Friday, November 18, 2011

Resurfacing + More Brown & Black Brazilians + DR to Change Racial ID Categories + Rita Indiana's "Da Po La Do"

Surfacing finally and temporarily, from the bogs or thickets or trenches, or whatever is lined with pages and pages of prose! Today was the first day where I could actually take a long, deep breath and inhale the now chilly Chicago air. Over the next few days I'll try to finish the few stubs I began over the last few weeks, on many different topics, ranging from Christian Bök's visit to the university, to the most recent gathering of the Human Micropoem at Occupy Chicago.  And I'll try to finish my posts on some other thoughts as well.


Brazilian actor Lázaro Ramos
I saw today, on, of all places, a link to this BBC article announcing that in Brazil, based on 2010 census numbers, a majority of the population now defines itself as either Pardo (brown/mixed) or Preto (black), which is a remarkable milestone given that country's (like most of the hemisphere's) centuries-long history of racist-inflected racial formation.  Reggie H. sent me another link, from AtlanticCities, on the same news. Out of 190 million Brazilians, 91 million self-identified as white, 82 million as mixed race and 15 million as black. "Whites fell from 53.7% of the population in 2000 to 47.7% last year," while the number of people self-identifying as "black" rose from 6.2% to 7.6%, while the number self-identifying mixed-race people rose from 38.5% to 43.1%.  As the Atlantic's Nate Berg writes
Race campaigners welcomed the growing number of self-declared African-Brazilians, but the census also underlined how the vast social divide between Brazil's white and non-white populations persists.

The 2010 census – a massive operation which involved about 190,000 census takers visiting 58m homes – found that in major cities white inhabitants were earning about 2.4 times more than their black counterparts.
(I'm not sure what a "race campaigner" is, but consider the source.)

In Brazil, which has the largest numerical black population outside Africa, unlike the US, there was more open racial and ethnic mixing from the initial arrival of the Portuguese and other Europeans in 1500, and over subsequent decades wealth, social status and a wider array of racial classifications allowed people to escape the US's hypodescent (one-drop) rule.  Central to this system was a process of not just physiological but cultural embranqueamento (or whitening) long held sway, alongside a national ideology of Brazil as a "racial democracy," thus blunting attempts by black and brown Brazilians to counter racist and white supremacist discourse, or organize nationally around anti-racism in the ways that black people in the United States (or Haiti, during its colonial period), with its apartheid Jim Crow system, could.

Brazil has long had black and brown activists working to challenge the racism there, and as I noted this past May, one of its major 20th century figures, Abdias do Nascimento, passed away this year after a lifetime of battling the dominant overt and casual racism there.  As I wrote to some friends today, I wonder how much Brazil's national affirmative action policies, which have proved controversial but have gained acceptance, have played a role, but also how much the sustained civil rights and equality efforts by Afrobrazilians have affected self-identification. It also made me think about Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s PBS series, Black in Latin America, which I also covered in May. He barely touched on the shifts in self-recognition, making me wonder whether when he was down there for his series, did no one apprise him of these changes, even in the absence of hard census figures?  Had he known of this shift, I wonder how different his Brazil episode might have looked. He did, however, explore the economic disparities which continue there, as they do here and elsewhere across the hemisphere.


This news about Brazil, and Gates's reading of that country also reminded me of his treatment of race and blackness in the Dominican Republic.  While I won't gainsay his reading overall, I felt it could have been much more nuanced, based both on my readings of works on that country by Dominicans and Dominican Americans, but also on my experiences there. One thing I remember saying to myself after having gotten to know some Dominicans in the US was that I would never go down to DR and impose American views of anything on people there (I hold this view for every country), but also I would never expect people there to view themselves as "black" in the ways that black Americans do, especially given DR's agonistic and antagonistic history with Haiti. Yet having held to this view, more than once while in DR I have learned about the multiple and complex ways in which Dominicans there understand, address, perform, and inflect the concept of blackness. It is far more complex than Gates's or the standard readings and understandings of it, which tend to be static and often seem to overlook popular conceptions and formations concerning blackness.

One issue that Gates talked about--and fascinatingly to me, he seemed to act as if this were not an active discourse among black Americans--was the presence of the indio, or "Indian/Native American" racial-ethnic category.  According to the Dominican newspaper Listín Diario, however, the DR's Central Electoral Board (JCE) has sought "to classify Dominicans as mulattoes, blacks and whites, eliminating the traditional 'Indian' category." To achieve this shift, specialists from the Organization of American States and the JCE drew up a bill to reform Electoral Law 275-97, which will be presented for approval to the general assembly of the judges of the JCE prior to sending it to Congress. On their cédulas, or ID cards, Dominicans would have three categories--"white" (blanco), "mulatto/mixed race" (mulato), and "black" (negro)--to chose from.

I think it will be interesting to see the breakdowns if and when this policy goes into effect, since it involves racial/ethnic self-identification, but I told a friend who lives down there that no matter what, I think the last category will be the smallest. I am especially curious to see what the breakdown's are among younger Dominicans (and I see this with many of the younger Dominican baseball players in the Major Leagues, as with younger writers, musicians, etc. down there).


Finally, speaking of DR, I was also reminded of Rita Indiana's video, for her new song "Da Pa Lo Do," that Anthony M. posted on his Monaga blog a month or so ago. Rita Indiana, a talented, out young poet, author, songwriter and musician, explores the idea of DR's border with Haiti, brotherhood and connection, and Hispaniola's insoluble roots. The video, which she made with her girlfriend and frequent collaborator Noelia Quintero, is quite beautiful, and do watch it if you can all the way to the end.

da pa lo do from Engel Leonardo on Vimeo.

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