Written Aug. 23, 2010
Racism in Brazil
Being Brazilian is much more than nationality to locals, it is a race. This Brazilian “race” is a hybrid of many other races, and it is this mixture that has made Brazil the envy of the world for its racially integrated society. However, recent studies and research have shown that Brazil has a long history of racism towards blacks that is still prevalent today in Brazilian society. Despite many efforts to eliminate the unfair treatment of blacks, it does not get to the root of the problem. It order to resolve this conflict, it is important to understand its origins, how it is expressed, and only then can we figure out how to deal with it in the best way possible.
Origins of the Conflict
Racism in Brazil has its origins in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the mid-16th century (Ciconello 2). Millions of Africans were transported from their home country, mainly by the Portuguese who had a monopoly on the exportation. Brazil was the center of this slave trade, which meant a great number of Africans went to Brazil as slaves. Even before the first slaves arrived in Brazil, there was a great amount of prejudice, although the stereotype of Africans (blacks) has changed since then. Because the negative dealing of Africans goes back so far, it is that much harder to eliminate.
Africans were stereotyped to be hard workers who rarely got sick despite various diseases, and this is why they were highly sought after. This is an example of a sociotype, which is accurate from a statistical standpoint (Hall 196). Africans proved themselves to be excellent workers due to their experience raising and tending cattle and agriculture. They were also used to working in a tropical climate, so they were resistant to tropical diseases. It was also evident that the Africans could be worked hard due to their strong bodies (Boddy-Evans). This stereotype of Africans is not an old concept. Africans had been traded centuries before the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and it was also a traditional part of African society. The stereotype that slavery was okay to Africans comes from the fact that it was part of African society. Europeans assumed that what was okay in some parts of Africa were okay for Africans as a whole.
Slavery in Brazil was abolished in 1888, but that did not mean the prejudice had stopped. By 1980, black people accounted for almost 50 percent of the Brazilian population (Ciconello 2). Once they became part of the population, stereotypes changed. They started to be seen as dirty, uneducated and poor – all negative stereotypes and were treated badly by whites. The type of conflict seen after the abolition of slavery is a priority conflict. It is more a priority conflict because it deals with the idea if racism is good or bad, it is a moral judgment. Priority conflicts often reveal the different values people and communities place different kinds of people (Hall 238). The whites in Brazilian society place low or no value of blacks. Categorizations and stereotypes are at the origins of this conflict because the prejudice and racism in Brazil stems from these concepts. Whites and blacks are placed into different categories based on skin color. Categorization is putting things together that are perceived to match in some way and simultaneously separating those things from others (Hall 192). It is not wrong – it simply helps people make sense of the world. Stereotypes are attributions that cover up individual differences and ascribe certain characteristics to an entire group of people. They focus on a similarity (real or imagined) and provide an explanation (accurate or inaccurate) for behavior (Hall 193). Stereotypes vary along five points – direction, intensity, specificity, consensus, and accuracy. Even though the stereotypes might have changed over the course of history they are still negatively reacted to.
How the Conflict is Expressed
The conflict of racism in Brazil is expressed most evidently in the identity of blacks. Identity always involves a set of expectations both within the person and from others’ perspectives (Hall 102). The role expectations whites have for blacks are very negative. Margarida Pereira da Silva was a black woman running for major in Pombal in Northeastern Brazil. It was obvious that most whites did not think this was part of her role expectation. She refused a bribe to drop out of the race, and posters of her candidacy were graffitied with the words “ugly black.” Those opposed to her were unable to discredit her honesty and merits, so they focused their attacks on her skin color and race. She ended up losing by a landslide (Bond). It was not her place to be running for office.
The role expectations blacks have for themselves is often very negative, as well. This is evident in the three levels of identity (personal, relational and communal). Many blacks have a negative outlook regarding their personal identity. According to a study done by the Institute of Research Datafolha, about 48 percent of blacks have negative prejudices against their own color. “Good blacks have white souls” is the belief of many blacks, and that is what being the best black person they can be means (Gund). The avowal of identity for almost half of the black population is to be “white” – they want to fit themselves into the idea of what is expected of the identities they envision for themselves (Hall 118). Blacks also tend to have negative experiences regarding their relational identities, too. Margarida Pereira da Silva witnessed the negative aspect of her relational identity. When the slander and libel started, many from her own family as well as friends went against her running for office (Bond). This shows that her relationship with others (of the same color) was hurt due to skin color. As a community, blacks are stereotyped because of their skin color. Based on a survey done by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, 62 percent of people strongly agree that discrimination keeps blacks from getting good jobs and improving their lives (Buckley). This goes to show that within the Brazilian community, blacks have negative connotation to their identity – which is different from the whites who aren’t discriminated against due to skin color.
