AAPF Organizes Historic Bi-National Conference in Brazil

 

Talking Racial Inclusion in Niterói: Converging Ideas, Concepts, and Strategies through a Bi-National Dialogue.  

Niterói-RJ , Brazil , June 21-24, 2007: The African American Policy Forum facilitated a historic retreat focused on the convergence of racial inclusion in Brazil and the United States .  Organized by a bi-national committee under the coordination and leadership of AAPF Executive Director Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, the retreat signified an academic reaction against the anti-affirmative action movement and race-blind research, and, perhaps, more importantly, a splash of hope among the current racial discourses that intend to eradicate affirmative action in both nations.

If racially conscious remedies are to flourish in Brazil and are to be kept in the U.S., effective and quick intervention is urgently needed. The Niterói retreat started and finished with this spirit: academics and activists looking for answers, for strategies in how to reframe the discourse and retool the actors who can advocate for the implementation of racially conscious remedies amidst national ideologies and identity politics that are hostile to the idea of racial consciousness. Brazil has claimed racial harmony through the myth of racial democracy since the early thirties with the work of Gilberto Freyre. The U.S.

Supreme Court has claimed an interpretation of colorblindness that reaches back to the landmark case Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.  Currently, these two ideologies are responsible for constant attacks on affirmative action policies.

There are many arguments that are universally used by affirmative action opponents in Brazil and in the U.S. These arguments were widely articulated and deconstructed during the four days scholars and activists were united in Niterói. Taking advantage of 9 different sections, experts at and advocates for affirmative action analyzed discourses such as meritocracy, miscegenation, multi-culturalism, reverse-discrimination, and non-racialism. They also focused on the institutionalization of racism, unpacking racial dogmas, and determining pragmatic strategies to demonstrate the existence of pervasive, somewhat similar, American and Brazilian systems of exclusion, which are delimited by racial (or color) lines.

 Specific debates surrounded the controversies on race-conscious affirmative action and education. More than simply a bi-national dialogue between intellectuals of the United States and Brazil , the Niterói Retreat was an attempt to discuss the concepts and implications of Blackness and Whiteness in both countries. A better understanding of the consequences of being black and the consequences of being white in both countries led the scholars to confirm the conceptualization of affirmative action as a tool to remove structural obstacles created by white privilege to the detriment of Black folk. While most Brazilians do believe that their country is an example of mestiço society, the entitlements of whiteness are clearly established and the connection between white privilege and Black exclusion is opaque to many. While the U.S. is proud to claim plurality, accepting the argument of diversity to sustain affirmative action, Brazilians do not recognize plurality informally, but rather they recognize plurality constitutionally, which could open some room to the articulation of the diversity argument as well. Diversity was articulated in manners that allow the diversification of production of knowledge, civic engagement, political participation, and recognition of indigenous cultures. Also, regional differences were addressed, especially in the context of affirmative action and higher education. The formation of public opinion and the role of the media in packing and unpacking the essence and objectives of affirmative action and, specifically Brazil’s quota projects for admission in higher education, were also widely debated and scheduled for further development.

One of the main products of this 4-day, bi-national immersion was the will to investigate mechanisms to educate the population on the real meaning and objective of affirmative action. Awareness permits us to claim and to work for the construction of public policy that takes into consideration the meaning of being Black and the meaning of being white in Brazil and the U.S. The Niterói group will go on to advocate for and vindicate the maintenance and creation of remedies that are racially conscious in the U.S. and in Brazil . The Niterói retreat is only a first step into a whole world of possibilities in terms of collaborative research and engaged dialogue concerning affirmative action and its various forms.

 

A complete Memo of the debates and discussions facilitated by the Niterói Event will be posted at http://www.aapf.org shortly. We anticipate that this meeting will generate new opportunities of interaction as well as innovative educational materials about the real meaning of affirmative action and its role in forming a society with less exclusion and more racially equity.

 

 

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