I read an article in the Economist the other day about racism in Mexico. The article was basically about discrimination and racism toward black people in the country. The part that really caught my eye was the end: the author claimed that there are more black people in Mexico than recorded in the census because some black people tick the “mixed race” or downright “white” box to [quote] protect themselves from racism and discrimination [unquote]. This statement amazed me by the sheer lack of knowledge on basic issues related to race.
How can someone expect to protect themselves from racism by claiming they are not black in a chart? Does the author honestly believe this is a protective measure?
It has always amazed me how little white people know about racial issues, and how ignorant they are of the problems affecting black people in Latin American countries.
Black people who tick the “white” or “other” box do it for one reason, and one reason only: They are denying their race, and they dislike being a member of that race.
My husband works in a construction company. Many of the black workers swear they are “olive-skinned” or “light-skinned” (pardo) at time of registration, and sometimes get angry if anyone questions their statement.
A friend of mine lost his black girlfriend because he once had the audacity to say, “hey, but you´re black, right?” when she complained about black people in Brazil. She walked out of their flat to never return.
White people have no issues about black people, but black people do. I have always believed that people tend to discriminate blacks simply because of statistics, not because of colour. Some friends claim it is classism, which seems acceptable to me. Black people are mostly poor, hence unattractive.
A white colleague from South Africa told me there was a “very handsome, smart and popular black boy in his class at school” who was, “really admired by all of us white kids”. Even in South Africa, black people are most discriminated because of their inborn tendencies, not because of their colour.
In most cases, and of no lack of evidence, people see laziness, violence, ignorance and poverty when they look at a black face (again, nothing to do with colour), and this is very evident in Brazil.
Being black myself (“you aren´t that black”, claim some Brazilians), I never felt the full extent of my blackness until I came to Brazil. Black people in Brazil have no identity and imitate the black American in any ways possible. They lower their heads in shame when they see a real African, and gaze at all-white actor TV soaps in amazement and admiration. “Todos os brancos são bonitos” sighed a housewife I met in Bahia (“all white people are beautiful”).
Another black woman, who had 2 darker children and one lighter child proudly claimed that the latter was “cleaned” in her “stomach”. This is a common conception amongst poor black families: that the last child will be “whiter” because the “blackness” has rubbed off.
So I ask again: who really has a problem with colour?
Brazil still holds strong slavocrat roots. Consequently, black people feel inferior as opposed to being considered inferior simply because of their colour. They lower their eyes when they see a handsome white man or woman, incapable of “competing” or feeling equal in the face of such splendour. This is especially the case in the North and North-east of Brazil. White people in these parts of Brazil talk to black people differently and would rarely consider friendship or any other type of long-lasting relationship other than some form of service provision. Why? Because they live in different worlds, have different priorities and even think differently. Their colour is a symbol of their status, not a symbol of their race.
In Florianópolis, where I lived for 2 years and where the black population is very low, white poor people commit the same crimes and the same acts of violence (which tend to be more impulsive and aimed at random targets than white-collar crimes, say) as black poor people commit in other parts of Brazil where the black population is higher. Therefore petty and violent crime is linked to poverty, not race.
Education can be considered the basis of this problem, but one cannot expect a country with often incorrect and blatantly bad teaching material to include African culture in its history books. Nor can they expect children who hate their own colour to embrace this new initiative.
In summary, black people in Latin American countries are more racist towards themselves than white people could ever be. They mistrust their own race, mistreat their own race, and, as many white people, would much rather their children married white people or someone of any other race except their own (I have witnessed this phenomenon first hand many times).
Another clue as to the way Black people are seen in Brazil is the commonly used expression, “nego”. This expression is much like “nigger” in the US, and is used for a huge variety of purposes:
a. any crowd of noisy people (“o caminhão tá cheio de nego”), whether the crowd is black or not;
b. criminals (“nego levou meu tocador de CD);
c. any inconvenient or inappropriate person, again not necessarily black (“nego tá sempre batendo na minha porta”).
The funny thing is that this expression is acceptable to everyone.. Another mystery of Brazilian culture.