A Global Fight for Breath

The Black populations of Brazil and the United States are the largest in the Western Hemisphere, making up 56.1% of Brazil’s 209.2 million and 13.4% of the United States’ 328.2 million people. Though entrenched structural racism works to constrain Black breath in both countries, Black people have long rejected this politics of death (necropolitics) by enacting a politics of life across multiple arenas. In claiming rights and recognition and demanding institutional change, they breathe life into two of the world’s largest democracies. They form quilombos, organize rebellions, demonstrations, and picket lines, make art, and mobilize resistance in the streets, in spaces of worship, through the written word, within institutions, on the playing fields, on stages and screens, and online.


This project compares movements to defend Black lives in Brazil and the United States since the 16th century. It offers a global perspective on the fight against racist police violence and structural racism, and to demand respect for the rights of Black people and defend democracy from its enemies. It began in a Spring 2020 course entitled “Vidas Negras Importam / Black Lives Matter: Defending Black Lives in Brazil and the US,” co- taught at Duke University by Brazilian lawyer and activist Dr. Silvio Almeida, Mellon Visiting Professor of Latin American Studies, and historian Dr. John French. Students in the course were joined in the summer of 2020 by a team of undergraduate and graduate curators to deepen our examination of each country’s unique struggles and achievements. A binational project, it contributes to a global anti-racist agenda while also inviting the Duke community to commit to meaningful, anti-racist action and engage in crucial conversations about undoing institutionalized racism on campus and beyond.


We believe the struggle for freedom will be stronger for all when people know as much about Zumbi dos Palmares, honored through Brazil’s National Black Consciousness Day, as they do about the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.