What Brazilians and Americans Should Know

About American Racial Relationships

In reading about Brazilians in the United States, there are numerous mentions that Brazilians have problems adjusting to American race relations.  

So, here are the basics, said almost as harshly as that of the reality of the situation:

1. Both Brazil and America are racist countries with the blacks overrepresented at the bottom of the social ladder.

2.  In the United States, if  a person has any identifiable "black" physical characteristics, they are considered black.  If they do not, they will pass as "whites" as long as they do not tell people that they are black because they have black relatives.  (A white-looking person's declaration that they are "black" usually brings hidden derision of the person, and perhaps even some snickering.)

3.  Those Brazilian-Americans who are "black" by United States standards will have a hard time in maintaining that they are "Brazilian."  They run afoul of politically conscious African-Americans and some white radical-liberals, who will deride them for resisting being identified as an African-American, as they perhaps resisted being identified as an African-Brazilian.  

4.  Brazilians who may have dark skins, but no otherwise identifiable "black" characteristics will be considered "white" (or perhaps "brown," which is a variant of white anyway.)  This last remark may be seen as somewhat controversial, but I remember growing up in the apartheid system of the American South, and going to a completely white school (but one where Hispanics were classified as white).

It was only somewhat strange to me when an physically-obvious white-looking Brazilian woman "confessed" to me that she was black because she had black relatives.  Maybe she thought I might be prejudiced and wanted to be above-board.  She was somewhat shocked when I told her that in the United States, as long as she did not go around telling Americans she is black, she would be treated as white.  She, of course, was more used to many fine color distinctions being made in racial relations.

5. In the long run, given the overwhelming discrimination against blacks in the United States, non-black Brazilian-Americans will not be able to maintain the somewhat more "open" relations with black Brazilian-Americans.  As Brazilians move up the social class ladder and they move into the suburbs, they will be moving into the more segregated American world of racism with blacks segregated into the poorer neighborhoods.   



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