Fulbright Forward - A Diversity Podcast

Feminism in Brazil and the Intersections of Race and Gender - Sandra Azeredo

March 01, 2021 FulbrightD&I Season 1 Episode 9
Fulbright Forward - A Diversity Podcast
Feminism in Brazil and the Intersections of Race and Gender - Sandra Azeredo
Show Notes Transcript

Similarly to many countries in the Western Hemisphere, the history of feminism in Brazil has been about moving towards a politic that centers and acknowledges how systems of oppression such as racism and classism impact and intersect with the violent sexism that encompasses the struggle of feminist action and thought, and towards a politic that captures the lived experience of cis and trans women of color at the margins of  Brazilian society. How, though, has this struggle played out on an individual and interpersonal level for women in Brazil, especially those who identify with the feminist movement?

In this episode of Fulbright Forward, Jeremy Gombin-Sperling, Fulbright Americas Diversity and Inclusion Liaison, speaks with Fulbright Brazil alumna, Dr. Sandra Azeredo. During the episode, Sandra shares about the importance of a critical feminist perspective, the past and current context of feminism in Brazil vis-a-vis the relationship between Black and white women, the role of academia, and as we will learn, how her own story as a multiracial Black woman has impacted her journey.

Below is a list of resources referenced in the episode:
 "For an Afro-Latin American Feminism" by Lélia Gonzalez:

The Syllabus of Sandra's Course, "Gender and Race in Brazil":

More on the Elections of Black Queer and Trans Candidates to City Councils in Brazil:

More on the U.S. Black Writer, Nella Larsen:

Jeremy Gombin-Sperling  0:09  
Latin American feminism loses much of its force by making abstract the fact of great importance. The pluricultural and multiracial character of the societies of the region. To speak of the oppression of the Latin American woman is a speak of a generality, which hides the hard reality lived by millions of Black and Indigenous women.

These words come from an article written by renowned Afro Brazilian feminist activist scholar Lélia Gonzalez entitled, Por Um Femenismo Afro-Latinoamericano  or for an Afro Latin feminism. Similarly to the United States, the history of feminism in Brazil has been about moving towards a politic that centers and acknowledges how systems of oppression such as racism and classism impact and intersect with the violent sexism that encompasses the struggle of feminist action and thought, as well as a politic that captures the lived experience of cis and trans women of color at the margins of Brazilian society.

How though has this struggle played out on an individual interpersonal level for women in Brazil, especially those who identify with the feminist movement?

Welcome to another episode of Fulbright forward, a diversity podcast. My name is Jeremy Gombin-Sperling, the Fulbright diversity and inclusion liaison for the Western Hemisphere programs. Today's episode of the podcast and the second from the region continues the engagement and conversation on feminism in Latin America with a focus on Brazil.

The episode features Fulbright Brazil alumna Dr. Sandra Maria de Mata Azeredo. A retired psychologist from the Belo Horizonte region who was a professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais and was a visiting scholar to the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2016, where she taught a course entitled gender and race in Brazil. Sandra's course combined the study of literature theory and philosophy from the United States and Brazil to explore the need of including race in any critical feminist perspective. In addition to her Fulbright, Sandra has written numerous works on the importance of intersectional approach and remains engaged in the ongoing feminist dialogue in Brazil.

During today's episode, Sandra I will share more about the importance of a critical feminist perspective, including the past and current context of feminism in Brazil, the ongoing relationship between black and white women, the role of academia. And as we will learn how her own story as a multiracial black woman is impacted her journey. Sandra, thank you so much for being part of this episode of Fulbright forward, I'm very excited to hear and learn I think our audience will be to about your research and your background. And also just how you talk about the intersection of gender and race as itrelates to feminism, feminist movements within Brazil and Latin America. Just to get started, Could you just tell us more about your background and the focus of you know, your recent research and teaching? 

