A Brazilian Whitewash

June 19, 2013 by  

As this is being written, thousands of Brazilians have risen up in a sort of “Brazilian Autumn.” What started as a protest over a small raise to public transit fares has now blossomed into a full-on wail of dissatisfaction with the government. And rightly so. While all the world hasspoken ofBrazil’s nascent economic power, the average Brazilian still sees a government that taxes them at ridiculously high ile offering very little in return.

The beginning of he Confederations Cup has taken the feeling from dissatisfaction to anger, as Brazilians see new soccer stadiums – all much less accomodating to the poor – and an effort to push as much dirt under the rug as possible. And all this bowing to FIFA – including suspending parts of its constitution during the World Cup – has opened people’s eyes to a nation that still lags behind on basic infrastructure. “It’s like a war zone here,” said my brother-in-law Marcelo after visiting a poor northern state in Brazil.

Aside from the myriad changes and problems the World Cup brings, here’s another – the soul of Brazil is already being sold. Take this recent advertisement from Nivea:

As a friend told me, “I wonder how much it cost to get all the Black people off the beach?”

There are some areas in the south of Brazil where the people come from a Scandanavian decent (Imagine Gisele Bündchen), but those are the exception. Brazil is defined by its diversity and even more so by its Black population and the legacy of slavery. Unlike in the U.S., there was rampant relations between the different sects – Portuguese, African slaves & Native Brazilians – from early on. It makes for a diverse populace.

But, you know, there are still Black people here. Especially being it seems the ad was shot in Rio, which has a teeming Black population. Who go to the beach.

You view Brazil as a growing economic power and as a land of beautiful people who love samba and soccer. I live here and see a country of ordinary, hard-working people who have grown tired of the status quo and are now protesting a corrupt and out-of-touch government.

And I support them.



3 Responses to “A Brazilian Whitewash”

  1. Matt Janovic on June 19th, 2013 8:00 am

    Excellent observations about race in Brazil. I was worried you’d been harmed during the crackdown.

  2. Luís Guilherme on June 20th, 2013 11:26 pm

    As a left-winger Brazilian, I think you are judging too much and overreacting over a non-issue.

    I think you don’t pay attention to the fact that the social apartheid in Brazil is much more worrying than the racial apartheid. Rich people, who are mostly white, do not mix with poor people, as in most other countries. Rio de Janeiro is about 55% white, 35% mestizo and 10% black, and at least 50% of wealth is shared by only 3% of its people. This 3% who are white of northern Portuguese, insular Portuguese, central Portuguese, Swiss, Spaniard, Italian, Polish, German, Ashkenazi Jewish, Finnish and Austrian descent, just to name a few, aside of the white people from other regions who immigrate there. This is my case. Northern and insular Portuguese in the father’s line (along mestizos), central Portuguese and afro-mestizos along the maternal grandfather’s line (from Minas) and Swiss, Polish and northern Portuguese from the maternal grandmother’s line (from Espírito Santo). Even when only the poor, we are hell numerous. Those like me were most of the faces protesting in the first week.

    In Brazil’s social apartheid, that is just the common fate of capitalism, rich people get their particular beaches. Middle class people go to the internationally prized beaches. Poor people – and I say it as part of the Brazilian lower class, direct from the Baixada Fluminense – are very unpolite, misbehaving and having them at your side at a beach just destroys the feels. Especially if they are rural, first generation urban and/or come from favelas. My beloved grandparents were part of those in some of their lifetime’s, but the poor in the belle époque is just different from the poor after neoliberalism and the media, it just lost the magic. While those of yesterday were living collections of knowledge, no one sane likes to have those of today by your side (unless you are a sunburn pink face who likes to see palafitas over rivers and mangroves and Bolivian-faced people full of worms inside their bellies aside them and this is part of your touristic experience, of course, but looking to them and seeing “this is Brazil” for us actually hurts). Personal experience, and an impression that is shared by people equally progressive-thinking as me and you.

    Also your concept of soul of Brazil is misinterpretation. We got 200.000 more Portuguese settlers than you got northwestern European pilgrims until 1777. Not to say about the Dutch influence in the Northeast. We ARE part of the Western civilization, poor people excluded by the capitalism take part of it or not, we look like Westerners or not. White people were 70% of the country in 1940, we became 47% today because unlike the United States, Brazil bans abortion (though it is more permissive with sexuality, so STD prevention and planned pregnancy are actually very estimulated), so our poor favela and countryside girls get child always before they are 25, generally adding another 2 in less than 10 years later, while the richer white elites will get a child after 30 and the mostly white traditional urban middle classes will get two childs between their 25s and 40s. It is racist for us to not think of them, who even now are a minority of about 7%? About as racist as things in the United States not always getting a Hispanic or Latino token, who jumped from 12% to 16% of the country in 10 years and in another 10 will become 21%.

    But do not worry as even so in Brazil our birth rate is below the American one and the number of white Brazilians is already decresing. Soon the country will be theirs anyway. I am just afraid if they will treat us like the ghetto African-Americans or the Muslims in Europe. People prefer to not really think about that because we’re not very progressive with this race thing, as you correctly guess. You see, we were the first Western country to get from white to non-white. We got huge inferiority complexes about Portugal, the southern Cone and North America because of this. Doubt if an American media and elite, in a country founded in white nationalism and who had the KKK, that would be still dominated by the WASP because we were non-democratic until yesterday and are getting out of the bottom of the third world just now, would act really different, not to think of worse (as they would get the information that their poor elected ex-terrorist ex-commies while their babies are less than 50% of the population now).

    It’s like expecting a Muslim-majority Middle Eastern country to legalize same-sex marriage in the next 20 years. Is it what we judge the ideal? Yes. But is there an explanation why the minimal much less the ideal are not taking place? Yes as well. So please don’t say Brazil is [abnormally] racist or that Brazil is having a [surprisingly huge] race problem (I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, I’m saying it is a basic fact of capitalism), it is lack of a basic understanding of what Brazil is or what Brazilians aspire to.

  3. dgun on June 22nd, 2013 8:43 pm

    So what does it take to get a populace to give a shit? Because, uh, I know this place, a country in fact, where the populace really isn’t all that motivated to do much of anything about anything.

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