Brazil Is Like the United States, Except…

by Shoshana A. Brown, LMSW

This summer I took on the exciting and edgy experience of traveling to Brazil with The Daughters of the African Atlantic Fund to attend their African and African Diasporan Women in Religion and Theology consultation. As a Black mixed-race Jewish femme, I certainly had my reservations of what the experience would be, particularly as I was attending alone and without any particularly special invitation. As a Tzovah in the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute, I have been on a journey to discover the language that best describes my practice of Judaism that incorporates indigenous Senegalese spiritual practices. I looked forward to allowing this consultation to help me refine and root deeply in the language I was writing about. I also sought to learn about Brazil and Brazilian culture and history.

Learning from some amazing Brazilian Womxn scholars and Candomblé practitioners was exactly what I hoped. Brazil is much like the United States. Brazil has a similar history of slavery, though much larger and longer. This means that there are many Black folks in Brazil and the nature of the way people identify their race is also more nuanced. The rates of violence against women is similarly high, and yet the homicides of Black women (quoted as 51 percent of all attempted homicides) are not considered gender violence. This along with research showing that Black womxn in Brazil have higher rates of risky abortion (which is illegal there) demonstrates the lack of value placed on the bodies of Black womxn in Brazil. The same can be said for the United States as we witness the devastating murders from Eleanor Bumpers (1984) to Crystalline Barnes (2018) and notably #SandraBland in the surge of the #sayhername movement. It was evident throughout the panels, side conversations, and personal anecdotes that Black womxn in Brazil share similar experiences to Black womxn in the United States.

While there are lots of similarities between the institutionalization of racism and sexism in Brazil and the United States, there is one difference that stood out – indigenous practice. The practice of Candomblé in Brazil was shared through a number of panels as well as an immersion experience in a Candomblé house. We learned about the vulnerability of Candomblé right now resulting from escalating violence on Candomblé houses mostly by people who are Christians, Protestant or Catholic. Religious intolerance continues to be a major topic of debate in Brazil.

Here in the United States, earth-based spiritual practices are flourishing as more activists find some of the policies and traditions of the Black church oppressive towards queer folks or inconsistent with their personal politics. You can find Black Lives Matter founder Patrisse Cullors discussing these tensions in the On Being podcast. While many folks feel pushed out of the church, they are finding roots and home in earth-based and embodied practices such as burning sage, crystal magic, meditation, and yoga. These practices are on the rise and are thriving. Many churches have begun to incorporate these spiritual aspects as a result.

So, while Brazil is very similar to the United States, the spiritual landscapes of the two countries are on an opposite trajectory. This consultation was affirming for my research, and I certainly obtained what I intended to. While I always expect to experience Christian hegemony as a Black Jew, I had hoped that at a consultation of African and African Diasporan Women there would be a bit more embodied practice and integration of spirituality actually infused throughout the experience. We must always remember that the absence of spirituality and religion does not actually create equality; rather it reinforces the dominant narrative – here it was Christianity.