18/ 09/ 2014
Is there racism in Brazil?
It depends on who you ask.
This girl has become one of the most recognizable faces in Brazil, and not for a good reason: she was caught on video yelling a racist slur at a black player of an opposing soccer team. (video is in Portuguese)
First, some background: Brazil shares some parallels with the U.S. but race relations have developed differently here. It imported the most of all slaves brought to the Americas in the transatlantic slave trade, and was the last country in the region to fully abolish slavery. (Most Brazilians don’t know that.)
It didn’t abolish slavery in the context of civil war we we did, and didn’t undergo the kind of violent segregation we went through in the U.S. It also didn’t have our civil rights movement, our landmark lawsuits, etc. But like in the U.S., slaves were freed with no resources, and so many became part of an underserved and marginalized lower class which still exists today, and is actually more exaggerated than in America–the upper classes of Brazil are almost exclusively white.
Meanwhile, Brazil has barely acknowledged its history with slavery and racial inequality until very recently. (They have not required black history to be part of education until several years ago.)
So if you’ve met a Brazilian, especially if the Brazilian you met was white and wealthy enough to travel outside of Brazil, you may have been told that Brazil is a country where the races mix and everyone is happy in a raceless-paradise. That’s a common myth among Brazil’s mostly white elite, and used to be widely propagated among black Brazilians as well, and it’s half true–while the U.S. and other countries tried to separate the races, the Brazilian government encouraged interracial marriage.
But it wasn’t always with happy intentions–Brazil’s miscegenation policies were developed with white supremacist principles. In 1911, they sent a representative to a race conference in London to present a paper on how “sexual selection” was going to eliminate the black race in Brazil and turn it into a superpower within 100 years. Yup. Most Brazilians don’t know that either. (Link is in English.)
So anyway, I’m writing today about this girl because she is a sign that things are changing. She is not the first, and probably won’t be the last, to shout “Monkey!” at a black soccer player. But what’s different is that now, people are increasingly calling racism out in Brazil. People are recognizing and speaking out about obvious inequalities in education, economics, politics, and media. And it’s about time.
This chick has become a national pariah, to the point where she felt compelled to go on TV and “apologize,” begging tearfully for forgiveness. You almost want to feel sorry for her watching it, until you listen to what she’s saying, which is that she is NOT a racist. She gives the classic “Sorry if I offended you apology” which, for those of us who follow race issues in America and who are anti-racism, is not an apology at all, it’s a cop out. Like, ‘Oh, did I hurt your feelings? That’s not my fault, so stop picking on me!’
Check out this exerpt from a Q&A she gave in which she says even more eye-rolling things:
Você se considera racista?
Não. Eu sei que não sou racista. Já fiquei com um cara negro. Eu estava levando muito em conta o fanatismo pelo Grêmio, só que nunca fui de ofender. A torcida do Grêmio não é racista, não é.
Do you consider yourself a racist?
No. I know that I’m not racist. I’ve been with a black guy. I was taking into consideration the fanaticism for Gremio (her soccer team), I never meant to offend. The fans of Gremio are not racist, they’re not.
I have two things to say about this. First, for those of you who are new to this topic, this needs to be said: if someone ever calls you a racist, get over the fact that you’re being called a racist and consider what you actually think, said or did. You could be the nicest person in the world with 100 friends from all colors of the rainbow who never means to offend anyone, and guess what? NONE of that is relevant to the question of whether or not something you did was racist. You yelled a racial slur at someone, so you are a racist. So stop whining and start thinking about what are you going to do about it.
Second, as ridiculous as she sounds, and though I’m glad people are actually reacting to and speaking up about racism in this country, I really do not think that bashing her mercilessly and torching her house (oh yes, someone did that) are going to make Brazil a less racist place. People like this woman need to be educated–after this whole thing blew up, someone needed to sit her down and explain to her why what she said was not ok, even if she was just expressing passion for her team, and even if she’s “been with a black guy.” (still SMH at that comment.) Though I understand the anger, and feel anger myself, her thinking is not uncommon and I think the problem starts with elementary education and the tendency of some demographics of Brazilians to act like racism does not exist in their country, when it clearly does.
This whole incident is part of a learning process, though. And the first step is acknowledging that there is a problem.