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My Story About Violence in Brazil Has a Happy Ending

Although I was born in Brazil, I lived many years abroad. I am an international correspondent based in Rio de Janeiro and once was granted an interview by a big shot Brazilian executive.

Flashback: Since I was an adolescent I cultivate friendships with poor people. I had a friend who died recently at the age of 80. Actually he did not know his real age since he was born in a poor God forsaken rural area and his parents never registered his birth.

He had no teeth, spoke flawed Portuguese, but I learned more from him than from my professors at European universities. This man, Alcides, had a Doctorate from the University of Life. We spoke a lot and he used to tie (unwillingly) my brains into a knot due to his philosophical very wise sayings. He was a kind fellow, knew everything about medicinal plants and exuded love.
 
Well, back to the interview. As I sat waiting for the executive to grant me the interview, a huge black fellow approached me and said that he wanted to speak with me in private. We went to a corner of the waiting room and he asked: "Can I tell you a secret and trust that you won't tell anyone?" "If you tell anyone I will lose my job here." Curious, I said, "Of course, go ahead, I will be as mum as a priest in confession."
 
The fellow, let's call him João said: "I read the CV you sent to the executive. I am his jack of all trades. Don't waste your time interviewing him. He is false and he does drugs." I thanked him and went directly to his secretary, said that suddenly I wasn't feeling well and had to postpone the interview. Many apologies. Would call later for another appointment which of course I never did.
 
Two months later I was held up at gun point and was going to be robbed. Nothing unusual here in Brazil. Suddenly, out of nowhere a figure appeared and with a a left hook to the robber's chin, worthy of Muhammad Ali, he knocked the fellow down.

Yes, you guessed it, he was the same guy from the office. I asked him why he risked his life to save me. He said:" Because I saw that you took my words seriously and canceled the appointment. You respected me, which is not common for a poor black guy in this racist country with much prejudice against poor people and I am a former boxer."
 
I wonder how many middle class people would have placed themselves in harms way to save a person they barely knew….
 
We became friends and I occasionally have a beer with him.
 
Yeah, I know some of Brazzil's readers have written "don't tell me about racial prejudice in Brazil, I am white, married to a black woman etc. etc."
 
Suggested reading:  Dreaming Equality: Color, Race, and Racism in Urban Brazil (Paperback) by Robin E. Sheriff (Author) "It has been estimated that in the course of the transatlantic slave trade, three and a half million Africans were sequestered in Brazil."
 
Has slavery ended in Brazil? In 2004 the government acknowledged to the United Nations that at least 25,000 Brazilians work under conditions "analogous to slavery." The top anti-slavery official in Brasí­lia, the capital, puts the number of modern slaves at 50,000.
 
Your humble writer would multiply this figure five fold. Governments tend to under play bad, embarrassing news about their countries.
 
Now, the question is not racial, but social. Many of the people working under conditions "analogous to slavery" are poor white men and women without speaking about widespread child labor, which is illegal. The place of children is in school not working or begging in the streets.
 
Who knows perhaps the guy who tried to rob me was a street kid with no opportunity for living a life of opportunities.

Peter Howard Wertheim is a veteran international journalist specializing in covering South America's petroleum and power sectors. He is based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and is fluent in English, Portuguese and Spanish. Comments welcome at  peterhw@frionline.com.br or peterhw@netflash.com.br.

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  • Show Comments (19)

  • Ric

    Abe, somehow I knew you were not gonna like this article. The more reasonable the approach, the less you like it.

  • Ric

    ch.c not a guru?
    What they say is that they do not actually worship you, they only venerate you. At least thatÀ‚´s what they say. But you are evidently always on their minds.

  • ch.c.

    Ohhhhh No Nooooo…..
    …I am not a Guru, I simply read the official stats, rankings…..while you dont…on purpose !!

    Keep your hands in your face and stay blind. This is exactly what your corrupted governments want you to do !
    And as long there is as much violence and crimes, you will care less for what these crooks steal…..from your own direct and indirect taxes !

    Really simple as that !

