Brazil has for years presented itself as a “racial democracy” – a land of harmonious racial relations and free of racism. This image has many times been questioned, while the murder in April 2018 of social justice campaigner Marielle Franco shed new light on the violence many of the country’s black women face. And today, a particular form of racism is increasingly on display online.
In Brazil as around the world, Facebook, Twitter and the like have become a sort of modern-day pillory for distilling varied forms of racism, bigotry, and misogyny – and Brazil’s digital public sphere is seeing a distinctive, deep-seated, colonial-like racism unleashed against upwardly mobile black women.
The posts concerned bear the hallmarks of “whitening” ideology – the belief that whiteness represents the only legitimate form of beauty, the ultimate and unquestionable symbol of modernity and progress, whereas blackness embodies exactly the opposite. The racist posts that proliferate on social media are part of an attempt to undermine black women’s social advancement and delegitimize their demands for greater racial equality, putting them back into their “natural” position of inferiority and subservience.
According to a study by the organization Safernet Brasil, in 2017 there were 63,698 reported cases of hate speech on the internet in Brazil, and a third of them comprised racist discourses against black people. In a recent study of my own, I found that 81 percent of victims of racist discourse on Facebook in Brazil were middle-class black women aged 20-35.