I’ve heard it from my aunt Evangelina about a thousand times “he looks like a Baiano.” It’s true. If you look at Barack Obama closely he does have a very Brazilian look about him. His mixed racial background makes it easy for us to see ourselves in him. My aunt has adopted Barack Obama as her personal president. We laugh on the phone constantly. When I ask what she is up to, she tells me she is lighting candles for Obama. Oi Tia!
Here in the States we’ve gone through one of the most emotional presidential races in recent history. We have our first African-American president. Back home, Brazil was taken with the entire process. It was as if they themselves were voting. When Barack Obama finally won, family members were calling Brazil where folks were already celebrating in the streets.
Although the air is heavy with joy we also realize the enormity of Obama’s win on our culture. Four million slaves were shipped to Brazil and we still have the largest population of blacks outside of Nigeria. We were the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery in 1888. Obama’s win resonates with many because it reminds us that there are still issues of race we must face. Brazilians are talking about it.
Brazil is a fascinating place. We are populated by people from all ethnic and racial backgrounds. We mix freely across racial lines but there are still issues we need to address. We’ve made some advances especially in higher education with affirmative action, but more needs to be done. As Brazilians both black, white and mixed we have been taught to internalize the belief that our country is a racial democracy. Unfortunately it has fallen short and we must work to make sure that all our people are treated equally across racial lines. So while the task at hand for our beloved Brazil may be difficult, it is by no means impossible.
Great References for you to explore:
- Kim B. Butler. 1998 Freedoms Given, Freedoms Won: Afro-Brazilians in Post-Abolition Sao Paulo and Salvador Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ
- Carl N. Degler. 1971. Neither Black Nor White: Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin.
- Hendrik Kraay. 1998 Afro-Brazilian Culture and Politics: Bahia, 1790s to 1990s. M.E. Sharpe, New York.
- Michael Hanchard (ed). 1999. Racial Politics in Contemporary Brazil. Duke University Press: Durham, NC.
- Jeffrey Lesser. 1999. Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities, and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil. Duke University Press, Durham, North Carolina.
- Rebecca Reichmann (ed.) 1999. Race in Contemporary Brazil : From Indifference to Inequality. Pennsylvania State University Press, College Park, PA.
- Livio Sansone. 2003 Blackness Without Ethnicity: Constructing Race in Brazil. Palgrave Macmillan
- Robin Sheriff. 2001 Dreaming Equality: Color, Race, and Racism in Urban Brazil Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ
- Thomas E. Skidmore. 1993. Black Into White: Race and Nationality in Brazilian Thought. Duke University Press, Durham, North Carolina.
- France Winddance Twine. 1998. Racism in Racial Democracy: The Maintenance of White Supremacy in Brazil. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.
- Peter Wade. 1997. Race and Ethnicity in Latin America. Pluto Press, London.