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Erica Sarmiento: Racism comes hand-in-hand with gender issues and class issues.

Featuring Erica Sarmiento Da Silva.

Erica Sarmiento da Silva, PhD in History and professor at the UERJ, Rio de Janeiro Brazil.

Do you think that immigration has any positive aspects and if so, how would you define them?

I believe that immigration is a positive thing. I think that interculturality is always a positive thing. It’s always good to be able to understand others as this helps us to accept differences, and we are always enriched by the processes of exchange that take place at all levels during cultural and linguistic discussion.

Immigration is a process that always enriches the society that receives the immigrants. Thanks to remittances (remittances are the earnings which emigrants send back to their country of origin), we can cite many examples of societies that have developed thanks to the remittances of their citizens.

It is a shame that there are a few migrations that are motivated by purely personal reasons such as job opportunities, and this is the negative side to immigration. Unfortunately, many of these people get stuck in the process of trying to reclaim their lives.

If racism is not innate but learned and if xenophobic and racist attitudes and ideologies come from society. Would you say that responsibility lies chiefly with political systems?.

I would say that racism is something structural, it’s not something new and it can’t be said that it’s something circumstantial. Racism arises as part of a structure, and if we take Latin America as an example, which is where I’m talking from in Brazil, there is a big racism problem here.

“People have been made to believe that they are predestined for the situation into which they were born”.

We’re talking about slave societies, societies that were colonised and societies that in spite of being colonised have a mentality that is based on this hierarchical, patriarchal and colonial slave structure, and those mentalities don’t go away fron one day to the next. And to combat it we have to take one baby step at a time, starting with affirmative stances on public policy, and starting with education and raising awareness.

Racism comes hand-in-hand with gender issues and class issues. It’s an indivisible triad: race, gender and social class.

And that’s where we find social inequality, injustice, and a section of the population that doesn’t have the basic necessities and will never have them unless something is done, unless we mobilise.

How does this work in a country with a mixed-race population?

Well, over decades, over a century, creating phrases, defects, speeches, silences, not having memory politics, making people believe that they are predestined to this condition since they were born as a caste society, believing themselves to be black people who are inferior that they will not find a space, making black women believe that their beauty is worth less than a white woman and that they will never be able to compete in the labor market with a white woman who will not be able to have the same opportunities and that he must always be connected to subordination to this white supremacy, to this racial discourse.

These are the power relations that are engendered in a society and create these distinctions, they make us move from day to day, work, study, as if this were very natural, to think that because of skin color you are incapacitated for certain professions, you are unable to frequent certain social environments. It is some thing real and statistically proven.

Like, for example, the amount of young black men who are murdered every day. Are all these young people guilty? Of course not, most are children who go to school, to the bakery with their mother, but who are exposed to violence where they live, sometimes by walking in the wrong place and due to their skin color they are automatically considered suspects, it is a very serious problem that only education and that the request for forgiveness, we are a society still with a slave mentality and the black is in our history, not only as an exclave, it is in all spaces of our stories.

There are blacks who were writers who led movements that broke the system, who were important politicians at the beginning of the twentieth century, there is resistance and this voice must be raised.
Now there are professors, black doctors who can speak for themselves, who have achieved this path and who are able to overcome all these prejudices and continue on this path to the end of the race.

And we as a society have to accompany and collaborate with this fight against any form of discrimination and racism.

Immigration is often seen as a terrible problem. Do you think that the media plays a fundamental role in determining how the image of immigrants is constructed?

Immigration can turn into a crisis when it’s seen as a terrible problem, depending on how the media presents information about it. Many countries make a lot of noise about their immigration situation. For example, in countries where the media says that there’s a migration crisis, I automatically assume that people think that immigration is a negative thing due to the simple fact that they are using that word (crisis). This means that the press has a very powerful tool: control over narrative and communication. Simply by using the word illegal, they already twisting the truth.

Nowadays we have social media, which has its own advantages and disadvantages: on the one hand, information gets through very quickly, but on the other hand people don’t just read conventional media, they have a greater diversity of options, which they receive on their mobiles and filter according to what they want, what suits them or what they like.

“Depending on your use of narrative, you can cause society to throw up a defence against immigration”.

Simply by using the word illegal, they already twisting the truth, because it implies being outside the law, so this person is automatically a criminal who has committed a crime. People have the right to come and go as they please, but when they come up against a wall or a border, they are not criminals. This is distorting the situation, blaming the person for the situation in which they find themselves.

For example, when the media shows immigrants in detention centres, they are showing isolated incidents of robbery, It’s important to look at the statistics. To cite another example, when people talk about unemployment in their country, they say that immigrants are stealing their jobs, but what are they actually basing this statement on?.

We have to look at the migrant population, and look at what jobs they do, then look at the overall population and the unemployment figures for both groups and then we can create a picture of what’s happening, where the immigrants are and what jobs they are doing. We need to carry out a research investigation and look at the data in terms of the overall population.

Do you agree that the first barrier to integration is education?

Education is key, and schools must be equipped to receive children who are refugees or immigrants. School is often the first place where families are welcomed, and come into contact with teachers and with other families. Immigrant children are a very important integration tool, because by going to school they learn the language and bring it home with them, and so schools need to be prepared to fight against xenophobia, racism and all other kinds of bullying.

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