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Blacks and Whites. We’re All Brazilians

 Blacks 
        and Whites. We're All Brazilians

Just
when the Americans discover mestiços, Brazilian black
activists want to eliminate them from the national picture.
In a servile imitation of the Yankee press, Brazilian
newspapers start using the term "afrodescendant" to define
the
population that the Census Bureau classifies as negro or brown.
by: Janer
Cristaldo

 

In
a recent chronicle, I made comments about the quota system for blacks
in Brazilian universities and the African History requirement in school
curricula. My article gave rise to a hailstorm of messages, most of
them irate, in which I am invariably accused of being a racist. "The
disease of racism is a European invention"—writes one reader—"You
cannot infect someone with the disease and hope not to get sick yourself.
Your article shows the disease you still have".

The
objections were so many that it is impossible for me to answer all of
them. I will limit myself, therefore, to comments on the most recurring
points in them, such as racism, quota system, slavery and the history
of Africa. I will leave aside my surprise to acknowledge that the Hutus
and Tutsis who cut each other into pieces in Rwanda are contaminated
with a European invention.

Let’s
start with my alleged racism

I was
born in Rio Grande do Sul, a state that, due to its strong European
colonization, has the reputation of being the most racist in Brazil.
Although our population has an expressive white majority, it was the
first state in the country to elect a black governor, Alceu Collares.
Well, not even Bahia, a state with a definite black majority, ever had
a black governor. Collares was not only governor but also mayor of Porto
Alegre, the capital city, which is also a mainly white city. Before
he was mayor of the gaúcho capital, he was the mayor of
Bagé, a city in the western border of Rio Grande do Sul, where
whites constitute the overwhelming majority.

All
through my childhood and during my whole school life, from elementary
school through college, I had familial relationships with blacks. During
my Porto Alegre years, I was a regular at the table of Lupicínio
Rodrigues, whom I much admired, at the Adelaide bar. Lupicínio—who
wrote the most beautiful samba lyrics in Brazil—was universally
loved by all gaúchos.

Today,
I realize that I had good friends among the black population. Why do
I say "today"? Because at that time I didn’t even notice that
they were blacks. With the recent stirring up of the racial struggle,
we now live amongst people who insist in defining themselves as black,
when before we didn’t even think about them as black.

In
some of the email messages I received, I am accused of defending the
argument that there is no racism in Brazil. In a certain way, I do defend
it. Some form of racism we all have, or we would not be human. But never
at the level of the U.S. or European countries. A black person, if rich
or successful, is esteemed and even envied in Brazil. Millions of Brazilian
whites would feel extremely honored to be photographed next to a Pelé.
In the case of a poor or destitute black person, it’s the reverse. In
this case, the distancing factor is not the blackness of the black person,
but his or her destitution. Except for Catholic priests and social workers,
nobody likes poverty. Not even blacks like poor blacks.

In
Brazil we never had any laws denying blacks any rights. The so-called
Jim Crow laws, declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in
1954, were the legal basis for discrimination against blacks in the
southern states, beginning in 1880, and went all the way to prohibiting
a student to pass a schoolbook to another student who was not of the
same race. In Alabama, no hospital could hire a white nurse if a black
person was being treated in that hospital. Bus stations had to have
separate waiting areas and ticket counters for each race. Buses also
had separate seats. And restaurants had to provide partitions measuring
at least seven feet high to separate negroes from whites.

In
Arizona, any marriage between a person with Caucasian blood and another
with negro, Mongol, Malay or Hindu blood was declared null. In Florida,
marriage between whites and blacks was forbidden, even if they were
fourth generation descendants. In that same state, if a negro were to
share a room with a white woman for one night, both would be punished
with imprisonment not to exceed 12 months and fines of up to 500 dollars.

