Action of a FARE partner at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro28 May 2008

The team of the “Dialogues against Racism” initiative, the Brazilian FARE partner, recently mounted an initiative to tackle racism at the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro. On the pitch were played the semi-finals of the Rio de Janeiro championship between Fluminense and Vasco plus Flamengo versus Botafogo.

The fans of all teams received the campaign very well. The Brazilian supporters spoke out against racism and discrimination and team members collected statements and opinions about the issue. The answers expressed some uncertainty of the fans in defining the term “racism” and its difference to “prejudice”, “discrimination”, “swearing” and “violence”.

There are some terms used in Brazilian football to stereotype the clubs. Fluminense is called “pó de arroz”, which means “powder” and refers to the necessity in former times of black players to hide their skincolour behind the powder. Nowadays not everybody knows that history and it is more common to connect the stereotype with homosexuality.
“Bacalhau” means codfish and is used as a pejorative word against Vasco, because of their portuguese origin. Finally “favela” are the shanty towns of Rio de Janeiro and the prejudice says that all Flamengo supporters, which is the team of most black people, live there.
The interviewed fans told us that they think “pó de arroz” and “bacalhau” are valid expressions and they are just kidding. That perception changed when asked about the chant “ela, ela, ela, silêncio na favela” (“silence in the favela” is a pejorative chant against Flamengo). A majority declared it a prejudice or racism.

We asked also the provocative question: “Where do you keep your racism?”. Many people declared themselves not racist and believed they kept their racism well closed in an inaccessible place. That way they are confirming former research in which the people say that there is racism in Brazil, but they do not practice it. So, is Brazil a racist country without racists? Some supporters admitted that everybody has prejudices and it is difficult to control it. But we have to make an effort to succeed.

Below are some transcriptions of the interviews:

1. Do you think there is racism in Brazilian football?
Yes, there is, but much less than in other countries. In Europe it is far worse. For us it is normal to see black people playing football. We have less racism than in other coutries, because here black and white people play football in the same number.
How do you evaluate terms like ‘pó de arroz’ or ‘bacalhau’?
I think that´s not racism. That time is over. In this case I think it turned out to be a nickname for the whole group of fans of a certain team. I think many people don´t even know the meaning ‘pó de arroz’.
How do you evaluate the chant ‘ela, ela, ela, silêncio na favela’?
Oh, I admit that it is racism. We shout it to make fun with Flamengo. I think it is a joke, but a racist joke. We should not be hypocrits, tha majority of Rio de Janeiro live in shanty towns and the majority is flamenguista. We are just kidding, but it is still wrong to make these jokes with a person.
Where do you keep your racism?
I don´t know. I think that I´m not a lot racist, because there are black people in my family. So when there is racism I feel it on my skin, not because I'm black, but because there are blacks in my family.

2. Do you think there is racism in Brazilian football?
I think there is still racism.
How is it expressed?
Well, prejudice is always bad. Not only racial but also in other forms, because there are different kinds of prejudice. We have to tackle it, but I still don´t know how.
Where do you keep your racism?
I think I have no racism.

3. Do you think there is racism in Brazilian football?
Yes, I think it exists.
How is it expressed?
Any kind of criticism or piss-take is a kind of racism. The way players or fans celebrate a goal is often racism.
How do you evaluate terms like ‘pó de arroz’ or ‘bacalhau’?
That´s also a kind of racism. It´s the same when you call a flamenguista a mulambada (pejorative word) or a fluminense a faggot. And so on. It is a joke but racist. When it turns out as aggression, then it is wrong.
Where do you keep your racism?
I don´t keep racism. I put it all out of me. You have to make fun of them. But without violence.

4. Do you think there is racism in Brazilian football?
No.
Do you think there is discrimination in Brazilian football?
Also no.
How do you evaluate terms like ‘pó de arroz’ or ‘bacalhau’?
It is a joke. It´s part of the game.
How do you evaluate the chant ‘ela, ela, ela, silêncio na favela’?
I read some research in a newspaper saying that 47% of the flameguistas live in shanty towns. So it is based on research and not racism.
Where do you keep your racism?
Nowhere. I´m not racist.

5. Do you think there is racism in Brazilian football?
Of course not.
How do you evaluate terms like ‘pó de arroz’ or ‘bacalhau’?
That´s a tradition. It has history. It is a joke and part of the sport. Nowadays it is in a completely different context. In former times there was a player with dark skin who had to use the powder. But nowadays it is a joke and has nothing to do with that.
How do you evaluate the chant ‘ela, ela, ela, silêncio na favela’?
But this has also another connotation. Swearing and playing is part of the game. It is tradition. It starts and ends inside the stadium. There are many flamenguistas in the favela, but normaly you should not make fun of it.
Where do you keep your racism?
Well arrested. Well repressed. I think it is inside of everybody. I think it would be good to repress it until it doesn´t exist anymore. Everybody has their prejudices. More equality and liberty would be good.

6. Do you think there is racism in Brazilian football?
In some ways yes. But not as alarming as in Europe. But in some levels it exists also in Brazil.
How is it expressed?
I think it is expressed so as not to be so obvious like in Europe. You can see it in children's tournaments where is no media. So nobody sees it. In Europe they have it at the professional level and so it calls for more attention.
How do you evaluate the chant ‘ela, ela, ela, silêncio na favela’?
I don´t consider it racism. An argument is that there are not only coloured people in the shanty towns. There are people of all races. It is a joke or provocation of the supporters.
Where do you keep your racism?
Nowhere. I don´t have racism. I have black and Japanese friends and others from all races. Thank god I´m Brazilian! How could I be racist? It is the country with the greatest intermixing.

By Martin Curi and Luciano Cerqueira