Sandra Azeredo  3:01  
Okay. Right now, I'm I, have retired in 2015. And I was a Fulbrighter, in 2016. And since then, I haven't teached that anymore. I'm not teaching and the research I have been doing is more informal, researching the internet. And I have been reading a lot, because not teaching gives me this time that I never had this time to, to really read things outside from the glasses. You know, one thing that was very important for me as a fulbrighter, of course, but when I did my PhD in 1981, from 1981 to 1986, in California in the history of consciousness program, I began to think of myself not as much as an academic, like a psychologist, and I was doing my PhD and all that. But I started thinking, how important was my familia, my family background. My background is born in inter- interracial family. My father is white and my mother is black. And I never thought about this. Because in Brazil, there is this myth, is a myth of racial democracy yhat denies that we are a racist, racist country. And so I was I was a victim. I was, uh, I was infected by this myth when I went to do my PhD. And I really believed it's amazing how I, didn't you think about racism in Brazil, living in a family? That wasn't interracial? You know, it's, of course, there were, there were episodes of racism in my my own house, but the mother of my father, my grandmother, who is white with blue eyes, she lived with us. And she didn't like that my father had married this black woman, you know, and so it was very tense or the, the atmosphere in my house, but it's amazing how this myth of racial democracy was powerful. And so I started to be conscious of, of this racist society. But only very recently, I think, because I retired, I had time to, to think more about this, I started to try to understand how my position as a Brazilian, that's also black, I'm starting to think of myself as a black, black, of lighter skin, skin, you know, here you see all kinds of colors is the contiua of colors, we are really a miscegenated population, and there was lots of interracial marriages. And everybody, it's very common that we have this different continua of colors. But the elites, the richest people are mostly white. And well, like in in lots of countries, you know, in South Africa, in Jamaica, in, I think, in Puerto Rico, you know, the elite doesn't mix as much as the middle classes and the poor. So that's, if you ask me about my background, I'd like to talk about my family background, the background that locates me, right in the middle of racism. It hasn't been easy for me to think about this position. Because I don't know, it's it's very complicated to be in a family like that, you know, and being in the having denied this for so many years. It's really strange. And so, I have, very, very recently, people have been identifying myself as black, but before, they didn't think of me as black. In Brazil I could pass, like some people pass in the United States as white, you know. What is more difficult, I think, in this position, is to think about the relations between white women and black women, both in the United States and in Brazil, for feminism as a feminist as in my research, as a feminist, doing research in feminism, I think that it's very important to think about these relations between white women and black women. And both in Brazil, and the United States, because we both, both countries had a very strong relation with slavery. And I think this is very, very important for feminism, not only for the struggle of, against racism, but the way we deal with feminism, with the with gender, with gender relations, the fact that we have, we still have in Brazil, in the United States, white women and black women, and the relations we establish between ourselves. And it's not an easy relationship at all, you know, especially after the coup in 2016, in Brazil, that took Dilma Roussef from office, you know.

And she was the very first woman we had as a president, it's very, very sad for us feminists to think that this woman was suffering this kind of attack from from the right, you know, it's a rightist movement. And so I think that it's a very when I went to Massachusetts, as fulbrighter. And you you've read my, my syllabus in my program, and I wanted to try to understand this feminist perspective, that has to include necessarily the question of racism. 

Jeremy Gombin-Sperling  9:47  
You know, you mentioned early on that when you came, when you were doing your PhD in the program around the history of consciousness at University of California, Santa Cruz, you mentioned that hat seems to be like a pivotal moment for you in starting to think about race. So I was curious if you could share, like, what that moment or moments were like for you like what happened, exactly? 

Sandra Azeredo  10:11  
Yeah. Well, right before I started my PhD in Santa Cruz, in 1981, in the 1980s, I had published a book with my consciousness raising group, a feminist group, five women, we wrote a book, we published that book right before I went to the United States, we are all white. There are two, two women of the elite in my group, we were all middle, upper and middle class women. And the book was on women's identities, social and sexual identity. That was the name of it was the mirror of Venus, social and sexual identity of women. And we interviewed like 50 women, lots of women in Brazil, we had conversations with those women. It was a research that for Ford Foundation that we got a grant and we were doing this research. And then we published the book. And in this book, in these conversations, that there were, like, 10, or more black women, and they were maids. But we did not pay attention in this book. It's amazing. 

