AuthorGillam, Reighan

In the Quotidian (Cotidiano) section of the June 18, 2016, issue of Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper is a photo of Sheila Alice Gomes da Silva. (1) Her body is turned to the side with her face toward the viewer. She stares intensely into the camera and her mouth frowns. Behind her is a blurred landscape of the Sao Paulo periphery, with small houses and large buildings filling the space. Also visible is Gomes da Silvas T-shirt, which reads, "I Africanize Sao Paulo." Printed at the top of the T-shirt is the letter J, followed by an image of the African continent. Below that are the letters SP. The T-shirt slogan is fitting since the article, entitled "Historian Looks for Black Roots of Guaianases," focuses on Gomes da Silva's masters degree research on Black culture in her hometown. (2) Her master's thesis documents the Black presence in this peripheral area and challenges other histories of the neighborhood that solely featured Europeans.

This article explores themes raised in both the image of Sheila Alice Gomes da Silva wearing the "I Africanize Sao Paulo" T-shirt and the topic of her research--the Black (3) presence in Sao Paulo. Gildean "Panikinho" Silva, an Afro-Brazilian creative producer in Sao Paulo, designed and created the "I Africanize Sao Paulo" T-shirt and subsequently launched a photographic campaign of various Black people wearing it. (4) He posted the campaign to Facebook in July 2011. Panikinho also sold the T-shirt at different locations around Sao Paulo, as well as in other cities. Sheila Alice Gomes da Silva, the researcher, likely purchased the T-shirt and decided to wear it for the story in the Folha de Sao Paulo. I explore the meanings and development of the T-shirt through interviews with the T-shirt's creator and an examination of the photographic campaign on Facebook. The T-shirt has less to do with the recent African immigrant populations in Sao Paulo and focuses more on the presence of Afro-Brazilians, who gain little acknowledgment, as the following vignette makes evident.

"People say we don't have Afro-Brazilian culture here in Sao Paulo. But we have it! They say it's from Bahia or samba came from Rio. But we have Afro-Brazilian culture here in Sao Paulo!" shouted a short, brown-skinned man on a makeshift stage. Following his pronouncements, the lights went out and we watched a film called The Jongo. As part of their Survival Campaign (Campanha de Sobrevivencia), a local Black arts magazine, entitled "Menelick: 2nd Act," organized an evening of entertainment in exchange for a donation at the door. In a large room, tables with vendors lined the walls selling DVDs, accessories, and clothes with African prints, head wraps, and jewelry. As part of the entertainment lineup, a Black theater group performed a scene from an upcoming play. At the moment, the audience watched as the man introduced a documentary film about the Jongo, an Afro-Brazilian musical and dance form performed in rural communities. For him, the Jongo evidenced Afro-Brazilian culture as alive and well in Sao Paulo, which negated the common assumption that Sao Paulo did not have Black culture.

The man who introduced the film was likely referring to the common perception of Sao Paulo as an unlikely site of Black cultural production. Patricia Pinho identifies the development of "Afro-aesthetics" in the northeastern city of Salvador, Bahia, where Afro-Brazilians braid their hair, grow dreadlocks, or adorn themselves in clothes they consider to be "African." She writes, "The image of Sao Paulo is not so favorable for the dissemination of Afro-aesthetics, since it is commonly associated with work and seriousness." (5) Additionally, Derek Pardue claims that "Brazilians, for the most part, associate 'black public spheres' with preservation located not in Sao Paulo but in the colonial capital cities of Salvador and Rio de Janeiro." (6) Despite a lively circuit of events directed toward the Black community, a history of Black political activity, and a steady flow of Black cultural production, Sao Paulo continues to lack an association with Blackness.

In this article, I examine the theme of Black racial imaginaries of Sao Paulo. I focus on the history of Black political and cultural activity that preceded the current events as well as the factors that contribute to the obfuscation of Black culture in the city. Rather than consider Sao Paulo antithetical to Black aesthetic and cultural production, I find that the "I Africanize Sao Paulo" T-shirt demonstrates a form of Afro-aesthetics that emerges from Sao Paulo's tradition of Black politics and culture. Researchers are showing how race played a significant role in the development of urban space in Latin American cities. (7) Raquel Rolnik has demonstrated that contrary to the assumption that Brazilian cities are not racially segregated, Sao Paulo contained "black territories" or spaces where the Black population dominated in numbers and that housed their cultural institutions and organizations. (8) T-shirts with racial messages are not uncommon in Sao Paulo or in Brazil, and, to be sure, populations of African descent have leveraged fashion, sartorial style, and clothing in acts of selffashioning, identity formation, and protest throughout the diaspora during slavery and freedom. (9) However, in this paper I seek to examine the relationship between the city and Black actions as expressed through a black T-shirt, which Carol Tulloch defines as a "T-shirt created as expressions of black consciousness, civil rights, and visibility." (10) The design of the "I Africanize Sao Paulo" T-shirt offers an example of Afro-aesthetics that is informed by the city's cultural productions, such as hip-hop. Rooted in the city's ongoing Black cultural production and politics, the "I Africanize Sao Paulo" T-shirt and photo campaign builds upon and extends a history of Black organizational politics and activity in the city. The actions of the T-shirt creator, Panikinho, follow in a pattern of Afro-Brazilians founding organizations in Sao Paulo that center on Blackness. The assumption that Sao Paulo lacks Black culture contextualizes and conditions the impulse to Africanize it.


During my research trips to Sao Paulo, completed over a year during 2007-2008 and the summers of 2004, 2005, 2010, 2013, and 2017, I tend to participate in a circuit of events focused on Black history, culture, and politics, not unlike the magazine Survival Campaign event I include in the introduction. I frequented book launches, poetry readings, film screenings, panel discussions, lectures, receptions, and political meetings held throughout the city's various venues, which complement the Black leisure circuit in the form of hip-hop clubs, bailes charme, and other events Marcio Macedo documents." As my research focuses on the racial politics of alternative media produced by Afro-Brazilians, these events provided opportunities to encounter media producers and audiences as well as learn about the current concerns around race and activism in the city. The 4.2 million people of African descent comprise 37 percent of Sao Paulos population, making it the city with the largest number of Black people in the country. (12) Afro-Brazilians are also channeling Blackness through evangelical church participation and television and film production. (13) Yet, this Black circuit of events is not new. Afro-Brazilians have a history of political, cultural, and social activity in Sao Paulo, and it is this activity that conditions the horizons for the current wave of Black organizing. Yet, despite having a large, politically active, and culturally productive Black-identified population, national ideologies of racial mixture, associations of Blackness elsewhere, and unfavorable conditions seem to inhibit the association of Blackness with Sao Paulo.

Historian Paulina Alberto has tracked a trajectory of Black political activity in Sao Paulo, which she identifies as a "traditionally Paulistano politics of race," and defines as a perspective that understands the population as racially distinct in order to expose the workings of racism and racial inequality. (14) Alberto writes, "Since the early years of the century, writers in Sao Paulos black press had emphasized a vision of black racial distinctiveness and difference; had at different times (most recently in the 1960s) explored the value of contemporary African and diasporic politics; and had, since the mid-1940s, developed an increasingly direct critique of how the discourse of racial democracy could work to hide racism and discredit race-based organizations and politics." (15) Racial democracy is the national ideal, which held, "that there has always been intimacy between whites and people of color rather than distance, that most Brazilians are 'racially mixed,' and that Brazil is relatively free of the racialized forms of prejudice and discrimination that plague countries such...

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