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Africanity vs Blackness in America and Brazil Essay

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Updated: Jun 18th, 2020

Introduction

This paper is an article review of Africanity vs Blackness, by Walker (16). The article explores the racial and cultural differences among African-Americans and Afro-Brazilians. Four sections outline the structure of this study. The first section explores the main arguments of the author. The second and third sections of the paper analyse the author’s arguments and relate them to the themes discussed in class. Lastly, this paper discusses the main questions raised by the reading.

The Main Arguments of the Author

Walker (16) analysed the racial differences in Brazil and America and found out that both countries perceived “Africanity” and “blackness” differently. She argued that Afro-Brazilians seek their “blackness,” while African-Americans seek their African roots. To explain this division, Walker (20) said America has a definitive and rigid perception of racial divisions. A person is either black or white. Comparatively, Brazil has a flexible definition of race. Relative to this assertion, the author said it is possible for Brazilians to think of “black” people as “white,” and “white” people as “black” (Walker 19). However, America does not have such flexibilities because African roots are foreign to its people.

For example, African-Americans have alienated themselves from their roots for so long, such that they have lost their heritage. Although some African cultural practices, such as songs, aesthetic designs, and worship practices, are part of the African-American lifestyle, many African-Americans do not understand their ancestry. This lack of understanding manifests through their ignorance of African diversity.

Walker (19) says Brazil has a specific understanding of the African roots that influence their national culture. In fact, she argues that most Brazilians include these influences in their daily lives. For example, she highlights the influences of African cultural practices on Brazilian cultural festivals by showing how Afro-Brazilians have never lost their cultural roots (Walker 16). To explain this fact, she says that what we understand (internationally) as Brazilian culture is mainly African (Walker 16). To explain Brazilian cultural specificity, Walker (20) also says the country draws its African roots from West Africa (the Yoruba culture).

Other influences of the Afro-Brazilian culture stem from Central Africa (Bantu-speaking communities) (Walker 20). These definitive African communities influenced most aspects of Brazilian religious practices, song, and dance. Comparatively, Walker (19) argues that African-Americans, in the US, do not understand the African roots that influence their culture. Therefore, they have an “unfocused” understanding of Africa. Based on this understanding, Walker (20) argues that African-Americans seek their “Africanity,” while Afro-Brazilians seek their “blackness.”

Argument Critique

“Africanity” in Brazil and America

This paper supports the above arguments because there is a divide between how Americans and South Americans perceive racial differences. Although Walker (16) explains the causes of these divisions, she did not mention the lack of awareness that many African-Americans (and by extension, Americans) have on the cultural flexibility in South America. In fact, many of them do not understand the huge population of African slaves that settled in South America during the slave trade. A keen interrogation past literature from the slave trade era show that more that 11 million Africans landed in America, or South America, as slaves (Gates 1).

About 450 million of them lived in America as slaves (Gates 1). The rest went to several destinations in South America, including the Caribbean and Latin America. Compared to North America, Brazil got about 4.8 million slaves (Gates 1). This figure shows that Brazil had a large population of African slaves than America did. Therefore, naturally, Brazil had a stronger influence of African culture than America did. Furthermore, as Walker (17) alludes, the slave trade continued for a long time in Brazil than it did in America. In fact, estimates show that the slave trade continued in Brazil 80 years longer than it did in America (Gates 1).

Walker (17) further says that even when South America banned it, the trade continued clandestinely for more than two decades. Based on these statistics, correctly, we can say that the real African-American experience did not happen in North America, but in South America. Several documentaries affirm this fact. For example, Henry Louis (a historian) explored the impact of the slave trade in South America through his book, Black in Latin America (Gates 3). Similarly, PBS aired a documentary that traced the roots of African slaves in South America and explored their influence on the local South American culture (Gates 3).

