Reflexões: Be Slow to Judge - The trickiness of race and class

Texto de Mariama White-Hammond
Foto:Natan's Piva Page

Be Slow to Judge - The trickiness of race and class

Last night I went out for my last walk through Pelourinho before my early flight for this morning. On my way to say goodbye to a friend I ran into a couple that was struggling with very limited Portuguese to find a 24-hour ATM. I stopped to do a little translation and then gave them some recommendations for how they could stay safe late at night.

After running some of my last errands I ran into them again and they invited me to have a drink. I was in a hurry to get to a 2nd birthday party for a friends son so I could not really join them but the man mentioned that Salvador was not what they had expected. He commented that the worlds seemed so “separate”. While I have known that Brazil can be a very segregated place, I had gotten pretty comfortable and had stopped noticing the fact that Pelourinho is the downtown center of African descendants while other popular hang outs like Rio Vermelho and Barra are much lighter. You see white people around Pelourinho, but they are mostly tourists – not elite Bahians. In contrast, my one experience at a bar in Barra had me feeling pretty dark.

The couple was from New York and LA and they were more used to living in a diverse world. I think they had heard the official Brazilian line that there was not racism and maybe they though there was no classism either? Or maybe they thought that Pelourinho would be gentrified at this point – I mean if it is a major tourist attraction that must mean good property values and plenty of yuppies to flood in and buy up the great historical houses. Isn’t that how it gets down in Harlem or the South End? Or maybe they thought it was like LA where the parties have people of all colors and it feels like you are living in the world as it should be, while not thinking about the folks living under highway overpasses or children dying on the streets of Compton.

The reality is that we live in a world where racism and classism still exist and in many ways they are deeply connected. A conversation with another Brazilian reminded me of the importance of remembering that we must confront both of these oppressions not privileging one over the other.

So instead of having this deep conversation with the guy, I told him that he would probably have a better time in Barra. I couldn’t really name any good places (since Barra is not really my cup of tea) but he said he would consult his Lonely Planet for suggestions. As we said goodbye I wished that I had a minute to talk because I could tell that this issue had made him pause to think and we could probably had an ample discussion about the very things I reflected on. However, I had a party to get to and friends to say goodbye. So I left feeling like I didn’t have time to get deep with him.

I could close the blog here with me being the omniscient expert on race and class, but this morning I was riding on the bus to the airport. I felt proud of myself for not needing to take a $35 taxi and for knowing the city well enough to get on the $2 bus. I felt very baiana (the term for a woman from the Bahian region) and I looked forward to my last glimpse of Salvador being along the beach route of the bus rather than the highway route that the taxis take.

As I looked out the window at the beach and the waves crashing I saw so many people out walking and running along the beach. I felt a pang of guilt that I had not done any running while in Salvador and I realized that I would have to train that much harder to get ready for my half marathon in October. I remembered that part of the reason that I didn’t run is that the area where I stayed was not close to the beach. Things could get a little sketchy at night and I didn’t think it that safe to run at night or even maybe in the morning and definitely not with my Ipod.

I have been thinking about the possibility of living in Salvador in the future and for a moment I thought about how great it would be to be able to live close to the beach, have a great view and be able to run along the beach every morning. My husband has been mentioning that he is tired of living in a city so I know he would much prefer to be close to the ocean in a relatively quiet area where it was not too loud at night. It would be great.

But then I had a quick panick moment when I realized that there were not too many Black folks living in the areas and that if we were to move to Barra or Ondina everytime I was in the hood and people asked me where I lived there would come that moment spoken or unspoken when we would realize the major class difference between us. As a activist who works with folks who are sometimes struggling to get by this moment of class distinction is awkward for me. It is that moment when a child who might be impressed by my confidence or the way that I talk or my ideas suddenly feels that those things are unattainable because they won’t have access to the middle class family I grew up in or to the private high school or elite university where I was educated. It is in the quick moments that I feel my own privilege and sometimes I see folks sink back into their own “disadvantage.”

So before I am judgemental of this guy I had to reflect on myself. On my own desire to live in a safe neighborhood where I can run outside, get healthy food and appreciate nature. While my life mission is to build a world where everyone has access to those things, the reality is that world will probably not come in my life time. So until then – what do I do about the fact that sometimes I want to have a nice space and not live on top of 50 people and worry about my kids – and on the other hand I want to live in solidarity with the same people I am fighting with. I have seen how the flight of Black middle class has been part of the deterioration of so many Black communities around the United States. I have at times been angry with those folks when I was living in my neighborhood and we were the only kids outside whose parents were professionals and I felt like one example was not enough to balance the parents who had to work 3 jobs to make ends meet or had given up trying and were just living on welfare.

I don’t pretend to have answers I just realize how complex the situation is. In the Black community in the United States I think we get used to holding up the banner of racial solidarity so we don’t have to deal with issues of class, but I guess Brazil has made me see in an even more concrete way how much the two are connected. So I am glad that I don’t have the answer right now, but I guess I do wonder – am I committed enough to liberation of my people that I would be willing to live in a favela? Would people living in the favela think that was just being foolish? Would it make more sense for me to use my privilege to deal with and challenge those folks who are removed from the reality of poverty? If you have any answers, or even more questions – feel free to leave a comment.

Foto: Farol da Barra de Helio Queiroz

2 comentários:

  1. thank you for your visit and thoughtful comments on 'flowers'. Talk about being functionally uneducated - the spell check on blogger is not working again and as I re-read what I had written this morning I found THREE misspells.
    you words above are thought provoking.
    I find myself always with more questions than answers. one thing is certain, it is human nature to try and better yourself and your family, there should be no quilt in this desire. maybe where we might help more is to not resent the need to pay one more real in taxes. one real more, that combined with all other's one real might improve our local public schools by even 10% and would then help a great many children formulate a dream of a better life. if lack of education is the answer to why to many problems, than better education seems to be a starting point for the solutions.

  2. Oi GingerV,

    Obrigado pelo comentário.

    O texto acima não é meu, ele é de
    Mariama White-Hammond
    Mas, sem duvida que ele nos faz refletir.

    A questão ainda é, que garantia nós teríamos, ou forma de controle efetivo, de que este dinheiro seria aplicado na educação ?

    No mais, concordo concordo com você.