Kwame Opoku:Brazil and Black Consciousness
By Spírito Santo
(Translate by Lucia Kudielela)
Many years ago when I lived in Vienna, Australia, Kwame Opoku from Ghana, a good friend of mine (who I met in Europe), decided to confess his opposition to the fact that I was unable to do certain things in Brazil because of the irreversible racism.
He was an attorney that worked at the United Nations Headquarters in Vienna and an adept of the great causes of our times. I had the honor to appreciate pictures of him taken with Amilcar Cabral, Nelson Mandela, Sam Nujoma and many other memorable figures that were part of the African rebirth. My friend was connected with these individuals either because of his profession or militancy. Either way, being so close to a person that was directly associated to the modern history of the black African made me feel exulted. I also felt like this when I was close to those giant fighters of men who represented pride in the human race and the heroes of my generation.
It took me a long time to understand Kwame’s contradiction. It intrigued and shamed me a lot as I felt, as a black Brazilian, a bit lowered with a weird feeling of inferiority to a person that was just like me that, yet feeling vain glory for his spirit of combat, political engagement, militancy, etc.
Well, before becoming my friend, Kwame (he suspected I was a member of a noble Ashanti cast, as I was able to find out from one of his countrymen) attended high school in Accra, where he played the piano. He was an African refined like a European, so to speak, but above all an African with a burning desire to learn how to play an instrument of his ancestral culture. Needless to say, becoming his teacher of the African “marimba” (a musical instrument) to this “real” African was both astonishing and unusual. But that was it! Just imagine – Kwame bought the instrument that I had made in Brazil and took it to Vienna. A year later, Kwame became my pupil through a cultural relationship between an African-Descent Brazilian and a native African.
This made me excited and redeemed a bit. But I must admit that it took me some time to understand the nature of that feeling of disdain for Kwame, for my lamentations of a revolted black Brazilian.
“There is racism in Brazil? And all of you, being as many as you are, accept it?
This was the admonition more recurrent that he made, trying to say that maybe we were too condescending and dismissive of the comforts and obstacles that racism imposed on us. I was never able to convince him of the insuperable forces of the mooring cables that hindered us. Nor did I ever recover from that sensation of a confronted wild beast. Until today, I have thought that maybe, in reality, something lacks in us Brazilians. And this was explicit in the honest expression of Kwame, the African. The consciousness of what it means to be a person of African descent, a misguided black African, besides the stigma that we experience of ignorant, non-educated and submissive people that we carry on our backs.
We should recognize that only our African ancestors brought to Brazil as slaves, subjugated by brutal force, are the ones who had the right to incorporate, assimilate, and submit before oppression (even pretending, jumping backwards like the capoeiristas dodging the kicks) for physical survival.
We should also recognize, however, that being able to become cowards before brutal forces and death many of our ancestors died not submissively but fighting to leave us a legacy and lessons from the blood of their ascendance.
I know these are bitter words in days we should be exalting our pride but I have decided to say it right now that something is lacking in black consciousness – the knack to manage valid tools of subordination, of revolt, and the ample consciousness of our rights not only for black people but for the basic human rights of all men. These rights are usually only granted to a “good” white person, “solidary” or “generous”. Many are poor men and almost never conquered by our own organized efforts, carried by our generally faulty leadership, opportunistically placed in power.
aybe something is missing in us black Brazilians – the African instinct to break, once and for all, the emotional slavery that is still engrained in us; the consciousness that whatever happens, what is done to submit us, we are and will always be free, indeed.
After my stay in Vienna, ironically the homeland of Adolf Hitler, exchanging lessons on blackness with Kwame Opoku, the African, I started to observe better the subtle difference that exists between to have black consciousness, and to have the consciousness of being black.
The first one (to have) dwells in the profound and reflecting understanding of moral values, ethical, social, cultural, etc., contained in the African heritage, of brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, seeking incessantly for the essence of having the symbolic Africa within us, to have humility wherever we are in this world.
The second one (to be) would be to keep the unbroken soul, the clean ideological consciousness, acquired in dealing with repetitive social exclusion and racism in a country with black and white people (what should we do!) looking for ways to do “the right thing” along with the majority. This is usually accompanied by the occasional black minority, at the “picnic” of a sordid cast, trying to break the mental barriers of our submission, of that emotional slavery that annihilates and lowers all of us.
The socio-racial consciousness will never be enclosed in the dark ghetto of our own, in the dichotomy syndrome, that separates diabolically, blacks and whites, perpetuates and legitimates inequality. This inequality is justifiable by the alleged differences of one, the white elite, supposedly always superior to all others. All of those that are not white are considered black simply by exclusion.
The plain consciousness to know how to excel in this world of inequality that racism injected in the heads of us all, blacks and “whites” of Brazil.
The consciousness, anyway, that Brazil is essentially a country with black people will only reach the awaited success of its civilizing process (as Darcy Ribeiro would say) on the day that it has a consciousness of pan-African nature and one that is super human. It will come when it has assumed the Brazilian in all of us.
I did not see Kwame Opoku, the African, after leaving Vienna. I have received random news. For example, that he has retired from United Nations. After seeing him for the last time, many things changed. Mandela was freed from prison. South Africa became a great nation. Angola is walking toward the same goal. The suffered Africa, under renitent pockets of dictatorship, and poverty, still lives on.
I wish, on this Day of Black Consciousness in Brazil, that we blacks and whites of this country of ours of perfectly accomplishable dreams and temporary anguishes, make an assessment of consciousness and start the struggle at our own expense, knowing this is the only way we will be able to know that the victory is assured.