  • Forrest Allen Brown

    TO LAZY TO RACE OR NOT INFORMED
    you notice he said nothing about the beer compaines salve wages , just picked on the US intrest ,

    when race is no longer a ,?
    in the US only whites can be raceist , no other color
    in brasil every one is one .
    you say brasil has more mixed color marriges than the us , yes it does , now why is that
    look at it very colse , it could take you manny years to understand living in your glass house .

    last time i was in the states i meet a brasilian student at unlv she was from SP and had written a story about her life in brasil
    it said nothing about black , or any other color , about the poor , the un schooled , just candy coated life she lived in brasil

    when i talked to her about food , and what the different people ate she told me the same thing we eat here in the states .
    about pay same thing , cars they are smaller , laws we have to manny , we are no sociable people we dont party like brasilians
    we have to be on time to work , to school , our lives are planned out .

    yes i can see where you may think you know life but
    if you never been to a lower side of life in brasil dont talk about raceisum
    if you never eaten a plate of sparrows because that all you could kill to eat dont talk about slavery
    if you cant read enough to find out how to get a blue book , dont talk about the school system
    if you never had to tell your kids to go to sleep and you wont be hungre any more , dont talk about social welfare
    if you never had to setp across raw sewage to get in the store , dont talk about whay the city does for its people

    WHEN YOU HAVE DONE THIS YOU WILL KNOW WHAT LIFE IN BRASIL IS LIKE
    FOR MOST OF THE PEOPLE

  • bo

    [quote] Written by Peter Howard Wertheim
    Wednesday, 21 February 2007

    Although I was born in Brazil, I lived many years abroad. I am an international correspondent based in Rio de Janeiro…..[/quote]

    For whom Peter?

  • bo

    [quote]…
    written by Ric, 2007-02-22 01:55:29

    But his posts are always entertaining. And evidently some of the posters here look on Ch.c as a sort of Guru. You canÀ‚´t argue with success.
    [/quote]

    lmao, seriously ric, you give me at least one good laugh every morning…thanks for that! 😉

  • paulista

    As Eintein said,
    it’s relative. Is there racism in Brazil? Yes there is, BUT I can’t think of any country where it’s such a minor problem than here. Complaining about racism here is like complaining about bad road conditions on Germany.
    I’m far from being patriotic, I think we have thousands of serious problems racism not being one of them and one of the very few things we can be proud of compared to the rest of the world.

  • Ric

    But his posts are always entertaining. And evidently some of the posters here look on Ch.c as a sort of Guru. You canÀ‚´t argue with success.

  • bo

    [quote]Yesss Brazil is a medieval and archaÀƒ¯c country….as I already wrote several times !!!
    [/quote]

    No ch. c, you’ve wrote it a fucking thousand times….

    although I understand where you’re coming from, after a while, it gets old, just like the other end of the rectum..errr, spectrum, “e harmony”.

  • A brazilian

    Ch.c is the messenger sent by God
    To spread the truth to all brazilians. He is the new messiah.

  • ch.c.

    but….but….but…..
    …is Brazil not as safe as any country in this world ! At least that is what most Brazilians say, including the chief of Rio Tourism !!!!!! Laugh…laugh…laugh !

    Is there NOOOOO racism in Brazil ? Of course not…as per WHITE Brazilians, not as per
    Black Brazilians !!!

    Is there NOOOOO slavery in Brazil ?????? Pfuitttt…..of course NOT…and if there is…they are only 25’000…as per the Brazilian government…but at least many time this number from ALL other sources ! Better yet, they free with big fanfare 700 to 900 slaves per year…to show how much they care !!!!!!!

    Of course, as per Brazilians it is difficult to locate them ! It happens that by simply typing
    ….slaves Brazil…..on Yahoo or Google….some NGO’s sites publish MAPS of where the slaves areas are !!!!!!! But of course….the Authorities in charge….CANNOT….find neither the slaves and not even the sites showing the MAPS !!!!!!

    Funny funny too, that being as “honest” as Brazilians are, Lula even say it is because of wealthy countries that slavery still exist….in Brazil !!!!! When in fact reality being that people are put in slavery …by Brazilians….by definition !!!!!!

    Yesss the reality is that Brazil is a third world country, controlled by a small minority elite.
    Yesss Brazil is a medieval and archaÀƒ¯c country….as I already wrote several times !!!

  • bo

    [quote]Plus, why don’t you protest against Wallmart and analogues for the slave salaries and work shift their employees are submitted? Why don’t you tell Nestle stop robbing its consumers in the lighter weight they in fact sell their products?[/quote]

    What??? LOL!

    [quote]…
    written by doutornova, 2007-02-21 16:01:02

    I don`t know why ppl want that bad to make Brazil looks like a racist country… I mean there is racism, but I`ve never seen something like the LA incident, or the one in the suburbs of Paris happening in Brazil.