Another way this conflict is expressed in society is by the ascription whites place on blacks. The pathway of ascription is having an identity assigned to a person by others (Hall 120). In television programs in Brazil, blacks are portrayed as maids, muggers, prostitutes, street gang members, high school dropouts, and security guards (Ciconello). The media and pop culture is used to push this identity on blacks. Watching popular entertainment can cause a distorted view of other groups (Hall 321).
The conflict is also expressed in the prejudices that whites have against blacks. There are five forms of prejudice and whites show signs of all five. The blatant form of prejudice is the active denigration of members of an outgroup, and it believes that blacks are inferior to whites. The result is often very violent (Hall 204). Police in Rio de Janeiro kill nine out of every 10 black suspects (Buckley). The conceit form of prejudice tends to trivialize the other group, and involves making fun of them (Hall 205). This is evident in song lyrics like “hard-haired black” and “blacks stink like a skunk” (Gund). Symbolic forms of prejudice often involve people denying the fact that they are racist at all (Hall 205). This is evident in statements like “I am not racist, but I will never let my daughter marry a black man” (Ciconello 3). Tokenism forms of prejudice involve people agreeing with one positive aspect despite all of the negative aspects they perceive (Hall 206). Whites claim that blacks are the best for working in factory, low paying jobs because they involve manual labor and blacks are strong (Gund). In the arm’s length form of prejudice people engage in positive behaviors with the outgroup in one setting, but not in others (Hall 206). Many whites might engage in prejudice because they think they are morally better than blacks, might have been personally afflicted by blacks, bend to the social pressure of other whites, be defensive when on “black turf”, or be upset because blacks are trying to make their position in society better (Hall 206).
The black culture in Brazil historically shares their oppression by whites, and the white culture historically shares a history in which blacks are beneath them and the notion that to be black is something undesirable. Worldviews are abstract notions of what the world is that manifest culture, and they are seen as the answer to basic human questions (Hall 31). Whites establish their position in society based on achievement – they work for what they have, while blacks take on more of an ascriptive mentality (Hall 34). There is no expectation to change the low level in society for blacks; in fact they should not even try. Brazil has a very hierarchical mentality of how society should be organized in regards to blacks (Hall 37). The whites in Brazil determine the worth of blacks – it is not egalitarian regarding whites and blacks. Regarding the basic nature of humans, whites view whites as inherently good, but they view blacks as inherently evil (Hall 40). They need to be kept in check by laws and authority and cannot be trusted. This is evident in the fact that police often shoot more black suspects than white suspects, and the fact that black people are assumed to be perpetrators of crimes. It is the worldviews of people that is so hard to change.
Whites in Brazil tend to have an ethnocentric mentality because they want to dominate and be victorious over the black community, and in this way they believe their group is the center of the world (Hall 198). White people want to stay in power and show they are still in control of the country. There are four out of 500 blacks in Congress (Verrisimo). The same small ratio is seen in other areas of government bureaucracy, military hierarchy, and corporate directors. Blacks in Brazil also have unequal access to goods and services, the labor market, education, and social and economic rights (Ciconello 2).
Resolution of the Conflict
Brazil has always claimed this idea of being a “racial democracy” to save face. They want to maintain a certain image of being accepting of different races when in fact they are not. Today, many view Brazil in awe for their “racial democracy”. There was never a legal law in Brazil that segregated blacks from whites, so this also put up a façade that Brazil was a racial integrated society. However, racism is identified and recognized by the Brazilian population – 87 percent recognize there is racism while only 4 percent regard themselves as racist (Verrisimo). This shows that racism is felt more by those who suffer from it, and racism is always blamed on other people so no one takes responsibility. This makes it harder to eliminate because it is so embedded in peoples’ mentalities, but it is not impossible.
There have been black movements in Brazil to try and eliminate this conflict. They focus on fighting racism and eradicating racial inequalities (Ciconello 7). However, they often try to fix the behaviors themselves rather than the ideas (worldviews and values) behind the behaviors. I believe that changing the mentalities of people need to be the foundation before behaviors and norms can change. Norms are the social rules for what people should and should not do, and they are the least abstract (Hall 52). The values of whites regarding racism is that they should keep the blacks oppressed, which is in line with the worldview of how society already is. Blacks have a different value that racism is not the way the world should be. In the “Where Do You Keep Your Racism” campaign has had great success in trying to eliminate the effects of racism and racism in general. Its objective is to stimulate an exchange of ideas by encouraging changes in thoughts, habits, and attitudes. They also aim to establish a collective feeling of commitment to the idea of promoting equality (Ciconello 8).
