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Educação & Realidade

versão impressa ISSN 0100-3143versão On-line ISSN 2175-6236

Educ. Real. vol.44 no.2 Porto Alegre  2019  Epub 15-Jul-2019 


Childhoods in the Face of Racism: theses for a good fight

IUniversidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ), Nova Iguaçu/RJ - Brazil

IIUniversidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), Duque de Caxias/RJ - Brazil


This article briefly discusses childhood as notion, category and concept. It will problematize racism and formulations that associate Africa with the humanity’s childhood. The goal is to face adulthood as the greater danger of life. The text brings results from field researches accomplished in 2016 and 2017, and an analysis of the film Colors and boots (2010); in both situations, black children are faced with social-racial challenges. From dialogues with several authors, such as Mbembe, Oyewumi and Bispo dos Santos, it proposes children’s theses to overcome racism for the surplus-value of life to be an affirmation of childhood as a way of putting the desire beyond the lack and pitfalls of the commodity.

Keywords: Childhoods; Racism; Adulthood; Surplus-Value of Life


Este artigo discute brevemente a infância como noção, categoria e conceito. Vamos problematizar o racismo e as formulações que associam África à infância da humanidade. O objetivo é enfrentar a adultidade como o grande perigo da vida. O texto traz resultados de pesquisas de campo realizadas em 2016 e 2017 e uma análise do filme Cores e Botas (2010); nas duas situações, crianças negras se deparam com desafios sociorraciais. A partir de diálogos com diversos autores e autoras, tais como Mbembe, Oyewumi e Bispo dos Santos, propomos teses infantis de superação do racismo, para que a mais-valia de vida seja uma afirmação da infância como modo de colocar o desejo além da falta e das armadilhas da mercadoria.

Palavras-chave: Infâncias; Racismo; Adultidade; Mais-Valia de Vida


This article is marked by two researches on children that have involved our foray into school contexts. For ethnographies and fieldwork with children, we followed William Corsaro’s recommendations of approaching into places with “[…] status of an atypical adult or a big kid” (Corsaro, 2005, p. 451). Fieldwork is a relevant part of our research. Among several inspirations, we consider it pertinent to use the method without a defined, closed, definitive or prescriptive nature.

We have used methodologies implied in the processes and questions that emerge from the experiences of being into schools, exploring the importance of implication, not application only. In the footsteps of the studies that problematize the method, we were not attached to a method that legitimates knowledge. It is not a matter of operating only in a methodological body. We agree with contributions by Paul Feyerabend denouncing dogmatic epistemologies (Feyerabend, 2011), as well as with Helen Verran (2001), who tells us that the success of a methodology is not incompatible with our interests and limitations, which are inevitable. Hence, Verran points out that the methodological systems are always diverse and different and that, in parallel, the points of view are always within a specific logic. In this same framework, we find the studies of the thinker Dismas Masolo (2009), whose contributions elucidate quite well how the African-perspectivity conceives methodology in a research.

Thus, what seems to be a conflict of rationality is probably only a discomfort (for those who are mono-rational), in relation to unfamiliar explanatory strategies. For those who are ‘poly-rational’, especially those to whom colonialism has imposed Western methods simultaneously with their own methods (Masolo, 2009, p. 510).

Neither we refuse nor choose a standard methodology. For the purposes of an African-perspectivist research, methodologies need to be poly-rational. However, we do not bet on the conflicts of rationality; on the contrary, we are founded on the power of encounters of different epistemic repertoires. As we come across an unknown rationality, we are forced to broaden our methodological assets.

In the case of the field notebook, our methodology operates without believing that the account fits the theory. We look for the lines outside the curve and the events without forcing them to fall into previous categories but in the exercise of an attentive attention, when listening to the field. The poly-rational (African-perspectivist) methodology allows itself to be touched, even if limitedly, by events. Hence, we give preference to the collective reading of the records and field record diaries, making sure to involve all the subjects participating in the research. In this way, our field notebooks and reflections from the readings constitute a collection that nourishes and nurtures our scriptures.

Since 2009, the African-perspectives, Knowledge and Childhood Research Group (Afrosin) has been conducting researches with poly-rational intentions. Our research is part of an Afrosin agenda. With research partnerships and support from research funding agencies, we have worked with the following axes: childhoods, education of ethnic-racial relations, arts and philosophy. Our motivation was the constant informal accounts on racism by Pedagogy students at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ) and the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Uerj). The students - in internship programs or as Early Childhood Education or 1st to 5th grade teachers - experienced several cases of racial discrimination. Also, our experience as K-12 teachers has observed and identifies racist practices in the children’s school context.

First Words (childhoods and black people)

Concepts are always dynamic. As the sociologist Antônio Sérgio Guimarães claims in Color and Race: race, color and other analytical concepts:

The truth is that any concept, be it analytic or native, only makes sense in the context of either a specific theory or a specific historical moment. I believe that there are no concepts that are valid everywhere, out of time, space and theories. Only very few cross through time or theories with the same meaning (Guimarães, 2008, p. 63).

From an African-perspectivist approach, we will work both with concepts and analytical notions and categories. In quite general lines, the notion on childhood regards to legal, psychological, biological, pediatric nursing and educational aspects. These areas converge to sustain the theory that childhood is a period of life.

From a legal point of view, in Brazil Law N. 8069/1990, the Child and Adolescent Statute (CAS), establishes in Article 2 that childhood is the period of between 0 and incomplete 12 years of age (Brazil, 2017, p. 10). In the psychologic field, we refer to the Associação Brasileira de Psicologia do Desenvolvimento (ABPD) [Brazilian Association of the Development of Psychology] as the one that gathers all specialists aiming to promote and exchange information about researches on the human development. A frequent perspective in this subarea is that the childhood can be divided into phases, usually three. The first phase starts at birth and ends at 3 years old; it is followed by the ages from 3 to 6; and lastly, from 6 to 11 years of age. In medicine, the Sociedade Brasileira de Pediatria (SBP) [Brazilian Society of Pediatrics] considers the phases from 1 to 18 months of life, 18 months to 3 years old, 3 to 4 or 5 years old, 5 to 9 years old, and from 10 to 13 years old. Pediatric nursing sets another division in three periods: neonatal from 0 to 28 days of life, infant from 29 days to 2 years old, early childhood from 2 to 7 years old, and school children from 7 to 10 years old.

