As the United States closes in on three months of protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, people in Brazil are confronting a similar racial reckoning.
Just a few days before George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, João Pedro Mattos Pinto, a 14-year-old Black Brazilian, was shot by an officer in a favela in Rio de Janeiro during an attempted search for drug traffickers. Thousands of other Black Brazilians have fallen victim to police brutality in the last few years, but as Black Lives Matter takes off in the U.S. and around the world, people in Brazil are beginning to take to the streets in larger numbers. One of those people speaking out is Neguin, a professional dancer from Brazil who also calls New York City home and competes all over the world.
“Every workshop that I do, I talk about it,” Neguin said. “Every performance I do, I make sure I highlight that — you just look at myself so I gotta represent that.”
Neguin, 32, returned home to Paraná, Brazil, late last fall with the intent to soon return to his apartment in Harlem, but ended up staying in his home country to quarantine as coronavirus numbers surged. Being in Brazil, where he remains the only world champion breakdancer, has given him the opportunity to reflect on his craft and pursue personal projects.
In mid-July, he released a dance and spoken-word piece, “To Be.” In the video, he examines the hardships Black people encounter and the beauty that’s possible when people of different backgrounds unite around a common cause.
“The message behind that is that we have to come together, it’s all about love,” Neguin said. “And when you see the movie, when I hold my hand with the other female dancer, who has lighter skin, it’s like this is about us. We all need to be aware of that.”
Like the Black Lives Matter protesters in New York, who have largely been nonviolent, Neguin also wanted to send a message of peace and use his body movements as a means of activism.
“I could dress up all Black Panther and create like, oh, we fight the power like Public Enemy,” Neguin said. “But how can you do something where there’s nature involved? It also involves climate change, female, male, Black, white, all together. So the idea was to highlight all those issues we have to face, but in the form of creating a positive message.”
Though the Black Lives Matter movement has recently begun to gain more traction in Brazil, Black people there have long experienced racial discrimination and been victims of police brutality. Over 50 percent of the population identifies as either mixed or Black, as of the 2010 census. Between 2017 and 2018, Black people made up 75 percent of the total number of deaths that resulted from police intervention. Neguin says that though he’s long been aware of the racial injustices present in his home country, there tends to be a longer delay before movements take hold.
“Everything starts in America,” Neguin said. “If it goes on in America and it goes on television, then it’s a worldwide thing. But people kind of, like, respect the news more because they’re still brainwashed. But if it happens in America, then OK, cool, then we’ll pay a little more attention. People here are trying to hide a little bit more of what’s happening. So the delay is because people are trying to learn the situation.”
Despite a government-mandated lockdown to stem the effects of the coronavirus, police in Brazil have continued to crack down in poor neighborhoods at even higher rates. In the first five months of the year, police killed about five people each day as the virus claimed the lives of tens of thousands of others.
While protests in pockets of the country gain traction and call attention to these racial inequalities, Neguin is using his platform as a dancer to shed light on the struggles Black Brazilians have long dealt with in hopes of bringing about an end to the arbitrary loss of Black lives.
“For sure, I think the movement is bringing more awareness to every single one,” Neguin said. “And gradually people are getting more familiar with the issues and trying to figure out a way to be in a better position for all of us.”