Eugene Robinson, an African American assistant editor at The Washington Post
, experienced strong culture shock when he went to Brazil and discovered that nation's staggering degrees of blackness: with over 60 million people of apparent African descent, Brazil is the world's largest black country after Nigeria. But as Robinson deftly articulates in the stunning Coal to Cream
, most Afro-Brazilians suffer from race denial and an underdeveloped sense of racial identity, which keeps them from demanding social and political reforms. Robinson is awed by the nation's African musical, culinary, and religious influences, which, along with generations of cohabitation (in every sense of the word) with Indians and Europeans, have eliminated--at least on one level--the harsher aspects of racism. "The emphasis on the more mutable issue of color (rather than the rigidity of race) was at the heart of what I loved so much about Brazil--the absence of racial conflict," Robinson writes. "There was no silent struggle going on."
But he also notes that black Brazilians occupy the lowest rungs of Brazilian society; many of them live in the hopeless conditions of the favela slums. He also observes the emerging black consciousness movements in Bahia and the Afro-eroticism of Carnival (which serves as a safety valve for the country's poor and discontented). And he contrasts Brazil's black population with the more marginalized Afro-Peruvians and the Afro-Caribbean Brixton area of London, two regions where race consciousness abounds. Yet, with all of its ambiguities, Eugene Robinson sees Brazil as a possible future for the United States, as the absurd "one drop" rule used to arbitrate racial identity becomes a thing of the past. --Eugene Holley Jr.
From Publishers Weekly
Frustrated by American racial politics, Robinson, an accomplished journalist for the Washington Post, assumed a position as a foreign correspondent in the newspaper's South American bureau. His trip to Brazil, which he envisioned as a tropical land of racial harmony, prompted this sometimes acerbic yet constantly challenging comparison of color, class and racial identity in his native country and that tantalizing South American melting pot. He opens with an exacting recollection of his childhood in segregated South Carolina before deftly examining the significance of race in everyday life in the U.S. and the potent racial and social myths that inform our concept of it. The outward absence of interracial animosity he finds in Rio and the surrounding countryside shatters his long-held views on the invincibility of the barriers posed by skin color. Following his detailed and exuberant observations of Caricoa society and its unique emphasis on color over race, his journey through South America, especially in Peru and Chile, compels him to reassess his views of himself both as a black man and an American. Particularly entertaining is his short, informative chapter on the Brazilian black church and the role of African influences in its rituals. Robinson wryly hammers home his key points on the destructive nature of racial prejudice in America, but repetition robs his effort of much of its cumulative impact. Despite its flaws, however, the book is full of provocative and worthy insights. (Aug.)
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