Despite the differences between these periods, what all of them have in common is the way they classify childhood as a phase in life. In other terms, being a child seems to be a synonym of childhood. On the other hand, the childhood analytic category is different - it is not a transitional phase, it is a permanent category (Qvortrup, 2011). Hence, “[…] childhood is the social condition that unifies children as an age group and places them in common experiences, as they are part of the same historic and cultural experience” (Arenhart, 2016, p. 33). This makes it necessary to contrast the categories child and childhood. We are faced with a condition that is historically and socially constructed by institutional practices, what shifts childhood from a biopsychic nature into a cultural-historic and socially produced dimension.

Finally, the concept of childhood differs both from the notion supported, at a first sight, on a seemingly natural dimension and the category supported by social and historical aspects. Our concept of childhood is spiritual-philosophical and based on African-perspectivist senses of the world. What are senses of the world or cosmos senses? According to the Nigerian sociologist Oyeronke Oyewumi (2017) and also to the quilombola thinker Antônio Bispo dos Santos (2015), we construct senses of the world for the concept of childhood which have several elements in common with western authors.

Initially it is necessary to state that we do not start from a point of view. In cultures based on worldviews, the object of research “[…] is always kept in sight and in the sight. By definition, it invites us to stare at it intently, to contemplate the difference, calling for a look of differentiation” (Oyewumi, 2017, p. 39). These differences are classified due to a model which stablishes the existence of others. Worldviews always bring the discomfort of inventing others: “Women, primitives, Jews, African, poor and all people carrying the tag ‘different’, in distinct times” are considered groups subdued by “[…] instinct and affectivity, strange to reason” (Oyewumi, 2017, p. 40). There is no doubt that childhood arose as an adult’s other, just like the black was established as the other of white people. For Oyewumi, this would be based on epistemological bases emerging from world views.

The term ‘world view’ used in the West to synthesize the cultural logic construction of a society, properly expresses the western privilege on the visual dimension. But we would have an Eurocentric result if we used this expression to refer to cultures that probably give priority to other meanings. The qualification ‘world sense’ is an alternative to give a wide opening to discover the concept of the world in different cultural groups. On the other hand, in this research ‘world view’ will be applied exclusively to the description of western cultural sense, and we will use ‘world sense’ in reference to the ioruba society and other cultures that may privilege other perceptions or a mix of them (Oyewumi, 2017, p. 39).

In search of world senses that bring us grounding for a concept of childhood, we have established a dialogue with Antônio Bispo dos Santos. The quilombola thinker refers to African-Pindoramic world senses. According to him (2015), the word Pindoramic refers to Pindorama which was probably used by indigenous people to name the current Brazilian territory before the European colonizing invasion by the Portuguese. The term African stands for the black community. Articulating these two words, Bispo dos Santos finds contact points to establish what we call here African-Pindoramic world senses.

The cultural manifestation of monotheistic Euro-Christian peoples are generally organized in a vertical position, with statically pre-defined rules, limited number of participants classified by sex, age group, level of ability, split into teams and/or groups, segmented from the collective to the individual (where the individual talent tends to be more valued than teamwork), and in a permanent state of competitiveness. Competitions are practiced in demarcated spaces and refereed by a judge, in front of the fans and sympathizers who are to participate booing and/or applauding (Santos, 2015, p. 41).

He establishes differences between the Western worldview - called monotheistic Euro-Christians - and African-Pindoramic world senses. On the other hand, cultural, political and religious manifestations from African-Pindoramic peoples operate within world senses which establish other forms of organization.

[...] in general, in circular structures with participants of both sexes, of distinct age groups and unlimited number of participants. The activities are organized by community philosophical foundations and principles that are truly lessons of life. That is why instead of judges, we have masters in the conduction of these activities. People who attend, instead of supporting, can participate in a variety of ways, and in the end the manifestation is the great winner because it has developed in an integrated way, from the individual to the collective (where the actions and activities developed by each person are an expression of the traditions of life and of the wisdom of the community) (Santos, 2015, 41-42).

With these considerations, the concept of childhood emerges as a playing miracle that reestablishes the surplus-value of life. By surplus-value we understand the same as Brian Massumi in What animals teach us about politics. From the researches of the Canadian philosopher, we interpret the surplus-value of life as the capacity of creating, a kind of playing inventiveness that promotes joy. “What one plays is an invention. The aesthetic performance of the play comes with an active mobilization of improvised powers of variation” (Massumi, 2017, p. 28). The radicalization of playfulness that makes plays and games of life.

As it was already claimed, we consider the existence of childhoods in a plan of analysis that allows us to think of a tripod: the notion, the analytic category and the concept. If the concept makes childhood work as a condition of living experience, something that is beyond the biopsychic phases (notion) and that cannot be seen only as a social and historical construction (analytic category), we can use it, in a complex equation, as a strategy to deal with the racism that structurally organizes our world. Here is our hypothesis: the most powerful force against racism remains being childhood.

