Let’s Talk About Favela Epistemology!

"Those born and raised are those who know"

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When I enrolled in the Public Security and Favela Epistemology course—which took place in several favelas in Rio from April 28 to June 6—I didn’t yet understand the scope of the numerous strategies of impoverishment, control, and segregation to which people from favelas and peripheries are subjected. The history of geographic containment (and of potentialities) began long before favelas were born. Enslaved and diasporic black people were uprooted from their homes and forced into a “non-place” during the post-abolition process.

The monarchical measures to limit liberties and place social restrictions on “freed” blacks were already notorious. It can be argued that some of these measures have been maintained by the State to this day. The Empire’s criminal code incriminated them—from their culture to access to education. This perspective of the past makes it clear that the discrepancy in opportunity is not contemporary.

These historical damages and the consecutive withdrawal of rights culminate in a society marked by racism. The proposal of the “Public Security and Favela Epistemology” course was not only to analyze the profile of favelas and peripheries but also to amplify narratives.  

Activists from favelas presented academic and non-academic content, forming this epistemology—which, for us, is a distant term that can be substituted by a single phrase: “Those born and raised are those who know.” We know ourselves and can speak in the first person about our daily lives and culture.

As follows, this article highlights important ideas and information learned during the course.

The State and Education

As an educator, I believe that education is the “so-called fishing rod” necessary for the black, peripheral, favela population to break free from the conditions of poverty and marginalization. For those who are marginalized, these basic rights are practically denied, as statistics prove. Defunded schools, poor material working conditions, poorly paid teachers, and strenuous workdays are directly reflected in the failure to foster critical education that could result in conditions of social equity.  

The lack of valorization of African culture is the first important form of access that is denied to black people, who are constantly generalized and associated with headlines relating to violence and death. There is still a strong discourse of whiteness dominating academic fields. Despite the existence of policies to ensure that the ethno-racial valorization of black people materializes, such rights are not yet a reality for us. Recognizing yourself as black is a political act that is not always achieved in the face of so many misleading and deeply entrenched discourses about what it means to be black.

The State and Militarization

Another important point in this set of public sector failures is public security. The word security is almost always associated with the favela and periphery, but why can’t we feel safe in our homes and on our streets? Why does the State understand bringing peace to society as taking peace away from others? These others are (primarily) those who are outside of condominium gates and high tax brackets. For the State, bringing peace means decimating, excluding, controlling, and segregating this group that is stigmatized as violent.

In the same geographic space of this city, on a sunny day, there are citizens who wake up to the sound of their alarm clocks and take their children to school; others are awoken by armored helicopters firing on their streets and assassinating their children. As stated during one of the classes by Gizele Martins, a communicator from Maré: “The state impoverishes and criminalizes.” We are not the producers of violence—we are violated. We are murdered and dragged every day in some favela or periphery of this polarized city.  


Mainstream media is an important tentacle of this system that disqualifies and tries to assign another meaning to marginalized populations. News reports are filled with racism and prejudice. The aggressive tone, often disconnected from reality, reinforces that the State’s arbitrary atrocities are natural consequences of the “war on drugs.” They imply that only one side is armed and attacks. Impartial coverage—a duty of the press—is not always fulfilled when the subject is criminality and favelas.

Derogatory buzzwords divide the city in half, besieging neighborhoods and reinforcing the social imaginary that confirms that the city is not for favela residents, nor is the favela for the city. But we resist! Community and independent media put forward other agendas, from the perspective of favela residents. These spaces are growing and gaining voice, amplifying causes silenced by prejudice.


It is inherent to the insurgents of these places (often forgotten by public authorities) to resist! Resistance arises from strength, but also from the knowledge and appreciation of our own image.

When we understand and know who we are, it is like a mirror that reflects our image in its plenitude and without distortion. We recognize ourselves as those who belong, with a face, voice, body, and color. We feel more strongly the need to struggle and to pressure this machine that crushes people with shouts that are louder than ourselves. We are powerful in the face of the fear that plagues us.

There is celebration and pain in the hold of this Slave Ship, but there is also significant resistance. We want to use our own voices; based on our own lived experiences, we want to create academic discourses. We don’t need mediators—we are giants. This is why I suspect that there is so much militarization in order to contain us, to contain our ideas. We know that we are not producers of violence. We are, in fact, products of the violence of this oppressive triad: the State, media, and racism.

[We are] constantly imprisoned and shot, in inhumane proportions. But the barrels (tambores) of guns will not silence the drums (tambores) that sustain us. We do not accept this version of peace that silences some in order to bring peace to others. We yearn to remove ourselves from the death statistics—we seek to belong to all spaces of this city and to enjoy our places of origin without being interrupted by armored vehicles. In the words of Fransérgio Goulart, organizer of the Public Security and Favela Epistemology course: “Your privilege kills.” We demand the right to travel through our favela and go about our daily affairs without the barrel of a gun aimed at our faces and our dreams…

Carla Souza is a teacher by training and loves her job as a childhood education teacher. She is a resident of Rocinha, and understands her existence as a black woman and favela resident as a focus of struggle and resistance in the world.