By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
The World Cup 2014 is finished for another four years with Germany winning the “World Cup” on July 13. Over the past month (June 12 – July 13) the eyes of the football/soccer watching world has been trained on Brazil where the national teams of 31 countries competed.
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) held its first game in Uruguay in 1930, with 13 countries competing. Brazil first hosted the World Cup competition in 1950 and was soundly defeated by Uruguay in the final. It was a bitter pill for the Brazilians to swallow especially since football/soccer is Brazil’s national sport with a representation of the ball that is used to play the game in pride of place on the Brazilian national flag.
Brazil had gone all out in preparation for its first time hosting of the World Cup competition by building the majestic stadium Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho, popularly known as the Maracanã, in Rio de Janeiro. At the time it was the world’s largest stadium, with a seating capacity for 220,000. Information from the FIFA website states:
“The Final was played on 16 July 1950, in front of an official crowd of 174,000, although reliable sources put this figure much higher. One such person was Joao Havelange, the President of FIFA between 1974 and 1988, who recollects: ‘There were some 220,000 people in the stadium that day, a figure equivalent to 10 per cent of Río de Janeiro’s population at the time.” (http://www.fifa.com/classicfootball/stadiums/stadium=214/)
In spite of that crushing defeat on their home territory at the hands of Uruguay, Brazil has won the World Cup more than any other team, five times (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002) but never on their home turf. Perhaps memories of that 1950 defeat of the Brazilian team on Brazil soil was uppermost in the minds of many football/soccer fans who were glued to their televisions on Tuesday, July 8 when Brazil and Germany battled for supremacy at the Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte during the first semifinal match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Brazil was crushingly defeated 7-1 to the disbelief of all their fans and then again defeated by the Dutch team 3-0 when they played for third place. The humiliated Brazilian team placed fourth at the 2014 World Cup, again defeated on home turf, reminiscent of 1950.
Apart from the thrill of the World Cup competition the eyes of the world were also watching the Brazilian culture as it was displayed on television. Most of what is known about Brazil is that their Carnival is a spectacular display and it is the only country in South America where Portuguese is the official language.
Whenever Brazil is advertised as a place to visit most of the images are of White people or “exotic” light-skinned people with light coloured eyes and straight or slightly wavy hair reminiscent of “the girl from Ipanema”. It was noted that although Brazil has the largest number of Africans outside of the African continent those faces were not seen when the cameras panned the stadium crowds. The Africans who were seen in the stadium were either playing to represent the various countries or they were from outside of Brazil.
African Brazilians were mostly seen by those who cared to look for them outside of the stadium desperately trying to make a living. The money they earn barely keeps them alive so they could not afford the price of entering the stadium to watch the football/soccer matches.
One observer, Felipe Araujo, writing for The Guardian newspaper noted: “Most Black people in Brazil are poor. A World Cup ticket is officially priced between $90 and $1,000, but in a country where the minimum wage is a little above $350 a month, a seat at the Maracanã is out of many people’s reach.”
Nicolas Pinault, writing for Voice of America News commented: “On television or seen from abroad, Brazil still portrays a White image. Blacks, indigenous or other non-White people are seen less than Whites on TV commercials and programs.”
The White supremacist culture of Brazil was exposed to the world during their hosting of the “World Cup”. From the comments that accompanied the article written by these two journalists who were in Brazil to cover the World Cup, this part of the Brazilian culture was well hidden.
As a child living in Lethem, Rupununi (my father was stationed at that outpost for several years) where Guyana shares a border with Brazil, it was evident that Whiteness was valued highly by Brazilians. There were several families with ties to Brazil and they preferred their children who looked White over the ones with slightly darker skin.
One particular family whose Brazilian mother was a mixture of Portuguese and African and Guyanese father a mixture of White and South Asian, had nine children whose skin colour ranged from various shades of brown to white.
The favourite child of both parents was the child with green eyes and blond hair who was fondly called “Branca”. Since I did not speak Portuguese it took a while to realize that “Branca” meant “White”. Branca was seemingly idolized by her darker siblings who would proudly exclaim praises of her skin and eye colour. If that family lived in the USA some of the members of that family would be identifiably African-American but they all considered themselves and identified as White, especially when they travelled within Brazil.
In her 2006 book, The Sorcery of Color: Identity, Race, and Gender in Brazil, White American history professor Elisa Larkin Nascimento writes: “In the same way that Brazilians adopted colonial and neocolonial external standards, Blacks are coerced into accepting the standards of Whiteness.”
I remembered these events as I watched the recent World Cup and realized that although there are now 97 million Brazilians who identify as Black compared with 91 million who identify as White, being the majority has not benefited African Brazilians. In The Sorcery of Color: Identity, Race, and Gender in Brazil, Larkin Nascimento notes:
“A very well defined and extremely rigid racial stratification tends to exclude African descendants from positions of power and prestige, keeping Whites at the top of the hierarchy. In 1998, 110 years after slavery’s abolition, there were no African Brazilians in the highest echelons of government except during the short period when Pelé was Special Sports Minister. Of 594 Congressmen, 13 are African descendants. In the public universities which are better quality and more prestigious in Brazil, ‘brown’ professors are rare and dark Black professors are almost nonexistent. Among judges there are almost no Blacks, while today White women constitute the majority of newly admitted judges (Jornal do Brasil, 27.06.1999.)”
The White supremacist culture of Brazil was exposed during this World Cup major sporting event as the world watched Brazil’s ignominious defeat. Canada is hosting a major sporting event next year, the Pan American (Pan Am) Games with Toronto as the host city. The motto of the city of Toronto is: “Diversity our strength” and there is a myth that Toronto as a city of many immigrant communities is welcoming to racialized people.
When the United Nations independent expert on minority issues, Gay McDougall, visited Canada in 2009 she traveled across the country and spoke with members of various “minority” communities. In her report she wrote in part: “As I have toured Canada members of various communities have discussed with me significant and persistent problems that they face in their lives as persons belonging to ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, as people of colour or of particular religious beliefs. Many of those I have spoken with feel that the government has failed to respond adequately to their problems or to devise meaningful solutions, leaving them and their communities feeling discriminated against, neglected or as second class citizens in their country of birth or long-term residence.”
In her recommendation to the Canadian government, McDougall noted:
“Human Rights Commissions have an essential role to play in the promotion and protection of human rights, but the jurisdiction of the federal Commission is severely limited and the Provincial bodies are under-resourced, under threat and have been abolished in some provinces. This has led many communities that I talked with to lose faith in the effectiveness of these critical enforcement bodies. The Federal government, in close cooperation with provincial authorities, must work towards stronger mechanisms of cooperation to guarantee consistent enforcement with respect to obligations under the provisions of international treaties to which Canada is a party, particularly in the area of non-discrimination and equality and the implementation of the rights of persons belonging to minority groups.”
With this in mind and the Brazilian example Toronto has to ensure that it lives up to its motto “Diversity our strength” in word and deed because the eyes of many who will be watching the 2015 PanAm games will be observing.