Black women: resistance to extermination

Ana Carolina Lourenço

28 July 2020

Quite often, I am asked about how I became a feminist. This question is a commonplace for black Brazilian women. At the end of the day, since we were born as black individuals in the last country to abolish legal slavery in the Americas, as women living in a society with sky rocketing numbers in terms of feminicide and, largely, living in poverty in a system that criminalizes poverty - can we proclaim ourselves as feminists?

I have given several answers to this question. My most usual answer was this one: when I was a teenager, I started to take part of the student movement and way back then, we were experiencing the first steps of the current massive redress policy of the Afro-Brazilian population, the admittance quotas policies at public universities and well-known federal schools. As a part of the Union, in this same métier, I met Sueli Carneiro, my heart was torn apart in pain and love when I read the 950 pages of Um Defeito de Cor (A Color Defect) written by Ana Maria Gonçalves. I danced to the songs of Ivone Lara and Elza Soares. I learned English just to read the other books written by Toni Morrison after the transformation that I experimented while reading The Bluest Eye. It was also at that time that I became obsessed with the experience of Afro-Cuban women who led the campaigns that eradicated illiteracy - and years later I ended up on the island. All of this is true, but it always sounds artificial to me. Because I am fully aware that I became who I am because of the women in my family and the place in which I grew up.

I was raised amidst love and the care of many black women. A great-grandmother, two grandmothers, a great-aunt, eight blood aunts, a hand-picked aunt and a mother. An Afro-Brazilian family who, after several migration experiences in the country itself, settled in the Baixada Fluminense, metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro, in search of housing and work. In this place, they built houses with backyards and they recreated their communities. Up to the beginning of my adulthood, I lived for a major part of the time only with my parents and brother. Nonetheless, I grew up on the street of my extended maternal family and we lived with my grandparents for short periods. I am a feminist because my childhood and my adolescence were filled with memories of these women and I learned their lessons of self-determination, endurance and fight.

Until my 15 years of age, I lived with my great grandmother Flor, when, according to her, she needed to leave since “she was a flower and not a seed”. She was born in the beginning of the XX century in Salvador, Bahia and my love for round tables, the scents and flavors or the spices used in the preparation of the Afro-Brazilian food came from her, in addition to the need of living in a community “Carolina, step out a bit to see what is going on and also to be seen”. About Grandma Lica, my paternal grandmother, with whom I lived for some months while we were building my home and with whom I spend each and every summer of my childhood days. She is the foundation of a huge family and community network, she was the first person to start me out in the mediation of conflicts, diplomacy and the need to build common boundaries. She was one of the first to identify my interest in social justice and political debates and among the flow of people at her home, with her knack, she opened spaces and introduced me to the complexity of the world. Her funeral in 2017 was a milestone in the life of her community, my family and in my own life. Her passing gave me the assurance and showed me that I was ready and this is something that only healthy relationships can give us.

I am also a feminist interested in the culture of other people and I also believe that the urge to change the world comes with the desire to get to know it and translate it by following the footsteps of the women in my family. My Grandmother Creuza, my mother's mother, still teaches me about the power of reinvention, of throwing yourself into the world and seeing it through one’s own eyes. After she had raised her daughters to an adult age, her retirement and the early death of my grandfather, she left us to travel through Brazil with a Polaroid camera in her hands. She opened herself to new romantic relationships, returned to school and invited me to her graduation. It was with her that I learned to speak about my own sexuality with the same spontaneity as if I was making the best porridge in the world.

Regarding the voices of my aunts and mother, as said Conceição Evaristo, they reverberate about “yesterday, today, now”. They are the first group I turn to when I need to remember that although our world is falling apart, we are black women, ambassadors of a revolutionary project. My mother and my aunts taught me that the struggle for the emancipation of black women is not only meant to create brilliant and successful black women, but, above all, to foster transformations in the core of society.

It was in their eyes, between the conversations and the silences of my sisters, grandmothers, aunts and mother, that I learned all the challenges that lays the foundations for the experiences of racialized women in a society such as the Brazilian. From the mass sterilization as a public policy, unsafe abortion, obstetric violence and premature interrupted motherhood, which traumatized the women in my family, the compelling need of reproductive justice is a must for me. These are the stigmas left by the exhaustive and precarious labor struggle that does not offer sufficient pay and is also exhausting, harasses and that kills - it is stemmed from the need of a new life reproduction format. In reports of hindered sexuality, attacks and terrible love stories. On the public policies conceived to produce hurdles, destruction and to kill out boys and girls. I sense racism and sexism, I have learned about that years after the first lessons.

The criminal experience of trafficking and slavery that etched the arrival of the first African women in the Americas continued to be updated even after the abolition of the enslaved individuals. Brazil, like many other countries on our continent, established a racist extermination policy from the last decades of the XIX Century that focused on preventing the reproduction of black women and to materialize the death of the black population. The main theorists of the Brazilian social thought at the beginning of the XX century stated that the black Brazilian population would be extinct in 2012. They were wrong. Currently, the largest population of African descendants out of Africa is precisely in Brazil. There are African descendants in the entire American continent, a group that is continuously growing. Afro-descendant women, were undoubtedly, the key against extermination.

July 25 is about building strategies to strengthen women of African descent in their struggles against the forces of death and extermination. This is a call to join hands, to cooperate with each other. And this is also a date to celebrate the lessons that were taught by life by women such as those from my family. They taught me, protected me and defended my humanity, and while they did that, they undertook responsibility roles within the entire community and they set me free - set us free.

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