    I currently live in Japan, and yes there`s racism here too, but if you play your cards right (have a decent job, learn the language and the culture) you get your share of respect.
    In Brazil it`s almost the same, you get rich, you learn to talk decent portuguese and voila respect arrives at your door. Actually what most matters in Brazil is your social condition, if you`re poor and have no education you are f*****, no matter your color.[/quote]

    Pal, if you are poor in brazil you are F-U-C-K-E-D! Period!

    It is NOT that way in the U.S., despite your color, your religion, your race, etc.

    And I can give millions of examples.

  • doutornova

    I don`t know why ppl want that bad to make Brazil looks like a racist country… I mean there is racism, but I`ve never seen something like the LA incident, or the one in the suburbs of Paris happening in Brazil.

    I currently live in Japan, and yes there`s racism here too, but if you play your cards right (have a decent job, learn the language and the culture) you get your share of respect.
    In Brazil it`s almost the same, you get rich, you learn to talk decent portuguese and voila respect arrives at your door. Actually what most matters in Brazil is your social condition, if you`re poor and have no education you are f*****, no matter your color.

    And you see a lot more of interacial marriages in Brazil than in the US and Europe summed together probably. We are a truly mixed country, things that don`t happen in the US, where blacks are blacks, whites are whites and latinos are latinos.

  • A brazilian

    Reasonable? Mark Wells may be blind to anything non american and not accurate in his views, but at least he can write in a way that it could pass as “logical” to some without a more careful examination. This story, in the other hand, is completely awkward. There small parts of it that reveal all the bias of the author, for example, read this:

    [quote]Two months later I was held up at gun point and was going to be robbed. Nothing unusual here in Brazil.[/quote]

    Is this guy serious? So nobody is robbed in Europe? The TV people doing the coverage of the World Cup last year was robbed in Germany!

    [quote]I wonder how many middle class people would have placed themselves in harms way to save a person they barely knew….[/quote]

    This other one laughable. Is this for building the stereotype of “poor noble”? There’s no nobility in poverty, there’s only stupidity.

    I would say that’s more like an European following their usual script, of crying out loud the problems of Brazil, but not taking care of their own. As if they were “morally superior”. Their history alone is a shame, when they aren’t killing each other they are killing someone else, and still today racism and slavery are widely practiced and accepted. Who do they think they are to speak anything about Brazil?

  • A brazilian

    Indeed strange
    This story is probably missing pieces, it doesn’t make much sense. The interesting part is how the individual feels free to multiply the number of “slave-like workers” five times, without any evidence, or to make claims about racism in this country. [b]Europeans, from all people, are the ones have the least moral ground to speak of others. Constantly european gangs bring illegal immigrants to be slaves and sexual slaves in Europe, racism is alive and vibrant in there[/b].

    As you said yourself, you don’t live here. Why makes you think you know what you are talking about? If you are in Europe then you see racism already. Keep this insanity there, don’t bring it here.

  • A real Brazilian

    and slavey

  • A real Brazilian

    Now, the question is not racial, but social. Many of the people working under conditions “analogous to slavery” are poor white men and women without speaking about widespread child labor, which is illegal. The place of children is in school not working or begging in the streets.

    Plus, why don’t you protest against Wallmart and analogues for the slave salaries and work shift their employees are submitted? Why don’t you tell Nestle stop robbing its consumers in the lighter weight they in fact sell their products?

  • A real Brazilian

    Sorry, but these stories sound very weird to me. First, never ever heard before a professional jornalist who simply fade away a scheduled interview, leaving the media company he/she works for and his editor without his job, because someone told him private rumors of an interviewer. Did that rumor touch an acute moral or phylosophical personal point to you taht made you quit? Maybe you are in the wrong profession, ya know? What do that have to do with your job of interviewing someone’s accomplishments and knowledge? How come your hero saved you twice and was at the right place at the right time for you? It is difficult to believe a jornalist would not collect information or investigate more before making such a decision of leaving his job behind.

    About racism, I have no idea what you old dogs have been doing to the black commuties and the mulatas in Brazil but the young generations in Brazil know much little about racism than you old dogs. Get a life already! LOL

  • bo

    [quote]Yeah, I know some of Brazzil’s readers have written “don’t tell me about racial prejudice in Brazil, I am white, married to a black woman etc. etc.”[/quote]

    I was the one that made that post Peter, and if you read the preceding posts you will see that I was debating with the blind that claim that racism doesN’T exist in brazil. I, as well as any human being that’s not in a straight jacket, knows that racism exists in brazil.

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