Claims that a Birmingham suburb was turning into a “favela” hit the headlines of two local newspapers in the West Midlands.
Rio On Watch’s website published a response to the article, criticising politicians who made the comparison and journalists for publicising “comments that perpetuate the deeply damaging favela stigma”.
So the Birmingham Post wanted to know what I think about the matter. Some of my quotes were published on this Thursday edition (print, as picture on the left, and online), and that’s the core of I had written to the editor.
Here’s the full article by me – as I explain on it, I’m not from a favela, but journo friends who cover and/or had covered those communities in Rio helped me in trying to pass an accurate view of the reality:
“To the eyes of a Brazilian, the differences between Selly Oak and favelas are as big as the Atlantic Ocean.
The difficulties in those areas of Rio go beyond peeling paint and mildewed curtains (including limited water supply to some parts and the persistent stigma of having their place likened to litter, crammed spaces and violence).
However, some of these communities have evolved over the years to the extent that they might have “the potential to contribute to a sustainable model of future urban development”, as Rio On Watch’s website says. That’s controversial.
I am a journalist from Brazil, who has lived in south Birmingham for most of my time in the UK. I’m not from a favela, but I do keep in touch with colleagues who work actively in these communities in Rio. According to them, several of these places are models of organization and life in society.
In this point of view, the affirmation that Birmingham would be “lucky” in having the first favela in Britain could make sense. Historically with limited financial resources and the governments’ help, the spirit of cooperation developed among their residents is natural and inspiring.
People are not ashamed to say they live in one of the 1,000 favelas in Rio. Moreover, in the last five years, they became proud in saying so, due to the international interest over these communities.
The negative connotation of the term was applied in the comparison between Selly Oak and favelas as a way of gaining attention, more than actually reflecting on the reality faced in that part of Birmingham. That did not go well either among some fellow expats who live here (including a Brazilian student based in Selly Oak). They support the comments made on Rio On Watch’s website.
It was not by chance that the claim was made after Brazil being extensively broadcasted for Britain during the World Cup. It’s a shame that that was the impression left of my country by the coverage of the British media. We are much more than this, Brummies.
Plus, litter strewn is not an exclusive problem of Selly Oak, unfortunately – some favelas in Rio might be cleaner, thanks to the pride their residents take in the place.
Different parts of Birmingham suffer with the same plague. I wish the city council could do a more efficient job in cleaning the suburbs, raising awareness among the community about the issue or whatever the reason of such negligence might be. I pay taxes, by the way.
In my opinion, no part of Birmingham has the potential to be a favela. If it does, I hope it could be with the strong sense of community and support typical among its residents.”