Racial oppression in Brazil: A post by Ashley Hails

15 Jun

Hi my name is Ashley. I am a rising senior at the University of Michigan, studying International Studies and Sociology. I wanted to go on the GCC Brazil study abroad experience with Ashley Lucas for three reasons. First, I have always wanted to go abroad. I think it is important for me to get out of my comfort zone and to learn first-hand about another country’s culture. Secondly, this study abroad trip aligned with both of my majors. As an International Studies major, it gave me an opportunity to learn about a country within my region of focus, Latin America. As a Sociology major, this trip helped me learn about the power that art mediums, such as theatre, can have on creating social change in prisons universally. Lastly, I was very interested in the concept of this class. Prior to taking Ashley Lucas’ class during the winter semester, I only knew about the prison system based on its portrayal through the media. After our weekly readings, discussions, and having the ability to co-facilitate weekly theatre workshops in a prison, my views on prisoners and the prison system completely changed. This abroad experience gives me an opportunity to continue to learn about the relationship between theatre and prison systems in other countries. Now that I know about the impact of theatre in the United States, I wanted to continue to learn about it in Brazil.

We have done a lot during this trip ranging from theatre classes with students from the University of Rio to facilitating theatre workshops in a Brazilian prison. However, on June 9, we were able to do something a little different from our usual theatre activities. Myself and a few members of the group were able to go on a tour of downtown Rio. It was a great opportunity to see a part of Rio that I have yet to see. Downtown was very busy with a lot of people. There were many shops and vendors that reminded me of a scene from a movie. There were also beautiful landmarks throughout downtown Rio that was remodeled for the 2016 Olympics. We were also able to stop by an art museum where we stood on the top floor and had an a breathtaking view of the ocean.

The last stop of our tour was the Instituto de Pesquisa e Memória Pretos Novos. This is a museum that was built under a cemetery where African slaves were buried. Inside of the museum there were many African artifacts and students researching about the history of African slaves. The museum even showed us a graphic video detailing the slave trade from Africa to Brazil. As a black woman, it was hard for me to watch and process the tragedies that transpired not only in the United States but in Brazil as well. Before leaving the museum, we were able to see an archaeologist at work. In the museum, there is an area where archaeologists can dig to find bones of slaves. We were able to see an archaeologist recover a fully body of a slave woman. It was painful to see the physical body of a slave. I left the museum feeling sad and frustrated. It is still hard to process the mistreatment and the continue mistreatment of people of color worldwide. Unfortunately, violence against black bodies did not end with slavery but it continues with the criminal justice system.

Ashley H mural

I chose this picture because I think it represents the strength that black people have despite being silenced and all the harm they endured.

People of color have been targeted for centuries. From slavery to police brutality, people of color are continuously being harmed by the system that is supposed to protect them. The prisons in the United States is disproportionately filled with people of color. Unfortunately, it is the same in Brazil. I believe going to this museum reconfirmed to me that the issues that is not only affecting the United States but it is a worldwide phenomenon.

There is still a lot of work that needs to be done within the prison system. Coming to Brazil and seeing racial problems similar to the United States makes me want to be hopeless that change will ever happen. While I want to give up, I know that I can start to create change by continuing my work with programs such as PCAP. It is remarkable the work that PCAP and UniRio’s program, Teatro na Prisão, do to find ways to create an expressive outlet for prisoners. While I know I cannot solve all the problems with the prison system overnight, I know that I can start somewhere.

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