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Racism? In Brazil ?

Tania Menai

Brazil is a country of shady skin colors. There is no such thing as an official Apartheid regime. At first-sight the local atmosphere diverges from the horrendous tales of America’s Mississippi. There is no official segregation between races on buses, churches, sidewalks or bars. Blacks and whites share the beach, the Carnival parades and the soccer stadiums. However, when it comes to sharing the same schools, hospitals or job positions one might feel that South Africa is not that far. Even so, Brazilians refuse to admit their culture is racist.

Over 400 years ago, African people were forced to leave their land to disembark in hell. In Brazil, they were slaves in farms owned by the Portuguese - the last colonists to abolish slavery in the Americas. Once released, only 116 years ago, the slavers had no education or no where to go. This tragic aspect of history is transparent in today’s society. Slavery led to poverty and that is how black people are labeled.

If a dark colored child is seen riding a bicycle, he or she had probably stolen it. The same applies for sneakers, nice shirts or backpacks. If a black man is driving a new shiny car, either he must be a chauffer or – again – a thief. How could he ever afford such an expensive vehicle? If a group of black children are strolling through a mall, they are immediately perceived as a threat – not as a simple group of youngsters having fun. If black actors and actresses have a chance in the popular soap-operas, their roles are of house-maids or doormen. Not even in the acting world they are able to occupy the leading roles.

Take City of God, a spectacular Brazilian film recently nominated for four different categories (not of them for its actors) at the Oscar. The leading actors are all black. Is it a coincidence? No. The film takes place in a Rio’s slum (which lends its name to the film title). Even living in a place named this way, children like the ones shown in the film are completely forgotten by God. They cannot afford a movie ticket even when the film is based on their own lives. For the first time, the world is watching them - still, they have no voice. Their stories are being told by a rich white film director – and seeing by a rich white audience.

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[ copyright © 2005 by Tania Menai ]