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In Brazil, Rising and Rampant Racism Is Written On The Wall


In Brazil, a new campaign called Virtual Racism, Real Consequences targets people who make racist comments online by putting up a giant billboard with their tweet near where they live. But as South America correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro explains, it's not the only project tackling racism and the legacy of slavery in Brazil.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: The billboards are simple, all white with the comment written in black bold. One of them, put up in the Brazilian state of Espirito Santo, reads, I came home stinking like a black person. The name and picture of the person who wrote that on Twitter is blurred out. But the organizers tracked down where they live, and the placard is in their neighborhood. Those targeted have taken their tweets down.

JUREMA WERNECK: They call women, mainly women, macaca.


WERNECK: They are talking about their hair. They are talking about the color of their skin. They are calling them prostitutes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's campaign organizer Jurema Werneck from activist group Criola. She says their message is simple. There is no real anonymity, and racism in Brazil is illegal. Despite having more black people living here than any country outside Africa, Werneck says racism in Brazil is actually on the rise. And that's because in the last decade, new laws like affirmative action are changing things.

WERNECK: We are entering universities. We are entering many different spaces. They are so, so angry because we are putting pressure in their privilege.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Brazil was the last country in the Americas to end slavery. It imported more enslaved people from Africa than any other country, well over 4 million. After slavery ended, there wasn't legal segregation like in the U.S. There was something more insidious, a social apartheid that still exists today. Other groups say that in order for the country to move forward, it first needs to look back.

MARCELO DIAS: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Marcelo Dias is the president of the truth commission on black slavery in Rio de Janeiro. He helped co-author a 311-page report, released this past week, on slavery in Brazil. It calls, for the first time, on the Brazilian government to apologize for the practice.

DIAS: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "We've had this struggle in Brazil," he says, "because the ruling class always said there was no racism here. They always denied it. How can you fight against something if it doesn't exist?" he asks.

DIAS: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Our report," he says, "seeks to rescue the real story of slavery and of black people in Brazil."

That story was, up until recently, never even taught in schools. But another literary event in recent weeks seeks to make learning about black history more accessible.

BRUNO VERAS: This account needs to jump the wall to a wider audience.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bruno Veras is a doctoral student in Canada and the brains behind project Baquaqua. It's the memoir of an educated African civil servant who was kidnapped and then sold into slavery in Brazil. The website went live last week, and it's aimed at showing that enslaved Africans were not things.

VERAS: Before being slaves, they were people with ideas, with a future. So Baquaqua accounts, when he talks about himself, about his experience, about his contradictions, about his personality. And people can think about this African heritage and the history of African people in Brazil.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says Brazil has to come to terms with how the brutal past is influencing the very difficult present. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.