Wide Spectrum of Race in Brazil

Walker (17) said that Brazil had a flexible conception of race, as opposed to America. It is difficult to argue otherwise because unlike America, Brazil has about 134 categories of blackness (Gates 1). Comparatively, Americans perceive “blackness” through two racial groups – African-Americans and African immigrants. Therefore, Brazil has failed to adopt a narrow understanding of racial variations, as America does. Particularly, South American natives do not have a binary understanding of what defines a white or black person. Walker (18) supports this view by saying Afro-Americans could change their race, depending on how much money they have.

In other words, the Brazilian society perceives wealthy people as “white” and poor people as “black.” In America, money does not define a person’s race. For example, regardless of how much money an African immigrant has, the American society would still regard him as an immigrant. The same is true for wealthy African-American personalities in America. For example, Walker (19) highlights Bill Cosby’s life journey as a poor and wealthy American. Although he accumulated a lot of money, he still maintained his African-American roots, as he demonstrated through his $20 million donation to an African-American college (Walker 19).

In Brazil, money changes people’s racial identities because they adopt “white” behaviours with improved economic fortunes. Therefore, being white in Brazil does not mean having lighter skin pigmentation, but having more money. To explain this fact, Walker (19) highlighted how the former Brazilian striker, Pele, got a lot of admiration and respect for his contribution to the Brazilian sport industry. Largely, the Brazilian society did not treat him differently from how they would treat a white person. In fact, through this positive treatment, he rose through several political ranks to become the Brazilian minister of sports. Therefore, money and wealth play a pivotal role in how Brazilians perceive racial differences. Again, the same perception is false for America because even the poorest white person still enjoys the same “racial privileges” that all white people do.

Although Walker (19) showed that Brazil and America had different perspectives of racial differences, she failed to show the commonalities between both societies. For example, she failed to show how both societies associate money and wealth to the white race. Indeed, both societies associate “whiteness” with wealth and “blackness” with poverty (regardless of the colour of skin). This is why the Brazilian society deems poor white people as “black” people. Therefore, to this extent of analysis, both Americans and Brazilians have common racial perceptions of wealth and poverty.

Relation of Readings to Themes Discussed in Class

How African-Americans View themselves

In African-American studies, racial perceptions are not exclusive to how other racial groups view one racial cohort, but also how members of the same race view themselves. This theme is a common focus of study for anthropologists and other researchers because understanding how African-Americans view themselves helps to understand how other people view the race. Similarly, such perceptions would help to understand what measures African-Americans use to define themselves. These views closely align with studies that show how other races view African-Americans and other minority races.

Walker (16) explored this theme by investigating the differences and similarities between Afro-Brazilians and African-Americans. She said that many African-Americans acknowledge their African heritage, except that they have not found an opportunity to understand, or “live,” it. This is why she says many African-Americans have generalised the entire African continent into a province and perceived it as their “motherland” (Walker 19).

This way, they ignore the dynamism and complexity of African culture. However, Walker (19) agrees that African-Americans have a deeper ownership of their African heritage than Afro-Brazilians do. Although Afro-Brazilians have a focused understanding of their African roots, their identity often “disappears” when they become more economically empowered. If this happens, they become “whiter,” and “lose” their identity in the process. The same is not true for African-Americans because they do not have a subjective identity. Although they may experience negative racial stereotypes because of their African roots, they still consider themselves “black.” Overall, this analysis shows that African-Americans have a static view of their identity, while the Afro-Brazilians have a variable identity of their “blackness.” This analysis shows how the work of Walker (16) explains racial identities in African-American studies.

Influence of Social Movements on Racial Ideologies

Issues of racial identity mainly stem from social movements. Around the world, different people have varied opinions about racial divisions. Furthermore, these opinions keep changing across different human generations. Different social factors, such as religion, dressing, music, and language (among others) may influence social movements (WarnerLewis 557). Walker (16) explored how such social movements affect Brazilian culture and how they create racial identities. For example, she showed how Brazil lacked strict cohorts of racial identities (Walker 19).

Indeed, unlike America, there are no distinct racial divisions in South America. This lack of distinction emerges from the strong African social movements that have permeated the Brazilian society. Because Brazilians have allowed African cultural practices to influence their lifestyles, they have developed “accommodating” racial ideologies. Comparatively, because America has negligible African influences, it considers African cultural practices as alien (Walker 19).

