The results of the Brazilian elections have not yet been decided but Brazil’s sense of democracy and self are nevertheless shattered. Brazil is a racist country, built on the exploitation of its indigenous population and the enslavement of African peoples. The country that likes to pride itself as a multicultural nation has now been plagued by hate and division, as Brazil’s failure to deal with its own history and crimes over the years have brought back dark and dangerous ghosts.
Anti-progress rhetoric can come in a variety of shapes and forms - for example, it is wrong to brand all Leave voters as racists when only a third cited borders as their main concern, just like it is not sound to call all Trump voters misogynistic when high numbers of women voted for him. Nonetheless, be it conservative nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment, homophobia or hatred of minorities, it would be complacent of us to simply brush these aside as a ‘fringe minority’ issue. Despite calls for money for the NHS or the brandishing of protectionist policies in the US, we know of racist graffiti outside the doors of a Polish Centre in London following the Brexit vote and attacks on Latino and Asian immigrants in the US by Trump supporters. These things seem to be playing more of a part in today’s politics, no matter how strongly we push against them with the help of an array of celebrities, social media influencers and ‘experts’.
The reality in ‘multicultural’ Brazil is no different. The country’s aggressive and ‘macho’ culture only makes matters worse, as gay men are jeered at as ‘little women’ and women themselves are violently targeted for calling out Brazil’s high levels of femicide and violence against women. In a country where 70% of the victims of rape are children and teenagers and a new rape report is filed every 11 minutes, to even joke about rape, as Jair Bolsonaro does, is beyond detestable.
Du Bois noted that blacks were exceptionally excluded from North American democracy; but for most of the 20th Century, there was no democracy in Brazil. Most of the population, including many whites, were excluded from access to even basic rights and subject to authoritarian domination. A large proportion of the population now seeks the return of that.
I grew up in Brazil and yet still know very little about a past that involved torture of political dissenters and restriction of free speech and the media. When a country rejects to dive deep into its own history, its failings as well as its achievements offer very little learning curves to its population.
For years, Bolsonaro has been defending the track record of the military dictatorship which ruled Brazil from the 1960s to the 80s. Not just its economic or education policies - Bolsonaro openly admires the work of Colonel Ustra, one of the most sadistic torturers and murderers in the military dictatorship.
Bolsonaro’s electorate is mainly centred around the middle to upper classes, and is also largely male. Bolsonaro also does well with those who finished higher education and, despite the Worker’s Party’s undeniable corruption and its regretful impacts on economic development, Bolsonaro’s supporters tend to be economically successful. His actual policies are limited and during his 26 years in the Congress he only managed to approve two projects. Beyond his admiration for relaxing gun laws, Bolsonaro stands for very little.
What Bolsonaro stands against, however, is quite open for all to see. The presidential candidate voiced his hatred of gay men, pregnant women, black people and Brazil’s indigenous populations by saying that he would rather have his son die in a car accident than come home with a bloke and that if he ever got elected, indigenous populations would not have one centimetre of land. He openly suggests that women should earn less than men because they get pregnant (supposedly by themselves?) or that he would not rape a deputy anyway because she ‘was too ugly” and “did not deserve it’.
In the same country where widely-known stereotypes of browns and blacks include the idea that ‘blacks are only good in music and sports’ and a popular saying is that if you want to do a good job, to not do ‘a black person’s job’, it is difficult to believe that a candidate promoting more of this same hate did not strike a chord.
As dog-whistle politics increasingly hides itself behind support for the poor, the working classes and claims to fight on behalf of the homeland as opposed to ‘minority rights’, the real dangerous and destructive aspects of backlash against identity politics are excused of any real accountability. This trend is not one that ends in Brazil. How we respond to it today should be the main concern in the minds of political analysts everywhere.