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Brazzil - Brazil and US - June 2003

Brazil and Their Civilized Neighbors to the North

While geographically located in the "western" hemisphere, Brazil
does not fully qualify as a western nation. The terms
"west" or "westernized" have become euphemisms for "civilized",
"white" and "English-speaking." It is time the world learns
that America is not a country, but an entire continent.

Alan P. Marcus


Modernity has provided the general public in this so-called "globalized" world, with mass media, television, and with the perpetuation of ambiguous terminology disseminated to the general public. Certain terminology has created a universal "blinding" effect on political, geographical and cultural issues. For example the terms "west" or "westernized" and "America" in modern contemporary parlance have made headway into popular and scholarly culture all over the world.

What do these terms really mean? If one deconstructs the concept of "west", one should ask: "west" of what? Why is the "Middle East" not called the "Middle West", or why is the "Near East" not called "Near West", since this region would also be "west" of India, China or Japan? Cultural relativism is the obvious answer. That is; the view of contemporary geography, and popular culture "sees" the rest of the world relatively through the lens of a geographic Northern America or Great Britain. But more importantly and more disturbingly, the terms "west" or "westernized" have become in popular parlance, euphemisms for "civilized", "white" and "English-speaking", and the continent of "America", translates to a single country.

 Take for example, a comment such as: "Rio de Janeiro is actually a very `westernized' city". In this context, what exactly does "westernized city" mean? Does this imply that Rio was previously thought to be "non-westernized", and if so, again what does that mean? The need for the qualification "westernized", points to an interesting phenomenon with a deeper significance. Logic illustrates that this qualification is equivalent to saying, for example: "John Smith is black, but actually very honest".

The implication here is distressing and ethnocentric, since the reverse denotes that everything that is not "western" or "westernized" is euphemistically "non-English-speaking" and therefore "uncivilized" or "wild" and thus pertaining to an imaginary world. This imaginary world does not exist in reality; it is only a part of popular culture that exists in movies, perpetuated by the mass media, and in popular and science fiction, that is; a textbook case of a stereotype. When the word "westernized" is used to mean "civilized" the deconstruction of such semantics is in order, particularly since these terms are entirely relative and subjective terms.

The myth of the "west" is perpetuated by the semantics of the general public and of scholarly culture, accustomed to hearing that anyone who is perceived as "non-white" or non-English-speaking is automatically considered "non-western". Brazil is a perfect example of these misconstrued terms.

Brazil is geographically located in the American continent, more precisely "South America", therefore located in the so-called "western" hemisphere. But that still does not seem to fully qualify Brazil to fit the definition of "west".

The popular and scholarly imagery of Brazil is construed within the realm of a "non-western-world", also conveying the idea of an imaginary population that is very much imbued in the gross stereotype of the "rain-forest-Amerindian-uneducated-Spanish-speaking-rural-immigrant". Nothing far from the truth could describe a typical Portuguese-speaking-urban-middle-class Brazilian immigrant found in Massachusetts or New York City.

The appropriation of the word "America" used to refer to the country United States of America, has also become part of popular culture and in serious need of examination. The interchangeable use of the words "America" and "USA," is ubiquitous and can be heard all over the world. This appropriation carries a loaded political and cultural subtext. Geographically Brazil is actually larger than continental USA, and ought to put political size into perspective. However, this appropriation also leads to subconscious ramifications and conveys a false sense of entitlement of size equated to political and cultural power.

In addition, and more importantly, America is not a country: it is an entire continent. The United Stated of America, Canada and Mexico are part of North America in the northern part of the Americas. The American continent comprises a plurality of nations, languages, cultures and ethnicities, and to appropriate the term "America" entirely as a single country is geographically inaccurate and wrong.

The terms "west" or "westernized" and "America", represent inaccurate and monolithic ways of perceiving and looking at the world, and are grossly misused terms perpetuated by popular and scholarly culture.


Alan P. Marcus (Master's of Science in Human Geography, in progress) is a Brazilian living in the USA. He has also written other articles on Brazilian issues on identity, "race", ethnicity, and animal ethics for Brazzil magazine, available online: www.brazzil.comE-mail contact: amarcus@geo.umass.edu





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