03.03.10

Uncovering Prejudices in Americans

Posted in Brazilian Culture at 10:14 am by admin

In my memoir, Divine Betrayal, Chapter 26, I write about Brazilian racial tensions vs. segregation in the U.S. during the 1950’s. Today, I would like to contrast the attitudes of these two very similar Nations.

The history of Brazil is similar to ours. Brazil was discovered in 1500 by Pedro Alvares Cabral from Portugal; America was discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus who sailed for Spain. Both countries are in the western hemisphere and both countries attained their independence within 50 years of each other. Both nations have populations made up of the native inhabitants, European immigrants and African slaves and later on, Asian migrants. However, the population makeup and racial attitudes today are very different from each other. In a recent article in The Economist, titled “Brazil Takes Off” John Prideaux, the author says: “there is no such thing as a hyphenated Brazilian.” In other words, you will not find an African-Brazilian, or Italian-Brazilian. All Brazilians are simply proud to be Brazilians.

brazilian_Grace Ann Deters

Graceann Deters and a Brazilian Friend

So, you may ask, “is there no racial tension or prejudice in Brazil?” The answer is yes, but it a different than the U.S.A. I will explain how these differences have occurred.

Firstly, many African slaves were brought to Brazil. Depending on which book you read, the estimate ranges between 3.6 and 4.5 million slaves who were brought to Brazil after 1550. America imported 645,000 African slaves. Brazilian slaves were freed in 1880 and today Brazil has the second largest black population in the world, next to Nigeria.

My point is this, unlike the U.S., Brazilian slaves were encouraged to bring their culture with them such as their songs, musical instruments, dance, religion etc… They were also encouraged to intermarry with the Indians, Portuguese, and other immigrants. This resulted in some very unique cultural events found only in Brazil. For instance the religion “Condomble” is the mixture of Catholicism and African religions. There are several names for this mixture, depending on which city you live in. For instance, in Florianopolis, my home town, it is known mainly as Macumba. On New Years Eve there is a beautiful celebration where the congregants dress in white, take home-made boats filled with flowers to the beaches, and launch them into the ocean as they throw more flowers into the water in honor of the goddess of the Sea “Iemanja.”

The unique rhythm of the Brazilian Samba music and dance comes from Africa. The “Capoeira,” an unusual combination of dance, sports, and martial arts is set to African music and is often seen on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro.

This sounds ideal so what about racial prejudice? If you question Brazilians today asking if they are prejudiced against blacks, 98% will say “No.” However, if you question these same people and ask if they know someone who is prejudiced against black, 98% will say “Yes.” Even so, the Brazilian prejudice is different from American prejudice. The reality is that “brown “is the dominant color in Brazil and there is little or no prejudice between blacks, browns and whites based on the color of their skin. Brazilian prejudice is mostly based on social and cultural standings, which is where the “catch 22 “lies. Blacks live mostly in the slums with poor schools. Many have to work at an early age in order to help feed their families. Even if they finish High School, they are unable to compete effectively in the entrance exams to the Universities and come in last in job competitions. The legacy of poverty is passed onto their children. The government today is attempting affirmative action at higher educational institutions and hopefully things will change. I strongly feel education is the answer but Brazil still has a long way to go.

Our racial prejudices here are not based so much on culture as they are color. Americans feel the need to differentiate themselves, as if none of us are American. Like Mr. Prideaux, I have a strong opinion on American’s use of hyphenated names. For instance, my father was German and my mother Swedish. I am not a German-Swedish-American—I am simply an American. When we classify ourselves as Irish, Italian or African-Americans we emphasize and harden our differences which is counter-productive to creating unity and equal opportunity. I believe that the day African-Americans can leave out African and identify simply as Americans will be the day that we all become one Nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

What is y our opinion?  I would love to hear more opinions on this highly controversial topic.

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