Simply trying to change the behaviors has not worked. Brazil has tried to implement laws making racism illegal and a crime, but racism still exists. Also, it just results in a lot of violence. There were very few judicial actions taken regarding the criminalization of racism, and convictions were very rare (Ciconello 9). Instead of blacks retaliating against this oppression, they could use Gandhi’s idea of peaceful disagreement and nonviolence (Hall 358).
I think that it instead starts with people changing their perceptions. Maybe redefining what it means to be black is also the place to start. It is hard to just denounce all of the negative connotations involved in being black. Promoting the culture and history of the black population seems like a good way to achieve this change in mentality (Ciconello 9). There are many histories to a group of people because there are different perspectives (Hall 248). It would help to hear the black peoples’ perspective. I would make it a mandatory class in high schools all over Brazil. I know this does not mean that people will pay attention, but it will plant seeds.
On one hand, whites approach this priority conflict with a competing style. They want to dominate and win while the blacks lose (Hall 231). Not only do whites work to maintain that blacks have no power in society, they also exploit blacks. This is their strategy to continue to be victorious over this “inferior race” (Verrisimo). Blacks tend to have an avoiding or accommodating approach to the conflict. Some want to avoid the conflict because whites hold most of or all the power, and some want to accommodate and go along with what the whites want (Hall 230). In Brazil, black people are often called “nigrinhos” which means “blackie.” The black person in question might agree, but deep down they would rather be called by their name instead of by their skin color (“Racism in Brazil”).
I think that the best approach to this conflict would be a compromise – give a little to get a little (Hall 231). This is the very foundation of the conflict resolution. There are many other aspects under this umbrella of compromise that are important to address. The collaborating approach to conflict is not the best approach because both sides cannot have their goals and wants met. It is hard for both sides to win if they want different things. That is why I believe the compromising approach is best. Whites would need to give up some of their power in order to gain a better, more well-balanced society probably with less violence, and blacks need to give up a lot of their pride and work with the whites in order to integrate themselves into society both economically and emotionally. I really do think that this would work because the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Xenophobia claim that the conference against racism risks failure without the spirit of compromise (Sydnes).
There are five ways to managing conflict – joint goals, supportive social climate, equal status, variety of contexts, and desire for contact. Going with my idea that mentalities need to be changed before anything else can happen, the “variety of contexts” method of managing conflict needs to come first. It is definitely the most achievable. “One of the best ways for stereotypes and narrow, negative impressions to be overcome is to interact with others in many different settings” (Hall 255).
Many blacks have fears surrounding intergroup communication, and they have to deal with these fears if this conflict is to be resolved. These fears “discourage interaction and help establish defensive attitudes that can encourage negative results when interactions do occur, thus functioning as a self-fulfilling prophecy” (Hall 247). The first one is tangible harm or loss in which many blacks may feel they will be taken advantage of in a physical way (Hall 247). A second is a negative evaluation by in the ingroup if blacks were to associate with whites (Hall 248). They might be seen as a traitor. A third is a negative evaluation by the outgroup in which blacks do not want to offend the white community and make relations worse (Hall 248). The fourth is a negative self-evaluation by blacks themselves (Hall 248). This resolution of the conflict has to do with blacks and how they interact in the Brazilian community. If these fears can be eliminated, then more ways to manage conflict like joint goals, equal status, supportive social climate, and desire for contact will be possible. I think that one of the best ways to do this is to make mandatory “activity days” in the different areas of Brazil – for example, they could play games of soccer. This way, they can interact doing something that they like – hence, having something in common.
One of the next steps (and in my opinion one of the most important) to resolving this conflict is forgiveness. Forgiveness is the letting go of negative feelings towards another group. It does not mean pretending past wrongs have not happened, but forgiveness gives people a way to mature in life and move on (Hall 259). However, forgiveness can only happen if there is a change in mentality.
Racism in Brazil is still evident, although many in society want to put up a front that it is not a problem. There are movements that are trying to change the actions and behaviors of people rather than getting to the basis of them. This is why I think the solution is educating people about the history of black from a different perspective and have different interactions take place, so they will see each other in a different light. They will be able to see some similarities rather than just differences. Overall, I think that the compromising approach to conflict is the best – although there is work that needs to be done before compromises can be reached. Whites need to relinquish some of their power in order to create a society worthy of admiration in the world, and blacks need to swallow their pride in order to get some rights allowances. There is a lot of work ahead if racism is to be eliminated in Brazil, but after the mentalities of people are changed other changes can take place.
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