Historical repair:intellectual recognition of black women in Brazil

I remember my Literature classes in high school, the teacher wrote the script for the lesson on the board (we weren't so surrounded by technology yet) and at the beginning he asked what we noticed on the blackboard. Some unsuccessful attempts by the students and he revealed to the class that what was new was that, for the first time in the year, he wrote the name of a woman. After many months of classes, it was the first time that we would study a woman in Brazilian literature: the novelist Raquel de Queiroz. That she was also the first woman to join the Brazilian Academy of Letters and the first woman to receive the Camões award.

They don't teach us (or as I prefer to think, they didn't teach us) that long before there was also a woman novelist named Maria Firmina dos Reis. Woman, novelist, black and anti-abolitionist who translated her struggle into writing. Her novel “Úrsula”, has been rediscovered, reissued. Just like what has been happening with the complete work of Carolina Maria de Jesus whose book The Trash Roomused to be the only book found in bookstores.

Maria Firmina dos Reis Source: http://www.palmares.gov.br/?p=34293

I recall here the words of the poem “Soujornei Truth: Am I not a woman?” This blackout, this invisibility of black women, which we know does not happen only in Brazil, makes us grow up believing that black women did not have an active role in history, in our history.

And many black women have made and do, have changed and change history in the country. On her last visit to Brazil, in October 2019, the North American Angela Davis filled audiences and was acclaimed by many. Recognized, she took advantage of the spotlight to revere Lélia Gonzales, a Brazilian woman who was a reference for her studies. She also called for us to look at and appreciate these woman's work.

Lélia was born in 1935 in Minas Gerais, in a working class family. They moved to Rio de Janeiro where she graduated in history and philosophy. She was one of the founders of the Unified Black Movement, was an activist, politician, responsible for the introduction of the debate on racism in Brazilian universities, extolling African origins and the “blackguese”[1].

Lélia Gonzales Photo: https://www.geledes.org.br/hoje-na-historia-1935-nascia-lelia-gonzalez/

Her studies are very important for the black movement and for the formation of a national sociology, which includes black personalities active in the country's history. She also denounces the whitened projection of Brazilian intellectual studies and the blackout of black men and women resulting from the myth of racial democracy.

Currently, we have more tools to learn about the intellectual work of black women and we need to direct our gaze, our interests and our reflections to them. We need to decolonize our thinking.

Even so faced with so much possibility of change, even today no black woman has joined the Brazilian Academy of Letters. We need to rediscover our history and build new paths for our future, which are feminist and anti-racist. And we may not even need to lock ourselves up in academies anymore.










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Write by

Cristiane Duarte

Feminist lawyer active in the area of family law and defense of women’s right.

Personal Archive

Translation by

Karen Poltronieri

Librarian, English Teacher and Feminist master student with project in favor of the end of violence against women.

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