The thing with Brazil, a follow-up

By Malena Amusa Jul 18, 2007

So guys, I don’t mind sticking my neck out sometimes to get to the heart of issues, and the other day, I made a stretch when analyzing Brazil’s racial dynamics. Read: "Apartheid in Brazil–Will we ever see past Brazil’s pretty?" I assumed brown Brazilians’ reluctance to identify with "black" was out of a blind condemnation of Blackness, which I said was a product of an apartheid system there that divided and strictly allocated resources based on a flip-floppy racial strata. But a friend of mine and mad blogger Wendi Muse sent me an email that she said I could share with you. In it, she explains why Brazil’s race problem has to be discussed in its own context, not in terms defining America’s race question. Here, I’ll let her explain. But first, check out what I wrote to her after she left comments on RaceWire.

Wendi, i’m glad u brought the colonial history [of Brazil] we so quickly forget and really, don’t understand. but u know. here’s my thing about the identity. in africa, black is not a race. but in most diaspora settings, black is, due to the creation of black as site of oppression. considering this, i don’t know if black in brazil should mean much else than what it means in the states–a drop of black. i think our political goals can’t afford all these, well i’m a sixth this and that so I’m brown. I know specification is important. we’re not all the same type of black. but to what extent is brown a product of a hatred of black, rather than an appreciation of brown. i dunno. but i wanna learn more. i think i’m gonna post a peter tosh video: you know the "as long as u’re a black man, you’re an african. asking if this holds true to us. M

Wendi Muse wrote:

yeah i battle with that myself with regard to brazil and most of latin america brazil is a special case b/c when the portuguese colonized the country, they advocated miscegenation…given, as a means of whitening the population, but nevertheless, they allowed it whereas in the US, it was always a big huge old no no, which is what helped bolster the one-drop rule from my experiences in brazil and like speaking with/researching brazil, it’s not always a hatred of black, but more of an appreciation of everything you are…a brazilian guy I dated would always be like…wendi you are not black…and i’d be like, dude, wtf? of course i am…but he always said that where he was from, i wouldn’t be…and indeed that was the case…blackness there is like…100% african…and even then, they refer to themselves in colors…like dark brown…or simply african (afro-brasileiro), which is political in its own right and i think people forget about that movement, which is pretty strong in salvador da bahia and the northeast region, where there is the highest concentration of people of african descent in brazil but back to the boyfriend…and other brazilians… their basic argument is that if you identify as one race, you are denying all of your background…it seems to be more that message than an outright denial of blackness…so like there, i would be classified, more or less, as an equivalent of what "mixed" is here in the US because my heritage is of african, indigenous,and european roots…so he didn’t understand for a while why i identified as black…and not as all three of those things so yeah it’s interesting/different…it’s also funny to go to a place where people who look like me are the physical majority but i think one thing that is important to remember in brazil is that on a government front, class is the biggest issue…they are trying to deal with race via class b/c race is so muddled there that it’s hard to help people based solely on those grounds…so when people also accuse the brazilian government of ignoring race, they fail to look at it from the other side…that race in the way we consider it here in the US is inapplicable in brazil…we like to think of ourselves as the gatekeepers of race relations, but that’s unfair and not accurate BUT i agree, brazil has some serious problems…but before we go and judge them, we need to re-assess our own understandings of race and what those categories mean for us b/c i don’t think it’s as simple as …oh brazilians are just all mixed, they don’t have race…or (on the other hand), they are confused and hate themselves… we never think of what comes in between those lines…

Later I wrote:

i’m still curious if u think brazil has an apartheid structure?

Then Wendi said:

i don’t think brazil has an apartheid-like system from what i know…i think it has some issues it needs to work out, but i think they are worst at the class level…like scary class division stuff…i think that apartheid is a strong word, as that is a state-endorsed division system it’s kinda like saying all racists are nazis it’s not that severe…i think race issues there are more subtle (again, due in part to their history)…class issues are more obvious…

Any Brazil lovers out there? What do you think?