Brazil: the giant contradiction
As I approached the two month mark for my trip to Brazil this May, I picked up a copy of a book my professor told me to read about the country. Brazil on the Rise by Larry Rohter examines the country’s economic development in the last 40 years as well as the reasons for a lot of the social differences between the United States and Brazil. The book itself is great, and Rohter is incredibly knowledgeable on the subject, as he should considering he’s been covering Brazil for the New York Times for several decades, but the actual material is what vexes me. Brazil and its people seem to be a series of contradictions across its social, economic and political platforms.
Rohter examines their viewpoints on race in the second chapter, for example, and in that he makes the general point that Brazil’s view on racism is so complex that Americans aren’t capable of truly understanding how it affects their culture. He quotes a group of sociologists that says there is more than 300 terms to describe the different tones of skin color in the Brazilian Portuguese language. That’s insane.
In Brazil, there is a white elite that dominates the near majority of African and indigenous Brazilians. They control an overwhelming majority of the political and business positions, and with Brazil being known to have cases of corruption and favoritism, they manage to hold and dominate those positions. What puzzles me was the information from a 2000 census that said 30% of Brazilians are intermarried, and another survey that said 87% percent of Brazil’s 200 million population carried at least 10 percent of African blood in their DNA. How can a country, that while not institutionalized, show so many examples of public racism, yet a dominating majority be of mixed ethnicity?
The Brazilian culture is a complicated one to comprehend. They have an action Rohter calls jeito, which in English it means a way to move around someone or something. Literally a word used in soccer, a way to dribble around an opponent, a jeito is a way to avoid bureaucracy and pointless restrictions, like stop lights. At late hours in Rio De Janeiro, red lights are more of a guideline and not a restriction, says Rohter. Other ways to use a jeito in daily life would involve sliding a police officer a 20 dollar bill to avoid a speeding ticket, or calling a friend at one of the country’s dozen ministries to help speed along paperwork.
The Brazilian people have created a system to beat the system. Their political structure is slow and cumbersome, so the constituents decided to take matters into their own hands, by using corruption. They turn a cheek to some actions while raising a fist to others, and the course of those two actions is only decided when the issue could affect them in a positive or negative way.
Whether contradictory or not, the culture of Brazil seems fascinating to me, and I cannot wait to experience it first hand.