Abdias Nascimento called himself “a bitch” because he was willing to see his anti-racist proposals swallowed in Congress, in order to pave the way for the demands of the black population.
“He knew very well that the attitudes he took would not be well accepted by a Brazilian society that had been denying its own racist nature for decades”, says Elisa Larkin Nascimento, widow of the intellectual who died in 2011.
Throughout his life, Abdias argued that political activity was a path to the fight against racism. He stated that it was necessary for black people to occupy spaces of power, because without their participation there would be no real democracy.
The son of a shoemaker and a confectioner, he was born in Franca, in the interior of São Paulo, in 1914. In his youth, he graduated in accounting and was a soldier in the Army, serving in the Revolutions of 1930 and 1932.
Abdias was a journalist and actor before entering politics. He worked as a journalist while still in the barracks, helping to found the newspaper O Recruta. Then, in the 1940s, he wrote in Diário Trabalhista, where he had a column called Problems and Aspirations of the Negro.
In 1944, he founded the Teatro Experimental do Negro, a collective of black actors from which names such as Léa Garcia, Ruth de Souza and Haroldo Costa emerged.
According to Edilza Sotero, sociologist and professor of sociology of education at UFBA (Federal University of Bahia), although Abdias’ first term was only in the 1980s, he entered politics in the 1940s.
In this context, he began to organize himself to be one of the spokespeople for the black movement. “Abdias’ political support base has always been the search for a discourse aimed at solving the problems of the black population”, says Edilza Sotero.
The first time the intellectual ran for office was in the 1946 election for the PRD (Democratic Republican Party), an acronym that had recently been founded in the wake of laborism.
The basis of his campaign came from a document released by the black movement in 1945, during the National Convention of Black Brazilians.
Entitled “Manifesto to the Nation”, the document recognized that Brazil was formed by three ethnic groups: black, white and indigenous. It also demanded that color prejudice be made a crime, as it was called at the time, in addition to presenting points for solving social problems that affected black people and the Brazilian population as a whole.
In 1952, he ran for the position of councilor for the Federal District, which at the time was Rio de Janeiro. The acronym he ran for was the PST (Social Labor Party), but he was not elected.
“His campaign was the first in Brazil to develop a racialized strategy, which can be verified by the slogan used at the time: ‘Don’t vote for white, vote for black'”, says Márcio Macedo, professor of sociology and diversity coordinator at FGV EAESP.
In 1968, Abdias went to the United States to participate in a conference. At that time, Brazil was experiencing a military dictatorship. The intellectual then decided to stay in the country. Self-exile, as he said, lasted 13 years.
It was in exile that Abdias met Leonel Brizola, beginning a partnership that would span his entire political career. “It is important to recognize that Brizola was the first politician of national and international standing who took the racial issue seriously”, says Elisa, Abdias’ widow.
Still during his self-exile, Abdias was involved in the founding of the PDT (Democratic Labor Party), whose main organizer was Brizola.
According to Elisa, Abdias placed the fight against racism as a national priority for the new party. “More than that, he said that it was not enough to put it in the party’s statutes, it was necessary for black people themselves to organize themselves and define the party’s positions on the issue.”
From 1983 to 1987, Abdias assumed the position of federal deputy for the PDT-RJ, as a substitute. “He became the first black deputy to carry an agenda structured around the human and civil rights of the black population”, says Márcio Macedo.
According to the professor, Abdias was a pioneer and, indirectly, contributed to the creation of the current black bench in the Chamber of Deputies, which was approved at the beginning of this month.
According to Elisa, the idea of creating a bench is not new. Since the time of Abdias, the idea of bringing together black parliamentarians to think about actions has been underway.
In 1997, Abdias returned to the Senate, permanently, after the death of Darcy Ribeiro.
During his parliamentary work, he presented public policy proposals aimed at combating racism and racial equality.
“In the Chamber and Senate, his mission was pedagogical in the sense of exposing and recording the different dimensions of the racial issue to a group of colleagues who knew little and less wanted to learn about it”, writes Elisa Larkin in the book “Abdias Nascimento, a Luta in Politics” (publisher Perspectiva).
Upon assuming his seat in Parliament in the 1980s, his first proposal was the creation of the Black Commission, with the aim of gathering information about racial discrimination in the country and, thus, presenting reparation policies. The project was shelved years later.
Another proposal was “compensatory action”, linked to the concept of reparation.
“Because compensation includes the historical background of the fact that a population was enslaved, had their access absolutely denied to the various forms of action within a society, whether in access to education, the job market, their own housing, the health service, or all of these issues, for centuries”, says Elisa.
One of these proposed actions was the teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian history in schools, which, years later, was marked by Law 10,639.
Abdias also defended quota policies. In the job market, he proposed reserving 20% of vacancies for black women and 20% for black men in the selection of candidates in the public service and the private sector.
At that time, Abdias also presented a bill to criminalize racism, defining it as a qualified crime, against humanity and non-bailable.
Abdias highlighted the need to think about the memory of the black population.
“In the same year that Abdias became a deputy, he participated in a march in Rio de Janeiro with Beatriz Nascimento, Lélia Gonzalez, among other people, demanding that Zumbi be considered a symbol of the black struggle”, says sociologist Edilza Sotero.
Despite managing to approve some of its projects in technical committees, the vast majority were never voted on in plenary. These and other proposals by Abdias only became a political agenda in the 21st century, after other political arrangements were made.
For Elisa, it is difficult to say exactly what made Abdias not give up when faced with so many projects that were not approved.
“I think he had a commitment and experience since he was a child, very deep-rooted, that led him to the conviction of the absolute necessity of this fight and the justice of this cause. I think that when you believe in human beings you will always have the hope that justice will prevail “, he states.
“I think that deep down it was a faith, a trust, a belief in human beings, that took him forward”, he concludes.
X-ray | Abdias Nascimento
Born in Franca, in the interior of São Paulo, on March 14, 1914. He was one of the greatest activists of the black movement in Brazil. In his youth, he graduated in accounting and was a soldier in the Army. In addition to being an activist, he was a poet, artist, journalist, actor and Brazilian politician. In 1944, he founded the Teatro Experimental do Negro. He began his parliamentary career in 1983 as a federal deputy. In 1991 and 1997, he was a senator. He died in 2011, aged 97.