The first source selected for the video project, on Week 13: Towards an Uncertain Future, is a scholarly article titled Racial inequalities and death on the horizon: COVID-19 and structural racism, published September this year on the Cadernos de Saúde Pública. This article was written collaboratively and most of its authors work at the Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, one the most important scientific institutions of Brazil. The article begins by highlighting the discourses that have largely disregarded the racial dimension of the pandemic in Brazil. The discourse that the virus would affect everyone equally combined with the myth of racial democracy led to the assumption that apart from the elderly and people with preexisting conditions, all other social groups would be at the same risk level and thus there was no need for differential policies. In order to tackle these assumptions, the article adopts a decolonial perspective by applying the theory of necropolitics developed by Achille Mbembe to understand unequal conditions imposed to the Black population. The pandemic reupdates these racially based colonial demarcations which are the foundation of our modern world. The lack of assistance to peripheral territories such as the favelas where the majority of the population is Black/ brown is a reflection of necropolitical practices. The notion of a “superfluous humanity” that has a predefined place and function in the capitalist system justifies the high numbers of daily deaths and mass graves. The article provides statistical evidence to such racial disparities. Such as the fact that in 2018, in Rio de Janeiro, 30.5% of African descendants lived in the favelas or the fact that nursing is a predominantly female and Black professional class in Brazil.
The main strength of this article is that it offers a theoretical framework to understand how and why the Black population has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. By using this theoretical framework, we can also understand other cases of racial and social inequality that took place during the pandemic. For example, the case of the five-year-old boy Miguel, who died under the supervision of his mother’s employer. While Miguel’s mother, Mirtes Santana who is a domestic worker, was taking the employer’s dog for a walk, Miguel was left unsupervised and fell from the apartment building. That day, Mirtes had no one to leave her son with to go to work since schools were closed. Another example is the fact that one of the first registered deaths from COVID-19 in Brazil was that of a domestic worker, Cleonice Gonçalves, who caught the virus from her employer who had just arrived from Italy. Therefore, this article speaks to themes that we have been discussing in class including racial and social inequalities while theoretically connecting it to the concept of modernity and the legacy of colonialism.
The second source chosen for the video project is a combination of videos and a news article that talk about the experience of the Indigenous populations and those living in the favelas. In an interview with Democracy Now, Marcia Castro who is the chair of the Department of Global Health and Population at Harvard talks about the impact that the pandemic has had on the Indigenous population. Marcia explains how prior to the pandemic, the municipalities of the Amazon region already had fewer resources. This region has the worst indicators in terms of health services in the country, the lowest numbers of hospital beds per person and physicians per person. Political decisions including the dismantlement of the program foreigner physicians to work in underserved areas and the complete disregard to preserving the environment by the current government have made dealing with the virus in this region even harder. Due to the lack of hospital beds, a regionalization scheme has been established whereby those in need of hospitalization are taken to reference municipalities. However, once the hospitals in the capital are overloaded as it happened to Manaus, the system can no longer offer support. Marcia makes it clear that the deaths could have been avoided through an organized response and if there had been medical infrastructure in these more isolated municipalities. Yet, she says that the chaotic response is not only due to inequalities but to the fact that the government did not train or equip community health agents who could have done important groundwork in preventing the spread among the Indigenous population. Marcia Castro’s perspective is academically oriented, and it traces the current failure of municipalities in the Amazon region in dealing with COVID-19 not only to the inequalities in the health care system but also to political decisions prior and during the current government of Jair Bolsonaro.
In the videos by Vox and The Guardian, we get a glimpse of what the reality of the favelas has been like during the pandemic with no governmental support. These videos show how members of the community organizations, such as the Coletivo Fala Akari at Favela Acari in Rio de Janeiro, have been mobilizing to spread awareness by handing pamphlets, establishing curfew hours and helping families who have lost their jobs with basic food supplies. In the video by Vox, we can also see the role of faith in helping people deal with COVID. What makes fighting the pandemic in the favelas particularly is the high density of people living close by and in the same small households. Unfortunately, the death counts and number of confirmed cases in the favelas underrepresent the real numbers as reported in the NPR article based on a survey conducted in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Both videos provide us with the perspective of the people living in the favelas and connect the lack of response by Jair Bolsonaro to the realities they face. However, we should consider the fact that the main audience of these videos are non-Brazilians and that it does not account for all the complexities of the favelas and the current political crisis.
Costa, Fernanda da. 2020. “Morte de Trabalhadora Doméstica Por Coronavírus Escancara Falta de Políticas Para Proteger a Classe.” UFRJ Journal Da Universidade. March 26, 2020. https://www.ufrgs.br/jornal/morte-de-trabalhadora-domestica-por-coronavirus-escancara-falta-de-politicas-para-proteger-a-classe/.
Democracy Now. 2020. “As Bolsonaro Downplays the Pandemic, Indigenous People in Brazil Are Dying at Alarming Rates.” YouTube Video. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KToyu77w8Jw.
Gondim de Oliveira, Roberta, Ana Paula da Cunha, Ana Giselle dos Santos Gadelha, Christiane Goulart Carpio, Rachel Barros de Oliveira, and Roseane Maria Corrêa. 2020. “Racial Inequalities and Death on the Horizon: COVID-19 and Structural Racism.” Caderno de Saúde Pública 36 (9). https://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S0102-311X2020000903003&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en#B32.
Nugent, Ciara. 2020. “How a Child’s Death Has Galvanized a Social Justice Movement in Brazil.” Time. June 17, 2020. https://time.com/5867784/black-domestic-workers-treatment-brazil/.
Reeves, Philip. 2020. “COVID-19 Infection Rate In Rio’s Favelas Far Exceeds Official Count, A New Study Says.” NPR.org. May 25, 2020. https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/06/25/882350283/covid-19-infection-rate-in-rios-favelas-far-exceeds-official-count-a-new-study-s.
The Guardian. 2020. “Bolsonaro Won’t Help with Coronavirus, so Brazil’s Favelas Are Helping Themselves.” YouTube Video. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbQyU-clUSg&t=76s.
VICE News. 2020. “Coronavirus Is Killing Brazil and Bolsonaro Still Doesn’t Think There’s a Problem.” YouTube Video. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqZyC3krvkY.