History in the Making as the Past Continues to Haunt Us

As recent economic tides demonstrate, what happens in the United States- for good or for bad- resounds deeply around the world.

Intrinsic to the future of the world economy, the 2008 U.S presidential race electrified the world even before the banking crisis hit. In Brazil, the potential of a black man at the helm of its powerful and influential northern neighbor - and truly the world- has caused great excitement.

The Bahian newspaper Folha de Salvador recently asked some prominent black leaders in the community to reflect on what a black American president would mean for Brazil. Here's what they had to say:
Lázaro Passos Cunha (Director of Projects, Steve Biko Cultural Institute)
“Brazilian society has always accused the United States of practicing a more radical racism than exists here, but Brazil is a much more exclusive nation. With the election of Obama, I believe that the changes, in terms of our nation, will come about through pressures that will be put upon the elites that question the politics of affirmative action such as the implementation of quotas in the universities, but are not concerned about the quality of our public elementary schools."

Cláudia Santos (Professor of Ethnic African Studies and militant of the newspaper Irohín – which means “news” in Yoruba)
“The idea of a black president is something that has already been considered in our society since the beginning of the last century. The 1926 novel The Black President by Monteiro Lobato touched upon the possibility of the rise of a black man in the political arena. Lobato chose the year 2228 for his character to campaign and win the presidency of the United States. Today, we see Obama as a revision of all the stereotypes of ineptitude associated with being black and this is the fruit of the public political process. He is an inspiration for us in all senses, but we are part of a different history. It is necessary that we recognize and valorize our origins and fight to strengthen our ethnic-racial debates at the center of our political discussions so that we have a chance to arrive at that point."

Gilvan Assunção (Founder of UNEGRO – Union of Blacks for Equality, União de Negros pela Igualdade)
“Obama is a man who is rising but maintaining one foot on the floor, avoiding to become a star. He was able to surpass all the accusations that they made against him unscathed. Today, he is qualified to be a great leader of blacks all over the world. Even though he has not won the presidency, he is already a very positive influence, in large part for the youth. In our movement here in Brazil we are on the right path but we cannot reflect upon ourselves only in that which they are doing outside the country. We need to be aggressive because things here are a bit slow, due to the historical process in which blacks were placed.

Antônio Carlos dos Santos, Vovô (Founder and President of the Bloco Afro Ilê Ayê)
“The visibility that he [Obama] has due to the fact that he may be the first black man to govern a major world power certainly makes us re-think our situation. However, we have a culture that prejudges us and it needs to be changed; many blacks still suffer under mental slavery and do not vote for the black candidate. In South Africa, when given the opportunity to vote for a black man, they elected Mandela and changed their situation. Here, we have always had this instrument, but we don’t know how to use it. It is embedded in our culture to believe that only whites can solve our problems.”
You can read the whole article here (in Portuguese).

And despite the progress in the United States, the fact that a letter like this needs to be printed in a major American newspaper shows we still have a long long way to go. Thanks to Njoli for the link.

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