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Atlantic diasporas in an Afro-Brazilian migrant connection
Afro-Brazil Cultural Center

Blog post by Afro-Brazil Cultural Centre

On the 7th of May 2022, the Afro-Brazil Cultural Centre organised an event called: “Atlantic Diaspora: abolition, diversity and inclusion” at Casa do Brasil, in London. The debate was developed in a pedagogical process, ignited by the proximity of the 13th of May, the date of signature of the Aurea Law, the Brazilian slavery “abolition” act.

A critical approach about what is abolition and how to move forward with liberation were central questions covered by speakers and the audience, mainly composed of by the Afro-Brazilian community in the United Kingdom. The pedagogical interventions challenged stereotypes created around Afro-Brazilian spirituality, known as Candomblé, the embodiment of faith and racialised cosmology that carries nuances of decolonial perspectives for other-wise worldmaking. Artistic interventions about the ancestral entities opened the event as a reminder that our paths come from afar, as Jurema Werneck suggested. It means that the Candomblé interventions were not present to inaugurate Black presence into the British context but as cognizant of the legacies of coloniality that attempted to break apart the sounds, voices and faith of [our] Afro-diasporic existence.

Speakers were introduced by the drums and invited to speak their truth by singing to the Orishas who protect our Ori (heads). Starting from an Afro-centred critical perspective on the meaning of the Abolition Act, Dr Katucha Bento challenged the concept of abolition, family and democracy as institutionalised elements created from coloniality: the white, patriarchal, capitalist and Christian values as the only possibilities of validation. Babalorixa Tulio Aguiar proposed a conversation circle about the experiences of the Black Brazilians in the diaspora around the topics of diversity and inclusion, considering the limitations and contradictions present in discourses that insist on forging equality without addressing reparation.

Based on the oral tradition of West and Central African communities, the Afro-Brasil Cultural Centre also hosted a storytelling round with African-rooted religious practitioners in the migratory process. The narratives shed light on the struggle to dismantle racism as a migrant and a person who does not have English as a first language. The intersectional issues related to daily racial discrimination and religious intolerance, the conversations offered elements for an anti-racist consciousness and literacy on the matters of race, racialisation and anti-racist strategies in the Brazilian and British contexts. The narratives were not only in dialogue with the pain and trauma of racism but an expression of ethics of caring through faith, refusal of a colonial system and finding possibilities of love. The narratives helped carve a more grounded self-understanding of the present Afro-Brazilian community in the UK as a plural unity and set up a collective commitment with decoloniality framing the work of our anti-racist cause.

Practitioners of the African-rooted religions, such as Candomblé and Umbanda, raised the importance of creating Black Brazilian spaces that do not erase their traditions and facilitate a connection with the Afro-Brazilian roots. Such discussions brought to the surface the secularly-built process of erasure of the Black populations in Brazil, which was endorsed by a politics of racial and cultural “hygienisation”. Black erasure is not just a matter of how it ‘travels’ or can be ‘translated’ in the migratory journey with (us) Black Brazilians. As a factor that complicated coloniality, diasporas and migration, the encounter with the structures that authorise erasure in the British setting shows the complexity in which racial violence and exclusion are rooted.

From a range of interventions based on the Afro-Brazilian culture, the core element of the event was to honour African ancestors and the benzeções (blessings) culture with drumming, music, dance and poem performances. The interventions contextualised the history of anti-racist resistance through blocos Afro (afro musical community with political and artistic activities) and the Afro carnival parades of Salvador, Bahia. To register this event in time is a demand for Black Brazilian voices to be taken into consideration in social policy, research, and political agenda. More importantly, marking this date reinforces the actions of refusal to compromise with the hostile environment; empowers the systemic disobedience of structural racist institutions and discourses; and manifests support for decolonial dreaming for asé to all.