The reality of racism can be ignored in Brazil if you chose not to see it. During my first two months of living in Brazil, I fed into the myth of Brazil being a ‘racial democracy’ because that is what it looked like from the outside. I envisioned Brazil as a socially integrated land that preserved African culture better than the United States. I did not want to see the other side of Brazil. I wanted to believe that people of African descent had a progressive place in this world without having to create hybrids of their identities.
I opened my eyes when I started to connect with the Afro-Brazilian community. Many of our political problems are similar in terms of lack of representation; however, economically, African-American and Afro-Brazilian communities are eons apart. Brazilians will openly admit that discrimination does occur, but on the basis of class, however, they forget to mention that the majority of Afro-Brazilians happen to be of the lowest socio-economic status.
I live with a non-Black Brazilian family. Race is a very complex in Brazil, so I don’t exactly know how to categorize my host family, but they are not ‘predominately’ Black. Marissa, the woman that comes to clean the house and do the laundry every two weeks, however, is a clearly defined Black woman. Initially this made me feel very uncomfortable. My Host Mom said that Marissa is not her maid, she is her friend, and this helped to make me feel a little less uneasy. In a conversation with Marissa about her role in the house, she told me that my Host Mom had never disrespected her, that she treated her well and always paid her. I felt no choice but to become as comfortable with this dynamic as Marissa was. It is still a difficult concept to stomach, but I know that if the maid were a woman of another race and not a Black woman, then that would be money that Marissa does not make. In conclusion, there is a large disparity in the number of Black women who occupy domestic worker positions in Brazil. Racial dynamics are further complicated in the region when the conversation of identity is expanded to the main racial/ethnic identity categories of Portuguese, African, and Indigenous and all of the mixed and hybrid identities that such categories encompass.
As a Black American, I am treated in a more privileged manner. People will generally think that I am Afro-Brazilian until I mispronounce a word or they overhear me speaking in English. Even before they make the realization that I am American, I am still treated well. I am greeted in stores that I walk into and kissed twice on the cheek when meeting new people just as they would a non-Black Brazilian. The expectation that I, as an American, am wealthier and more educated than their stereotypes of an Afro-Brazilian feels as though their phobia of blackness has more to do with nationalism and socio-economic expectations than it does blatant racism. Racism and discrimination are issues that I am just beginning to explore here in Brazil, the most challenging part of this research is that my identity as an American makes me exempt from many of these experiences.
By Lauren Ruffin