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Reported by April V. Taylor
After a series of racist incidents targeting black soccer players, many of whom are Brazilian, Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff labeled this years World Cup the “anti-racism World Cup.” As recently reported by The Root, when one takes a closer look, race has a much more complex existence in Brazil.
Outside of Africa, Brazil has the largest population of people of African descent. In addition, Brazil was one of the last countries to abolish slavery in 1888. Despite these two facts, many black Brazilians do not identify themselves as black. Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, a Brazilian soccer star, is an example of this. When asked in a 2010 interview if he had ever experienced racism, his answer was, “Never. Not inside nor outside of the soccer field. Even more because I’m not black, right?”
Many in America may be baffled by Neymar’s response, but the truth of the matter is that many lighter skinned black people in Brazil do not identify as black, according to black Brazilian activist Daniela Gomes. She says that this denial of blackness causes many Brazilians to experience racism without realizing that it is in fact because of their blackness, whether they claim it or not.
An example of this is are the taunts Neymar and his teammates have faced by having spectators throw bananas at them and refer to them as monkeys. While many blacks in America would immediately infer that the perpetrators were insinuating that they were monkeys, Neymar and his teammates may not have immediately realized this simply because they do not view themselves as black.
Gomes believes that this difference in how Brazilians perceive and identify blackness has to do with the government policies of integration and miscegenation that occurred after slaves were freed in 1888. The government created a law called Decree 528, which opened the country’s borders to foreign immigrants as long as they were not from Africa or Asia. This was done in an attempt to whiten the population.
Brazilian entrepreneur and activist Carlos Alberto describes the affect this approach had on racism in Brazil: “Racism in Brazil is very sophisticated and structured. The racism here is not physical. It works on people psychologically.”