Is this racist?

You may remember I’ve written a couple of posts about the excellent Horti Fruti adverts that show up from time to time on the metro. The format tends to be an illustration of a fruit or vegetable in the place of some human character with a caption that plays on either the name or the origin of the item in question.

Take a look at the latest one:

 

Horti Fruiti Kung Food

Couve Chinesa is what we in the UK call Chinese Cabbage. The caption says “I am the master of Kung food”. Except that’s not exactly what it says…

 

Kung-food – not bad right? But what about the rest of the phrase? The word for for “master” is mestre, but they have spelt it with an L, mestle. “Huh?” I thought at first. Then it dawned on me. They are doing that thing – making fun of the way some Chinese people say Rs like Ls.

When I was a kid people would commonly make this joke by saying flied lice (instead of “fried rice” of course). Since those days attitudes have changed in the UK – many people would see this joke as racist. Imagine a kid of Chinese descent being taunted with imaginary food orders in the playground and you get the picture.

What do you think of this kind of humour? Certainly some people find this kind of thing offensive, but it could be argued that it’s just imitating an accent for laughs. As far as I know, no one seems to have a problem when people come back from say, Jamaica, and do that stereotypical accent (Hey mon). Or do they?

I’m just guessing here, but I suspect that there will be quite a range of attitudes to this. I’ve mentioned the Horti Fruti advert to a few Brazilians and they have looked at me like I’m crazy. They roll their eyes and said “People are too sensitive!”.

Now don’t get me wrong here, this isn’t about accusing Brazilians of being racist. I just think that it’s really interesting that attitudes regarding what is and isn’t acceptable (in terms of language and humour) are clearly different in different countries. That Horti Fruti advert made me think of an incident that occurred back in 2008.

The Spanish basketball team were having a team photo-shoot just before heading out to Beijing for the Olympic Games and posed like this:

 

spain-basketball

Infamous photo of the Spanish basketball team, taken just before they headed off to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. I remember that in the UK, people were incredulous that a national team could be so naive as to think this was OK.

 

As I recall, there was an outcry in many countries, with people accusing the Spanish of being racist, but the Spanish themselves (and plenty of others) were somewhat bewildered. The president of the Spanish Basketball federation summed this feeling up: “It’s simply ridiculous. It was a gesture of affection … an identification with the Chinese people.”

Personally I’m not sure there was any racist intention with that photo, but clearly attitudes to race are very different in Spain compared to the UK. In the same year as that Olympic photo, Spanish Formula 1 fans dressed like this when Lewis Hamilton (a British driver with a black father and white mother) came to Barcelona:

Spanish-F1-fans

Lewis Hamilton’s great rival at the time was Spaniard, Fernando Alonso, so partisan support was expected. However, these fans stirred huge controversy.

 

When one fan was interviewed regarding these Alonso supporters, his response was “This is madness. It was all just part of the game. And anyway, Hamilton isn’t even really black, so I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Perhaps the English are trying to hide their own problems by making such a big story out of it”. Although that response strikes me as ridiculous, it’s only fair to point out that Britain is no racial utopia.

Putting race to one side and returning to Brazil, I’m interested to hear what you think about this: on several occasions I have heard Brazilians call each other mongoloid when they do something stupid. I’ve always heard it used as good natured teasing (no malice), but I was very surprised to hear it. When I asked about this and explained that for most people in Britain “mongoloid” would be a really bad thing to say, the reply was a breezy “Oh, well it’s fine to say it here”.

I think a good test is this: would you call your friend a mongoloid when there was a kid with Down’s Syndrome in the room? When I asked people about that, they were more thoughtful and said they probably wouldn’t say it in that context.

What do you think about all this? Do you use these terms? Is this just people being too sensitive? Or is there a serious point beneath the language and humour that people use?

Just as a final point, I wanted to say that it seems to me that in many respects, Brazil has healthier attitudes towards race than the UK. Certainly there seems to be far less separation between between people of different ancestry here. I don’t want this to seem like one big accusation – some things are just different, I’m not judging.

