Expats Find Brazil's Reputation For Race-Blindness Is Undone By Reality : Parallels Brazil is touted as one of the most racially harmonious places in the world, but people of color who move there say they are surprised at the degree of discrimination they face based on skin color.
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Expats Find Brazil's Reputation For Race-Blindness Is Undone By Reality

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Expats Find Brazil's Reputation For Race-Blindness Is Undone By Reality

Expats Find Brazil's Reputation For Race-Blindness Is Undone By Reality

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Brazil is touted as one of the most racially harmonious places in the world. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is based there. She wondered if that's what people of color actually encounter when they immigrate to Brazil. She has this report on the experiences of three people who relocated to the country.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: There's a joke among Brazilians that a Brazilian passport is the most coveted one on the black market because no matter what your background, be it Asian, African or European, you can fit in here.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I was expecting to be the average looking Brazilian. Brazil like you see on the media is not what I experienced when I arrived.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm sitting in a cafe with two women who don't want their names used because of the sensitivity of the topic. One is from the Caribbean. Her husband is an expat executive. She self-describes as multiracial.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: When I arrived, I was shocked to realize that there was a big difference between the races and colors than what's expected - was your role basically based on your skin color.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The other is from London, and she also relocated to Brazil because of her husband's job. She describes herself as black.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Because my skin is very dark, so going out with my children on occasions people would say to me, you know, are you - are you the nanny for these children? And I would have to explain to them no.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So here's a quick lesson on race and class in Brazil - this country was the last place in the Americas to give up slavery. It also imported many times more slaves than the U.S. - some four million. These days, among the whiter, wealthier classes, it's common to have a nanny or baba that is darker-skinned. And the woman from London says they are all required to wear white. She says it got tiresome to have to constantly explain her relationship to her children because of the assumptions here.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: And so I promptly stopped wearing white. I got rid of the white that's in my wardrobe, and I do not wear white anymore.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Also she says as a black woman with lighter skin children, she fears being stopped by the police who regularly target people of color here. For example, she always carries ID that shows she is the mother of her two kids, something she wouldn't do in London.

KY ADDERLY: I feel like the racism here is much deeper than I've ever felt anywhere.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Ky Adderly. He's an American from Philadelphia who runs an education consultancy in Rio. He says he knows how to navigate being a black man in the U.S.

ADDERLY: But regardless of people's skin tone, there was a sense in the black community that if you had a little bit in you, then you were black. And so then we were able to build community really quickly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But here in Brazil, he found it really hard to find that same support network, so he created one with other ex-patriot black men.

ADDERLY: But we have a group called Bros in Brazil and it is a group of, you know, maybe 15 guys now that come from Europe, Africa, the United States and are living and working in Brazil as professionals.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They talk about race a lot. Brazil, Adderly says, is deeply segregated along racial lines, especially in Rio. When he's out of his suit and walking his dog, for example, he often gets asked if he's a dog walker. He says simply being an educated black man here feels like a subversive act.

ADDERLY: You know, as a black person, well, what is your place in Rio de Janeiro? All the blacks that I see are in service jobs, you know? And the darker you are the less you're seen, so the role that you may have may be, you know, in, you know, back in the kitchen and not out waiting a table.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The worry for him, though, is how the race question in Brazil will affect his 11-month-old daughter. He was told by a woman that he needed to modify her features.

ADDERLY: Well, you can fix her nose, you know. You just pinch it. If you just pinch her nose every day and just keep pinching it, she won't have that wide nose.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back at the cafe, the woman from London says the racism here has also started to affect her kids.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: My 3-year-old has started to come home from school and he started to rub my arms and my skin like this. So I've said to him what are you doing? Why you rubbing my skin? And he's saying, Mommy, I'm trying to get the brown off. I'm trying to get the brown off.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But there is a positive side. The woman from the Caribbean says being in Brazil has made her a lot more conscious about issues of race. And so she refuses to stop wearing her favorite color - white.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Why should you let color of clothing signify who you are or your color of skin signify who you are? I am who I am. I don't care what you think. This is who I am. I'm going to continue being me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

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