Un-Educated (Originally Posted: August 8, 2012)

The story of race and Brazil is a long and complex one.  Not unlike the story found in the US.  What makes it especially complex is that Brazilians find their stance on race to be superior to that in the US, mostly because they tout the lack of lynchings and other brutalities as successful mixing of the races…to over-simplify.  Note:  they also never had a real civil rights movement which lends itself to some real identity issues in a lot of “blacks.”  There is a fascination of many “white” brazilians with being “black.”  They are proud of their mixed heritage and are proud to be part “black.”

I use quotes because there is no “black” and “white” race here.  The binary does not exist.  Instead, it’s a spectrum of color.  My quotes contain what race folks would be considered as in the US.

When I was in Morro, I received several comments about how people wish they had my hair, wish they could tan more, wish they could be more “black”…it’s really something that is wanted on some level here, but of course… on many levels to be called black, considered black, associated with black is everything undesirable at the same time.  (Don’t get me started on how many brazilians of ALLL colors have touched my hair.  The memo has not reached this far).

Many things here are fluid and can be negotiated into and out of:  marriage, sexuality, and race in particular are ones that I’ve studied and to see the fluidity here almost everyday play out in front of my eyes…it’s fascinating!  The boundaries between race and class are so distinct to many brazilians, but i can’t really tell the difference.  The influence of race is too great to me.

For instance:

While waiting in the area to catch the 2:00 ferry a sound alarmed and gate doors swung open.  The mad rush to get through those doors was AMAZING!  It was loud and chaotic and a big push to get through.  Eduardo sat still with his sunglasses and I pondered to him if we should be attempting to get into line with the rest of the push.

“Pssssh.  These people from Salvador are so uneducated.  Do not worry.”

As SOON as he uttered those last words, the gate locked with a click and the crowd’s new anxiety took form of fear of being left (especially after one had already paid!).  I thought to myself…”guess these uneducated people knew something we didn’t…”

What was interesting was that 98% of the crowd was “black”…certainly a darker color than Eduardo who would be considered “white” by US standards.  I’ve learned that “un-educated,” “poor,” “sick,” are often code words for “black” or blacker and so when he said the above…he seemed to be making a comment about education, but was it probably deeper than he knew it to be.   I am “black” and yet he considered me equal–which is the negotiation part I was referring to…being educated, American, a scientist…all these things trump being black (when you know that i have these characteristics) and I move out of the “black” box.

Still trying to process the real life and the academic knowledge…

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