In
Georgia, beer or wine had to be sold exclusively to whites or to blacks,
but never to both races at the same location. In Mississippi, even prisons
had separate meal-rooms and sleeping quarters for prisoners of each
race. In Texas, it was up to the state to provide schooling for white
and black children. The Jim Crow laws explain the Yankee mauvaise
conscience (ill conscience), which resulted in affirmative action.

We
Brazilians don’t recognize this institutionalized racism

Blacks
and whites inter-marry, drink and eat in the same restaurants, work
and make friends in the same classrooms. If there are less blacks than
whites at the universities, this is due to economic, but never juridical
factors. Poor whites—and there are legions of them—have the
same difficulty to access upper level education that poor blacks have.
Rich blacks—and they also exist—have the same easiness of
access that rich whites have. There is no reason, though, for this hatred
to be exported to Brazil. In this country, from the legal point of view,
blacks were never discriminated.

I always
say that Brazil tends to import the worst practices of the First World.
In the 2000 census, almost seven million Americans were for the first
time authorized to identify themselves as part of more than one race.
The most common interracial categories mentioned in the Census were
white and black, white and Asian, white and native American or native
of Alaska, and white and "some other race".

The
United States is abandoning the one-drop rule, by which a citizen
is always considered to be black even if he only has one single drop
of black blood in his ascendancy. The country is discovering the mestiço.
While the U.S. begins to recognize multi-raciality, some black groups
in Brazil wanted even mulatos to declare themselves black on
the last census. The purpose is obvious, which is to put pressure on
the legislative power. Black Brazilians represented only 5.4 percent
of the general population in 1999.

With
the additional 39.9 percent of the mulato contingent, Brazil
would be close to be defined as a country of black majority, as it is,
by the way, already considered today by many Americans and Europeans.
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in his already proverbial
want of culture, fell into this trap when he stated that Brazil is the
second black nation in the world. It is not. Blacks are actually the
lowest minority in Brazil. Unless we want to deny the existence of this
hybrid specimen, the mulato, like the U.S. did.

So,
just when the Americans discover mestiços, Brazilian black
activists want to eliminate them from the national picture. In a servile
imitation of the Yankee press, tupiniquim newspapers start using
the term "afrodescendant" to define the population that IBGE
(Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) classifies as negro
or brown. However, while a negro is obviously afrodescendant, brown
people are both afro and eurodescendant. If we adopt the new nomenclature,
I will be forced to declare myself eurodescendant. No tarnish there,
as far as I’m concerned.

The
word ‘racism’, not very frequent in the Brazilian press of past decades,
now deluges the pages of newspapers, following the fall of the Berlin
Wall. Apparatchicks, nostalgic of the Cold War, seeing their ideals
of class struggle demoralized, proletariat versus bourgeoisie, work
versus capital, hurried up to find a new dichotomy, so they could hurl
brothers against brothers. Do we have blacks and whites in Brazil? Marvelous.
Let’s hurl them into fratricidal conflict.

Absurd
laws are created under the pretext of fighting racism, but they end
up stimulating it. Today, in Brazil, if you insult a black person, you
incur in a heinous crime, with firm arrest and no bail allowed. But
if you kill a black person, the law is more lenient. If you are a first-time
offender, you are free while you wait for trial. That is: if you have
insulted a black person in a moment of anger, and wish to escape immediate
imprisonment, there is only one way out: kill him. According to this
absurd law, murder is less serious than a verbal offense.

And
now the quotas

Given
this habit of ours of importing from the First World its worst finds,
we ended up establishing racial quotas in universities. This is one
more of the many laws manufacturing racism. How can a poor, white kid
face without animosity a black student who has taken his place in college
only because the latter is black? When federal judge Bernard Friedman
established the policy of affirmative action in the Law School of the
University of Michigan, Americans began to realize that the quota policy
was a wretched idea.