48 replies
  1. Alexandre
    Alexandre says:

    Tom,
    one of the people that Brazilians make more fun about are the Portuguese, even though most of us have Portuguese ancestry. Even in my family, my mother and uncles (who were actually born in Portugal) tell jokes about Portuguese. No one considers this as racist, because Portuguese are white, and no one really get offended by it, even when people from other backgrounds tell jokes about how stupid they are. To my understanding racism is much more prevalent on people who get offended by every little thing. To my understanding, all jokes are much more on the stereotype than in one race, ethnicity or nationality itself. Sure there is a line, though. But that line is far, far away from that Hortifruti ad. I don’t see how that ad could be offensive to anyone.

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Hi Alexandre,

      It can be a complicated issue sometimes don’t you think? If a certain group or race has been exploited in the past (for example, people whose ancestors were taken from Africa as slaves) then I think there is much more potential for people to feel offended or hurt by jokes. In those situations I don’t think it is about being over-sensitive.

      I know what you’re saying – when I saw that Hortifruti advert, I certainly didn’t think “Wow, that offends me”. I just thought, “Wow, I don’t think that would be allowed back in the UK”. I have been thinking about why that kind of thing isn’t allowed anymore (I say “anymore” because it certainly was allowed (link) in the 1980s when I was a kid).

      I guess making fun of Chinese people’s accents could potentially be quite hurtful to someone of Chinese descent. It makes them someone to laugh at doesn’t it? Being part of a minority (albeit a very privileged minority) has given me new insights into how being singled out can make you feel quite sensitive.

      Reply
      • Alexandre
        Alexandre says:

        I agree that is difficult to draw a line. There are jokes and jokes. There are some jokes that are really offensive, and can hurt people.
        But at the same time, I do believe that we are getting overly sensitive. We are always a minority in the world, since anyone has some trait that distinguish them from everyone else, and the smallest minority is the own individual. So everyone is a potentially in risk of being offended by any trait they have (whether someone is fat or thin, bald or hairy, tall or small, rich or poor etc.). We will soon live in a world that we could only make jokes about ourselves in order to not offend anyone. It will be a sad world for comedians, good thing I am not one.

        Reply
  2. Phil
    Phil says:

    I read the ad before I finished reading you post, and my immediate response to it was that it was highly stereotypical, and it was also offensive. If a North American food company published an ad featuring a Brazil nut wearing a tutti-frutti hat, holding a caipirinha, and kicking a soccer ball, with the caption, “I’m a Bra-zee-oo nootch-ee,” some Brazilians might find that offensive, too. Similarly, most US advertisers (including Taco Bell) have come to the realization that Latinos do not appreciate ads which feature a Mexican wearing a sombrero and serape, speaking with a heavily exaggerated Spanish accent.

    The photo of the Spanish basketball team is offensive, and so are the fans wearing black-face (a practice that is so abhorred in the US that it has all but disappeared). All of these rely on stereotypes to convey their message, and I have a problem with that. When we stereotype people based on their national or ethnic origins, we are marginalizing them, and taking a first step towards racism, even if that’s not the intent.

    It’s different when people joke about their own ethnicity or nationality, as in the example Alexandre gave. To me, that’s a form of self-deprecating humor that we all engage in from time to time, and as long as nobody takes it seriously, no harm is done.

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Hey Phil,

      Good point – it’s always easy to say “it’s just some harmless fun” when you’re mocking someone else’s culture/appearance/etc. Brazilians mocking Portuguese is (I think) like Australians mocking the British – no one takes it seriously and deep down we know that essentially the two nations are like cousin’s and love each other really.

      One thing that I think it’s worth bearing in mind is that attitudes to what is and isn’t acceptable change over time. Not so long ago, acts like the Black and White Minstrels were seen as acceptable prime time entertainment in the UK. We look back now and cringe, but not everyone gets to the same point at the same time.

      Reply
  3. Mauricio
    Mauricio says:

    Being a carioca and having lived abroad for quite a while I can tell that I’ve heard a lot of stereotype jokes, about different countries (Brazil included of course).

    Once a french guy told me the following Brazilian joke :

    Two french men meet on the street .

    – First guy asks : What are you up to these days dude?
    – Second guy replies : Well I’ve just came back from my trip to Brazil!
    – First guy asks : Why did you go there dude? In Brazil there’s only bitches and soccer players!
    – Second guy replies : Hey dude! My wife is actually Brazilian!
    – First guy replies : OH! So what team does she play for?!