Like I, I tell you, the, the myth of racial democracy is very strong. And we never paid attention that there was a very important difference between, among us that was the was raised, like bell hooks, when I mentioned bell hooks in my writing. I was very lucky. She was a friend of mine, when I went to Santa Cruz, she was there doing her PhD also. But anyway, she, of course, in the United States, there was this experience of segregation of racial segregation. There were places where black people couldn't go, couldn't, you know, restaurants and all. In Brazil, there is also, there are also places where black people can't go, but it's not formal, like it was in the history of the United States. So for bell hooks, who experienced, who lived in a segregated small town, she had experienced this very clearly. And so she writes since her very first book, that was the ain't I a woman, about black women, and feminism. She writes about the necessity of, of considering gender always related to race. And we in our book in Brazil, the book we published in 1980, we didn't think about it. We didn't know we are all women, we share the oppression, gender oppression, that's it. Even though it was very different. It was very physically, we were very different. what some of these women were poor. They were maids, and we didn't write about this in the book. So when I went to Santa Cruz, and I was very lucky to be to have Donnna Haraway is my advisor. She asked me what I'm really I really wonder why you don't have race as something important in your project. So it was it was this meeting with Donna haraway that made me, not because I think well, Donna Haraway, right. She's such a good professor. So so I have to follow her. But it was like, important question. That's what makes it then use. I said, Yes, I agree. This is crazy. And so this was 1981. And I'm still so 40 years after that. I'm still, it's a struggle. I'm still fighting with this, you know, it's because I was 35 years old when I was in Santa Cruz when I had this talk with Donna haraway. And for 35 years, I had denied this in my own life, in my own family. So I don't know if I'll be I will be helpful for you because I'm still in this. It's this. I'm still in trouble, you know, but I say, I believe in trouble. I think we have to stay into trouble like Donna Haraway says. One of the last, I think it's her last book says, she says, stay in trouble. We can't just avoid trouble, you know, you have to deal with it. 

Jeremy Gombin-Sperling  15:09  
So it sounds like especially after your PhD work in the United States, and coming back and the work you continue to do in Brazil, I think a question I just have is, you know, what has like the conversation on feminism and feminist movements looked like in Brazil, and in particular, I guess what I'm curious about is, you know, in the time that you've been studying this and involved in this work, how much reception has there been to using what I want to call this kind of intersectional lens Right, that we are looking at gender, we must look at race. So I'm curious, like, what is the history of the feminist movement looked like for you in Brazil? And what has it looked like, among activists to ensure that race is part of that conversation?

Sandra Azeredo  15:59  
 It was very hard for me, especially when I came back in 1986. And the conversation the talking, especially with my group, my consciousness raising group after those five years in the United States in coming back, race was not at all something that was included in the dialogue. It was like, oh, Sandra is the one who is bringing, they are pointing to me, she's bringing the ray, race to the the conversation, but it was not it was always like, no, even the maids, maids and housewives have something in common that and that is what we are interested in. And I think, even today, it's not easy to include race In the dialogue with feminism, it's not, of course, it changed a lot. And race is part of it. But they don't. They still this, this division between black women and white women in Brazil, and black women, many times they accuse us, including me, of not really being sympathetic to the sufferings of black women. And in some ways, I think they are right, because I am, I can call myself black. And I was raised in, in an interracial family. But I'm a privileged woman. In Brazil, this thing is very, this is very important. the privilege of whiteness, I'm still I still How do you say I still I profit from this privilege, 

Jeremy Gombin-Sperling  17:55  
benefit benefit

Sandra Azeredo  17:57  
I still benefit from this, this privilege. And so I think this is part of struggle for me because of No, of course, of course not, but I don't, I don't want to not be privileged, especially being there in the university. And I say I had tenure and all that. And I, I retired with a very good position, and I have my own house that I could buy. And this is very different from the majority of black women in Brazil, you know, so it's very, very difficult. And so they sometimes black women see, well, Sandra, found herself as a black when she went to the United States. But, in fact, she is not doing much for us to change our positions and they are right. So this isthe big trouble for me, you know, I write about it, and but I'm not doing anything very, very special. I don't know if I'm making sense to you. 

Jeremy Gombin-Sperling  19:09  
What I'm hearing about are some of the tensions within women's movements and feminism that are very much present, you know, 40 years ago and still in Brazil, when it comes to the question of how people who benefit from whiteness and/or are white, you know what work they are doing, if they are feminists to really, you know, truly, structurally systematically support the folks that are most marginalized by racism and by sexism, which in this case, are black women in Brazil, and I think it resonates or resembles, as I as I'm sure you also know, very similar conversations in the United States about what it looks like to be as a white person like myself, you know, um an ally, a supporter an accomplice someone who's trying to work towards racial justice in a multiracial society where racism is very much still something that organizes our society. 

Sandra Azeredo  20:09  
Yeah, yes. See the police violence? You know, a Black Lives Matter matter, I think comes very much from to fight this violence that Black people are suffering in the United States. And here in Brazil, of course, of course. Yeah. Yeah. It's still a problem. 

