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"Brazil", from Black in Latin America by Henry Louis Gates

"Brazil", from Black in Latin America by Henry Louis Gates

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Published by NYU Press
In this chapter from the companion book to the PBS Series, Gates travels to Brazil to try to discover why one of the world's largest black nations does not have a true racial democracy.

Buy the book here:
http://nyupress.org/books/book-details.aspx?bookId=8265
In this chapter from the companion book to the PBS Series, Gates travels to Brazil to try to discover why one of the world's largest black nations does not have a true racial democracy.

Buy the book here:
http://nyupress.org/books/book-details.aspx?bookId=8265

More info:

Published by: NYU Press on Jul 21, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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02/22/2013

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12
1
Brazil
“May Exú Give Me the Power of Speech”
On he whole emancipaion [in Brazil] was peaceul, and whies,Negroes, and Indians are o-day amalgamaing ino a new race.— W. E. B. Du Bois, 1915In Souh America we have long preended o see a possible soluionin he gradual amalgamaion o whies, Indians and Blacks. Bu hisamalgamaion does no envisage any decrease o power and pres-ige among whies as compared wih Indians, Negroes, and mixed bloods; bu raher an inclusion wihin he so called whie group o aconsiderable inflraion o dark blood, while a he same imemainaining he social bar, economic exploiaion and poliical dis-ranchisemen o dark blood as such. . . . And despie acs, no Bra-zilian nor Venezuelan dare boas o his black ahers. Tus, racialamalgamaion in Lain-America does no always or even usually carry wih i social upli and planned eor o raise he mulato andmesizoes o reedom in a democraic poliy.— W. E. B. Du Bois, 1942
FOR A VERY
long ime, whenever I heard he word
race
 ,
 
only imageso black people in he Unied Saes came o mind. As silly as i mighsound now, o me, hen,
race
 was a code word or black people, andor heir relaions wih whie people in his counry. I hink ha hisis probably some sor o Arican American excepionalism or peoplemy age, people who came o age in he Civil Righs Movemen o helae fies and sixies. Even oday, in our era o muliculuralism, I sillfnd i necessary someimes o remember ha
race
is no jus a black hing, ha
race
(by which mos o us mean ehniciy) signifes a lo o 
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Brazil 13
dieren kinds o people, represening a ull range o ehniciies, in alo o dieren places, and ha Arican Americans in his counry don’have a paen on he erm or he social condiions ha have resuledeiher rom slavery or he vexed hisory o racial relaions ha ollowedslavery in he Unied Saes.I should say ha Arican Americans don’ have a paen
especially
 on slavery, as I much laer came o realize, hroughou he New World. When I was growing up, I simply assumed ha he slave experiencein he New World was dominaed by our ancesors who came o heUnied Saes beween 1619 and he Civil War. And I hink ha many  Americans sill assume his. Bu i urns ou ha he slave ancesors o he Arican American people were only a iny racion less han 5 per-cen o all he Aricans impored o he Wesern Hemisphere o serveas slaves. Over eleven million Aricans survived he Middle Passage anddisembarked in he New World; and o hese, incredibly, only abou450,000 Aricans came o he Unied Saes. Te “real” Arican Ameri-can experience, based on numbers alone, hen, unolded in places souho our long souhern border, souh o Key Wes, souh o exas, souho Caliornia, in he Caribbean islands and hroughou Lain America. And no place in our hemisphere received more Aricans han Brazil did.I hink ha probably he frs ime ha I ever hough abou race,inegraion, segregaion, or miscegenaion ouside o he conex o heUnied Saes, Jim Crow, and he Civil Righs Movemen was he nighha I saw he flm
 Black Orpheus
.
 
I had hough abou Arica quie a lo,and he black people who lived in Arica, rom he ime I was in he fhgrade, in 1960, he grea year o Arican independence, he year haseveneen Arican naions were born. Bu hinking abou black peopleand Arica is no he same as hinking abou race. No, ha came, orhe frs ime, when I was a sophomore a Yale, assigned o wach
 BlackOrpheus
in he class called “From Arica o he Black Americas,” he arhisory class augh by he grea scholar Rober Farris Tompson.
 Black Orpheus
 ,
 
direced by Marcel Camus and sho in Brazil, wasreleased in 1959, o rave reviews. In ac, i won he Palme d’Or a heCannes Film Fesival ha year and an Academy Award or Bes For-eign Language Film and a Golden Globe or Bes Foreign Film in 1960.Based on a play writen by Vinicius de Moraes eniled
Oreu da Con-ceição
 ,
 
he flm adaps he legend o Orpheus and Eurydice. Se mosly in he Morro da Babilônia avela in he Leme neighborhood in Rio de
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14 Brazil
 Janeiro, he flm is sunning, even fy years laer, or he ac ha iseamlessly ransorms a classical Greek ale in black or brown ace, asi were, wihou preaching abou race or class and wihou proes orpropaganda. I jus assumes is proposiions, as i were. Te key Greek characers are here, including Hermes, he messenger o he gods, andCerberus, he hree-headed dog ha guards he gaes o Hades, as wellas Orpheus and Eurydice, o course, played by an ahleic Breno Melloand he irresisibly beauiul Marpessa Dawn, he goddess o black Bra-zilian cinema, who urned ou o have been born in Pitsburgh o Fili-pino and Arican American descen.Tree hings grabbed me when I saw he flm. Firs, as I have men-ioned, was he seamless ranslaion o he Greek myh o a Brazil-ian conex, wih he race o he characers aken or graned and norumpeed or srained in any way. Second was he use o Umbanda andCandomblé, which some people have called Brazil’s naional Arican re-ligions. When Orpheus descends (down a spiral saircase a, cleverly,he O ce o Missing Persons) ino Hades o fnd and rerieve Eurydice,“Hades” urns ou o be an Umbanda riual, complee wih emale wor-shipers dressed in whie and he pivoal Yoruba god Ogun. Eurydice’sspiri speaks o Orpheus, in ac, hrough one o hese emale worship-ers, now possessed by her spiri. Mos sriking sociologically, perhaps,is he ac ha virually everyone in he flm is black or brown; very ew “whie” people appear in he flm, and none appears in a signifcan role,similar, as I laer discovered, o Zora Neale Hurson’s novel
Teir EyesWere Waching God
.
 
 Waching he flm, my riends and I hough haBrazil was ha mos remarkable o places: a democracy in brown. Bra-zil, judging rom he flm, was a mulato. For us,
 Black Orpheus
seemedo be a sor o cinemaic analogue o Gilbero Freyre’s heory o Brazilas a unique racial democracy. And all ha made me wan o visi here, bu no as much, o be hones, as he vain hope ha I’d spo one o hedaughers o he beauiul Marpessa Dawn.I hough abou all o his, in igh, high above he Amazon, I sup-posed, on my way o Brazil or he frs ime, heading o Carnaval in Feb-ruary 2010. Beween 1561 and 1860, Brazil (as we have seen) was hefnal desinaion o almos fve million Arican slaves — some o hem,perhaps, my disan cousins. Bu ha wasn’ where my mind was akingme. ry as I migh, I couldn’ help dwelling on he Brazil o my imagi-naion: he pageanry and ecsasy o Carnaval; is syncreic mixures o 
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