In
1977, Barbara Grutter, a white student who was refused acceptance into
the law school, filed a civil action. For Friedman, giving consideration
to the race of students as a factor in acceptance decisions is not unconstitutional.
According to the judge, the policy of affirmative action in schools
is similar to the quota system, which determines that a certain percentage
of students has to come from minority groups. When he ordered the school
to abandon that policy, he wrote: "Approximately 10 percent of
the vacancies in each class are reserved for members of a specific race,
and these vacancies are removed from the competition".

Last
year, the show 60 Minutes interviewed a professor who demonstrated
the injustice of the system. From 51 white students applying for a university
program, only one was accepted. Among ten black candidates, all ten
were accepted. The university adopts a kind of reverse Jim Crow law,
accepting any black candidate and refusing whites. While Americans realize
that affirmative action policies do not constitute a good or fair idea,
Brazilian authorities decide to adhere to this nefarious policy. There
is already a bill passed by the Science and Technology Committee of
the House of Representatives, according to which 25 percent of black
or mulato actors must be hired for theater plays, films and television
shows.

Leaving
film and TV aside, just imagine what complications a director has to
go through if he is planning to stage a play by Ibsen or Tchekhov, and
thinking about how to insert blacks in Slavic or Nordic contexts? How
about if the play calls for one single character? At least one fourth
of the monologue will have to be performed by a black actor? Only the
noodles of an illiterate could come up with this politically correct
"pearl". The U.S. is beginning to abandon the quota system
and Brazilian members of Congress wish to adopt it, even in the realm
of entertainment.

When
I stated that blacks captured blacks in Africa,
there was no lack
of interlocutors claiming that, if slavery existed, it’s because there
was a demand for slaves in Europe. Several readers threw the opprobrious
label onto Europe. This intellectual attitude denotes a lack of reading
in History. Slavery is much older that Europe. It already existed in
Socratic Greece, when Europe was just the name of a virgin abducted
by Zeus, transvestited into a bull. Enough to say that slavery is seen
as a perfectly normal thing in the Book that we hold as the foundation
of the West.

One
reader quotes the Eclesiastes, when Salomon talks about a man who dominates
another man in order to ruin him. This reader takes this as a universal
declaration applying to all races and not just one race. And he considers
it to be intellectually irresponsible to invoke the Bible without highlighting
this fact. This reader forgot to read Exodus:

"If
you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the
seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes
alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she
is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him
sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master,
and only the man shall go free. But if the servant declares, ‘I love
my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then
his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the
door of the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be
his servant for life."

Just
like some black activists who don’t like to hear that African tribal
chiefs sold slaves to European whites, many Catholics don’t like to
hear that the Bible endorses slavery. Well, nothing we can do about
that. In the Book we find:

"If
a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as
a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if
the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property".

Leviticus
legitimizes the purchase of foreign slaves. "Your male and female
slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy
slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among
you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become
your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property
and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow
Israelites ruthlessly".

Therefore,
there is nothing original in the fact that Europe was a slavish continent.
It was simply following the precepts of the book on which it was founded.
Slavery permeates the Book from start to finish; one would have to refuse
to see, in order not to see it. It wouldn’t be likely for Portugal,
a good Christian country, to fail to perpetuate biblical tradition.
Today Brazilian blacks demand millions in indemnification from the Republic,
in the name of past slavery. There is a problem, though, because republican
Brazil did not know the institution of slavery. The Lei Áurea
(Golden Law) dates from 1888—coincidentally, at the same time the
heinous Jim Crow laws ruled in the U.S. The Republic was proclaimed
in 1889. If blacks want indemnification, the bill should be sent to
Portugal.

Is
there slave work today in Brazil? Yes, there is. But no law legitimizes
it; on the contrary, it is a crime and it is punished as such. It would
be foolish on our part to deny the existence of our ailments in order
to embellish the history of our homeland.