    That’s the joke. It’s different when you’re part of the minority huh? But you know what? I could actually have a good laugh about it, not without thinking we have a pretty bad stereotype. Stereotypes can be very negative sometimes and french also got theirs.

    It bothers me more when in France, someone would ask me : Did you actually do your college in Brazil?! (with disbelief) Yes dude, I did it…

    Let’s just not get overly sensitive about the ad, it’s just a silly, funny, almost naive stereotype. I guess we’re living in a too politically correct world where people is getting sensitive about everything, using the racist card.

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Nice one Mauricio – I really hear what you are saying about being over-sensitive. No one wants to be tip-toeing around, worrying about what they can and can’t say.

      You make a good point there. A silly stereotype (bitches, footballers and Carmen Miranda) is so ridiculous that it just makes you laugh. But something a bit more nasty, especially when you’re in the minority, suddenly doesn’t sound so funny right?

      Reply
  4. Phil
    Phil says:

    Here is another example of stereotypes being in the eye of the beholder.

    When Carmen Miranda returned to visit Brazil after working in the US, she was criticized by some Brazilians for projecting what they viewed as a negative stereotype. This is what Wikipedia reports:

    “Members of the upper class felt her image was ‘too black’ and she was criticized in one Brazilian newspaper for ‘singing bad-tasting black sambas’. Other Brazilians criticized her for playing up the stereotype of a ‘Latina bimbo’ after her first interview upon arriving in the United States.” A Brazilian audience booed her off the stage when she tried to sing the song “Souse (South) American Way,” which she delivered in heavily accented English. The Brazilian press criticized her for being too Americanized.

    So, the very same behaviors which earned her a salary of $5,000 a week in the United States were viewed quite negatively by some Brazilians.

    Reply
  5. Alex
    Alex says:

    Is it racist? Probably. But is the intention to actually be offensive? Doubtful.

    Brazilians are not racist in the same sense Americans or Europeans would be….they simply don’t have a problem recognizing physical differences. In the US if you even hinted to physical differences (Asian Eyes, ect,) you are flagged down as a flaming racist. In Brazil it doesnt appear to be the same way.

    Reply
    • Phil
      Phil says:

      Based on what I have read, the racial dynamics in Brazil are different from those in the US and Europe, mainly because Afro-Brazilians are a majority. But I’m not sure that means that racism doesn’t exist in the same form in Brazil as it does in the US and Europe.

      Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Interesting point about racism vs racist intention. A lot of people seem to forget that you can make someone feel like sh*t without meaning to.

      I’ve definitely noticed different attitudes to race here in Brazil (compared to UK) and I’m happy to say that by and large that’s been a positive difference. Back in the UK many communities remain quite separated and I guess that makes our differences more of an issue.

      Here in Brazil there seems to be an easiness about racial differences. It doesn’t seem to be something to stress over and to a slightly uptight middle class Englishman, that feels great. But it’s all too easy to be lulled into thinking that racism doesn’t exist here and unfortunately that isn’t true at all.

      Reply
  6. The Gritty Poet
    The Gritty Poet says:

    This R to L confusion may be a linguistic quirk you’d find funny in private company (without any Chinese people around) but I don’t think it should go beyond that circle. It sure shouldn’t be an ad for a major supermarket. I think the problem in Brazil is that the general culture still isn’t aware of boundaries when it comes to these things, and the boundary in this specific situation is what a Chinese person finds uncomfortable and/or offensive – regardless of intent. I also think the liberty many Brazilians take when playing around with Black people is in very poor taste, and just because it has been done forever that does not mean those who bear the burden feel it to be ok. I get the feeling that they just don’t like it but feel social pressure to resign themselves to an age old tradition sold under the guise of ‘ we have had less racial strife than other place (mainly the US in their minds)’, hence we are allowed more room to play around and mock certain characteristics. As for the Spanish fans doing black face in relation to Hamilton’s family and then claiming he isn’t really black, well I’d like to see how they would react if Northern Europeans said that it is okay for the Spanish to do this because they themselves aren’t really white, being more Northen African and Arabic than anything else. There is nothing actually racist about that last sentence but the Spanish hate it. Anyway, if that is a boundary they have established towards other when talking about their past and their ethnography, regardless of the intent of the speaker, then why shouldn’t the same recommendation apply to them when addressing other groups? If this isn’t a sense of entitlement in comparison to the group you are ‘just having goog fun with’ then I don’t know what is (as is the case with Brazilians vis a vis their Black citizens and citizens of certain ethnic groups – like Asians).
    Btw I don’t think any of these recommendations should be written into law since doing the opossite does constitute freedom of expression, regardless of it being in poor taste. Plus, the state tends to overreach when given such power.

