I have always said that if you want to lose faith in humanity, look at the comments section of any news article. The comments section has always been a place for people to voice their opinions on current events, with some (if not a good majority) of the comments being racist, sexist, homophobic and just overall bigoted in general. In turn, this prevents discussion of the real issue at hand and devolves into name-calling and bullying.
Many of these people often hide behind the ease of anonymity on the Internet and their acts go largely unpunished. However, a group of Afro-Brazilian women, Criola (Creole, referring to those of mixed heritage in Latin America), have put all those hateful comments on billboards to combat racism and discrimination in Brazil. The group’s campaign, Racismo Virtual (Virtual Racism), seeks to put hateful and discriminatory language out in the open for all to see.
The campaign was started after Afro-Brazilian newscaster Maria Julia Coutinho became the target of racist online comments. Through geo-tagging tools, Coutinho finds where the racist comments originated and buys billboards to post the comments in their neighborhoods, stating that even though the racism is online, the comments have effects in the real world as well.
“We omitted names and faces of the authors; we had no intention of exposing them. We just wanted to raise awareness and start a discussion, in order to make people think about the consequences before posting these kind of comments on the Internet. Because, after all, the worst enemy of racism is silence,” said the group, which advocates for a proactive stance against racism.
“Those people think they can sit in the comfort of their homes and do whatever they want on the Internet,” said Criola founder Jurema Werneck. “We don’t let that happen. They can’t hide from us, we will find them.” According to the New York Daily News, seven percent of Brazilians identify as black, while 43 percent trace their ancestry to Africa.
Coutinho responded positively despite the racist backlash she has received. “Thank you for all the messages,” she said in Portuguese. “My militancy is to do my job well done.” Coutinho received the racist comments back on July 3, which is ironically Brazil’s National Day to Combat Racial Discrimination. Brazilians have recognized that racism is still a problem in their country today, despite all the efforts going on to combat it on both a local and global scale. With the Criola campaign, hopefully shining light on hateful and racist remarks will galvanize a wave of tolerance in Brazil.