One of the more fascinating television features produced is the PBS series “Black in Latin America.” This series, produced by Professor Robert Gates, explores (perhaps unsurprisingly) the experience of people of African descent in America.
An especially interesting episode is titled Brazil: A Racial Paradise? Professor Gates explores the experience of “blacks” in Brazil, a country with second-largest population of African descent in the world (including Africa).
Now, before viewing this series I’d been very aware that Brazil is not in fact a racial paradise. There is a very clean correlation between the color of one’s skin and one’s economic status. The rich and the elite of Brazil are all white; the poor and working class of Brazil are all black.
Unsurprisingly, Gates finds something very similar in Brazil. He states that:
When I landed in Brazil, I first went to Bahia. And I thought this Brazil is the land of the brown people. But when I go to hotels, restaurants, look at magazines, there’s no black people. [laughter] Me, I’m the only black person when I go to the hotels I look like.
You, because of your social standing, because of the places you are able to visit in Bahia, there will be many places where you will be the only black man, and you could still be badly treated.
Gates visits a Brazilian favelas – The City of God. There, talking with a resident of the favela, the following conversation occurs:
When you look around the wealthier parts of Rio, you can’t help but wonder if anything really has changed. Very few black faces here…
You feel the presence of Afro-Brazilians most in the poorest neighborhoods of Rio…
Up to the point that Gates said this, I had been feeling somewhat superior. The United States certainly has racism, but it isn’t as bad as Brazil. There is, for instance, a strong black presence in America’s political system – something which Brazil lacks.
But these words provided something of an epiphany. We have this in America too! When you look at the wealthier parts of the United States, you see very few black and Hispanic faces. You feel the presence of African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans most in the poorest neighborhoods of America.
The vast majority of heavily black and Hispanic communities in America are poor. In fact, you can count on one hand the number of zip codes which are middle-class and heavily black. Middle-class whites actually feel scared when they go to a place in which the majority of people are black or Hispanic.
Something really terrible must have happened in a country in which this is true. Something is fundamentally crooked in a country like that.