Sudbury tours Brazil

By
December 4, 2003

Mills College Weekly

Brazil is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful
places on Earth. However, even in paradise we find the less
fortunate struggling to survive oppressive forces that reach
worldwide. Ethnic Studies Department chair and associate professor
Julia Sudbury had the opportunity to make a connection with some of
the young black women in struggle in Brazil. She has returned home
to Mills with inspiring stories of the work that is being done and
proof of the transnational connections that can be made within the
African Diaspora.

To welcome the release of the Portuguese translation of her
book, Other kinds of Dreams: Black Women’s Organizations and the
Politics of Transformation
, originally published by Routledge
press in 1998, Sudbury was invited to do a ten day book tour,
visiting three cities, Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Rio de
Janeiro. The tour was hosted by two black women’s organizations;
Geledes of Sao Paulo and Criola of Rio de Janeiro.

The new translation was released this September by Selo Negro, a
black imprint of the Summus editorial group of Brazil. The new
edition included a new cover and foreword by Cindinha Da Silva, a
leading member of Geledes, who drew connections between the book’s
content on the activism of Black women in the UK and women’s
struggles in Brazil.

Sudbury left for her trip expecting much less than what she got.
Rather than a few secluded speaking engagements and book signings,
she found herself visiting three different favelas [slums], which
are considered to be some of the most dangerous parts of the
country. “I was honored that they were willing to invite me into
their communities and homes,” said Sudbury.

The favelas, which are named after a plant that grows in steep
rocky environments, are located on the outskirts of the cities.
They were formed in the 1930’s and 40’s at a time when the
government was running all the poor out of the cities. Black
people, 70 percent of the poor in Brazil, make up the majority of
these communities.

In Rio de Janeiro, Sudbury spent time with Criola, one of the
host organizations, that advocates human rights for women. The
organization focuses on police brutality, drug trafficking and
domestic violence. Sudbury stressed the importance of linking
larger actions of the state to interpersonal violence. These are
the main types of violence that affect residents of the favelas on
a regular basis.

Criola works to fight these oppressive forces, which Sudbury
witnessed on Brazil’s Domestic Violence Action Day on Nov. 25. The
women from the organization passed out roses with leaflets defining
domestic violence and raising awareness on the issue. Sudbury said,
“for the poor there is little to no access to beauty. When the
women gave these beautiful roses to the men you could see their
faces light up.” She observed the men beginning to form discussions
about the roses and the information attached. She witnessed the
beginning of discussions and the definition of domestic abuse right
before her eyes. She noted how inspiring this moment was due to the
fact that many men do not see their abusive actions as
violence.

In Sao Paulo, Sudbury had the opportunity to speak with another
black women’s organization, Geledes. The organization’s focuses are
also in the field of human rights as well as gender equality and
programs for affirmative action. Even though blacks make up just
under half of the population, they make up only 2 percent of
university students in Brazil. The women had many questions for
Sudbury. “The women I met were very excited at the idea of an all
women’s college. They asked me questions like, ‘have I ever
experienced racism, ‘and ‘how did I become a professor,'” said
Sudbury.

Sudbury found herself again inspired by their action and
understanding of the broader scope of the issues, “I was impressed
with how passionate they were about the black movement. It is clear
that going to college is not an individual accomplishment for them
but part of uplifting the whole community,” she said.

She also said that the women were impressed with Mills as an all
women’s institution and had many questions about Mills Black
Women’s Collective. Sudbury hopes to continue to build a
relationship with the women there and eventually start an exchange
program.

Sudbury found that activists in Brazil look to the U.S. as a
model for affirmative action. However, she was surprised to find
that many were unaware of the backlash that has occurred over the
recent past year such as Prop 209. She also recognized that
information is often limited due to language barriers.

In Belo Horizonte, Sudbury was a participant on a panel
discussing the African Atlantic, which is an alternative term for
the African Diaspora, viewing those of African decent as being
located at various areas of the Atlantic. She said she found that
Brazil had an “outward vision of blackness and was interested in
the transnational and Diasporic vision of blackness.” Another topic
that raised interest was Sudbury’s studies on gendered racism,
where gender and racism intersect which is specific to the
struggles of women of color.

Also in Belo Horizonte, Sudbury was able to see the Festival of
Black Art, the second in ten years, which was an exposition of
visual art, sculpture, music, film and more. Sudbury saw first hand
the culture of resistance through expression that exists in Brazil.
“The art was central to everything,” she saw a wide variety of
expression from traditional Candomble dolls, which are part of a
hybrid religion originating from ancient Yoruban practices, to a
hip hop performance from a group called NUC, which translates to
Blacks with Unity and Consciousness, fashioned after one of the
most controversial U.S. rap groups NWA (Niggas With Attitude). The
group NUC, however does not stand for Niggas, but Negro meaning
black and was made up of two men and a woman counteracting issues
of sexism in hip hop music. She also met a hip hop artist named
Thaide whose lyrics speak of favela pride in an act of reclaiming
their community as a space for a culture of inventiveness, rather
than rejecting it as a subject of shame.

It was clear to Sudbury that art was a large part of the black
movement in Brazil. “The art was more than a commodity to be bought
or sold, or put in a museum.” She found rather that the art was of
the people and for the people as a form of empowerment.

Sudbury left Brazil with more than she could have ever hoped
for. She plans to continue her relationship with the women she met,
and build a stronger connection between them and Mills. She also
bought some of the art that the women made from the festival and
will be selling some at different events on campus. “I feel like
this [experience] is something I can bring to my classes in talking
about the Diaspora,” said Sudbury.


Sudbury tours Brazil was published on December 4, 2003 in News

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