WITNESS Partner Colectivo Papo Reto, Speaks at UN Panel on Racism and Self-Representation

On September 16th, Brazilian media collective and WITNESS partner Coletivo Papo Reto spoke on a panel titled “Self Representation as a Strategy to Fight Racism” (watch it here), hosted by the Permanent Brazilian Mission in the United Nations, as a part of the International Decade for People of African Descent.

Panelists discussed the power of the image and self-representation in deconstructing oppressive structures and empowering peoples of African descent. The panelists included Raull Santiago from Coletivo Papo Reto, Celso Athayde, founder of Central Union of Favelas in Brazil, Macdala Prévot, a Haitian filmmaker and graduate of Ciné Institute, Thomas Allen Harris, an American filmmaker and the director of “Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People”, amongst others.

Raull Santiago, a 26-year old Brazilian activist, spoke about the specific way racism operates in Brazilian favelas and how Rio de Janeiro  marginalizes many of its inhabitants and then often blames them for larger municipal  problems. This, he said, leads to public policies that only address favelas as a public security issue, and never as the vulnerable areas that they are, lacking investments in health care, education and public spaces. “We are not discussing the roots of problems, but we [who live with the results of these problems] are being punished [with militarization], in the worst way possible”, Santiago recounted about the controversial military occupation in the favelas, that was intended to pacify the areas by removing control from the gangs.

“When I was young, I would always hear at school that the blacks were descendants of slaves. But when I became more involved in the movement and the struggle, I learned that that wasn’t the case: blacks are descendants of kings, queens, princes and princesses who arrived enslaved in our country,” said Santiago.

“We are seen as the problem by the ones who don’t live there [in the favelas], but we are creating solutions inside of our communities.” Santiago also spoke about the necessity of allowing space in the social debate for the people from the favela to tell their own stories and denounce violations of their rights.

As Haitian filmmaker Macdala Prévot put it during her speech, “I must be true to myself and show who I am; If I don’t do it, somebody else will do it for me.”

The panel was a part of Papo Reto’s one-week visit to New York, during which they spoke at a panel hosted by WITNESS and moderated by journalist Amy Goodman. They also participated in a debate at the Americas Society with Professor Carl Hart from Columbia University, Rene Silva from Voz da Comunidade and Patricia Marino from Humanitas 360. The Papo Reto representatives also exchanged experiences with We CopWatch, and filmed the police on the streets of New York. To round out the trip they were invited to Brazil Foundation’s Gala, where they spoke about state violence in Brazilian favelas and received an award along with WITNESS for their work in Brazil.

Featured image: Screenshot of recording of Raull Santiago speaking on the UN panel.


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