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INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION: COVID-19, ENVIRONMENTAL AND STRUCTURAL RACISM

21 March is marked down in the global calendar of struggles as International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The date was proposed and established by the United Nations (UN) in memory of the Sharpeville Massacre on 21 March 1960.

On that day, approximately twenty thousand people protested against the pass laws in Johannesburg in South Africa (at the time under the apartheid regime).  The law required black men and women to carry identification cards, limiting where they could go in the city.

Apartheid troops attacked protestors, killing 69 people and wounding hundreds of others.

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is commemorated on 21 March in homage to this struggle and in memory of the protestors.

The pandemic and environmental racism

In 2021, the date falls at a time of the collapse of the country’s public health system, with almost 300 thousand deaths resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  In Brazil, the most affected have been the impoverished and the vulnerable, due to federal government negationism about the severity of the pandemic and the absence of essential policies for the population’s survival – such as a national vaccination plan and continuity of emergency aid payments of BRL 600.00.

Who doesn’t have access to water and basic sanitation, so fundamental to combatting the virus?  Who is unemployed, underemployed, or working informally?  Who uses the precarious public health system?  Who cries over the deaths of their children, brothers, sisters and companions? We know thatintersectionality (where racism and sexism intersect) makes black women even more vulnerable. And in the context of COVID-19, isolation contributes to increased violence against them.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased visibility about the real living conditions of the black population, the pandemic’s main target, and has accentuated yet another facet of racism: environmental racism.  This term was coined in 1981 in the United States by black civil rights leader, Dr Benjamin Franklin Chavis Jr., based on investigations and research into the relationship between toxic waste and the black population in North America (Source: Geledes).

Black Lives Matter!

In the current global context, particularly in Brazil, fascism, conservatism and fundamentalism are advancing and reasserting racism, the “natural” social hierarchy and the militarization of politics.

Colonization and enslavement occurred around the world, based on white supremacy, violence, the accumulation of wealth, the expropriation of colonized people’s cultures and the dehumanizationof black men and women.  The histories of rebellions, revolts, wars and demonstrations were part of the struggles of blackmovements in defence of life, liberty, and the hard-won civil, human and democratic rights throughout this period, which have repeatedly been neglected.

The elements of class, race and gender are pillars of the profound inequalities existing in Brazil and form the basis of racism in society.

For centuries, in the countryside and in the city, black men and women havelived, on the one hand, in conflict with the state and its public security policyand, on the other, with the absence of policies to confront social and economic inequalities.

Who are the victims of so-called “stray bullets”? Of “confrontations with the police?” and, if they survive all this, who represents the majority of the incarcerated population?  This is the politics of death – necropolitics, where the humanity of the other is denied and which is made concrete through aggression and death.  According to data recently publishedby UNICEF (in Portuguese), four out of every thousand Brazilian adolescents will be murdered before they reach their 19th birthday. If nothing is done, between 2015 and 2021, 43 thousand Brazilians aged between 12 and 18 years will be killed– three times more black adolescents than white.  In relation to young people aged between 15 and 29, oneblack life will be lost in the next 23 minutes, one more future will be cancelled, as so many others have been – DaviFiúza, Ágatha Félix, João Pedro, George Floyd,  Miguel Otávio.  The dehumanization, the contempt for black lives, the perception that some lives are worth more than others are also evident in these cases.

It is this state of “the naturalization of violence” against the black population that motivates black and antiracist movements and organizations to implement campaigns and mobilizations, to coordinate denunciations in defence of life.  Particularly at this time of political and health crisis, it is necessary to advance the deconstruction of invisibility, to make denunciations and practice antiracism. Racism is not “black people’s problem!”  It is a question of white power and privilege!  It is the responsibility of society, in the daily construction of other types of social relations, confronting racism and its consequences! What we need is commitment to the assertion of rights and democracy, the implementation of affirmative public policies and the dismantling of the militarization of politics.  What we need is radicalism in antiracist practice!

CESE, an ecumenical organization that works for the promotion, defence and guarantee of rights, identifies and recognizes the existence of individual, institutional and structural racism in the historical construction of the State and Brazilian society, and that this racism generates injustices against the black population. Throughout its almost 50-year trajectory it has always supported movements, organizations and grassroots groups for the black population, making its contribution to strengthening the country’s antiracist struggle.  Understanding that it is fundamental to its praxis, CESE reaffirms its Institutional Racial Equity Policy.

AGAINST THE GENOCIDE OF BLACK YOUTH!

BLACK WOMEN AGAINST RACISM, VIOLENCE AND FOR GOOD LIVING!

STOP KILLING US!

BLACK LIVES MATTER!

FREE VACCINATION VIA SUS NOW!

BRL 600.00 EMERGENCY AID UNTIL THE END OF THE PANDEMIC!