“I have a political philosophy which is the philosophy of testimony.” This is how state deputy Renato Freitas (PT-PR) began his report during the event “Political imagination to claim democracy”, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The 39-year-old deputy told his family history, the violence imposed by racism in his hometown Curitiba (PR), the difficulties in his educational process until his accidental, as he classified, rise in politics.
In conjunction with the PT Nucleus in Argentina, Renato Freitas travels to Buenos Aires to take part in the cycle of lectures marking the 40th anniversary of redemocratization in the country. His intervention, “Afropolitical Imagination: Building Anti-Racist Democracies”, was based on his philosophy of witnessing. Thus, in front of the public at Casa Patria Grande, in the center of the city of Buenos Aires, Renato Freitas told his story.
“I believe that all people who have gone through borderline situations between life and death, who have witnessed death or lived with death have an ethical obligation to testify,” he said. “Therefore, nothing is fairer in relation to memory, truth and justice than the testimony of my own life to find the clues and possibilities to break the cycles of inequality, oppression and exclusion.”
“I am the son of a Northeastern migrant mother, who left the backlands of Paraíba to try life in São Paulo. There, she encountered many misadventures”, he said. In the city, his mother worked as a maid and met Renato’s father. “When I was about to be born, he was arrested on a highway in Paraná. We went to live close to the prison where my father was. My father spent most of his life in prison, and my mother found out that he also had another family, and we broke ties . We stayed in the village, knowing the world the way the world presented itself to us.”
Between the ages of 10 and 12, Freitas says he started stealing with friends downtown. “I was learning to survive and maintaining a very close relationship with the crimes”, he says. Already at the age of 14 he saw people around him being apprehended, and it was also at that time that he had what he called his first intellectual experience: chess.
“I had already stopped studying when, once, I went to the library – I liked to read Agatha Christie detective novels – and saw people playing chess. Curiosity aroused me”, he reports. She then learned to play chess in the library, and soon began to beat her tutors. A place of affirmation, of a new language and openness to possibilities. “The school said I was stupid, I got 3, 4, 5. And in chess, I beat those who taught me.”
But it was also in chess that he dealt with what he considers the second direct confrontation with racism. The first, in the family, came from a stepfather. “He forced me to cut my hair with a zero machine, called me ‘black’ with friends in a way that made me feel inferior,” he said.
The second came from the chess coach, Osvaldo Andrade, an older, white man with green eyes. “I beat him. And he didn’t like me.” After several episodes of discrimination by the coach, Freitas decided to abandon chess.
In a context surrounded by violence, Freitas tells how he was crossed by this language and this way of interacting with the world. At a certain point, however, he discovered that his revolt was not “an indomitable monster”, but the result of oppressions that find meaning in a racist and classist structure of society. This happened when he entered the faculty of social sciences – which he did not complete, but which provided him with some keys necessary for reading part of his reality.
Recognition in the ravines
Years later, already at university, he joined political militancy. After ten years in PSOL, he received an invitation that would be an unexpected milestone in his life. With the expectation of attracting an average of 500 votes with smaller candidacies to elect a councilor, Freitas was called to join the party’s candidacies in Curitiba. “During the first 15 days of the campaign, I didn’t even have a card”, he laughed.
It was during the campaign that Renato Freitas realized that his comrades from the hoods were being welcomed and recognized: he was a popular candidate. He was elected with more support than anticipated for the main candidate for councilor, with 3,500 votes. “They were seeds that I was planting and I didn’t know it. Those seeds turned into trees, and those trees were fruitful. And I didn’t know it”, he said, noting that it was this invitation to candidacy that allowed him to reap those fruits. “They were the fruits of my work. And I didn’t know.”
His trajectory in party politics, he says, was also and is crossed by discrimination of various types. From the exclusion of his campaigns from the party fund, despite his good performance at the polls, to the attacks by the extreme right in Curitiba. Recently, he was randomly approached and searched by the Federal Police on a plane. In February 2022, Freitas was accused of breaking parliamentary decorum after participating in a protest act for justice for Moïse Kabagambe at a church in Curitiba. His mandate as councilor was revoked by majority approval in the City Council, a decision later revised and suspended by the court.
From his account, Renato related his story to that of many other experiences crossed by racism. According to his philosophy, sharing, witnessing, would be a way to break this cycle of oppression “which make us follow the calm current of statistics, which put our lives in the ditches of everyday life, without name, without history”.
Editing: Nicolau Soares
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