In context: Justin Bieber’s racist graffiti

justin-bieber-graffitiImage Credit

In the past few weeks I have been forced to think and talk about Justin Bieber more than I had ever hoped to do in this lifetime. Generally, I could care less about the teenage pop star, but lately he has been making headlines with his behavior abroad, some of which we have covered here. He’s been spending time in Brazilian brothels, and getting kicked out of Argentinean hotels. But this “talented” star has now taken up a new hobby to while away the insufferable hours of being super rich and famous: graffitting his way through South America.

Earlier this month, Bieber debuted his skills in visual poetry in a Bogotá tunnel. Katie described it (with buckets of sarcasm) like this:

In the great tradition of radical street art, Bieber sprayed “Free Breezy,” protesting the unjust incarceration of self-imposed rehab check-in for anger management for political prisoner commercial hip hop artist and domestic violence perpetuator Chris Brown.

Now, if that’s not bad enough, Bieber has moved from supporting men who abuse women to tagging straight up racism onto the walls of South America: he sprayed an image of a black man with facial features like a monkey, wearing lots of gold chains and earrings onto a wall in Rio de Janeiro (ok Biebs, this is getting personal now). The Rio police had originally given him permission to make his magic in another area of Rio, but his bodyguards felt it was unsafe and chose to take him to an abandoned hotel where he left the above gem. The singer is now facing charges of vandalism.

This kind of imagery is offensive anywhere you go, but what Bieber might not know is that Brazil’s history of racism towards Afro-Brazilians is long and painful. He might not have known that the location where he was originally authorized to spray, Morro de Vidigal, is one of many urban slums known as favelas that exist within Rio. In these favelas, extreme poverty and marginalization have lead to a violent drug trade, fueled by the consumption of Rio’s upper class who live in the neighborhoods where he ended up spraying his graffiti (it’s worth noting that, unsurprisingly, the Rio police was fine with him spraying graffiti in a favela, but then got mad when he moved to a more affluent area). Bieber must not have thought that if Morro do Vidigal was too dangerous for him to visit, imagine living there?

He probably didn’t know that the people living in those favelas are slowly being pushed further and further to the periphery of Rio de Janeiro. That as the city prepares for the World Cup and the Olympics, as it becomes a more and more popular tourist destination, favela residents are seeing their homes destroyed and their communities militarized while their government spends money on building stadiums. He probably did not understand that most of those who are benefiting from this expansion are white like himself, and most of those who are being hurt by it are indigenous and black – those he insulted with the image he sprayed on that wall.

He probably didn’t think of that or know any of this. Not that he would care if he did.

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Juliana clearly misses Brazil a lot if she’s willing to write about Justin Bieber in order to talk about it.

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