    Reply
    • Phil
      Phil says:

      Gritty wrote: “the boundary in this specific situation is what a Chinese person finds uncomfortable and/or offensive – regardless of intent.”

      Well said, Gritty, and this is exactly why I don’t buy it when people label being sensitive to others as “political correctness” or “playing the race card.” I also agree that this sort of thing doesn’t require legislation, which wouldn’t change what people are thinking in any case, and would only lead to more problems.

      Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Good points Gritty! I think it’s easy to say “I don’t mean anything bad when I say this”, but that rather misses the point. The point is how are we making other people feel when we say something. Of course if you genuinely don’t mean anything bad but someone feels offended, the natural reaction is to say that they are being over-sensitive.

      Stewart Lee, makes a great point about the much maligned Political Correctness:

      http://splicd.com/jGAOCVwLrXo/52/180

      Reply
    • Mauricio
      Mauricio says:

      “I think the problem in Brazil is that the general culture still isn’t aware of boundaries when it comes to these things”

      I think this is too much of a bad generalization of our culture Gritty. I’ve heard lots of cross boundary things in Europe and Canada, way worse things I wouldn’t dare to tell somebody, not to hurt their feelings. Just like the joke I told you guys about. Well I didn’t get offended, but I know a lot of people that would. So, if in doubt of the offensive potential of something you’re about to say, better not say it.

      I do agree though that for a supermarket ad, it wasn’t really appropriate.

      Reply
      • The Gritty Poet
        The Gritty Poet says:

        “I’ve heard lots of cross boundary things in Europe and Canada, way worse things I wouldn’t dare to tell somebody,”

        The thing is the people who said these things probably knew they were being rude, and just didn’t care (take the joke you used as an example, it is obviously rude); but if people don’t even acknowledge the rudeness then the problem lies elsewhere. I have often heard a black person’s hair referred to as bad hair in Brazil, and in front of black people.The thing is that this, and similar remarks, are considered acceptable by Brazil’s current social norms. It baffles me. Regarding the eye slanting to designate Asians – and all the explanations that justify it – I ask myself if an Asian child who perceives that his eyes are different from most of his classmates can comprehend said reasoning. It seems to me that at that age he/she is just a child and will most likely regard it as someone making fun of them because they are different. And this in the end is where I think Brazilian society fails: it isn’t the mean-spiritedness behind the examples I’ve mentioned but the lack of discernment when it comes to using them in public, to the point of seeing such things appear in ads. I know that people often laugh at and with each other in private by casting light on ethnic differences, but to take this into the public sphere where a joke is cracked in front of people you don’t even know or have recently met – and sometimes even in front of their kids – is just not harmonious. And isn’t this why social conventions exist, to make public interactions harmonious, or at least neutral? Isn’t that the practicall reason behind political correctness? I think it makes sense.

        Reply
        • Mauricio
          Mauricio says:

          “I have often heard a black person’s hair referred to as bad hair in Brazil, and in front of black people. The thing is that this, and similar remarks, are considered acceptable by Brazil’s current social norms”

          In front of black people? And they didn’t reply to that? That’s a mockery example you just gave. Don’t think people who are saying that is ignorant of the offensiveness of that comment.

          “And this in the end is where I think Brazilian society fails: it isn’t the mean-spiritedness behind the examples I’ve mentioned but the lack of discernment when it comes to using them in public, to the point of seeing such things appear in ads.”

          I think I have to agree that there’s a lack of discernment in Brazil, specially when it comes to public ads or humor shows. Nevertheless I have an example of this lack of discernment on a message I’ve just received a couple of days ago from a french ex-colleague. Just as a background, I lived back in France for 7 years (I still have lots of friends, and ex-work colleagues, I keep contact with. Here’s the snippet :

          “Hello Mauricio,

          It has been a long time already… How is it going ? Happy in Bresil,
          great life, I guess, sun, see…. You have not been murdered yet there ? 🙂
          By the way, I read an article on the internet saying that a lot of French are today moving to work in Bresil! It made me think to you! 🙂 … ”

          I know the guy, he’s a good mate, and look, he was joking about getting murdered in Brazil. I’m pretty sure he wanted to make a joke, but out of his lack of discernment, he said something bothersome. I can guarantee you this is VERY common abroad. You hear that a lot being Brazilian.