Our way to explore the hypothesis is African-perspectivist. The African-perspectivity is not a mere neologism, but rather an academic approach that stands against racism in its various aspects, considering it as a key phenomenon to understand countless contemporary challenges. We do not call for any originality, but a rearrangement of studies by Molefi Asante, Abdias do Nascimento, Tânia Stolze Lima and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (Noguera, 2011; Noguera, 2014; Noguera; Barreto, 2018). In general, African-perspectivity is a philosophical exercise in dialogue with other fields of the human sciences (especially sociology of childhood) based on the African, African-Brazilian, and indigenous peoples’ world senses of a biocentric nature, which has in the childhood a key concept. In an African-perspectivist sense, we recognize childhoods in several layers as diverse theories and studies advocate (Qvortrup, 2011). In particular, African-perspectivity points out to childhood - as an ontological concept - as an existential condition, a form of experience, a mode of relation, and that which brings us closer to other living species, which makes it possible to increase the range of possibilities of living. Thus, childhood is what we should look for in any educational project.

Racism as a World-System (and its relations with childhoods)

The Cameroonian historian and philosopher Achille Mbembe brings instigating contributions to think the world-system. His interpretation of Franz Fanon and his approach to post-colonial studies bear many results. In Critique of Black Reason, we find the following excerpt:

‘Africa’ ​​and ‘black’- a cooperative relationship links these two concepts. To speak of one is, actually, to evoke the other. One confers to the other its sacred value. As we have already said, not all Africans are black. However, if Africa has a body and if it is a body, a this, it is the Black who confers it to it - it does not matter where he is in the world. And if Black is a nickname, if it is that, it is because of Africa... […] we examine the way how Africa and the Black eventually became the sign of an alterity impossible to be assimilated, the very breach of meaning, a joyous hysteria (Mbembe, 2018, p. 79).

The breach of meaning is its transgression. The black populations of the whole world and the African continent are in a situation of challenge within the global geopolitical system. Mbembe continues his analysis and postulates that the Western ethnology and philosophies of history have produced a radical dichotomy in which societies can be classified as primitive and civilized. In parallel, the impact of Charles Darwin’s On the origin of species and some of its most influential receptions helps to corroborate with the hypothesis that Africa would be the childhood of humanity. By association, blackness - here understood merely as being black - would be the face of childhood. In some approaches in the fields of biology, psychology and psychoanalysis we find two analytical categories that may help us think about this relationship among childhood, Africa and blackness. The German biologist Ernst Haeckel spread Darwin’s works, sustaining the categories of phylogenesis and ontogenesis as indispensable for understanding the relationship between the development of a species and an individual. From Haeckel (1904), ontogeny would be reiterated and, even more, systematized as the study of the development of an individual organism since fertilization; phylogeny is the study of the development of a species. At some level there would be some kind of connection between phylogeny and ontogeny.

The project of European colonization operated by means of accounts that made eccentric miscellanea, among which: the phylogenesis of humanity has a beginning with black people. In other words, the phylogenetic process has Africa as its address. Hence, the most accepted thesis that the first humans emerged in the African continent would corroborate to justify the phylogenetic childhood as being eminently a synonym for black people. Several European intellectual exponents of the nineteenth century were responsible for embedding in all their scientific discourses, “[…] myths intended to ground their power, the Western hemisphere was considered the center of the globe, the home country of reason, universal life and truth of humanity” (Mbembe, 2018, p. 29). The Northern hemisphere, the West would be the adult phase of humanity. What, then, can we infer about people who are doubly in childhood? Childhood because they are children and, at the same time, an eternal childhood because they are black. Under these parameters, the black people would represent this childhood of the whole humanity, and the white subject would be the adult-savior. It is this world view that began to organize the geopolitical relations between peoples. From these aspects, we speculate that, phylogenetically, black became synonymous with childhood of humanity.

In the Brazilian context, this is explicit in the way how the State conducted the post-abolishment period. The Brazilian Republic did everything to expel the black population, from the dissemination of the most stupid myths to justify the white immigration, like that the European whites were more hard-working and efficient than the blacks, to the cruelest means to make the great black mass population invisible. Data from that period inform an unavoidable contradiction for the construction project of a capitalist nation. The data below deconstruct this narrative.

How can such an anomaly be explained? Well, we will reply - the European in the farm is a martyr: the climate, the food system and the rough work make him, after a year of work, in which he manages to make some money), moves to the city, becoming a businessman in any capacity. In the state of São Paulo, there are some 300,000 European workers on farms, who do not sustain the work that in 1887 was easily done with around 100,000 blacks! The contempt given to the black people by the farmers is one of the main crises in agriculture. Following the abolishment, a black person used to harvest one thousand feet of coffee for 40$000 annual; nowadays, the European cleans it for 80$000; a black harvested a bushel of coffee for 300 reis [currency at the time], and today the European harvests for 1$000. [...] Under all points of view, the blacks should be preferred to foreigners for agricultural work; and we cannot even say that the work of the European overcomes the one the native does, because they say that the European works intelligence-driven [...] The government pays, in addition to the travel ticket, 70$000 per farming immigrant, who does not stay at the farm and takes up this amount from the public vaults, without the same result for the crop and proof of the State. If this money were to be used for the benefit of the agricultural education of our natives, what great advantages would it not be for the cultivation and for the state (Journal O Progresso apud Pinto, 2006, p. 155).

The logic of capital intends to profit. The black enslaved population produced far more than the European white people who arrived. Would it not be more rational to keep the former enslaved people as wage-earners? Therefore, what moved the immigration policy was not productivity, but racism. The black population was not welcome in the Brazilian territory. As an example, the schools had as a goal for this population to regenerate them, the healing of the evil of being black.

On the other hand, it is convenient to serve the thousands of individuals who, once fred from slavery in a great ignorance, with no beliefs, no notion of duties, need to be supplied with a school education necessary for their full regeneration. It is also convenient to address the great number of immigrants who settle in our land, whose intellectual and moral interests cannot be different from those that drive the directions of the society (Rio de Janeiro [Província], 1889, p. 3-4).

This way, we can see the slavery hand of the school. Great eminent white figures from the Brazilian intellectual and cultural elite of the first half in the twentieth century made themselves clear on this. Some letters between Monteiro Lobato and the doctors Renato Khel, Arthur Neiva and his friend and also writer Godofredo Rangel portray a development project seeking white nation in their correspondence. One of the most influent people of the Brazilian literature for children and young people gathered over 500 pages of letters in years of conversation with the writer Godofredo Rangel.

