Passing for Racial Democracy

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Passing, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2022-01-19 03:00Z by Steven

Passing for Racial Democracy

The Baffler

Stephanie Reist

Detail from A Redenção de Cam (Redemption of Ham), Modesto Brocos, 1895. | Museu Nacional de Belas Artes

The complexities of the color line in the U.S. and Brazil

A CENTRAL POINT OF TENSION between Irene Redfield (played by Tessa Thompson) and her husband Dr. Brian Redfield (André Holland) in Rebecca Hall’s Passing, based on the Nella Larsen novel of the same name, is whether their family should remain in the United States. While Irene can pass for white out of convenience, the same is not true of her darker sons and her husband, who routinely informs his children about lynchings and white violence. Irene disapproves of this talk, despite her work for the Negro Welfare League. In one pivotal scene, she drives her tired husband home after a long day of visiting patients, and the couple discuss going to South America, specifically mentioning Brazil. The issue returns when the couple fights over the consuming role that Clare (Ruth Negga)—who has chosen to pass as white to the point of marrying a bigoted white husband and having a daughter with him—exerts in their lives and marriage.

In Larsen’s novel, Brian’s longing for Brazil, which becomes conflated with what Irene perceives as his desire for the effervescent, delightfully dangerous Clare, is even more pronounced: Brazil is the one that got away, Brian’s lost hope for a society where he and other black members of the talented tenth could be judged by their merits, not lynched because they failed to stay in their place. Irene even implicitly sanctions an affair between her husband and Clare to assuage her guilt for denying her family the chance to be truly “happy, or free, or safe”—a state she laments as impossible when speaking to Clare about her choice not to pass…

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In Brazil I glimpsed a possible future in which there is only one race

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2012-04-17 05:15Z by Steven

In Brazil I glimpsed a possible future in which there is only one race

The Guardian

Timothy Garton Ash

By its own definition it is a mixed country, but extreme poverty and violence occur mainly at one end of the spectrum

Some time ago, Brazil’s census takers asked people to describe their skin colour. Brazilians came up with 134 terms, including alva-rosada (white with pink highlights), branca-sardenta (white with brown spots), café com leite (coffee with milk), morena-canelada (cinammon-like brunette), polaca (Polish), quase-negra (almost black) and tostada (toasted). This often lighthearted poetry of self-description reflects a reality you see with your own eyes, especially in the poorer parts of Brazil’s great cities.

Walking round the City of God, a poor housing estate just outside Rio de Janeiro—and the setting for the film of that name—I saw every possible tint and variety of facial feature, sometimes in the same household. Alba Zaluar, a distinguished anthropologist who has worked for years among the people of the district, told me they make jokes about it between themselves: “You little whitey”, “You little brownie”, and so on. And those features, with their diversity and admixture, are often beautiful.

Brazil is a country where people celebrate, as a national attribute, the richness of miscegenation, giving a positive meaning to what is, in its origins, an ugly North American misnomer. There is, however, a nasty underside to this story. “Racial democracy” is an established, early 20th-century Brazilian self-image, by contrast with a then still racially segregated United States. Yet the reality even today is that most non-whites are worse off economically, socially and educationally than most whites. And part of this inequality is due to racial discrimination…

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