          Another older one, but that also illustrates the lack of discernment of some people : When I decided to go back to Brazil I sent a message over to my colleagues at the company I used to work for, thanking for the time spent together, etc. One of them came like :

          “Hey Mauricio,
          Good for you!!! (I guess.)

          So, how long will you be around? Any chance for you to swing by COMPANY before and get a drink with us before you take off for good?”

          Which I replied : Thanks! (I guess) :-)))

          I could go on and on…

          The Brazilian society fails in so many aspects that it would take me very long to enumerate them. However, I haven’t found such harmonious model you talk about, having lived 12 years abroad. A big part of such a model lies behind an hypocritical mask of political correctness, where people don’t say what they really think. We only get know what they really think after checking the ballots… Then we verify that the french National Front got almost 20% of the vote.

          Reply
          • tomlemes
            tomlemes says:

            Good point Mauricio – I don’t think that having strong Political Correctness (PC) means that a country is free from racism. You could in fact argue that those very PC rules were created as an attempt to stop the open racism/discrimination that was so common not so long ago. PC doesn’t prevent racism, but it forces people with prejudicial values to hide them, or at least use different, more respectful language. But France, UK, the US and many other rich nations of the world still have very serious problems related to racial and disability discrimination.

            I am wary of the cultural arrogance on this and many other subjects. There is always a temptation to assume that “our way” (wherever “we” are from) is best and everyone else is wrong. In this example though, I suspect attitudes of what is acceptable language and subject for humour will change gradually in Brazil in future. As the world becomes more integrated, it makes sense that people will come to a consensus on things like this.

          • The Gritty Poet
            The Gritty Poet says:

            Mauricio,

            No offense; but you have some wierd friends. I find it revealing that the guy writes in English but makes a point of using French to designate a geographic location (Bresil), as if to leave a linguistic imprint. Perhaps these people do have discernment yet choose to disregard it in constant need to point out that their country is better than yours. And if one needs to be doing that it is usually a sign of insecurity. I say this because it doesn’t seem like your friends, when touching upon the negatives, really seek to rationally discuss the shortcomings of a given place – in this case Brazil (or Bresil, Lol). Instead they repeteadly shed light on what is negative with the sole purpose of differentiating their country and situation from yours: ” have you been murderded yet”, or “congratulations (I think)”.
            In conclusion I disagree with your argumentation since you are juxtaposing people who are naively hurtful (the Brazilian examples I put forth) with those who know exactly what they’re doing, albeit pretending to be naive in their intentions.

          • Mauricio
            Mauricio says:

            Tom,

            I do agree with your statements. Though we’re not there yet, it’s noticeable that people is paying a bit more attention regarding racially offending one another. Specially that now we have laws that touch the racism subject.

            Gritty,

            I will not take that personally, don’t worry… Well, just to restate, the quotes I posted were from ex-work colleagues who were not exactly personal friends of mine (though I did call them good mates). So it’s fine to call them weird.

            As far as I know the first guy, I personally don’t think he wanted to leave a linguistic imprint. The french people I met were in general, not particularly language gifted. I actually don’t know why he wrote that message in English anyways, as today I’m reasonably comfortable with french. Probably cos when I entered the company, my french was pretty basic and back then we use to communicate in English.

            “Perhaps these people do have discernment yet choose to disregard it in constant need to point out that their country is better than yours.”

            You made a point there Gritty. As that type of thing happened uncountable times with different people back then, it’s hard to imagine that in all of those situations it wasn’t intentional. It most probably was.

            Now the questions : Are we Brazilians really that naively hurtful as you stated or we do know what we’re saying but we don’t care… 🙂

            And second : Why there’s this need for people feel better about his country by bashing someone else’s.

