Like the United States, COVID-19 is exacerbating racial disparities in Brazil. Afro-Brazilians are 38% more likely to die from COVID-19 than white Brazilians. Pregnant and postpartum Afro-Brazilian women die from COVID-19 at twice the rate of white women. And the death rate of indigenous people in the Amazon from COVID is 32% higher than that of the general population. Bolsonaro’s rejection of COVID-19 pandemic mitigation measures is slaughtering Afro-Brazilian and indigenous peoples in horrific numbers.
These deaths are neither accidental nor inevitable. The current suffering and death of Afro-Brazilian and indigenous communities is part of a long history of systemic racism in the country. Racial violence dates back to the Portuguese colonization of Brazil and the transatlantic slave trade. The military dictatorship, which Bolsonaro admires and under which he served as a member of the armed forces, attempted to eradicate the Afro-Brazilian and indigenous organization. Now, Bolsonaro’s presidency continues the assault. COVID-19 is the latest weapon.
To bolster his right-wing agenda, Bolsonaro early on appointed structural racism deniers, indigenous religious conversion advocates, and anti-reproductive rights activists to government agencies designed to protect Afro-Brazilians, indigenous peoples and indigenous peoples. womens rights. Armed with anti-indigenous rhetoric, Bolsonaro has increased mining permits, turned a blind eye to illegal mining, and is now pushing for a proposal to allow mining on indigenous lands. Minors bring COVID-19 to indigenous populations who often do not have access to adequate health care.
The end of emergency pandemic aid has also plunged Brazilians into deeper poverty. Afro-Brazilians earn much less than white Brazilians and are more likely to be employed in informal work, working as housekeepers or street vendors. Afro-Brazilians already suffer from health problems due to structural racism.
The wealth of white Brazilian billionaires has increased during the pandemic while half of Brazilians go hungry. Twice as many white Brazilians have been vaccinated as Afro-Brazilians.
Despite such staggering racial inequalities, Brazil has invested in the myth of racial democracy since the 1930s. Racial democracy is based on the idea that Brazil’s vast racial mix makes race and racism obsolete. Due to the historical lack of legal segregation, Brazil presents itself as a model of racial harmony. It ignores the reality on the ground.
Before the pandemic, Bolsonaro used the traditional powers of government to harm the Afro-Brazilian and indigenous peoples of the country. Open killings of indigenous leaders and destruction of the environment have exploded. The increased impunity of the police targeting Afro-Brazilian communities has led to a sharp increase in killings by the police, of which 75% of the victims were Afro-Brazilians.
In response to such allegations, Bolsonaro made a dismissive remark: “They called me homophobic, racist, fascist, torturer and now… what is it now? … Genocidal. But genocidal is precisely the right term.
The White Patriarchy is the foundation of Bolsonaro’s platform. His two predecessors, Presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff have shaken the myth of racial democracy. Both were punished for it on dubious charges – Rousseff with indictment and Lula with imprisonment. The backlash to this social mobility is precisely what paved the way for Bolsonaro’s presidency. Once in office, Bolsonaro kept his promises, reversing the gains for Afro-Brazilians, indigenous peoples, women, LGBTQ + communities and the poor.
Now, Bolsonaro’s dangerous presidency has taken a new turn with the pandemic and this time the consequences are global.
The United States is a major trading partner with Brazil. It should offer vaccines to help stem the pandemic. The United States should also pressure Brazil to put in place a national coordination plan to mitigate the pandemic. But vaccines and political pressure are not enough.
To promote fairness, the United States should use its cultural, political and social influence to help international organizations and civil society organizations respond, with an emphasis on organizations that support Afro-Brazilian communities and indigenous. Bolsonaro cannot be allowed to use US vaccine aid to bolster his destructive presidency. Instead, the focus should be on communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Like American organizers in Donald Trump’s time, coalitions of black, indigenous and feminist organizers can confront far-right coalitions in Brazil. While global control of the pandemic is of international concern, the United States must not sacrifice a commitment to fairness.
Bolsonaro’s racist and misogynistic regime threatens global health security. The fight against racism is just as important on the streets of Minneapolis as it is on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. The United States and Brazil must work together on the scourge of racism. All of our lives depend on it.
Jasmine Mitchell is Associate Professor of American Studies and Media Studies at the State University of New York-Old Westbury. She is the author of Imagine the mulatte: darkness in the American and Brazilian media. She is also a member of the Scholars Strategy Network.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.