Sunday, April 17, 2011

Brazil: A Racial Paradise?

Proud (and usually white) Brazilians will often tell you that there is no racism in Brazil, at least, not like there is in the United States. This topic has been the buzzing center of a whole host of blog posts from numerous bloggers, expats and otherwise.

I'm not going to open up another conversation just yet. First I want to watch the upcoming four-part PBS series called "Black in Latin America," which will begin airing April 19. It sounds VERY interesting.

Sam Allis at the Boston Globe posted a review. Here are some excerpts:

“Upward of 120 million people of African descent live in Latin America today,’’ says Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who, even though he is a scholar of African-American history, says he was staggered by the number when he first learned of it."

“We have our African-American exceptionalism,’’ says Gates. “We think slavery was all about us. In fact, 11.2 million Africans got off boats in the New World. Only 450,000 came to the US. All the rest came to areas south of Miami. The real African-American experience unfolded in the Caribbean and Latin America.’’

As with [Gates']earlier series, he wrote and presents this one, traveling to six countries for the stories: the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru. In each country, Gates talks to its best historians and cultural observers about past and present roles that African blacks have played. These are uniformly fascinating conversations.

Gates also travels to Brazil, which abolished slavery late, in 1888, with 75 million people identified as mulatto (a person of mixed black and white ancestry) or black. “This is the largest black population in the world outside of Africa,’’ he notes. “There are 134 categories of blackness in Brazil. Like everywhere else, the poorest people in each country are the darkest, African-looking people. The elite in Cuba were white Cubans. The elite in Brazil are white Brazilians.

The title of this segment is called “Brazil: A Racial Paradise?’’ And the answer, Gates finds, is nothing close. In Latin America, African blacks struggle for respect. But the social structure makes change difficult to come by.

I look forward to seeing the full series.

The first program in the series is already posted at their website.  You can view it now.


Meredith said...

Thanks so much for posting this (I had never seen or heard of this before). If I remember correctly, that was the professor whose house was broken into and the police made him prove that he lived there; they couldn't imagine that it was a black man's house.

I have a BA in Anthropology and have travelled Latin America pretty extensively, so I find this VERY interesting.

I'd love to see more.

AND, I think I'll show this to my high school students (who are all black Americans, black Haitians, or Latinos - and then I have 4 Vietnamese students :). I think they'll enjoy this. One of them asked me if there are black people in Brazil.

Jim said...

You can watch the first program on their website

Great idea to show it to your students. I would like to be a fly on the wall for your discussion afterwards.

Meredith said...

I'll try to do it tomorrow if I can. I'll let you know how it goes. I've shown them videos from Anthony Bourdain and they really liked them.

Samia said...

I remember discussing racial issues in school A LOT. It has not gone anywhere, it hasn't changed and it'll take a lot for it to change *someday*. Brazil is no racial paradise, on the contrary, it's a bitch to its darker skinned citizens. It's true that we mixed, oh did we. I'm living proof of this great mixture. But while we're not as segregated as I've seen it in the US, now that might not be true of all 50 states, but I live in Chicago and the people here do not mingle, we still have a long way to go to fix what slavery left behind. If you ask me, Brazil still does have an underpaid "slave" driven culture. We like to claim that we're prejudice free, that we're the nation where everybody is equal and everybody is respected... oh, wishful thinking. The problem though, the problem is Brazilians of all color, race and shapes that don't leave their comfort zones and don't start the changes they want to see (me included).

Jim said...

Thank you Samia for your comments. The problem is certainly not a simple one.

Gil and Ray said...


Yes, this is the guy, he is actually a professor at Harvard and a good friend of President Obama.
His house was never broken into, his door was jammed, and as he was forcing the front door trying to open it a police car saw him, asked him for his documents and he told the cop, his documents were inside his home.
The asshole cop arrested him because he got agitated with the fact that he was being arrested on his own home.
His home is a couple blocks from Harvard, in a VERY prestigious neighborhood where homes cost several million dollars, beautiful old New England homes and you never see black people in those homes, with VERY rare exceptions.
That cop was an a.hole, there was no excuse to do what he did, he was a racist bastard and had no idea the guy was a Harvard professor friends with the "new" black president...oops...


Sharif Ali said...

Great post.
I will be following you from now on.
Be sure to check out my spot as well.
I am an Americano who lives in Salvador da Bahia with my wife and kids.

Paz e Saude!