Furthermore, its interpretation of African culture fails to show its diversity or complexity. This situation has denied African-Americans a chance to learn, or identify with their African roots (except for small cultural influences in music, dressing, and worship). Therefore, cultural alienation in America has created strong racial ideologies about African culture, which has further created strong racial divisions in the country. This analysis shows that social movements in Brazil and America created different racial ideologies in both countries.

African Popular Culture

African popular culture is a central theme in this study because it explores the diversity and complexity of African culture. The popular culture is a blend of different societal influences on human lifestyles (from traditional, modern, eastern, and western influences). Gates (3) says that the African popular culture encompasses different global movements and ideologies, which include traditional and modern social, cultural, political, and economic influences. These influences are important for this study because they explain the cultural composition of the Caribbean-Brazilian experience. Walker (16) explains these influences through the Brazilian culture.

She says the Samba culture is a blend of African and European cultural influences (Walker 17). Both cultures mixed because European settlers in Brazil allowed the African slaves to continue their celebratory practices (although in small proportions, not to cause any political instability in the country). Consequently, early African slaves included some elements of African dance and music to the European culture to create the “Samba dance.” Therefore, African influences are dominant in Brazilian cultural practices. In fact, Walker (17) says most residents of Sao Paulo, Brazil, become “Africans” during Samba festivals. African popular culture also permeates through other aspects of Brazilian society, including choreography, music, dressing, and economic lifestyles (WarnerLewis 557-560). Overall, this analysis shows how popular culture is a central theme in racial studies.

Discussion of Questions Raised by the Reading

The main question raised by Walker (16) is the difference between “Africanity” and “blackness.” She says both concepts are different. Blackness mainly refers to skin pigmentation, but “Africanity” refers to cultural heritage. Therefore, while many light-skinned people in Brazil may appreciate their African heritage, they may not necessarily have the “blackness” that many people associate with the race. The same is true for people who may have a dark skin colour, but do not understand their African roots (“Africanity”). Walker (19) says African-Americans fit this description. Another question that she asks in her analogy is if wealth could end racial differences. She touts this idea after showing how Brazil could perceive white people as “black,” and “black” people as “white” (Walker 19).

Similarly, she contrasts these views with America’s racial rigidity by showing how North Americans consider different shades of “blackness” as distinctly “black.” This analogy shows that racial differences are perceptual. While some societies are more accommodating of racial differences, others are not. Biologically, it is impossible for wealth to end racial differences, but socioeconomic status affects people’s perceptions of the same. Therefore, the negative, or positive, connotations of blackness mainly come from the socioeconomic perceptions of racial differences.

Conclusion

This paper shows how Walker (16) explored the relationship between African social movements and Brazilian racial identities. She contrasted these cohorts with American racial identities and found out that both societies have different perceptions of “Africanity” and blackness. In detail, she said that Afro-Brazilians seek their “blackness” while African-Americans seek their “Africanity.” The social movements that created these different perceptions show how popular culture can affect people’s perception of their race. This paper shows that cultural influences have affected Brazilian racial ideologies through music, dance, language and other social factors.

Although these influences have created different racial cohorts in North and South America, this paper points out that both regions have the same conception of the relationship between racial identity and wealth. Stated differently, both regions attribute high socioeconomic statuses to “whiteness” and poverty to “blackness.” Overall, Walker (16) presents a good argument about the differences between “blackness” and “Africanity.” Her views are informative because they show how perceptual limits of race and culture affect how we view other cultures.

Works Cited

Gates, Henry. What It Means To Be Black In Latin America. 2011. Web.

Walker, Sheila. Africanity vs Blackness: Race, Class and Culture in Brazil.” NACLA Report on the Americas 35.6 (2002): 16–20. Print.

WarnerLewis, Maureen. “West Africa in the Caribbean: Art, artefacts and ideas.” Critical Arts 25.4 (2011): 555-564. Print.

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