Djamila Ribeiro on the Life and Legacy of Marielle Franco

Written by
Daniel Persia
March 17, 2021

On Thursday, March 11, 2021, the Brazil LAB hosted “Who ordered Marielle’s death? Structural racism in Brazil” (“Quem mandou matar Marielle? Racismo estrutural no Brazil”), a conversation with Brazilian philosopher and activist Djamila Ribeiro. The discussion marked three years since the brutal assassination of Brazilian politician, sociologist and feminist intellectual Marielle Franco, and two years since Princeton’s tribute to her life and work. Following a brief introduction by Lilia Schwarcz (Professor of Anthropology at the University of São Paulo and Visiting Professor at Princeton), Ribeiro framed the significance of Marielle’s legacy in the context of black feminisms and the fight against structural racism in Brazil and around the world.

Ribeiro began by emphasizing the importance of speaking about Marielle Franco as a black feminist intellectual, among the likes of Lélia Gonzalez, Luiza Bairros, Grada Kilomba and Audre Lorde. She spoke of Brazil’s long tradition of black feminist thought, including profound work on intersectionality, systems of oppression, and subalternity. Thinking with Lélia Gonzalez, Ribeiro underscored the notion that the histories and legacies of black women in Brazil do not revolve solely around pain. They also speak to tremendous struggle and resistance, and to black women’s courage and bravery in the face of continued social and political alienation. Marielle was, and continues to be, a remarkable example.

The conversation concluded with a series of questions raised by Lilia Schwarcz and the audience, which consisted of over 1,000 viewers from across the globe. Schwarcz first asked Ribeiro to reflect on the changes she has observed since publishing her first book, O que é lugar de fala? (What Is Place of Speech?), in 2017. Ribeiro called attention to both major setbacks and achievements, reconciling the undeniable regression of political institutions with the increasing representation of black women elected to local and state office. She also highlighted the increasing presence of race as a topic of debate in the public arena—an observation supported by her own advocacy as a public intellectual in Brazil, and by worldwide reverberations of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ribeiro ended with a personal reflection on the role of spirituality and the Afro-Brazilian religion candomblé in her life, and the importance of listening and empathy in the process of social transformation. Her forthcoming book, Cartas para minha avó (Letters For My Grandmother), will offer a further glimpse into how family, ancestry and spirituality have been essential to her personal and professional trajectories.

The event was hosted by Miqueias Mugge, PIIRS/Brazil LAB Associate Research Scholar. Co-sponsored by the Program in Latin American Studies, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and the Department of Anthropology.