It is said that miscegenation liquefies this racial crystallization that is the character and results in unstable products. This in the morals - and in the physical aspects, what ugliness! In a parade, in the afternoon, along the awful Rua Marechal Floriano, of people going back to the suburbs, which pervade all degenerations, all good and bad human shapes - all shapes but the regular one. Black people from Africa, hunted at gun-point and forcibly brought to slavery, took their revenge on the Portuguese in a most terrible way - making them darker and liquefying them, resulting in that residual thing that comes from the suburbs in the morning and flows back into the suburbs in the evening. And they are stashed like canned sardines and there is a disaster every day, half of them lack an arm or a leg, maybe missing a finger, or showing a terrible scar on their faces. ‘What was it?’ ‘Train crash’. How do you fix these people? How to be people, in this handful of people? What terrible problems the poor black man from Africa has created here to us, in his unconscious revenge! (Lobato, 1964, p. 133).

These considerations help us think what Mbembe (2018) claimed to be the designation of Africa as an absence. Or even, the name of the inability to pronounce the universal. Africa would be linked to the notion of childhood in a world scale. If the notion of childhood tells us of a phase of an individual life, here it assumes the meaning of a period of humanity, of an evolutionary stage of the human being. The logic of the Western worldview would establish a banal and indecent picture in which, at first, the species would have started as black and in the African continent; but over time the adaptations would have provided the evolution. The Western geopolitical agenda, that has self-proclaimed the guardian of the reason, is based on a worldview that extended the notion of childhood of the individual to the heights of continents and race, what made racism, even if consistently denied, an unquestionable postulate of nature.

The White Plague and Adulthood

It was in a fieldwork that we learned the analytic category of adulthood with an eight-year-old child (Noguera; Gutman; Feitous, 2017). The research team’s field diaries recorded in conversations with a focus group of twenty 6 to 11-year old children the neologism adulthood. The girl, whom we will call Olivia here, said that adulthood is something that grown-ups have and make them evil. She taught the research group something that we can combine with Artaud’s expression, white evil (2006).

[...] on an island without any contact with the current civilization, the simple wander of a ship containing only healthy people can cause the emergence of unknown diseases in this island, and that are specialties of our countries: zone, influenza, rheumatism, sinusitis, polyneuritis, etc., etc. And also, if we think that black people smell bad, we ignore that for everything that is not Europe, it is us, the white community that smell bad. I would even say that we release a white odor, as white as the ‘white evil’. [...], the white color became the insignia of the most extreme decomposition (Artaud, 2006, p. 4).

In Theater and its double, the French playwright Antoine Artaud claims that the white Europe, when coming in contact with other peoples, was responsible for a type of dangerous infection, from our point of view, for all humanity.

We work a superposing between adulthood and the white plague. Our philosophical hypothesis is that they slide one through the other, being concepts that sometimes function as correlates, sometimes as coextensive. The white plague is defined as a European project for the colonization of the rest of the world, something close to a disease. This is similar to what the biogeographic studies of Jared Diamond (1997) suggested, in a certain extent, regarded as quite controversial due to the deterministic character. Diamond suggests in the book Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies that Asia, and especially Europe for geographical reasons and interactions, produced a large-scale sickness. This happened due to the more frequent breeding of animals (increasing the chance of contagion), use of permanent armies (carrying resources that implied more work from the rest of society), walls against continuous threats (continuous stress in the face of eminent attacks), and war declaration to other peoples in search of more resources. African and Amerindians peoples and all the so-called primitives by the whites would be, a priori, smarter than the Europeans, mainly because they would not have the instinct of colonization - a sign, according to Diamond, of a certain inferiority. Here we are not interested in discussing any extension of the complex Diamondean thesis, but only to draw attention to some aspects. For Diamond, Europe’s willingness to expand its domains in search of territory would have more to do with low intelligence and prolonged conviviality with disease. In a nutshell, sick people are more violent. For the biogeographer, traditional African and indigenous societies are better. He comments on this by comparing traditional people from New Guinea to Westerners.

It is easy to find two reasons to prove my impression that the natives of New Guinea are smarter than the Westerners. First, Europeans have lived for thousands of years in densely populated societies with central governments, police and legal system. In these societies, infectious epidemic diseases (such as smallpox) were among the most important causes of death [...]. On the other hand, the natives of New Guinea have lived in societies in which the number of people is too small to allow the development of epidemic diseases common to the denser populations [...]. Today’s European and North American children spend good part of their time passively entertained by television, radio and cinema. In an average American household, TV is on seven hours a day. On the other hand, the children of New Guinea do not have this opportunity and do some activity during almost all the hours they stay awake, whether talking or playing with other children or with adults. Almost all studies on children’s development emphasize the role of children stimulation and activity for mental development, as well as highlighting the irreversible mental damage associated with the absence of stimuli. This effect naturally contributes a non-genetic component to the average higher mental function presented by the natives [...]. Therefore, the usual racist assumption has to be turned upside down (Diamond, 1997, p. 25-26).

