Magazine article Cross Currents

BLACK THEOLOGY IN BRAZIL: Decolonial and Marginal

Magazine article Cross Currents

BLACK THEOLOGY IN BRAZIL: Decolonial and Marginal

Article excerpt

The place of the Exodus

Exodus has always been an important reference for liberation theology. The history of the Hebrew people being exploited and martyred in Egypt became the starting point, the hermeneutics par excellence of theologians who sought an engagement, in Latin America, with the liberation of the continent from the modernized exploitations of capitalism: exploiting work, creativity, land, production, nature, all this with profit and the maintenance of power being the main goal. From this comes the understanding of the comparison with the Exodus. But for this purpose Exodus ceases to be the understanding of a narrative that speaks of a displacement, a crossing from one point to another. It is necessary to call attention to what constituted the period of servitude in Egypt and to what this exploitation recalls in our condition here and now.

Black theology is included as one of the "liberation theologies." The name came to be used in the plural because what was once only the so-called liberation theology opened the way to a plurality of theological perspectives that came to claim place and emancipated voices. For black theology, which emerges in the United States in the 1960s, the place of the Exodus is central because of the condition of the oppressed and of their exploitation, but an aggravating factor marks it: the emphasis on racism and slavery. We are not just talking about people whose work and workforces are exploited. We are talking about slavery, and all that it can mean in countries like the United States, Haiti, Colombia, and, of course, Brazil.

Black theology is still incipient in Brazil, but it's gradually proving its need and place, revisiting, due to efforts of a small new generation of theologians, the reflections made by James Cone, Jacquelyn Grant, Cornell West, Gayraud Wilmore, Allan Boesak, Desmond Tutu (the last two in the South African context), among others. The reflections of many of these theologians, brought to light here by people like Peter Nash and Nancy Cardoso, are now beginning to be gradually reclaimed by new faces that are more present in a context of political action, street practice, resistance uprisings in defense of the life, and dignity of blacks in the context of violence and racism in Brazil, all of which point to the contribution of black theology in problematizing the various inequalities in the country with the way bodies and territories are treated. Here the Exodus continues to be a starting point, among other things, because the cry of the black people, the young blacks, the black women, continue to be cries of pain and silencing.

The period of servitude of the Hebrew people in the land of Egypt narrated in the Exodus should not be thought of as a romantic story of heroism where God is the protagonist operating miracles, signs, and wonders. Rather, it must be thought of in the context of the pains and violations that are present in the condition of a slave, or in the context of the lives of those who are made slaves in colonized territory. This means that the historical context of the Hebrew people in Egypt bears similarities to the process of colonization undertaken by Europe that also reaches Brazil. In a colonized territory, as Brazil had become, its history begins with men and women murdered daily, women raped, black bodies whipped, tortured, disappeared, and subdued.

The silence maintained under the weight of violence and fear is never without the Christian religious investiture. As Riolando Azzi well describes:

Even though black populations already lived in Africa in a stage of
greater development, generated by the sedentary life and the practice
of agriculture, the reduction to the situation of slaves in the
Brazilian colony had diminished in many of them the capacity of
resistance and fight for the dignity of life. Few horizons opened up to
people who were treated like animals exposed to the trading market, and
as "parts" in the great gear of the machine. … 
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