In one of the first posts I published on this blog, I wondered about the taboo surrounding questions of racism in Portugal. The last months have been the occasion for Portuguese to reflect more on this topic.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, USA, on 25 May 2020, protests errupted around the world, including in Portugal. 5000 people gathered in Lisbon and more than a thousand in Porto, united around the issue of Black Lives Matter. In Lisbon, apart from the protests, some also participated in attempting to bring down statues associated with colonialism and racism, including the controversial statue of Padre António Vieira (which I visited a few days later to find it already cleaned up, as if nothing had happened). I put an image of the statue here below. It seemed to have been vandalised by an informal collective called Desconolizando, but this act was then condemned by SOS Racismo for hate speech…
The media took quite an interest in the weeks that followed, reporting statistics on racism in Portugal – including an article stating that 62% Portuguese are racist – but also publishing interviews of Black personnalities or activists denunciating racism. Intellectuals also voiced their concern, such as my colleague and historian Daniel Gamito Marques’s opinion.
Public institutions seem to have taken into account those voices, with an anti-discrimination plan in the police for instance.
At that point, with all those articles listed in my bookmarks, I thought to publish a little something and started to draft this post. But on Saturday 25 July 2020, Black actor Bruno Candé was killed in daylight in the street of Loures, close to Lisbon. His violent death and the difficulty for the authorities to speak of the possibility of a racist crime triggered yet more protests.
The debate has reached a larger and more international audience, with the publication last 28 September of a piece in The Guardian on the rise of the far-right and racist violence. As the friend who forwarded me the article first stated, this partially deconstructed the myth of a welcoming Portugal (which had gained momentum with the temporary regularisation of SEF applicants during the State of Emergency). The piece published in The Guardian indicates the election of MP André Ventura from the far-right Chega party in October 2019 as a milestone of a more open, less ashamed racist stance. But I believe this goes way back. And when interviewed by The Guardian:
(Black female MP Joacine) Katar Moreira said there was a “huge resistance” to talking about racism in Portugal because people get “truly offended when we say we are in a structurally racist society. They think we are offending them individually.” (While anti-racist organisation leader Mamadou) Ba called it a “state of denial”, and argued that current laws were insufficient to fight discrimination effectively.
To deepen the debate more effectively, between June and today, different content was produced, such as collections of resources for whom wishes to learn more, following the model of the Anti-racist starter pack or 10 documentaries to watch about race. For instance, Communidade Cultura e Arte has published a compilation of resources and references to understand and fight Portuguese racism; while the newspaper Publico has published a library against racism.