Jeremy Gombin-Sperling  20:31  
Well, and I guess, I guess I'm curious, because I think it's an important question. And even maybe one for Fulbright about, like the role of the academy, right, because in some cases, the academy and by that, I mean, you know, colleges, universities, research scholarship, can be a place for a lot of really powerful ideas. And for many people, they will never have access to that, or the current way things are structured, makes it very difficult for that to happen. So I'm curious, either from your perspective, as someone who has done work in the United States, and or, of course, your work and time in Brazil, what does it look like? Or what could it look like to try and invent? You know, what is it does it look like to strike some sort of change, knowing that there's always going to be limitations, right, that it is only... that the, you know, universities are not going to solve all of the social problems? 

Sandra Azeredo  21:22  
No, no no, yeah. Well, I think one very important way of dealing with this in the university is the affirmative actions. We had this in, in the government from PT, Lula and Dilma and when I was teaching in the university, I could see it with my students. And before that, most of the students, almost all the students were white, and after that, when they started having affirmative actions, they were, there were lots of black people. And I think this makes a change, this changes because they start working with, with the other black people in the community. Because I think to fight racism,you have to work as a collective, as in, in a community. It's not just a case of one woman, a black, one black woman, or one black man It's the kind of a collective group of people. And those students, they were, they were doing very important work in their communities, also, which is wonderful. And but this was all gone with the coup, because it's so bad that so many good things we were doing, were cut from us. And white people want to, to keep their privileges and they say it. No, we are the good ones. And we want to be with the best part, you know. 

Jeremy Gombin-Sperling  23:03  
Yeah, I know. It's obviously been a very, for many people, a very difficult time, living under Bolsonaro. And I'm curious, yeah, just kind of on that, like, what, what for you as a scholar, you know, as a feminist and someone concerned about gender and race, have there been particular either movements or moments that have given you hope that kind of show a new direction for feminism in Brazil? 

Sandra Azeredo  23:31  
In Brazil? Well, one you mentioned Argentina, and Argentina has been like a model for us you with this new government. You know, when the the law on abortion, that's so important. We have the right for abortion in case of rape. And even in this case they you want to cut that No, no, if you had rape, you can't abort anymore. This government is so so backward. So, but we have hope when we see Bolivia, the women and the indigenous people, they're in power again. And we see Argentina. The the feminist movement in Latin America is very strong in general. In Brazil, also the black movement was very active in the council, elections, Council, city council, lots of black women for the first time in the city council. And we had also uh two trans women, trans woman. They were for the first time they were the most, had the most vote, both in Belo Horizonte where I live and in San Paolo. It's amazing. So when you say that Brazil Brazilian family is, Brazilians are very conservative. I don't, we don't, we are not this conservative because you are able to vote for this this people, you know, women, black women, trans women. It's amazing. It's there are there is hope. There is hope.

Jeremy Gombin-Sperling  25:24  
And what has the experience been like for these candidates so far in Brazil? 

Sandra Azeredo  25:27  
Well, we hope it's, those people are going to be able to work to work, because they have been threatened. They have been receiving death threats, threats, because they are black because they are women because they are trans trans woman. And so it's it's a very hard time of violence, you know, of this government. 

Jeremy Gombin-Sperling  25:53  
Thank you so much, Sandra, for sharing more about just, you know, the ongoing challenges and of course, just your hopes for hopefully what's to come in Brazil. I'd like to shift a little bit to your experience working at UMass Amherst when you were a Fulbright Scholar. And just if you could share with us, you know, what was the experience like of doing this class on the construction of a feminist perspective on gender and race and, of course, I see in your class class not just in Brazil, but also in United States. So if you could share with us just what, what was the experience like and what did you learn from it? 

Sandra Azeredo  26:25  
Oh, yeah. Oh, yes, I did. I did learn a lot. We one thing that was very important, that's very important in my method, and in my classes in my syllabus, is that I include literature fiction, as part of the what we read. And we read novels from Brazil, we read a very long novel by a Brazilian, Brazilian man was called. It's very interesting. It's like a 600 or 700 pages novel. And he, himself translated to English to the English version. He was the one who wrote again, the book in English, you know, in so we could read it there. And we rent to an office by Neela. Lars Larson, I don't know if you know, her is a black woman from New York, from the What's this time in New York when there was jazz? And what's the, 

Jeremy Gombin-Sperling  27:31  
The Harlem Renaissance 

Sandra Azeredo  27:32  
Harlem Renaissance? 