In a certain extent, Diamond’s claim helps us think of an anti-evolutionist inversion. What seems to be evolved would be precisely the most backward, and worse, dangerous, because it imposes terrible models of life management, oppressive ways to which some groups are submitted, imposing the instrumentalization of many for the benefit of a few. We know that the idea of some peoples being smarter than others is dangerous and, historically, has already brought dire consequences, like the black slavery from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century, the global environmental crisis, the flow of refugees because of war and xenophobia, the increasing violence against women, the growth of racist groups and assaults and other forms of oppression. Our thesis is that childhood - as a way of existing - is the necessary and sufficient condition to face these issues and transform the reality in a biocentric state of things. However, it is curious to have a thesis that says something quite distinct from other more popular and that fight to organize the public life. What interests us is that, from Diamond’s studies, Artaud’s poetic considerations and the words of a child who coined the concept of adulthood, that we have bases to claim our conceptual expression, white plague. By white plague we understand a dangerous cloud that crossed the Atlantic ocean and invaded other continents, self-proclaiming narcissistically as a model of civilization. In the uses of arms, it invaded Africa and America, settled colonies throughout the rest of the world, judging that his seemingly victory was not the defeat of the whole world. Here we see adulthood - a dangerous adulteration of desires, an obliviousness that the mystery of life must be celebrated. Adulthood indicates the derailment of the rails of a miracle: existing is an invitation to the desire for freedom. However, when existence is adulterated and comes down to commodification or is caught in the traps of perverse racism, we are faced with a danger that threatens all human beings. Within the logic that Africa is the childhood of humanity, adulthood is the behavior of those who have called themselves the great civilizers. They spread a voracious and contagious plague throughout the world which, for being white, means exactly forgetting. Go blank means to forget. The white plague inoculated by European adulthood has a mission: it makes us forget that the miracle of existence deserves an everyday celebration. The white plague wants to replace the vital experience with commodities, with reduced models of existence and unable to translate all the surplus-value of life that we can experience. As Mbembe (201)8 claims, making life and death so inseparable that some must figure as the corpse of the world. The white plague, as we call it, began by enslaving black people, expelling Amerindian peoples from their territories. But its goal is to create as many living deads as possible, to make a human being a being, in Mbembe’s terms: body-machine and body-commodity. Adulthood is this way of being that refuses any possibility other than the seriousness of the living deads, people who enjoy their false pleasures always in function of a commodity.

Two Case Studies: one pair of sneakers and two boots

Faced with this category, childhood needs to be in the foreground, what makes it relevant our turning to children; after all, the analytical category of childhood is what unifies children. As Manuel Jacinto Sarmento (2007) claims, it is through the category of childhood that we have been able to identify common elements that distinguish children from adults and factors that express a common generational condition. Childhood as a category is “[…] relatively independent of the empirical subjects that integrate it, given that it occupies a structural position” (Sarmento, 2008, p. 7). In this context, we have elements from children cultures that bring all children closer, regardless of race, social class, gender and culture; however, at the same time, the category childhood operates through intersections. In the case of a study that thematizes racism, it is relevant to place black children in the foreground. Wit is necessary to talk about black children, what deserves a consideration. In Sociologia da infância, raça e etnografia: intersecções possíveis para o estudo das infâncias brasileiras [Sociology of childhood, race and ethnography: possible intersections for the study of Brazilian childhoods], Míghian Danae Nunes contributes to the subject. “It seems correct to state that the black childhood that is made visible by academic studies has a place related to the idea of ​​lack, absence, beyond the idea of ​​incompleteness that is already associated with the image of childhood” (Nunes, 2015, p. 419). She observes that studies on black childhood tend to emphasize much more problems, failures, school failure, data on social exclusion, and deprivations of various kinds on black children. As it was already said, beyond the complaint, we are interested in the manifestation.

Our methodological path remains a half-open way. However, in the case of making a film as an object of research, we have incorporated some aspects of the critical visual analysis from the British Gillian Rose. For Rose, image research should not aim to find the truth; it is not a matter of making an exegesis behind a single, deep and fixed sense, but of building a possibility of reading (Rose, 2001). Therefore, we do not take the film only as language in the narrow sense of the term. The audiovisual is knowledge, an experience. In this way, in the rhythm of a poly-rational methodology, we put in dialogue the movie Colors and boots with events recorded in a field record book of Early Childhood Education. In dialogue, two children, the one from the movie and the one from the field notebook. In a movie, we find the girl. Her, Joana, black and student. Him, João, black, student. Him: located in a public nursery school in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, where our team observed and interacted with 3-year-old children.

In the national scene of the entertainment industry aimed to children, we highlight the film in which the character Joana is the target of racial violence. It is worth remembering that from 1986 to 1992, Brazilian children watched one of the most popular children’s programs of national open TV, called Xou da Xuxa. The film Colors and Boots (2010), directed by Juliana Vicente is quite interesting. In the almost 16-minute plot, a girl named Joana wants to be a Paquita (a back dancer for this show). The issue: Joana is black and all Paquitas are white with blond hair. Whiteness was the first screening to run for Paquita, she had to be a white girl (blond-haired) to participate in the selection, which was explicit in the team casted to work with the hostess. Xou da Xuxa never had black stage assistants; later, Xuxa Meneghel presented Xuxa Park (1994 to 1999) and Planeta Xuxa (1997 to 2002). In the latter, she hired Adriana Bombom, who undoubtedly did not have the same status of the Paquitas and, besides, was marked by a racial nickname: Bombom, which stands for chocolate.

We met João, a 3-year-old black boy, through a fieldwork done in 2016 in a nursery school in the suburbs in Rio de Janeiro. Our field notebook captured some of the boy’s life moments. He takes the sneakers, goes to the front of the mirror, sits and places his feet next to some products: first the right foot, then the left one. Next, he alternates the feet until he, amazed and absorbed by the pair of famous branded sneakers, seemed hypnotized and paralyzed for a few minutes. In the film, the girl Joana wants to be a Paquita, a racist fantasy. Her middle-class black family insists that one can achieve anything wanted with hard work, because it is through the work that the human being “[…] drives, regulates and controls his material interchange with nature” (Marx, 1971, p. 202), so that we would work to achieve what we desire. In a simple reasoning, we want and work to achieve what we want. The commodity here is understood only as a result of labor, in the context of capitalism it means something that can satisfy human needs. It is quite naive to establish a causal nexus between work and the achievement of desire.

We can speculate that Joan and João look like millions of girls and boys, always captured by the feet. The popular expression (a native category), catch by foot finds a good definition in the situation of these two children. After all, footwear has a lot to do with racism. In the Brazilian context, the feet were and seem to continue as an important signal for distinguishing between free and enslaved, white and nonwhite people. If the logic is that the commodity can be the source of the achievement of desires, we are facing a serious problem. Pairs of sneakers and boots are commodities, specifically footwear. However, what are the shoes in the Brazilian slavery and current scenario? In addition to objects of desire, commodities, footwear are socio-racial landmarks. According to the historians Katia Mattoso (1982), Manuela Cunha (1985) and Sidney Chalhoub (1990), the enslaved population walked barefoot during the whole period of slavery in Brazil. Footwear was allowed for white people and freedmen. For Chalhoub (1990), the shoes were decisive pieces to define slavery and freedom. Particularly with regard to the black population, the way to identify freedmen and enslaved people was by their feet. This way, we can speculate philosophically that this commodity - at the root of Brazilian racism - came to assume a very powerful aspect in the national imaginary. (Well) worn feet are very important to define degrees of freedom. In the slavery context, we had situations in which freed people could not wear shoes because they had been barefoot for decades. This made several of them to walk with shoes hanging on one shoulder or from the neck.

Joana, the character of the film, aspires to be a Paquita, but after the disappointment of being eliminated in a pre-selection for the role, she becomes sad and aware. She finds out that, being black, she will never be accepted for the role, even if her father and mother say that she can be anything she wants. She knows that she cannot be white. At the end of the movie, the girl throws several pairs of Paquita’s boots off and decides to photograph them. She smiles again taking pictures of the boots she threw in the trash. Like the character in the movie, the boy in the nursery place also knows he cannot wear his sneakers. On one hand, they do not belong to the boy; on the other, even if he puts on the sneakers, at some point he will have to take them off. At the moment of being barefoot, João will lose what the commodity had given him. He longs for the sneakers, but without staring in the mirror, a look without illusion and, at the same time, captured by the mesh of the fetish he craves, within the limits of the cruel sociability he learned to read. João seems to want his sneakers, and he stares at them for a long time, as if nothing else were around him. In the end, he decides to play. João smiles playing with other children and leaves the classmate’s sneakers aside.

One of the little developed statements embedded in the history of slavery Brazil is that only white people can be barefoot and remain considered as free. In the black community, footwear is essential, but for white people, whiteness suffices. João does not put the sneakers. He is so tiny and so aware. Joana is a girl about eight or nine years old and, like João, so aware. Could the commodity really grant the whiteness freedom? Could João be happier if he had a pair of expensive sneakers? Could Joana become more respected if she were a Paquita?

Commodities are the fetishes that take souls out of things and make us prisoners of our pleasures, the worst from all slaveries, in the Spinozean sense (2014) of servitude by affections. In a Spinozean language, the affection for footwear can become a sad passion (Spinoza, 2009). It is against the sad passions that we call black childhood as a form of tackling, a subject that we shall resume later. The seventeenth century European philosopher Baruch Spinoza teaches a lot about affections. For Spinoza, the notion of affection embraces both passions and actions. In his work Ethics, the philosopher defines affection as a passion or mood that increases or decreases a body’s force of existing. The affections play a central role in Spinoza’s philosophy. “By affection I understand the affections of the body, by which its power to act is increased or decreased, stimulated or restrained, and at the same time the ideas of these affections” (Espinosa, 2009, p. 209). Spinoza recognizes three primary affections from which the others derive or are in some way connected. The three are: joy, sadness and desire.

In the two cases mentioned we have two dangerous passions. João’s for the famous brand sneakers. Joana’s, for the boots, a way of saying: “[…] I want to become a Paquita”. These two children act as an alert to the brutalities that affect black childhoods. In these children we find small actions (which here are little actions) of fighting racism. João and Joana seem to be able to counterattack before a tricky game of commodity as a promise of joy, as the sneakers and boots aroused the children’s desire, but the impossibility to have them caused a sad affection.

The philosopher Marilena Chaui (1995; 1999) comments on the philosophical thought of Spinoza and explains that increasing a person’s power is equivalent to expanding their territory of action, expanding their independence, providing other relationships with other bodies. In the case of the two black children, it was necessary to expand their territories, or they would be restricted to the limits of the lack of money (social class) and the impediment of an audition (racism). In a Spinozean reading, this meant striking the girl and the boy the affection of sadness. However, Joana gave up being a Paquita and began to photograph, she increased her power to act in the world. João chose to play. His game did not require any footwear with famous brand on it and he could find the affection of joy.

Mbembe (2018), in his eroticism of the commodity, announces the process of slavery with many similarities with Spinoza. Racism as a system-world is the dispute for “[…] monopoly and racialized management of the resources of society and the planet” (Moore, 2007, p. 293). But it would be naive to suppose that racism works only by the most explicit means. Its strength lies precisely in a degree of cynical dissimulation, a seductive eroticism that has become more powerful at this point in the history of humanity in which capitalism uses animism (Mbembe, 2018). For Mbembe, neoliberalism is the context of fusion between the capitalist political-economic plan and animism (Mbembe, 2018, p. 17). In Mbembe’s view, racism is always making its indecent calls for black people to incorporate an ethos that is a mix of beast of burden and object to be exhibited. And in the neoliberal context, the human being, in general, becomes the subject of the market and the debt, besides the confinement in the various types of prisons; indebtedness becomes a deep form of control. We are faced with an eroticism of the commodity because the project of capitalism is only to make people slaves of their own pleasures. So, we ask: what do black children fantasize about? Or even further, with what do humans rejoice for? Here it should be made a brief digression on the distinction and the relation between desire and pleasure. Following the considerations of Spinoza, Deleuze and Mbembe, the subjection follows the way of pleasure, not desire. That is, subjection comes through controls by the conformation of the desiring flows, through repetition, establishing norms of the affects already effected - the enjoyment of the private possessions made public in the social media; the children who want to be heroes, princes and princesses, and all sort of perversion or reterritorialization of flows. Pleasures are already prefabricated, and it would be enough to access them by means of some commodity. Desire cannot be brought down to products. The black children mentioned here go through this: a pair of boots (Paquita’s costume) and a pair of sneakers (success). These commodities would be much more the conquest of a pleasure than the manifestation of desires. Pleasures are pitfalls, because instead of increasing the potency to exist, they decrease it.

In the wake of these authors, we claim the primacy of desire, this moving force that mobilizes the virtual and does not depend on the object or any form of objectification. Thus, the desire for nothing lacks, is the deterritorialization power of the devices that establish in a coercive way the relation between subject and object; sexuality over sex; the ghosts or the show of appearances. “Their enjoyment depends almost entirely on the ability to publicly rebuild their intimate life and to offer it on the market as a commodity that can be exchanged” (Mbembe, 2018, p. 16). What we can translate as the enjoyment of being in virtual social media to celebrate perfect lives. In general, pictures on the internet, in the most diverse social networks, capture smiles, happy moments, situations that portray intelligence, courage, creativity. Since a person’s early years this model is imposed on children, especially since the dissipation of borders has been erected by the globalization of the images that surf the internet. Childhood as a social category is a territory that is part of the investment zones of animist capitalism constituted by structural racism. “Part of the work now consists in transforming the real into fiction and fiction into reality”, and all of this goes through “[…] total mobilization through images” (Mbembe, 2018, p. 2018).

This perverse plot comes from afar. She was already present in the project of the colonial potentates who used the phantasmagoric device of colonization to make black populations an aberrant fiction that, by right, should be enslaved and controlled. The potentate refers to the rural lord, the white man and great owner in colonized countries who exercised his power independently of the metropolis (Botelho; Reis, 2008). This potentate already foreshadowed in its devices an eroticism of the commodity. Mbembe (2018) unleashes the forces of captivity by defining an imaginary without symbolic in a perpetual fulfillment by a feverish fruition of commodities, denouncing the symbolic looting.

For Mbembe, we can understand ethnic-racial relations at the junction between delusion and commodity. This begins to express a polymorphous cruelty without limits; by making visible a representation stained by a wound coming from the division between the signs and the imaginary. This can be seen by the perverse replacement of the patuá (sign of an animist culture) by the badulaques [knick-knacks], commodities produced in propulsion by the West in its era of technical reproducibility; by altering the geopolitics of historical wounds; by defending the plantation and the potentate as original trauma with their/our unconscious investments in the colonial subjectification and its effectuation in bodies and spaces. The ghost of this image of the potentate always tries to reinvent itself through the new white lords, the white adult who can solve problems and be a spokesperson for some truth, for having a fair and convincing speech.

The path of resistance opened by the Critique of Black Reason is not through direct confrontation. Both Joana from the movie Color and Boot and João face and resist the wiles of the erotic of the commodity more for tactics than strategy. It is not a movement that straightforward creates strategies to extinguish the world-system of racism. They are only tactics. It is necessary to assume that tactics are small and childlike, a type of counter-effect, that is, the triumph of free, independent desire and the cause of its events. While strategies are of a more general order, they operate to face major clashes. We make the difference between strategy and tactics by stature. The strategy is interested in the great tackles. The tactic works as a counter-effect, that is, it does not allow itself to be entangled by the meshes/traps of production of meaning of the hegemonic and leak through so many cutting lines of colonial capitalism. Something we suspect probably only black people, indigenous peoples and children can do.

Joana and João are two black children who have counterattacked in the only possible way, investing their lives against sadness, like Míghian Nunes’ claim that the black childhood has been much studied by its double lack. Here, these two cases would be redeeming this recurrent record and highlighting a propositional aspect. What is there in the small actions of these two black children, even if we see one as real and the other as fictional? As Mbembe explains, in a neoliberal global society, all the efforts are intended to make the frontiers disappear, leaving the capital free to circulate and invite people to a type of animalized objectification.

Black childhood can be thought beyond the nature of a social category that comprises black children. It can be speculatively thought of as a disruptive concept - what made the eight-year-old girl to coin adulthood, Joana to throw her boots off, and João to exchange his wish for the sneakers for the experience of playing. Black children are forced to resist. At the International Conference on Children, Repression and Law in South Africa held in Harare, Zimbabwe in September 1987, when the apartheid regime was official, Angela Davis stated that even in the face of the greatest horrors and atrocities, “[…] the children of South Africa keep their indomitable spirit of resistance. This has been confirmed several times in his testimonies at this conference”. Davis repeatedly stated that the resistance of black children was something out of the ordinary. Referring to the scenario of racial oppression of the 1980s, the philosopher noted that “[...] the black children of South Africa are aware that there is [...] risk of death [...]. And they keep dancing, singing, keeping alive their audacious belief in imminent freedom” (Davis, 2017, p. 95).

Angela Davis wrote about South African black children: “Their resistance is inspiring. But let us not forget that they are children” (Davis, 2017, p. 96). With this, we are not postulating the inexistence of child vulnerability, but recognizing that only the childhood can arouse the curiosity and the enchantment before the life, even in the most terrible moments. It is not just about children’s experiences. It is the case of an African-perspectivist reading in which the condition of childhood is a way of casting unseen gazes on the world in search of paths that are yet to be done. In other words, the evoking of black childhood can function as a resistance to objectification and animalization. The exaltation of childhood and blackness can become possibilities to educate in favor of life - a hope that inhabits the present.

Ten Children Theses to Fight Racism

It is because we think of black childhood as a concept that we will stipulate theses to tackle racism. There are still exceptions that we do not get tired of repeating. Racism is not a problem that can be thought through the bias of enlightenment. Information and knowledge are not capable of removing the racist project, the systemic structure that is organized by racial discrimination. Nor can we change a person’s mind with enlightened conversations and well-grounded arguments. Departing from the heart as a thinking organ, as the philosopher Amenemope teaches us in his classic work of 30 chapters. Centuries later, Spinoza would frame knowledge as yet another affection. In African-perspectivist terms, we assume Amenemopean, African-Pindoramic, Membembeean, and Spinozean inspirations, as well as Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens thesis.

In the wake of philosophers like Amenemope and Spinoza, we can say that we are affective beings and that there is no radical split between the dimensions of affection and reason. Having said that, it is important to recognize that racism is a problem that can only be faced by affection. By combining the original field of activity (fight, house, running, hunting) with the simulation in play or game, the players play, live in reality, incorporate without embodying: think of it that it is through the force of a crossing, a mutual grip in the trans-individual dimension. A make-believe that does not depend on the word, being a vital gesture that strengthens the vitality of the body and gives birth to the new from the same, when breaking the language to touch life, they are gestures, sounds, words, fire, screams. For the playwright Artaud (2006), everything that was not born can be born, once we are not satisfied to remain simple organs of register. As partial conclusions, we introduce theses that problematize the dangers of racism and adult-centering for education. Our research results indicate that education must be antiracist and anti-adult-centered. Therefore, steering a proposal in African-perspective presupposes a set of principles, never static rules or manuals to be followed. So, we will point out some elements that can make an education based on childhood, which means, committed to life, germinate. This is not exclusive of the African-perspectivist approach. However, a non-negotiable principle of the conception of African-perspective education is to live in a state of childhood. In the field of ​​education, African-perspectivity is nothing more than an invitation for children, elderly people, teenagers, young people and adults to inhabit their childhoods during educational processes - because we can only teach and learn by attending our childhoods.

The 10 children theses to tackle racism are the following:

  • - Playing as an irrefutable model of human relations, with the environment and other species of non-human people (such as dogs, butterflies, etc.);

  • - Visiting your own culture as if it were stranger;

  • - Dreaming before sleeping (or accepting that the miracle is inseparable from the daily life of the mystery of living);

  • - Inventing antiracist political practices with the quotidian (or always assume that the debate does not produce final results);

  • - Bathing oneself and the others in respectful waters by singing joyful songs, bathing singing happy songs (in respectful waters);

  • - Assuming that the thought is always affective (or writing and drawing on the walls of the house);

  • - Eating fruits (or creating a mandatory law that makes adults play);

  • - Taking care of gardens and vegetable gardens (or creating the obligation of audiovisual fiction to be black, indigenous and African-Pindoramic);

  • - Acknowledging whiteness as a danger to all lives on the planet;

  • - Traveling through cultures other than your own (or keeping the epistemic virtue of childhood - poly-rationality).

Translated by Alexandre Afonso Torres and proofread by Ananyr Porto Fajardo

7This article is part of the Thematic Section, Childhood and Education of Ethnic-Racial Relations, organized by Renato Noguera (Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro), Míghian Danae Ferreira Nunes (Universidade da Integração Internacional da Lusofonia Afro-Brasileira), Luciana Pires Alves (Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro) and Nancy Lamenza Sholl da Silva (Universidade Federal Fluminense).

8Afrosin is a research group that brings together researchers from UFRJJ, UERJ and UFF and works in a network with three axes: Childhood, Education of Ethnic-Racial Relations and Philosophy.

9Since 2009, Prof. Dr. Renato Noguera has been selected to advise fellows for the Scientific Initiation Scholarship Program (PIBIC) of the National Council of Scientific Research (CNPq). From 2009 to 2018, all selected research involved research on childhood and children. In 2013, under the coordination of Prof. Dr. Renato Noguera, the project Philosophizing with African and Indigenous Accents was approved for the Official Notice of the Foundation for Support of Research of the State of Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ) No. 34/2013 - Program of Support to the Improvement of Teaching in Public Schools in Rio de Janeiro state. This project aimed to produce philosophy activities, with emphasis on African, Afro-Brazilian and indigenous peoples’ productions, with 1st to 9th grade students in the cities of Nova Iguaçu and Seropédica.

10Professor Dr. Luciana Pires Alves works in the reading room of a Early Childhood Education public school and has worked for years as a teacher for the same grades. Professor Dr. Renato Noguera taught philosophy for 1st to 9th grade students for over a decade in private schools. In both cases, they registered situations of racism that motivated their research, but are out of the scope of this paper.

11It is worth to contextualize that the African-perspective as academic approach emerges in the 2000’s with a group of studies at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) e da Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ). In 2013, a group under coordination of Professor Dr. Renato Noguera, had a proposal contemplated by the Notice FAPERJ no. 34/2013 - Program of Support to the Improvement of Teaching in Public Schools in Rio de Janeiro state. The research was entitled Philosophizing with African and indigenous accents, and worked with African-perspective to construct with 6th to 9th grade students an agenda of philosophical investigations with African and indigenous repertoires.

12Amenemope was the son of Kanakht, the renown scribe and namesake of Pharaoh of the following dynasty. The philosopher lived before the homonym Pharaoh, in the XX Dynasty which lasted from 1186 BC to 1069 BC. The full text dates approximately from the period between 1300 BC and 1075 BC, and is available on the 1074 papyrus of the British Museum. “In dialogue with the Egyptian tradition, Amenemope maintains interlocution with the conception of the heart as the major place of thought, actions and character” (Noguera, 2015, p. 121).


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Received: November 22, 2018; Accepted: April 12, 2019

Renato Noguera holds a PhD in Philosophy from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Professor of the Graduate Program in Education, Contemporary Contexts and Popular Demands of the Graduate Program in Philosophy and of the Department of Education and Society of the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro. ORCID: E-mail:

Luciana Pires Alves holds a PhD in education from the Fluminense Federal University. Researcher Professor in K-12 education of Duque de Caxias, Rio de Janeiro state, and of higher education in the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro. ORCID: E-mail:

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