Movimento Negro Unificado

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Movimento Negro Unificado

The Movimento Negro Unificado (MNU, or Unified Black Movement), widely considered the most influential black organization in Brazil in the second half of the twentieth century, was founded in São Paulo in 1978 as the Movimento Unificado Contra Discriminacao Racial (United Movement Against Racial Discrimination, or MUCDR). It arose from a collection of black organizations that had been meeting for two years with similar groups from Rio de Janeiro, with the intention of forming a national black movement. Two events in São Paulo acted as catalysts: the killing of a black worker, Robson Silveira de Luz, by the police; and the race-based expulsion of four black boys from a volleyball team.

The new organization was founded on June 18, 1978, to protest those acts and to start a national black movement. Its first act was a demonstration on the steps of the Municipal Theater in São Paulo on July 7th, 1978. At the time, Brazil was under a military dictatorship. However, while Brazil's vast African-descended population was virtually excluded from any arena of leadership and was mired in poverty and illiteracy, the regime portrayed the country as a racial democracy. The impetus for starting a black movement came from intellectuals, students, and trade union members intent on correcting this distortion of reality.

Approximately 2,000 people attended the July 7 demonstration, an unprecedented occurrence during the dictatorship. On July 23, the organization changed its name to the Movimento Negro Unificado Contra Discriminacao Racial (United Black Movement Against Racial Discrimination, or MNUCRD). At the first National Congress in Rio de Janeiro, in December 1979, the name was shortened to the Movimento Negro Unificado (Unified Black Movement). The organization adopted two national campaigns: one named Jobs for Blacks, and one calling for an end to police violence.

Because race is ambiguous in Brazil (with Brazilians generally focusing on color, rather than race), a chief responsibility of the MNU was to develop and popularize a useful definition of blackness. The standard chosen was appearance: namely, skin color, facial appearance, and hair. At the end of the congress, the MNU stopped being a national black movement and became the only national black organization. It established structures, procedures, officers, and membership categories. Despite its name, the MNU was not all-encompassing. It did not unite black organizations, nor was it a movement. It was, explicitly, an organization within a movement.

The MNU adopted ambitious national and international agendas. Domestically, within four years the organization established chapters in nine states. The MNU worked with other black and progressive organizations, attacking the myth of racial democracy and calling for the establishment of a true racial democracy. A black vision of politics for Brazil was thus established. The MNU castigated police violence, the oppression of black women, and the marginalization of gays. The organization proposed November 20 as the National Day of Black Consciousness, in memory of Zumbi, the legendary leader of the quilombo (Maroon society), Palmares. The MNU also supported the ancestral rights of contemporary quilombo residents. A quarterly newspaper was established, at first entitled Nego, and after 1989 called the MNU Jornal.

Internationally, MNU members participated in progressive conferences on apartheid, women's rights, and black rights. They presented research papers on Afro-Brazilians at academic conferences, trying to set the record straight about race in Brazil. Through the mid-1990s, the MNU set the tone for Brazilian militant black organizations. While recognizing the importance of culture, it stressed the significance of politics, for its strength was political education. Publications and numerous activities, such as demonstrations, lobbying, public forums, public celebrations, electoral politics, and legal action, were used to inform the population. The MNU endorsed political candidates and sponsored its own. MNU members have been elected to the National Congress, state legislatures, and city councils. Most MNU members elected to office have been members of the Workers' Party, though the MNU has no affiliation with any political party and its members belong to many parties.

In 1995 the MNU was the primary organizer of the March for Zumbi, a protest against Brazilian racism and a celebration of the 300-year anniversary of Zumbi's death. At least 40,000 activists arrived in the nation's capital of Brasília for the march on November 20. It was the largest national black demonstration ever held in Brazil.

The MNU fell on hard times during the late 1990s, mainly due to Brazil's financial troubles; internal disputes; and the development of other black organizations, notably domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). National congresses became infrequent, and the MNU Journal was published irregularly. Although the MNU continued, it lacked its earlier vigor. In 2000 the MNU, along with the whole Brazilian Black Movement, was reinvigorated by prospects for the third United Nations World Conference against Racism, scheduled to be held in Durban, South Africa, during August and September of 2001. The MNU adopted an aggressive organizing strategy, joined other black organizations to develop a national black agenda, and sent a substantial delegation to Durban. By the time of the 2002 World Social Forum, held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the MNU was the principal black organizational participant. Internally, it had adopted the practice of democratic centralism, a program calling for reparations for African-descended peoples globally, and the goal of a socialist Brazil.

The MNU has been an articulate voice in the struggle to destroy prevailing Brazilian racial myths and to create new understandings. The organization has never achieved a mass base, however, but has always been comprised primarily of students, intellectuals, trade union members, and other activists. Nonetheless, it was the most consistent, and perhaps the most effective, voice in changing Brazil's public discourse on race during the last quarter of the twentieth century, and it has continued its work at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

See also Frente Negra Brasileira


Covin, David. "Afrocentricity in O Movimento Negro Unificado. " Journal of Black Studies 21, no. 2 (December, 1990): 126144.

Covin, David. Axe', The Unified Movement in Brazil and the Search for Black Political Power (19782002). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2005.

Gonzalez, Lelia. "The Unified Black Movement: A New Stage in Black Political Mobilization." In Race, Class, and Power in Brazil, edited by Pierre-Michele Fontaine. Los Angeles: Center for Afro-American Studies, UCLA, 1985.

Hanchard, Michael. Orpheus and Power: the Movimento Negro of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo Brazil, 19451988. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Hanchard, Michael, ed. Racial Politics in Contemporary Brazil. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999.

david l. covin (2005)