Jeremy Gombin-Sperling  27:34  

Sandra Azeredo  27:34  
It was the Renaissance. And we read this book. And it was very nice to see the reaction of the students. They never had never read this, this woman Neela Larson. And they were very interested in what she was saying about race and about all her experience as a black woman in New York in this time, you know, of history. And so one thing that that that was very good that I remember, it was very was very good for me, was this discussion of fiction of literature. So it was very rewarding to have this reaction of the students about this. 

Jeremy Gombin-Sperling  28:23  
You know, one, one question I do have, that I think people would be interested in knowing more about is, you know, you talk about, what you talk about the construction of a gender feminist perspective. I'm curious, like, what does that mean to you? What does it mean to have a gender feminist perspective, especially considering our conversation on the necessity of looking at race? 

Sandra Azeredo  28:51  
Well, I think it has to do with my experience in Brazil with being a country that had this experience of slavery since the very beginning. Um this novel that we read of this Brazilian author, it's about, it tells the story of when the Portuguese came here and decided all these huge farms and colonizing us. It was slavery all the time, you know, and this meant that women and blacks were oppressed at the same time, under the same kind of colonized Brazil, they had both black and women, you know, and I think that we have to fight against racism, we can't. And against gender oppression, we can't separate both the two because they are, they are basis for each other, you know.mAnd so for me, it's very, very important. I can't separate them. And it's very, it's not true of families in general in Brazil. That's not true yet. But well, we are going to try. I don't know if I made myself clear, if you want to--

Jeremy Gombin-Sperling  30:18  
No, you  made you made yourself super clear. I mean, I think you know, and I think I even from the beginning, it's, you know, you've even shared that in your own life experience growing up in the family that you grew up in, it's you can't, you can't, you can't separate gender and race, it was part of the experience. And part of what you just sort of shared that I think, you know, theorists who talk about things around intersectionality or oppression share too, which is just, you cannot get rid of sexism, if you do not also get rid of racism, to, you know, that it's not one or the other, it can't be because of the fact that there are people such as you know, black women, indigenous women who share both those oppres-, or experience both as oppressions, and just the fact that they are connected. So I appreciate that example of like, how colonialism in Brazil also, you know, became a real basis for a lot of this too. 

Sandra Azeredo  31:14  

Jeremy Gombin-Sperling  31:15  
Yeah. What would you like the audience to take away, or to understand from this podcast episode? 

Sandra Azeredo  31:24  
Well, we are living as I wrote, we are living in a very, very difficult time of pandemic. And I would like that the audience and myself and do you and everybody started thinking about us, as, as humans in this planet, where what we are doing to this planet, what we are, how we are living, capitalist society with all this violence. Now, this virus COVID, that's here. And the way we are dealing with it is very, very crazy. People going, at least in Brazil, but I think in Europe also, and in the US, you know, it's not taking care of themselves and of ourselves in not, in not trying to think of a way of changing of changing the way we deal with the world. You know, I think it's not directly related our conversation, but I think we can't deny that we live in this very, very difficult time of pandemic. That's what I would think now.

Jeremy Gombin-Sperling  32:39  
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me and to share your history and your experience. And also, you know, I think what I also heard in the conversation is, what your hopes are for both it sounds like yourself and your in the work you're continuing to do and also, you know the world. So I really appreciate you taking the time to be part of this Fulbright forward episode. 

Sandra Azeredo  33:03  
Thank you. Thank you for making me go back and think about those questions. It's always very good. And thank you. Thank you. 

Jeremy Gombin-Sperling  33:12  
You're welcome.

And thank you so much for tuning into this episode of Fulbright forward. Before we close, I want to share some words from Sandra that she wrote to me about the last question I asked her after we finished recording. In her message, Sandra wrote, I kept thinking of your last question and what I would like the audience to take away from our conversation, that I answered, saying that I wanted to find some way to help people think more critically about this difficult time of pandemic and violence we are living on the planet. In fact, I came to the conclusion that what I really want is not just to think, but to act, that we find ways of acting to really change the world. We've been writing and lecturing and talking about exploitation, violence, and all those problems in our world. And all this is important, especially because it helps us to understand the problems better. We are also acting of course, and being a Fulbright Scholar was a kind of action. But the problems continue the same despite these actions and all this writing and conversation. We have enough understanding of the world, it is time to use this understanding more radically to transform the world. 

I want to thank Sandra for her words and hope that this episode has encouraged anyone out there listening about how we can reimagine a more just inclusive and diverse world as we continue these fights, whether for racial justice, gender justice, and any form of oppression. Thanks again for tuning in. Until next time.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai