Testimony of Difference- Observations made by students doing a term abroad in Brazil, Fall 2001
I am not invisible here in Brazil. In fact, I am more visible than I have ever been in my life. As a petite woman with blonde hair, blue eyes and very fair skin, I am a minority. Ordinarily, I am confident in my skin and in myself although I have worked to reach that point. As a woman I will admit that I enjoy attention from males. It makes me feel good to be noticed and sometimes I find myself walking with even more confidence. However, something has changed. As I begin my daily walk to the bus stop, I find that with every pair of eyes that stares at me, I feel as if someone is stamping upon my very existence. As I stand alone and wait to cross the crazy streets in São Paulo, cars full of men beep and stare so obsessively that I wonder if they can see through me. As woman pass me in walking, I desperately try to avoid eye contact and nervously glance at my watch r the sidewalk. But I can feel their eyes and I find myself wondering what is so different about me. Am I strange? So, my skin is lighter than yours and my hair may be blonder, but I am human and real and sensitive and frustrated. I can not allow them to smother my confidence I preach to myself.
I climb in the three steep stairs onto the giant bus and avoid looking to see the unfamiliar faces of my fellow passengers. It is my third week here and I know the routine. All eyes on me. I feel angry and find myself walking so quickly to a seat where I will be safe that I almost trip on my own feet. I want to stare back and scream...YES! “I am different!!” I am foreign! I have never felt such a deep craving to just simply be me and invisible.
different and alone are not feelings that I usually have.
I have always grown up being taught that the quality of an individual is
based on how one can deal with the situations dealt to him/her.
Being African-American and having to assimilate into Union College is a
task that does not come easy to many, as we are a very small group.
I have prided myself in knowing that I have assimilated into the social
fabric of Union College on many fronts and though I am different, I have never
really felt out of place. Education
has presented me with somewhat of a dilemma though. Believing that the advancement of a people is based
predominantly on the quality of the individuals is a belief that has
disintegrated from my mind. Learning
the social, political, and economic barriers that have kept many groups,
including African Americans marginal to the dominant society has weighed heavily
on my mind and has led me to further investigate and realize the ways that I am
different in areas such as Union College. This
trip to Brazil has allowed me to further witness the conditions that have kept
darker people of Afro-descent marginal to the dominant society, however, I have
witnessed it on a more social level.
is a country that continues to nurture racist and especially classist ideology,
an the two are inter-relate because in Brazil your class often determines your
race. In São Paulo, everyday that
i stip on the Metro, I am often the only dark-skinned individual. Walking down the streets, I often realize that those of
darker complexion are either homeless or the ones performing the low paying, low
status jobs. Collectively, when my
American friends and I go to many of the clubs of São Paulo that are deemed as
extremely pleasant, myself and the other students of African descent are often
the only ‘black’ people in the club. When
I enter many restaurants with my host family, I am often left wondering why
everyone in this central location of São Paulo appear to be of predominantly
European descent; or when I visit the house of one of my American classmates,
and I am told by the mother that he dog is vehemently barking oat me because of
the color of my skin, I am left angry. Or when I go to newspaper stands, or a store, and can not
find one product that caters to those of Afro descent, or find on magazine that
features dark-skinned woman at all. All
of this in a country that has the second highest population of people of African
descent, who for some reason can not be found in São Paulo, the city with the
most opportunities......I hope you see the ambiguity in this.
The dichotomy between races is extremely high here in São Paulo and the
more I think it is my imagination, the more I investigate it.
The more I investigate it, the more I realize it is true, and the more it
leaves me feeling disheartened and powerless.
There is probably no where in the world one can travel to now, where
European influence and ideology has not caused a dichotomy between those of
African descent, and those of European descent.
Unfortunately, 99% of the time, the people of African descent are on the
receding end.............but I hope I am wrong.
I hoe that I am thinking into this too deeply. I think of it everything I approach people, especially women,
and I notice their reluctance, that is until they hear my American accent which
automatically ceases whatever withdrawal they may have initially felt.
Then again, I may be overanalyzing this as being approached by strangers
on any level can cause anyone some discomfort.
However, I mention again that those feelings have just arose, and many in
fact may be wrong. I sometimes feel
extremely out of place, but I immediately dismiss those feelings and return to
my confident level. This letter is
not to say that there are no poor ‘white skinned’ people or people of
European descent who suffer from the inequities of the Brazilian system.
are many of them, however, a much larger percentage of people of African descent
are poor and nonexistent. I often
lust of find out where they reside and myself and a couple of students have set
out to find some clubs and social arenas that cater to or allow Afro-Brazilians.
In finding one through an Afro-Brazilian friend that I have, we realized
immediately upon visiting that the location was in a more lower-served area and
when we entered, myself and the two other students of African descent
acknowledged it was an atmosphere identical similar to those in America.
It felt good to hear hip-hop, to see dark-skinned and white-skinned
people together, and it felt good to interact with a different class of people.
The solidarity and remnants of African dance these people engaged in was
extremely pleasing to see, but when we left, the feelings of a marginalized,
segregated group remained in my mind.
The poor, and especially Afro-Brazilians are not detached from the social, political and economic and cultural system in which they exist. Their limitations are due to the ethical, political, and cultural conditions which characterize their situations. When Brazilian society is ready to be free of the venom of racism, sexism and especially classism and starts to operate in more equitable patterns, with the increase in awareness of social acceptance, it will be easier for me to walk down the streets of São Paulo.
new languages was never something which came easily to me.
I knew that one of my biggest problems that I would face in Brazil would
be the fact that I would not be able to communicate with people on a daily
In order to make this problem as less of an obstacle, we have been taking
classes in Portuguese. Although
this class helps to alleviate the problems of communication, it is not enough
for me personally to function. I
have learned the basic phrases. I
need, I want, where is....so if I ever really needed something I think I would
be okay. But living in a country
where you walk down the streets and can not understand even the basic
conversations of a passerbyer, is the most intimidating feeling ever.
Language has become a barrier for me when it comes to fully immersing
myself into the culture. Portuguese
is nothing like English and the people speak so quickly it makes your head spin.
I would love to begin a conversation with a person I meet in the store,
but even with my Portuguese knowledge it does not provide me with enough
vocabulary to talk to someone about their day.
An experience like this really teaches you the power of communication.
It is the simple things which you take for granted.
For example, for the first two weeks I was afraid to go into a restaurant
to bring food home, because I had no idea how to ask for the food to go.
I knew that if I ordered my sandwich they would put it on a glass plate
to eat in the restaurant. This
example is one that is easily surmountable by either finding out the word in
Portuguese or using body language to get to your point across, but nonetheless
it just reminds you how important it is that you can verbally communicate with
A few weeks ago, I went with one of my friends from Union to hear some
live music. They were having an
open mic. night and there was a cash prize for the winner. My friend and I had just so happened to be sitting right next
to the stage. The M.C. had said
something funny and the audience was all cheering and applauding, but since my
friend and I did not understand and were not paying attention, we did not laugh.
This brought attention to us and the M.C. tried to talk to us.
We proudly in our best Portuguese accents politely said “não falo
Portuguese” (which means I do not speak Portuguese).
The M.C. laughed and said something very quickly in Portuguese.
We had no idea what he said, but we decided from that point on to laugh
and applaud when everyone else did so that we would not draw anymore unnecessary
attention to ourselves. Throughout
the night, we noticed people were looking at us a lot more than usual, but we
decided it was only because they know we were outsiders, and continued to laugh
As the night descended and my friend and I were to leave, the M.C.
approached us. He spoke English and
explained to us that he played a joke on us all night.
When he found out we did not speak any Portuguese, he told the audience
to randomly for no reason begin to laugh and cheer and to watch us because we
would follow along not having a
clue what was going on. And the MC
was right, we had no clue that we were all night, at certain points cheering at
nothing. It really shows you the
power of being able to understand and communicate with the people around you.
If the MC had not told us, we never would have known.
Language is a powerful tool.
Something to think about........................
Being a white female born into a middle class family, identifying myself
according to my race is not something I am forced to confront on a daily basis.
I, along with 98% of the people around me growing up, am white.
When I got into my junior year of high school, I looked around me and
realized that what I saw around me was not an accurate portrayal or reality.
I knew there was more to life than my white suburban town and sought to
broaden my horizons and open my mind to whatever cultures I could learn which
were different than my own.
Through education and simply being a human being, I have learned about
racism. I have witnessed it with my
own eyes. With so many social
movements to promote racial equality in Brazil, one would begin to imagine that
things would be getting better, but they are not.
On a daily basis people are treated like the other based solely on the
color of their skin. In class here
in Brazil, we discussed the ideas of race in Brazil.
Brazilians deny discriminating by race in Brazil, but admit to
discriminating by class. But race
issues are prevalent in these titles regardless of what people call them. Everyday people are judged solely on the basis of their skin.
I have often thought about this, but I never could understand or relate
I went to a predominantly black bar with Dapo, Chirlie, and Aracely
(Black themselves). I had been there the previous week and I really felt like I
stood out, because I was the minority-one of the few white girls in the bar.
I felt out of my element and a little intimidated at first as I tried to
ease my way on the dance floor. I felt as though everyone was staring at me
although I am sure that it was not as bad as I perceived it to be, I probably
exaggerated it. Nonetheless, I felt very vulnerable. As I looked around the dance floor, I saw Chirlie dancing
like crazy totally comfortable, I realized that the initial feelings I had
entering this bar is how she must feel at every place we had previously been on
this trip—for example, at predominantly white bars. It was just a quick thought and a reality check as I loosened
up and began dancing. It ended up
being so much fun that I wanted to return the next week.
Back to my experience yesterday. Aracely,
Chirlie, Dapo and I were hanging out with a bunch of Afro-Brazilian men, having
a good time. These guys were a lot
of fun to talk to and dance with. They
made me feel very comfortable and I enjoyed their company.
As the night was drawing to an end, I overheard one of the guys mention
my name a few times in a conversation with one of my friends.
They were speaking in Portuguese so I really could not understand what
they were saying. A few minutes
later when my friend was alone I asked her what they were talking about.
She told me that he said that I was a little rich white girl who got
everything she wanted from her daddy. I
immediately went into shock because this was the last thing I was expecting, and
one of the few things that I can confidently say I am not.
I had hung out with him most of the night and that was all that he had
gotten from me? I did not
understand. I have worked really hard my whole life to get the where I am now, and I am
very proud of that. It really
bothered me that after being with me all night he had decided that that was who
I am. I am not rich and I am not
spoiled. He was basing his opinion
of me based on what he believed was a typical white girl.
I was the only white girl there, I was the minority, therefore I was the
rich little spoiled girl.
I was initially enraged. I
could feel the blood pumping through my veins.
Never did I treat him or act in a way which would lead him to that
conclusion. How could he make a
judgment of me like that? He does not know anything about my life and I certainly do
not have the mentality of placing myself above others. My mind was racing with millions of thoughts.
I wanted to walk up to him right then and there and put him in his place.
I wanted to tell him that he was wrong about me and that I did not
fulfill his stereotypical view of white girls.
He realized that my friend had told me and I think he began to pick up on
my reaction to this comment, so he immediately approached me to tell me that he
was just teasing, but I knew that in all honesty he was not.
That was how he perceived me and there was nothing that I could do to
change that unless he spent time with me to get to know me, and that is not a
reality. It was not his fault, he
is entitled to his opinion but his comment will forever leave a mark on me.
I went home that night confused, flustered and angry.
I was confronted with a reality unlike any I had ever encountered before.
What had happened last night?
The next day, my head had cleared and I awoke early to go to class as
usual. The first thought that
entered my mind was what had happened last night.
I was in a new state of mind, clear and rational, and I realized
something very important. I
realized what he did to me last night happens to him on a daily basis.
As a result of the color of his skin, he is badgered and judged.
There is not always a rhyme and reason for things, sometimes it is just
the way things are. And, for the first time, I experienced this.
He took one look at me and immediately judged me and there was no basis,
no rhyme, no reason, it was just the way it was.
In his eyes I was the little spoiled rich white girl.
This experience was like no other. It
was the first time I had been blatantly, in front of my face, been judged
negatively because of the color of my skin.
I have always considered the fact that people judged me, but I focused
more on the judgment of my thoughts or actions or on my role as a women in
society, not on the basis of my skin color.
I took for granted the role that the color of my skin plays a role in my
life, and I rarely thought about what that meant to me and my identity.
As naive as this may sound, in a way I viewed myself as untouchable and
out of harms way in terms of racial discrimination. But yesterday, my heart was
torn. It arose in me a new form of
awareness one with a feeling attached to it.
A feeling of anger, frustration, confusion, and in a way despair.
No one is untouchable. Everyone
has experienced discrimination as a human being and it is not something that is
easy to swallow. I am going to take
a lot of valuable lessons from this, but one which will override all the rest is
the way my heart felt when I realized that my one particular instance of
discrimination is a needle in a mountain of hay, and it reminds me to be wary of
my initial judgment of people. You never know what their life was like. We are all humans regardless of the color of our skin.
