Brazil’s Billboard Campaign against Racism and Bigotry

Making racist remarks are common around the world – it could be a harmless joke or downright bigotry. Recently, an anti-racism group called Criola (which means people of European and African descent in Portugese) has waged an intriguing campaign against intolerant Internet commenters. Racist commenters beware! Who knows? Your words might just be used against you.

The new campaign in Brazil called “Virtual racism, real consequences” is plastering billboards with racist Facebook and Twitter comments. The campaign uses location tags on Facebook posts to find where these commenters live and rent billboard spaces in the neighbourhood of these racist commenters. The point is not to expose anyone or call anyone out but to educate people that their words have a real impact on other individuals and on society in general, making people think twice before saying or posting anything.

Source: The Drum

One billboard in the city of Feira de Santana, in the state of Bahia, shows a Facebook comment reading,

If you washed properly, you wouldn’t be so dirty.

The comment roughly translates to

I got home stinking of black people.

‘Preto’ in Portuguese is a derogatory way of referring to citizens with African descent as opposed to ‘negro’ which is the neutral term.

The campaign was prompted after Brazilian journalist Maria Júlia Coutinho was targeted by racist Facebook comments online. She is the first black weather forecaster on Brazilian prime-time television. In July, she corrected an anchor on-air when the anchor had misinformed the audience. Other news sites praised her for getting the terminology correct, however Facebook commenters responded with unnecessary and  intolerant comments against everything from her hair to her race.

The offensive comments range from telling her to “go f— herself” to calling her by the nickname ‘Maju’ which made it clear she was from Africa.

In an interview with the BBC, Criola founder Jurema Werneck commented that the campaign is supposed to encourage people to report racism they encounter online on any social media platform. The billboards don’t show the names or faces of the commenters – Werneck says it has “no intention of exposing anyone.”

We need this in Malaysia.

Heck, we need this around the world! Racism and bigotry are often subtle and near-invisible, but on the rare occasion when they rear their ugly heads in plain sight, we must strike them down decisively. Sure, we do not have the right to be not offended in this world but why offend people in the first place?  We have enough to deal with in life than to listen or to read bigoted people rant on about things that shouldn’t be said.

Then there is issue of the freedom of speech, legal tradition of protecting free speech so strongly that it generally refuses to punish hate speech in some countries. Then, there are countries that selectively punish speech that is not racist in nature, but merely criticisms towards the ruling power, while officials making racist remarks are not punished. How can a country progress while being hindered by bigoted and ignorant people in our society?

I thus condemn those who worship the gospel of racism and bigotry. I condemn how a person can be made a stranger in their own society solely because they are black in a predominately Latino community. I condemn those who try to single out any group of people on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

We can learn a lot from Werneck’s campaign and we should do our part in forming a tolerant society. We need to be reminded of how we are all humans. There are no differences between us unless we ourselves make it so. How would you feel if someone does the same thing to you? Be tolerant and learn to live with others. As a writer I believe that we need to emphasise the obvious, to expose and broadcast the truth that lies under the coat of hypocrisy and ignorance. So, remember to think before you comment or post anything.


By Tyler Lai.

Feature image source: 123rf

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." (George Orwell, in Animal Farm, 1945)

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