Brazil on the Rise
American journalist Larry Rohter analyzes the dramatic transformation of Brazil over the course of the past four decades.
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In addition to probing its deep culture of corruption and clientelism, Rohter also criticizes Brazil’s cheery self-promotion as a “racial democracy.” About half of Brazil’s 200 million claim African blood, making it the largest country of Afro-descendents after Nigeria. Still, Rohter says that “[r]ather than being a source of pride, race has, in reality, become Brazil’s secret, hidden shame.”Skip to next paragraph
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Embedded in the language and culture of Brazil are a wider spectrum of colors than just the “black” and “white” that many Americans recognize. Rohter recalls multiple interviews with Brazilians who asked why Barack Obama was called America’s first black president. “’But he’s not black,’ they would object. ‘He is a mulatto.’”
One unique explanation Rohter puts forth for Brazil’s long history and promotion of miscegenation runs counter to the rosier view that many Brazilians embrace. In the US, blacks were always a minority. But Brazil imported so many more slaves that in many areas of colonial Brazil, blacks outnumbered whites. Racial mixing was therefore encouraged as a way to “whiten” the largely black population.
The biggest topic Rohter skips is a serious discussion of the drug-war-fueled violence and the lack of security in Brazilian slums. It is an issue that still dominates foreigners’ perceptions of the country and merits analysis. “City of God,” the dizzying 2003 portrait of violence in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas is arguably the most iconic film about Brazil, but in discussing the movie Rohter focuses on its artistic innovation. Violence is still prominent in daily life: Just last month, in late August, gunmen with grenades and automatic weapons took 35 hostages in one of Rio de Janeiro’s most upscale hotels. And it goes the other way: Police in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have killed 11,000 since 2003, according to a December 2009 Human Rights Watch report, often in extrajudicial killings that were later covered up.
An interviewer with Brazil’s Portuguese-language magazine Época also prodded Rohter on an incident that is treated succinctly in the book although it made Rohter a famous name to many Brazilians. In 2004 Rohter wrote a story for The New York Times reporting suspicions that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was drinking too much. The story – titled “Brazilian Leader’s Tippling Becomes National Concern” – caused Lula to order Rohter’s expulsion from the country, though a Supreme Court justice quickly opposed the move. The incident is “only worth one paragraph,” he told Época. In the book, he calls Lula’s reaction an “authoritarian outburst.”
While critical and probing, “Brazil on the Rise” will largely leave the reader with an affectionate portrait of Brazilians, not to mention an arsenal of their slang. “Their society is one of the most richly humanized I have ever experienced,” Rohter writes, “both in terms of its many flaws and equally plenty virtues.”