Brazilian Women---a male student´s view
Body image and image of oneself is an issue that is faced by many Americans. We are bombarded with countless images of what society deems as beautiful, and we often fall victim to losing our identity as we identify with society so much and we are raised with a specific scope of beauty at quite early ages. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, however I feel as if our visions and our preferences of whom and what is beautiful have been distorted due to our society influence. In America and many parts of the world we tend to hold the European version of woman as the ideal image of what women should be and as to what beauty is. It is disturbing when I am in African and skin lightener is a highly sought out commodity. It is unfortunate when you see, especially in America, the sort of self-hatred that women often have for themselves and their bodies due to the more recent lust for woman to be slim and to hold the features of models and television icons. Often at times, these icons that are in magazines and that are on television are in fact genetic mishaps, and the average normal woman cannot and should not possibly be this size. These woman often suffer from anemia and amenoria and cannot even have kids, however, it is due to their uncommon numbers that make they are portrayed as being so exquisite in our society. The effects that it is having on our women is horrible though, and the numbers of eating disorders and cases of anorexia, bulimia and other excessive dieting problems are on the rise and continue to run rampant in our communities. I have witnessed this first hand at Union College and it is an unfortunate consequence of the patriarchal systems that still control our minds and our activities. Women are always on the losing end of this.
Brazilian women are beautiful. I cannot classify the men into that same category because I do not focus on or observe the men very much. I do not think that my image of beauty has been distorted by American society as much as other American people, due to many reasons.
is not to say that images have not distorted or shaped my sense of what beauty
is, but I feel I have a more global sense of knowing and realizing that beauty
has many faces, and indeed, it depends on the individual and how society has
shaped them. All people have a
beauty within them that others seek. With
our newly global society, I fear that we will formulate a more generic sense of
what is beautiful and even scarier, what is ugly..........but I
woman appear to me, to be much more confident in themselves and their bodies
than American woman. As Americans,
we dress differently. Asking some
Brazilian women, they tend to believe that American woman dress too
conservative, while some of my American friends say that Brazilian women dress
too arousing and suggestive. I
disagree with this because beauty and how it is expressed is different here in
Brazil. While walking down the
streets of São Paulo, you often see woman wearing very arousing clothes;
however, many of these women would not dress this way had they been raised in
American society. This is because
many of these woman that are dressed provocatively are a bit curvier and a bit
thicker than we as American foreigners are accustomed to seeing.
While laying on the beaches of Rio, one can often see some of these same
women wearing thong bikinis......most of these women, in American terms, would
be considered on the heavier side, even though they are not fat.
I feel that in America, there are only certain types of woman that are
allowed to wear certain types of outfits, though we are a free society.
Many women are almost forced into a false sense of feeling fat, and many
of them limit their freedom to dress how they want and act how they want, based
on what our society deems as beautiful. Not
here in Brazil.......
is funny when all of us American students feel a bit uncomfortable when
everywhere we go, we see that there is a couple engaged in intimate kissing and
groping activities. This is unheard
of in America, but it is beautiful and normal here.
Everywhere you turn, you see it.....On the Metro, on the street, in the
train station, on the bus, in the supermarket, in school........Any and
everywhere. Where Brazilians feel
like it, they do it, where as in America, we are disposed to saving that sort of
activity for private settings only........It is indeed true freedom.
is beautiful for a greater variety of women to express and display their beauty
in ways that I am not accustomed to seeing in America.
Whether you are a size 4 or a size 14, you flaunt it, and you are proud
of it. Different shapes of woman wear clothing that demonstrate how
confident they are about their bodies. Even
more pleasant, is the sight of pregnant woman in this country who do not subject
themselves to solely remaining indoors, or wearing conservative clothing such as
muumuus. When pregnant, I have
observed that women do not dress any different, and in fact many of them flaunt
their bellies by wearing open bellied tops and clothing that illuminate their
pregnant and heavier state. Absolutely beautiful...
Brazil is a melting pot of different people, cultures, religions and colors.
One aspect that is quite unique of Brazil is the fact that it is
extremely difficult to tab a color or race on a specific person.
This mixture of colors and races in my opinion has generated an exquisite
breed of woman who are indeed beautiful. You
can find woman very European in their face and with blond hair, yet with the
physical dimensions of African woman. You
can find women with obvious Asian descent, yet as dark as myself and with a
beautiful shape. The remnants of
many different societies are prevalent in the physical identities of Brazilian
woman, and this mixture is incredible. Brazil
represents what the United States will be in the future as populations of
different sectors of foreign people begin to assimilate and intermingle in our
communities. This is not to say
that American women are not beautiful, however I just appreciate this diversity
Brazil has problems..................MANY serious problems, however if there is one positive societal norm that I could take from here and put in America, it would be the inner confidence that the woman have on their bodies and their physical appearance. Maybe then, I will have to worry a bit less from my sister possibly falling victim to an eating disorder...........