By Kristian Davis Bailey
Last December, I visited Brazil for the first time to attend the Transregional Summit: The Arab Spring Meets Black Lives Matter conference at the Federal Fluminense University (UFF) outside Rio de Janeiro. It was designed to put Black Lives Matter in conversation with Arab activists from Egypt and Palestine, and social movements in Rio de Janeiro.
During the conference, I met Black students who were in the middle of a three-month occupation of a university building that they wanted to establish as a Black community center.
We were all in awe of each other: to meet people who had been stolen from the same land and forced through similar experiences of slavery and modern-day discrimination was like having a reunion with long-lost family. Even without speaking the same language, we immediately knew and understood each other.
At first, we sat together for an hour talking in English and Portuguese about the state of Black people in Brazil and the US. I wound up spending almost a week living with the students inside their occupation, called Quilombo. (Quilombos were historically a refuge for runaway slaves in Brazil.)
During that time, the students recorded short greetings to their Black family in the US. They were stories of solidarity, struggle, and diasporic connection. They were stories much like those we tell here in the United States.
“We came from the same place, our ancestors went through many of the same things in every place where the African diaspora exists,” said Luiza, one of the students. “Unfortunately what unites us is racism, that’s what happens, and our struggles connect us in some way.”
She then spoke of the need for places like the Quilombo. “Being together in a place where Black people can speak openly and discuss our issues is very important for us to stay strong in this fight.”
Matheus, another student, said that it’s important for Black people to organize and connect locally and across borders.
“We need to unite, fight nationally in each place, and try to build something together for our ancestry and for us.”
The students said they know a lot about what happens to Black people in the US, but feel that we don’t know much about what’s happening to them — or that they even exist.
Contrary to the image Brazil puts out about itself, the majority of Brazilians are lighter-skinned Black or Afro-descendant (there are issues of internalized anti-Blackness with many Brazilians claiming to be ‘mixed’ rather than Black or denying Afro-heritage at all).
Yet, history shows that Brazil imported the highest number of Africans during the transatlantic slave trade and today has the largest Afro-descendant population outside of Africa.
The students also said they’re disconnected from what’s happening to Black and Afro-descendant people in the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean.
“We are trying to get rid of the hegemonic belief that we can only have conversations with American people or Europeans—we want to talk with other people who are around us,” the students said. “We know so many things about the US and we don’t know anything about the situation in Africa or the Global South in general.”
Black people and nations are among the poorest across the Americas. And our demands look very similar across borders, whether in Brazil, Colombia or the US. They include struggling against police murder and violence, fighting for better living conditions and health environments, and petitioning governments and community leaders for resources for our collective education and empowerment.
These transnational similarities are the direct result of centuries of enslavement, discrimination, exploitation, and colonialism.
Therefore, as we organize towards our liberation at home, it’s always important to know that our struggle is not just a domestic one or one about “civil rights.” The nature of our oppression already unites us globally, but it’s time for our movements to return to the internationalism and Pan-Africanism of the 60s and intentionally connect.
Kristian Davis Bailey is a freelance writer and organizer based in Detroit, where he is a member of BYP100 and Black4Palestine. His work focuses on building internationalist consciousness and connections between social movements.