Elegy of enslavement and of liberation
On this day, November 20th, 2020, when we celebrate the day of the negro conscience, a day of reflection against racism and of recognition of the dignity of the black population in Brazil (more than half the population), the negro Joao Alberto Freitas, forty years of age was cowardly assassinated, by beatings and suffocation, by two guards and a policeman in Porto Alegre. The scenes of death show unspeakable brutality and cowardice and all the racism present in sectors of society and how inhumane and cruel we can be.
In homage to Joao Alberto Freitas I republish a text of some time ago but which has lasting relevance.
The Passion of Christ continues through the centuries in the body of the crucified. Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world, as even one of his sisters or brothers may be hanging from a cross. Something similar happens among the bodhisatwas budists (the illuminated) who stop at the threshold of Nirvana to return to the world of pain – samsara – in solidarity with the suffering plants, animals and humans. Along these lines, the Catholic Church, in its Good Friday liturgy, puts these poignant words in the mouth of Christ: “What have I done to you, my chosen people? Tell me how I have hurt you! What more could I have done, how have I failed you? I brought you out of Egypt, I fed you with manna. I prepared for you a beautiful land , and you, made a cross for your king”.
Celebrating the abolition of slavery on May 13, 1888, we gave credence that it is not yet over. The passion of Christ continues in the passion of the black people. A second abolition is necessary, one from misery and from hunger. We can still hear the echo of the laments of enslavement and of liberation, coming from senzalas, today from the favelas around our cities.
The negro population still speaks to us in the form of a lament:
‘ My white brother, my white sister, my people: what have I done to you, how have I failed you? Answer me!
I inspired you with charged music and contagious rhythm . I taught you how to use the drum. It was I who gave you the rock and the jig of the samba. And you took what was mine, and you made it renowned, and you accumulated money from my compositions and gave me nothing back.
I came down from the hills and I showed you a world of dreams and of fraternity without barriers. I created multicolored fantasies and prepared for you the greatest festival in the world: I danced in the carnival for you. I made you happy and you applauded me. But soon you forgot me, sending me back to the hills, to the favelas, to the nude and crude world of unemployment, of hunger and of oppression.
My white brother, my white sister, my people, what have I done to you to be sad with me? Answer me!
I gave you as a legacy the daily dishes, the rice and the beans. And you received the rest, the feijoada and the vatapa, the typical Brazilian kitchen. And you left me hungry, You let my children die of starvation or with brains incurably affected, leaving them always as infants.
I was violently dragged from my native Africa. I lived the naval nightmares of the slave ships. I was made a thing, a piece, a slave. I was the nurse-maid for your children. I tended the fields, I planted tobacco and sugar cane. I did all the tasks. It was I who built the beautiful churches that all admired and the palaces where the owners of the slaves lived. And you called me lazy and jailed me for vagrancy. Due to the color of my skin you discriminated against me and treated me as forever a slave.
My white brother, my white sister, my people: what have I done that you put me down? Answer me!
I knew how to resist. I fled and founded quilombos: fraternal societies, without slaves, of people poor but free, black, mixed and white. Despite the whips on my backs I extended the cordiality and the sweetness to the Brazilian soul. You sent the captains to hunt me down like a pest, your destroyed my quilombos and still today you make sure that the misery that enslaves, continues to be true and effective.
I showed you what it means to be a living temple of God. And how to feel God in the body full of vim celebrated in rhythm, in dance and in foods. You repressed my religions calling them afro-Brazilian rites or simply folklore. Your invaded my yards, throwing salt and destroying our altars. Frequently you made macumba a police case. The majority of the kids killed on the outskirts between 18 and 24 are black, seen as negroes and suspects at the service of drug mafias. The majority of them are simply workers.
My white brother, my white sister, my people, what have I done against you? Tell me!
When with a lot of effort and sacrifice I make some headway in life, making a sweat-filled salary, buy my little house, educating my children, singing my samba, rooting for my favorite team, and being able to have a weekend beer with my friends, you say I am a black with a white soul, thus diminishing the value of our soul as worthy and hardworking negroes. And in competitions with all things being equal, you almost always favor a white person.
And when they think about politics that might bring reparations for historical perversity, permitting me what has always been denied me, to study and graduate in universities and technical school so as to better my life and my family, the majority of you yell: it is against the constitution, there’s a difference, it’s a social injustice.
My white brother, my white sister, my people: what have I done to anger you? Answer me!
My black brothers and sisters, on this 20th day of November, the day of Zumbi and of negro consciousness, I want to laud you all for surviving because the joy, the music and the dance is within you, despite all the sufferings that have been unjustly imposed upon you.
With much love and affection,
Leonardo Boff, theologian, philosopher and writer.