Day 2 and I'm feeling it. I'm feeling a spectre looming, crushing me. Hello there old friend.
I've been to Brazil a few times and I've noticed it. I've felt it. But in time honoured tradition I ignored it. I... lightly batted it away. I dusted my shoulders off. I had things to do.
But not this time for some reason. It's hit me. And I'm feeling the weight.
This was the least racist one. And it was the first one I saw today. It began so well (as things do). A beautiful walk through Olinda, through its brightly coloured streets with carnival decorations ready and waving.
But then we came to the picturesque shops with their souvenirs and their 'come in and let me show you something charming why don't you stay around to see our quaint folk art here you go'.
Is that... Is that...
Is that what you think I look like? Is that what you think we look like? Is that what you see?
It is, apparently, politically incorrect to call a black person a black person in Brazil. Their words for black are inherently connected to something negative. To 'denigrate' someone is to 'blacken' them.
Ok I've had so many conversations about race in the last 2 days. I'm really really tired of it already. And I'm intensely aware of my privileged position here. I will never feel what the black people here feel in their own country. I can only feel a weird mirror of it - which is to often feel invisible. Like walking down the street - I'm an absence of a person. Or that any cultural identity which I so carefully have constructed, guarded, battled with is instantly destroyed when everybody I meet (no black people yet but here's hoping!) assumes I am Brazilian. What? Brazilian like the image above?
Every shop and market stall had the same figures. Indigenous and black men and women. The black people - sexualised, stupid, ugly, distasteful. "Funny". The indigenous women - sexualised, primitivised.
There are plenty of personifications of white people too. It is clearly a class issue too. And I can't claim to fully understand racism and race here. It is such a different culture to the other ones I know. The idea of race here is so radically different to most countries and indeed Brazil for a long time pretended to be some kind of 'mixed race' utopia. Looking around the streets of Recife this would seem to be true.
But this feeling of being an absence of a person cannot be a coincidence.
Just gonna quote this:
"If interracial relationships were widespread prior to the abolition of slavery in 1888, they became a matter of national duty afterward. That didn’t happen “just because we all happened to get along,” said Mirtes Santos, a law student and Coletivo Negradamember. “It was a way to erase black identity.” Brazil’s government launched a full-on propaganda and policy effort to “whiten” Brazil: It closed the country’s borders to African immigrants, denied black Brazilians the rights to lands inhabited by the descendants of runaway slaves, and subsidized the voyage of millions of German and Italian workers, providing them with citizenship, land grants, and stipends when they arrived."
"As Brazil’s leading anthropologist told a rapt European audience in 1912, “the mixed-race Brazil of today looks to whiteness as its objective, its way out and its solution.” He predicted that, by 2012, black Brazilians would be extinct."
"While 80 percent of the country’s one-percenters are white, Brazilians who look black and mixed-race make up 76 percent of the bottom tenth of income earners."
So here I am. I'm Black British. In Brazil, I'm the bottom of the social pile. I should be extinct. My supposed image a folk joke. Something that should have been bred out of me.
Ironically, 10 years ago I would enjoy this sudden Invisibility Cloak. A respite from the street pestering, the stares and catcalls I experienced in the UK. But now, I have to look at it for what it is.
And I feel very, very ugly.
Let's hear it for internalisation!