From the diaspora to the chair: a black psychology collective in the Baixada de Rio fights the prejudices of racism
When we think of the “invisibilization” processes affecting the black population of Brazil, certain aspects become more evident once we consider racism as a key player in these historical processes. Psychology cannot be an exception. Like other trades generally coming from an exclusive area of society, the field of psychology has a great deficit of black professionals.
Such a lack of ethnic plurality has exacerbated the gap in access to psychological care. It is a service that only an economically privileged class can pay for, although there are more affordable, if not free, services available at universities. However, there are resistance movements that seek to better focus racism in discussions about psychology. This includes subjects ranging from more equal access for the poorest segments of the population to the formalization of public policies for psychological help in peripheral municipalities. The Conceição Chagas Black Collective of Psychology of the Baixada Fluminense, located just outside of Rio de Janeiro proper, is one of the resistance movements leading this struggle.
The name is a tribute to Conceição Corrêa das Chagas. Born in 1935 in Nilopolis, in the Baixada, Chagas graduated in pedagogy and psychology as well as a doctorate in psychosociology of communities and social ecology from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). Chagas started his innovative work in the Baixada town of Nova Iguacu in the 1970s and 1980s, notably with the “Listening Point” project, with the aim of offering solidarity to those affected by the emotional consequences of the military dictatorship that ruled the country for 21 years. In 1983, the methodology of services evolved into what is today called the Family reception center (CAF). CAF aims to prevent situations of social or personal risk, as well as to strengthen family and community ties.
The Conceição Chagas Collective has been working in Nova Iguaçu since April 2018. Jacqueline dos Santos and Geílson Simões are two of its representatives, part of a total of seven professionals spread across the Baixada Fluminense, including Duque das Caxias, Belford Roxo, and Nova Iguaçu. Jacqueline is part of the Commission on Human Rights and Race Relations as part of Rio de Janeiro Regional Psychology Council. Both claim that it was only after the collective gained strength and recognition among colleagues in the profession that words like “genocide”Began to be used regularly in professional dialogue and communication.
“This is a question that must be discussed from the university level. There is no specific course in psychology that explicitly addresses the implications of racism for black men and women. There is no public policy in terms of taking charge of the singular and advanced psychological pathologies of racism. There is a lot to do in this regard, and the situation is extremely serious, especially given the current political moment, in which there are few initiatives to tackle these problems, ”explains Santos.
Both Santos and Simões, before becoming psychology activists, had personally experienced the challenges of being black and struggling to break cultures of exclusion. Santos had entered the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio (PUC-Rio) through the Affirmative Action System, receiving a full scholarship to take the ENEM college entrance exam through a federal program called ProUni. Yet even while showing herself to be extremely skilled in her field, she was harassed in various ways by the university white elite.
“You, as a black woman from the periphery, must prove at every moment that you are infinitely more qualified, even for simple tasks, than the majority. You can’t be average at anything. With this mentality, students get sick from the pressure, which is doubled. Not to mention all the subtle insults. You end up having an exact idea of how much it bothers you. And if you stand out, everyone will always be skeptical of your performance, wondering if you haven’t copied and pasted well-known text, ”says Santos.
Simões tells a similar story. He enrolled in a private university through the FIES, a Department of Education program that aims to invest in higher education for students enrolled in paid college programs. He was invited to present his final article, titled If homosexuality is still synonymous with HIV and AIDS, at a mental health event. Highly appreciated by specialists, the document has circulated in academic circles and other related events. But Simões’ skin color forbade him to receive due recognition in these spaces, he explains.
“In situations like this, they will never consider you as the speaker. I will always be associated with administrative work, in a more subordinate activity, even while wearing more formal clothes, or wearing glasses. The glasses at least serve as protection to prevent me from dying for having been suspected of criminal activity, at a traffic stop for example. I would arrive early to some conferences and sit in a corner of the auditorium, no one wondering who I was. When it was almost time for my presentation, they would ask where the presenter was, and when I said it was me, the surprised look on their faces was embarrassing, ”says Simões.
He also points out that one of the most cruel manifestations of racism often stems from the perception of families on the outskirts themselves in relation to skin color and the series of barriers it can impose. To change that – depending on social, economic and even aesthetic expectations – Simões says it is not uncommon for many of these families to engage in some kind of “strategic money laundering.“
“This is what gives rise to situations in which black families influence the relationship choices of their children and grandchildren so that their partners are white or lighter skinned, so that the offspring are not also discriminated against when they, for example, are looking for a job. Erasing their origins can be a form of securing a better future. It’s really sad, “he explains.
But it’s not just about oppression. Significant victories are also part of the journey. Black movements across the country succeeded, after much pressure, in producing the document “Race relations: technical references for the practice of psychologists», Published in September 2017 by the Center for referential techniques in psychology and public policies (CREPOP), which is associated with the Federal Psychological Council. It’s more than just a manual: the document contextualizes historical information such as the origins of the great black movements and the importance of their influence in changes in the practice of psychology in Brazil. It also includes methodologies for tackling structural racism, theoretical contributions regarding race relations in psychology, and advice on how psychologists can help dismantle racism and promote racial equality.
It is clear that there is still some way to go. According to data from the Federal Psychological Council, the country currently has exactly 352,386 psychologists. In the state of Rio alone, 42,000 professionals are registered. Of these, 36,379 are women and 5,532 are men. However, the Council does not provide information regarding the number of black psychologists in these numbers. In Brazil, psychology was regulated as an official discipline in 1962, while the 1st National Meeting of Black Psychologists and Researchers on Race Relations and Subjectivity only took place in October 2010.
A report from January 2019 from the news site Nexo Journal addresses the issue of the impact of racism on the mental health of the Brazilian population. The study reveals that it was the 1980 census that first asked questions about the respondent’s race. The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) has collected an impressive array of over 150 types of non-white colors. According to the author, this multiplicity of categories represents an attempt to escape the stigma associated with the category of “black”.
This article was written by Fabio Leon and produced in partnership between RioOnWatch and Grita Baixada Forum. Fabio Leon is a journalist and human rights activist who works as a communications officer for the Fórum Grita Baixada. Fórum Grita Baixada is a forum of people and organizations working in and around the Baixada Fluminense, focusing on the development of strategies and initiatives in the field of public security, which is considered a necessary condition for citizenship and the realization of the right to the city. Follow Fórum Grita Baixada on Facebook here.