Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Nuances (WOF)

Before delving directly into a more theoretical discussion of the class and ethnic dynamics at work in both Southeast Asia and Latin America, Chua takes one last brief look at Brazil. She writes-
This [Brazilian rap] movement is openly 'un-Brazilian' in its relentless attacks on the country's racial inequality [...] Almost overnight, the hot group Racionais - which recently won a number of prestigious Brazilian MTV awards - has popularized expressions like '4P' 'poder para o povo preto' ('power for the black people') and 'preto tipo a' - literally 'class A black' but referring to blacks who are proud and fight for their rights. (Chua, 74)
Chua almost seems to suggest that criticism of racial inequality is fundamentally traitorous, although the scare quotes around the term 'un-Brazilian' lend her an air of secondhand information, that she's merely referencing how others view them. Yet, a paragraph later she again seems to imply that it's strange that a group promoting racial equality would view 'class A blacks' as those who believe that they're humans with a right to be proud. She nearly implies that it's unusual for any one to think of the best blacks are those with pride, almost as if blacks should be ashamed, of some mysterious something. Again, it's unclear who Chua is suggesting is surprised by or unaware of these developments. Does she mean that she thinks it's surprising? Or Brazilians? Which Brazilians?

Chua later notes that "A recent poll revealed that a startling 93 percent of those surveyed in Rio de Janeiro now believe that racism exists in Brazil" (Chua, 75). Why is this startling, given, as Chua herself says,
In songs like 'The Periphery Continues Bleeding,' 'Just Another Wake,' and 'Surviving in Hell,' rappers aggressively expose social injustice against blacks, emphasizing that only 2 percent of Brazil's university students are black, that three out of four people killed by the police are black, and that every four hours a black man dies violently in São Paulo. (Chua, 74)
And yet, a paragraph later, she claims that "the reality so far is that racial consciousness remains surprisingly muted in Brazil" (Chua, 75). It seems as though Chua is attempting something nuanced, but has only produced something contradictory. Part of that complexity, which Chua didn't address, was class. As she argues, "the myth of Brazilian democracy [is] still broadly defended by many Brazilians spanning different social class" (Chua, 75). Yet all of the dissenting voices claiming that a racial hierarchy pervasively controls their lives in Brazil, at least that Chua quotes, are either favela-dwelling poor or 'black' individuals born into the lower class. All of the individuals mentioned by Chua asserting that the myth, even if fractured, remains true, alternatively had some hallmark of higher class status. She mentions a graduate student (after citing how few black Brazilians are present in higher education) who argued that the popularity of these same hiphop artists with white university students suggests a more open and democratic society with regards to race. There was also the case of a dark-skinned upper class woman who refused to identify as black, largely because of her class status.

Ultimately, Chua seems very ready to push for defining this disagreement over what Brazil is and what it means to be Brazilian into racial terms, when the reality seems more nuanced. High class status clearly plays a large role, just like how race is de-emphasized in importance in upper class circles in many countries. Yet, even Chua seems to admit that racial status in Brazil often influences economic standing. This disagreement about racial hierarchy relates to placement within that hierarchy, but also seems largely mediated through class status. Honestly, Chua seems to hurry through this brief section, trying to get to the more strictly theoretical discussion, skimping on these nuances.

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