            Cheers,

  7. Ray
    Ray says:

    Tom,

    I would have never done a such a silly add lacking so much originality.
    Having said that, I can totally see why Brazilians did not and never will think this ad is offensive.
    I believe that the main division in perspective here lays on the historical facts that are fundamentally different in Europe and the US/Canada regarding Asian immigration comparing to Brazil.
    First of all, for the most part, immigration from Asia in North America happened in a very different way than in Brazil. Most Asian immigrants in the US for example were extremely poor Chinese, mostly brought in to work building railroads and bridges in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. They were exploited, humiliated, and always segregated.
    In Brazil, Asians were by a staggering majority Japanese, who were not so poor or desperate when they immigrated and were not brought in to be exploited. They were immediately granted land in government programs to help new immigrants settle in the country and became land owners.
    Many Japanese came to Brazil and opened their own small businesses, many became successful entrepreneurs and built empires others very successful farmers
    When growing up in Sao Paulo our Japanese classmates, despite being a minority group, were always the best students in our school, got the best grades and were always admired and considered superior by the rest of us. We always looked up to the Asians in Brazil (Japanese) as an example to be followed, perfect role models of our society, they were not only considered very smart, but were also considered hard working, and very dedicated and disciplined individuals.
    You can check Brazilian University lists every year and Japanese Brazilians are always listed in first places of the very best Schools.
    As a major rule of comedians, you should never mock or make fun of the underdog, but all bets are off when we are talking about the top dogs, in this case, the Brazilian Japanese.
    So, what happens here is that we (Brazilians) always witnessed the Asian community (Japanese) in Brazil taking advantage of their own stereotype for personal gain. Asian companies always make ads using these very stereotypes criticized by some on this comment thread to boost their image, see, associating yourself with Asians (Japanese) in Brazil is a good thing, be that by mocking the accent of a recent arrived Asian immigrant or by slanting your eyes you will be associating yourself with efficient, intelligent and hard working individuals.
    That is why, in my opinion, Brazilians hear of all this criticism towards stereotyping Asians and go “Say WHAT? ???? ???? ????
    We just don’t get it. Asians were never considered inferior, bad or exploited in Brazil, they were never the underdog hence the complete disconnect between the reactions of Brazilians and Expats.
    Not to mention, Asians from other countries such as Korea and China are very, very recent in Brazil, still mostly first generation arrivals and trust me, they were also not brought in as railroad workers to be exploited and humiliated.
    Most Korean immigrants in Sao Paulo are very successful and many own sweat shops exploiting illegal Bolivian immigrants. I know, very ironic huh!
    Just compare the comments of Brazilians and Expats above and draw your own conclusions.
    I insist in emphasizing the fact that the majority of Brazilian Asian immigrants were Japanese because that is a determining factor in the different experiences we all had with the Asian community in our countries and might just make all the difference when discussing this very subject.
    Again, last but not least, if I was in charge of that supermarket Marketing department, I would have never authorized that ad, but not for the reasons associated with sensitivity to racism, but because it’s sounds silly and not original at all, because this ad, in BRAZIL, really is the furthest thing from racist, the supermarket is actually trying to associate the product with an image most Brazilians admire and look up to.

    Abracos Tom

    Another great post

    Reply
  8. Ray
    Ray says:

    Regarding sensitivity and overly political correctness, it can get ridiculous very often.
    Just a couple months ago in Massachusetts, a 6 year old boy was suspended from his School because he dressed up as Martin Luther King for a School “Show and Tell” event and the White kid wanted to honor Martin Luther King as a civil rights champion.
    The kid pained his face black, dressed up in a suit and carried a Bible under his arm to go to School and educate his colleagues about the fight for Civil Rights in their country.
    But due to the zero tolerance policies towards racism in his School the 6 year old was kicked out and suspended, not to mention, labeled as a racist when he was actually trying to teach others about their history on civil rights achievements.
    RIDICULOUS!!

    Ray

    Reply
    • Phil
      Phil says:

      The kid should not have been suspended from school, but he also should not have appeared in black face. That is not an appropriate way to honor Dr. King or to teach about civil rights. In the US, black face is strongly associated with the so-called “Jim Crow” era of our history, when overt racial discrimination and segregation were still common. This was exactly the sort of thing that Dr. King devoted his life to overcoming.

      To use black face today is to go against widely accepted social norms. Whether or not those social norms are reasonable is a matter of personal opinion, but most Americans are aware of them, and the kid’s parents should have known better.

      Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Yes, I think suspending the kid was wrong – a quiet chat/explanation would have been far more sensible right? But for his parents to let him leave the house like that suggests that they were, at best, seriously naive – sounds like they need to have it explained to them too.

      Reply
  9. Malvina
    Malvina says:

    I think it’s an issue of naivete. I see those ads for Chinese food and always roll my eyes (as you’ve probably seen, that one you posted is just part of an entire genre!). On our family have an in-law who is of Asian descent. The whole family on this side refers to her as “la Chinesa”, even though when I met her she had a) no Asian accent to speak of, b) her family is actually Japanese not Chinese, and c) she’s actually born and raised in Sao Paolo. I’ve had similar conversations with folks around here about people of Muslim religion or middle Eastern culture or African origin. Lots of misconceptions. As someone who used to work with refugees it pings my radar every time. I’d say that, yes, it’s racist but in the “I just never thought about it differently” sort of way. I’d bet that in 25-50 years as Brazil gets more immigration from other nations this kind of stuff will fade.

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      “I’d bet that in 25-50 years as Brazil gets more immigration from other nations this kind of stuff will fade.”

      I’ve been thinking the same thing – it seems to me that this is mostly because of a kind of cultural immaturity when it comes to immigrants and/or visitors from abroad. Apologies if that sounds a bit condescending – I just think that Brazil has not been accustomed to the sheer scale and diversity of immigration that some other countries have had over the years. But if all these optimistic economic projections come to fruition, that will surely change.

      Reply
      • Cesar
        Cesar says:

        Tom, i don’t know if it could be considered racist or not. When people make those references, they are referring more to a specific physical or facial feature of someone than their ‘real’ ethnic ancestry – and that reference usually don’t come with a moral judgement (or any other kind of judgment, for that matter) about the person in question.

        White people with blue eyes here in Northeast are called “Alemão” or “Russo”, although there’s no Russian or German communities in Recife or in the surroundings – or at least, not that i’m aware. On the other hand, peolpe with lighter hair or women with blond dyed hair are called “Galego(a)”, although i also don’t know any Galician or Spanish community here. On top of that, people with asian or native american facial features are called Japa (Japanese), Índio or China regardless of they truly heritage: a well know musician from Pernambuco is nicknamed ‘China’, but he don’t have any Asian ancestry that i remember; on top of that, regardless China’s particular ancestry, his nickname is fairly common, applied to everyone who ‘look like’ Asian or native american – i.e. have more or less obliques eyes, regardless other physical features, like skin tone, hair type, etc.

        If was just that, i could agree with the idea that not been used to a more diversified ethnic presence take a major role in this, but highlight physical/facial features unrelated to ethnicity, to the point of turning them in nicknames, is also really common in daily life – to the point that sometimes you forget momentarily your friends name.

        I don’t know how this works outside Brasil – if it is common-place or not, but it make me think that it’s not about – or not only about – not be used to a more diversified immigration; i think that we are used to highlight physical features and use it as tool to refer to people that we know. Although we are pretty used to “Gordo”, “Orelha”, “Magrão”, “Bocão”, “Dentinho” or “Cabeça” people, we keep calling ourselves like this anyway – and nothing of that is particularly related to ethnicity. Usually this isn’t taken as a offense – you can easily find, for example, lots of business named after the nick of their owner, like “pizzaria do gordo”, “bar do magrão”, “moqueca do gordinho”, “barraca do galego”, “mercado do China”, “Japa Lanches”, “Índio auto-peças”, etc.

        Reply
        • tomlemes
          tomlemes says:

          Hi Cesar – it’s a good point you’re making. Giving someone a name that highlights something that makes them different (appearance, etc) doesn’t necessarily indicate racism/prejudice. There are unwritten rules about what you can and can’t call people, but of course communication isn’t a black and white issue – there are all kinds of shades of grey in between.

          The one thing I want to say though, is that using an affectionate nick-name to a friend you know very well is one thing – you and the friend will know whether it’s OK or not. But that advert seems to be mocking an entire people on a grand scale – it’s an advert, not a conversation in a bar between friends.

          Reply
          • Cesar
            Cesar says:

            Yes, i was thinking more about the Malvina’s comment – people calling someone “Chinesa” because of her physical appearance, etc.

