descendent people whose ancestors escaped enslavement and established free settlements, often referred to as Maroon communities or palenques in the English and Spanish-speaking Americas, respectively.

[2] Ramos, Gabriela. “‘Aqui No Brasil Não Existe Isso De Racismo’, Diz Bolsonaro Em Fortaleza – Política.” Estadão. June 29, 2018. Accessed July 25, 2019.

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