And
now we come to the topic that provoked the highest level of
protest
about my article—the statement that the history of Africa is the
history of tribal warfare and slavery, adultery punished with stoning,
physical mutilation as punishment and sexual mutilation as custom. There
was a flood of email messages mentioning past deeds and ancient cultures.
Someone even held Egypt by the handle as one of the exponents of black
culture. As if the bankrupt thesis that Athens was black were not enough,
now we have Egypt inserted into the afro debate. From Dhakar, one reader
sends me references about Cheikh Anta Diop, a Senegalese man of letters
who defends the idea that ancient Egypt is part of black Africa.

It
may be. But such a thesis is far from constituting unanimity among historians.
Even if it were so, the argument is worthless. If a hypothetically black
Egypt ever had a glorious trajectory, it is over now. The trajectory
was interrupted somewhere along the way and today Egypt lives the hour
of Islam—nothing glorious there. Besides everything else, ancient
Egypt was slavocrat—just ask the Hebrews!—and this doesn’t
help the argument in favor of Africa either.

There
was no lack of readers accusing me of being an ungrateful son; after
all, all our ancestors would have first appeared in African land. This
argument is counterproductive. If we all descend from Africa, it was
necessary to abandon Mother Africa for humankind to evolve. And after
all, to attach oneself to the glorious past of a country in order to
feed one’s self-esteem is a disease of narrow-minded nationalists. It’s
even worse when the attachment is to the past of a single ethnicity:
now we are entering the narrow fringe that separates ethnic pride from
racism. Before we belong to one or another nation, to this or to that
ethnicity, we belong to the human race.

I stated
that the study of African history, be it past or present, doesn’t help
any child with any self-esteem. I see that I have hurt many readers.
Several of them, armed with a computer, have sent me their messages
using a modem, in almost instantaneous speed, via Internet. These are
literate people, which in this world of ours is already a privilege.
Most of them have a college education, as I gathered.

All
of them enjoy the easiness of modern means of communication and the
freedom to express their thoughts in the countries where they live.
They are fed with information via satellite and they can follow, almost
in real time, the conflicts going on in our small planet, comfortably
settled in front of a television set. They certainly make use of jets
and automobiles to get where they need to go, they eat in good restaurants
and they were educated in good universities. That is, they enjoy the
best of the West.

This
heritage, most dear friends, does not come from Africa.

That
Africa may be a tender remembrance of an immemorial past, that’s all
right. Today, though, it has no lesson to teach to the West. When Africans
have free elections and democracy, the fundamentals of human rights,
a press and freedom of the press, women with the same rights as men,
and when clitoris are no longer mutilated nor women stoned to death,
we can talk again. Did Africa make contributions to humanity? Long live
Africa. What is unacceptable, though, under penalty of falsifying history,
is to ignore its current ailments. For the time being, I repeat, Africa
leans more towards Idi Amin Dada than towards Mozart.

When
someone talks to me about the excellence of some primitive cultures,
I tend to remember Brian’s Life, from the Monty Python folks.
With the Jewish conspirators assembled, the leader asks: what have the
Romans brought us? Roads, somebody answers. All right. But besides roads,
what did they give us? Hospitals, someone else says. Sure! But what
else, besides roads and hospitals? Aqueducts, suggests a third person.
And the discussion goes on and on, until a manifest is issued: although
they have brought us roads, hospitals, aqueducts, schools, sewers, Romans
go Rome!

I understand
the study of History as the study of what happened. No historian can
subtract facts only because such facts dishonor the history of a people.
During one whole century—the last century—communists built
a fictitious history in order to picture as a paradise what in fact
was a hell right here on Earth. Let black activists not wish to repeat
such infamy. The one from last century still weighs on us, and is far
from being rooted out of our memories.

 

Janer
Cristaldo—he holds a PhD from University of Paris, Sorbonne—is
an author, translator, lawyer, philosopher and journalist and suffers
São Paulo. His e-mail address is cristal@baguete.com.br  

Translated
by Tereza Braga, email: tbragaling@cs.com 

 

 

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