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In Brazil racism takes many hues

Black Caribbean Literature (BCL)
Pitts,Leonard (Author)
Newspaper Article
Publication Date:
Jul 12-Jul 18, 2007
New York, NY
African American Research Center, Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject Term:
Blacks, Brazil, Social conditions, Racism, Human rights, South America, Race
In this, he's not unlike his counterparts in the United States, where black people also have an extensive vocabulary to describe variations in skin tone. In the United States, one can be "high yellow" (i.e., of very light skin); one can be "red" (i.e., with a reddish tint; one of Malcolm X's early nicknames was "Detroit Red"); or one can be any of a number of synonyms for dark. Like, for instance, "Smokey." In fact, the famous (and "high yellow") Motown singer William Robinson was given that nickname in affectionate irony by one of his father's friends - sort of like calling a fat guy Tiny. The same is not true in Brazil. And if the United States is a country where black people with light skin used to sometimes "pass," i.e., pretend to be white, well, in this country "passing is a national institution." So says Elisa Nascimento with a laugh. She is white, American-born and the wife of Abdias do Nascimento, a 90-year-old black Brazilian artist and political icon. And the insistence of some Brazilian blacks on "passing," she says, has political consequences in that it tends to distort statistics on black life. "The way racism works in Brazil . . . there is a hierarchy, and so people tend to identify themselves lighter than they necessarily would be." "It was a rough time," she says in her imperfect English. "For me, was impossible to live there. We could not be married. Why I married with a black guy, you know? So when I say to you that Brazil was different . . . even my first husband didn't think of himself as black. In Brazil, he was a Brazilian, even though he was black. He never thought of himself as someone different from me because he was another color."