Professor Dr. Collins Airhihenbuwa, da Escola de Saúde Pública da Universidade Estadual da Geórgia

He bets on knowledge about culture as a tool to promote equality in global health. Dr. Collins Airhihenbuwa, of the School of Public Health of the State University of Georgia, USA, gave a talk at the Institute of Collective Health (ISC) of the Federal University of Bahia ( UFBA) last Wednesday (17). “I do not want to bring answers, I want to stimulate questions,” he announced to the audience of students and professors at the Institute, as well as visiting American students.

During the lecture, Collins drew attention to the need to discuss racism in the field of global health. For him, the problem begins inside the universities. “Blacks can even enter, including through quotas, but they do not find in the universities discussions and debates about issues relevant to black communities.”

Collins’ participation is the result of an agreement signed between Georgia State University (U.S.A.) and UFBA, which annually receives exchange students for a range of activities in Salvador. The lecture complies with the affirmative action policy of UFBA, which has promoted and welcomed debates on racism and racial equality (see more in this issue) and carried out actions to combat discrimination and encourage permanence, in addition to offering quotas for entry into undergraduate programs. (since 2004) and postgraduate and teaching career (recently implemented).

The professor observes that there is a considerable growth of productions in the countries of the South, but that these authors do not reach the great centers of discussions. “They are not read, are not invited to events and, much less, are part of the course references.” According to him, it is necessary to seek other readings and become aware of racism in all areas. “Decolonizing is undoing mistakes we’ve made in the past,” he adds.

Collins, who is a Nigerian, knows this reality closely. To attend school, she said she needed to give up her own mother tongue in her home country. When he went to the United States at age 19, he recognized the profound lack of representativeness of African culture throughout the training. “I felt that I needed to rethink and value my culture,” he says.

The professor criticized the delay in discussing racism in the field of global health, which only came to pass in 2001 during the Durban conference, as the Third World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance. The event, promoted by the United Nations (UN) in Durban, South Africa, aimed at combating issues of racism and hatred of foreigners.

“They ask people to change their food, for example, but they do not examine the place. Where do these people live? What do they eat? Is this food affordable? It’s no use asking for behavior if the contexts are not changed, “he says.

Connections with Brazil

Among the readings recommended to teachers and students present, there is an author very close to us: Paulo Freire. The Brazilian philosopher and educator is evaluated by Collins as the main one to understand education and the need for a critical conscience. “It shows that education needs to make sense for people,” he notes.

A reference to syncretism and Afro-Brazilian culture, Rosário dos Pretos Church, located in Pelourinho, Historical Center of Salvador, is also considered by Collins as an important example of the construction of the identity that the Bahians give to the world. He visited the site a few days ago and was amazed by the history of the church built by slaves and members of one of the first black brotherhoods of Brazil. “It is an example of how to elaborate the narrative itself, without submitting to what they tell about you or your community,” he concludes.

Through the Integrated Community, Family and Health Program of the UFBA Institute of Collective Health (ISC), which for ten years has been conducting research on the relationship between racism and health, teachers and students have the opportunity to discuss topics of great interest. For the vice-coordinator of the program, Professor Clarice Mota, also responsible for mediating the lecture, Collins’s knowledge is of great importance to health scholars in Brazil, both in the field of theoretical production, teaching and extension. “This is an important social commitment, which we, from Collective Health, should regard as a duty to combat racism in all our spheres of activity,” he says.