Rolezinhos: Brazil's urban poor black flashmobs

Friday, January 17, 2014

I have been paying a lot of attention to the awakening of Brazil's sociopolitical consciousness, particularly among its youth, since the protests last year against corruption and waste connected with the World Cup. (On a personal note, my mother is Brazilian, so it is at least in part a sort of homeland to me.) While most of the more formal street protests have died down, I saw this on the BBC this morning and thought it was interesting: apparently there have been a series of "flashmobs," or what they call "rolezinhos," in shopping centers in São Paulo. What has gotten the most attention is the fact that they seem to be primarily staged by the city's urban poor: young, black, and somewhat frowned upon.
But over the past five weeks in Sao Paulo - Brazil's biggest city - there have been a series of large scale gatherings, called rolezinhos, organised via Facebook. The first - and biggest so far - was on 7 December at a shopping centre near the World Cup stadium. Organisers claim as many as 6,000 people took part. Since then, there have been a further five rolezinhos in the city and many more are planned for the coming weeks. Most of those taking part are young, black and from poorer areas.

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The discussion on social media has been heated and highly divisive - some have referred to those taking part as hooligans, or have expressed concern the gatherings could be a precursor to protests - as there were last year in Brazil. Others say those taking part are being treated in a heavy-handed way because they tend to be black and poor. "We can compare #rolezinho to an apartheid. The rich on one side, the poor on another," was one comment on Facebook. In a newspaper interview one anthropologist said: "When it's the poor they call it #rolezinho. When it's the rich they call it flashmob."

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