In 1923, Tarsila do Amaral painted the canvas A negra, a milestone in the affirmation of her artistic career in the history of modernism. The moment of appearance of the canvas is propitious for us to think about how the racial question in the 1920s was configured as a broad and important subject.
While Tarsila painted characters that went back to her childhood memories, lived on a farm in the inland of São Paulo, the debate on the integration of black people in the sports space witnessed a growing tension. This concern with the composition of the teams even reached the President of the Republic, Epitácio Pessoa, who expressly recommended preventing the presence of players of black origin in the matches of the Brazilian team against foreign teams.
The international circulation for the matches of the South American tournaments earned the team the pejorative nickname of “macaquitos”, a provocation that came from certain fans in Uruguay, Chile and Argentina. The presidential reaction showed that such prejudice was not questioned, being internalized by Brazilian elites who were still guided by the guidelines of whitening and scientific racism then dominant.
However, in the same year of 1923, in Rio de Janeiro football, Vasco da Gama, a club recently admitted to the first division of the sports league, snatched the trophy. The surprise was caused by a team formed by players of black origin, manual workers from factories and commerce who worked in a semi-professional regime, which, in a way, questioned the status quo of the competition. Vasco da Gama winning the title, beating up the teams from the South Zone of Rio, caused discomfort among the championship organizers, notorious defenders of the amateur ethos and the elitist brand in the sport.
More recently, researchers have shown that this was not an isolated case, as there was a latent discomfort among the elites in view of the progressive loss of means of controlling football practices in the city, such as the periphery and minor leagues, also called “Black Leagues”.
The studies thus emphasize how broad this black presence can be identified in the historical experience of other Brazilian clubs, such as Bangu, in Rio de Janeiro, and Ponte Preta, in Campinas.
Defender Domingos da Guia, projected in Brazilian football for his performance in the 1938 World Cup, was transferred in the 1940s to Corinthians and played, as seen in the photo, for the Selected Paulista in the Brazilian State Team Championship. Photograph: Unknown Author | Cia da Memória.
The striker Leônidas da Silva, consecrated striker of the Brazilian team, who was also an idol in big clubs in the country, such as Flamengo and São Paulo, between the 1930s and 1940s. Photograph: Unknown Author | Cia da Memória.
Photo of the cruzmaltina team, whose conquest of the Carioca Championship in 1923 is an important moment of questioning the ethos of amateurism reigning in Brazilian football until then. Vasco’s team, made up of manual workers and black contingents, would trigger a bitter debate around the adoption of sports professionalism in Rio de Janeiro. Unknown Author | Centro de Memória do C. R. Vasco da Gama.
Plastic artist Rubens Gerchman, known for incorporating aspects of mass culture into his work, paid attention to football players, as in this serigraph in which he pays homage to the idol Domingos da Guia, a black defender who stood out during the 1930s and 1940. Photograph: Rubens Gerchman | Instituto Rubens Gerchman.
Midfielder Fausto dos Santos, in 1929, when he won another title for Vasco da Gama, in a performance that would lead him to the Brazilian National Team the following year. Photograph: Unknown Author | Centro de Memória do C. R. Vasco da Gama.
Journalistic sources report the success garnered by the performance of Fausto dos Santos in the match against Yugoslavia in the 1930 World Cup. Photograph: O Globo, July 15, 1930 | Acervo Globo.
During a tour of C. R. Vasco da Gama to Europe in 1931, Fausto dos Santos abandoned Brazilian football, still marked by the amateur ethos, to play for Barcelona, Spain. Photograph: Unknown Author | CBF Collection.
In 2005, at the Moisés Lucarelli stadium, Ponte Preta fans extended a banner with a questioning question about the racial issue in football. In the history of this sport, the Campinas club is recognized as one of the pioneers in the presence of athletes of black origin in its ranks. Photograph: Daniel Lima | Invisíveis Produções.
Video Bandeiras (2015), of Frente 3 de Fevereiro, showing the team’s performance actions in the Morumbi, Pacaembu and Moisés Lucarelli stadiums, in football matches in 2005. Duration: 6min55s
Video: Daniel Lima – Frente 3 de Fevereiro | Invisíveis Produções