Grey Matters: Urban Cleaning and Graffiti on the Streets of São Paulo


Here I will refer to some recent events in the city of São Paulo, Brazil, and the public backlash as street graffiti is erased by the recently elected Mayor João Dória. The decision started as part of a larger project called “Cidade Linda” [Beautiful City]. Consider some the video below showing some of the images of the art on the walls of the city (in Portuguese):

Screenshot 2017-03-11 15.52.41

São Paulo, a grey metropolis with high skyscrapers, has a history of street art dating back to the 1980s: please refer to Marcelo Pinheiro’s blog in on the relation between graffiti, Hip-Hop, and the empowerment of the young generations from the poor suburbs of São Paulo, or the distinction between graffiti and pichação in the Cities Project, created by the Guardian with support from the Rockefeller Foundation. The relationship of the city with graffiti has also led in the past to…

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Vegetarian Options for All in Portugal

The Portuguese government voted Friday, March 3, 2017, in favor of requiring schools to offer vegetarian options to any student. Previously only those with religious or health reasons for choosing vegetarian could receive a vegetarian meal in their school cafeterias. Those with ethical reasons couldn’t. The video link below gives insight into home dining (wine with lunch) and school cafeteria lunches (no paper bags in sight). The political parties behind the law’s creation were: PAN  (Pessoas Animais Natureza), BE (Bloco de Esquerda) and Os Verdes.

Whiteface and Blackface in Brazil

In “Blacks in Brazil,” Henry Louis Gates Jr. talked about how Chica da Silva, a slave who gained her freedom and became rich, was able to “almost escape her blackness.” In a film about da Silva, we see the actress depicting her, Zezé Motta, in “whiteface,” thus portraying da Silva’s desire for something more than a privileged life, namely, to look white. Many people are familiar with blackface, a manifestation of racism in which white actors portrayed blacks by painting their faces, usually depicting a stereotyped image of blacks in subservient roles. Even in Brazil, people talk about “blackface,” using the English word. Some people in the U.S. may be less familiar with, and less conscious of, the social climbing through miscegenation that has happened in various societies (not just U.S., nor just lusophone). Of course, miscegenation produces a real whitening of the skin. Whiteface was more like blackface, a literal painting on of whiteness, and yet in some ways it is its opposite. It is, at least sometimes, a way of trying to get closer to that which one wants to be, not a way of oppressing the Other. Another famous example of someone painting his face white to, possibly, reduce or erase to an extent his blackness, is Carlos Alberto, a soccer player who played for Fluminense in Brazil in the early 20th century. No one seems to debate the fact that he put face powder or pó de arroz (literally “rice powder”) on his face. What is disputed is the reason why. Some say it was simply something he did after shaving. Others suggest it is indicative of the racism that existed in the soccer club; that is, that it was a way of seeming whiter, and therefore a way of making him seem more fitting for the team. It’s not hard to believe this was true, given that racism has its links to soccer even to this day, existing among some fans, as well as in the clubs themselves. Racist comments and actions by fans, such as calling players monkeys, are too often tolerated, which has caused an increase in racism, according to a 2015 study cited in the Brazil edition of the Huffington Post. Soccer is, not surprisingly, not the only place where racism is on display. A woman who has been called Brazil’s Beyoncé, Taís Araújo faced similar racist attacks online in early 2015. Meanwhile, Beyoncé, as a reaction to criticism that she was not “black enough,” sat in blackface for a photo shoot at Rolling Stone, and then faced further criticism for this act. Black people painting their faces white seems to be a fairly rare event, but white people wearing blackface – despite the fact that it is almost always quickly and roundly critiqued as racist – continues. As recently as the 2017 Carnaval celebration in Salvador, Brazil, singer Daniela Mercury appeared with her skin darkened and donning a large afro wig. She was immediately criticized in social media. Her response: She is a “black person with white skin,” meaning that she feels more tied culturally to traditions that have their roots in Africa, as opposed to those that originated in Europe. It seems to me that, as a “black person with white skin,” if such a person can exist, Mercury ought to be more sensitive to the history of oppression and racism that is connected to blackface.

Sources: (Black in Brazil, PBS documentary featuring Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) (about Carlos Alberto) (about Taís Araújo) (about Daniela Mercury)



From the encounter between Brazil and Portugal/Do encontro do Brasil com Portugal

Economic Migrants

Meet my great friend Giselle.

akc: How did you decide to immigrate to Europe?

g: So… I have always wanted to do an exchange so badly. But when I was younger, my parents neither had the money nor the courage to let me go for a couple of months or even years without coming back home. At 28, I felt that it was a bit late for this kind of “adventure” and I applied for this masters here in Portugal. Getting accepted was my greatest victory.

Since I was already working and had some money saved, I talked to a bunch of relatives, I showed my letter of acceptance and in 2011, I left full of hopes and dreams to the Old World.

akc: Since when have you been living in Portugal?

g: Since 2011. In October it will be 5 years (Wow!!)

akc: What do you say to someone…

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Why is the poop singing in a Brazilian TV show for kids?

While watching the music video for “Chuva, chuvisco, chuvarada” (rain, drizzle, hard rain) on the Brazilian kids’ TV show Cocoricó (cock-a-doodle-doo), which features a rooster puppet, one of my students asked if the show is like Barney and I said yes, but then… while students were doing an exercise in groups and the music continued to play in the background, the video went automatically to another video from the same TV show. This one showed the puppets talking to a piece of poop. Yes, a piece of poop. Why would a kids’ show make a video about poop? It may be because cocô, or cocó, can both be translated as poop or rooster. But the main focus was not the misunderstanding that might arise when one uses the word, but rather that while poop is often maligned, it’s actually a great thing because it fertilizes the land. In the video, the piece of poop actually sings. So, I guess it’s not exactly comparable to Barney after all. Click here to see the video for “A history of poop”: It’s funny, but given the context in which it was produced and viewed, it’s also curious. I’m not sure of the date it originally aired on Brazilian TV, but it was uploaded to YouTube in 2014, the same year that Brazil hosted the World Cup, and two years before Rio hosted the Olympics. Both of these events sparked a lot of discussion about the lack of adequate sanitation services in Brazil. One source, Instituto Trata Brasil, which references data from 2014 to 2016, states that over 50% of Brazilians do not have access to “sewage collection.” So while it’s true that poop can be useful, one can easily understand why Brazilians would be complaining, as the talking poop in the Cocoricó video complains, that it is stinky and gross. He says he’s used to being “mistreated, thrown down the sewer.” If only that were more true.



Garbage and Carnaval in Brazil and Angola

Garbage made the news in Brazil yesterday (26 Feb. 2017): 164 tons of trash were left in the streets after the Carnaval parades in Rio de Janeiro, according to the Diario de Pernambuco ( Garbage is more of a perennial problem in Luanda, Angola. There, the recent Carnaval parades were not so much a cause of a garbage problem as a venue in which to bring attention to what is an everyday issue. At about minute 2:30 of a video from Angop TV (Agência Angola Press) (found here:, you can see the float and dance troupe that called for garbage collection and cleaning up of the city. An article from Voa Português (a news source in Portuguese for Africa) from September 2015 described how the problem is endangering the health of the people who live in the city and blocking streets to the point that even school and hospital entrances are obstructed. (See  The root of the problem lies in the fact that the price of oil has gone down, and as a result, the country is in an economic crisis which has made it impossible for the city to pay waste-removal companies. Luckily for the cariocas, their Carnaval garbage has already been picked up (and weighed!).