            I don’t think that the advert is racist, because i don’t see any kind of judgement – moral or some other – or even serious assumptions about China, Chinese people or Chinese culture attached – clearly or veiled – to the joke. Also, i don’t think that to joke about a nation/nationality is necessarily racist – or even a mockery (zombaria, ridicularizar), if i got the meaning of the word right.

            But, given that the advert isn’t about me, is easy to take it lightly.

  10. BrazilianSoul
    BrazilianSoul says:

    I think that Brazil is by far more PC than the US or Europe. A cartoon like South Park would never be created here solely because the creators would be sued by PC NGOs or arrested by the Government. An anti-Black march here (something so common in the US or Europe ->Ku Klux Klan/Stormfront/BNP) would end up will all the protesters inside jails.

    Do you guys remember when a Brazilian girl was arrested or sued by the Government because she said something bad about Northeasterners on twitter? Who in the US would be imprisoned for talking bad stuff about, say, Southerners? And notice that she can’t even be called a racist, since “Northeasterners” do not represent a race, but a geographical position. We are almost an insane PC society in Brazil.
    The hortifruti ad comes as a burst of fresh air saying that we are not totally crazy just yet! We are still humans and we do make light-hearted jokes.

    We tell Portuguese people’s jokes even though we are aware that we have Portuguese surnames in our very own names. It’s very common to see black people referring to their own hair as “bad hair” here too… It’s not such a big deal. It is in the US, when you know that the blacks hate the whites and the whites hate the blacks. If people don’t feel threatened, why will they complain about an ad like that? They know that they are not hated.

    ““I’d bet that in 25-50 years as Brazil gets more immigration from other nations this kind of stuff will fade.””

    Even more? We are all immigrants here… Only the 500 000 amerindians living in Brazil can say that they are native to this land.

    Reply
    • The Gritty Poet
      The Gritty Poet says:

      I don’t think political correctness should have legal ramifications that coerce people into keeping quiet, regardless of how unsavory their opinions may be. In Brazil most accusations relating to discrimination end up tried as common slander (injúria) by judges, and punitive measures are applied using legislation applicable to that crime.
      http://g1.globo.com/Noticias/Brasil/0,,MUL1276437-5598,00-CRIADA+HA+ANOS+LEI+QUE+CRIMINALIZA+RACISMO+E+IGNORADA+DIZEM+ESPECIALISTAS.html

      What is amazing is the web of laws that deal with this matter. See below.

      http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/Leis/L7437.htm
      http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/leis/L7716.htm
      http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/LEIS/L9029.HTM
      http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_Ato2007-2010/2010/Lei/L12288.htm#art61

      And, if my research is correct, the law that actually lands someone in jail can be found below (and is actually and emendment to a previous law, wow Brazilian legislators):
      http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/leis/L9459.htm

      “Art. 2º O art. 140 do Código Penal fica acrescido do seguinte parágrafo:

      “Art. 140. ………………………………………………………….

      ………………………………………………………………………..

      § 3º Se a injúria consiste na utilização de elementos referentes a raça, cor, etnia, religião ou origem:

      Pena: reclusão de um a três anos e multa.”

      ——————————-

      In other words if you use a racial epithet then you go to jail. Understandably courts prefer to consider such behavior as common slander ( injúria) , in which a person cannot be detained and jailed without bail. This to avoid convicting someone under slander motivated by race, in which a person shall be detained without bail.
      So judges end up using subjectivity and interpreting the law in a way that keeps someone that used a racial slur from going to jail. This is not good methinks, and is one more terrible and surely unforseen consequence by the idealists who created this law: not only does this crap piece of legislation enable the state to imprison people due to their beliefs (again, as crappy as they may be), it also ends up undermining the rule of law since a judge is usually confronted with cases in which a common hot head with no criminal record losses his temper in a given situation, thus pronouncing a racial slur, and to keep from sending him to jail he simply disregards the law and charges him with something else. Just a web of mistakes fueled by terrible legislation based on pristine ideals, yet pernicious all the same.
      Political correctness should be an unwritten social convention achieved thru persuasion and shifting cultural norms, not by starry eyed legislators infringing of freedom of speech.

      Reply
    • Cesar
      Cesar says:

      “An anti-Black march here (something so common in the US or Europe ->Ku Klux Klan/Stormfront/BNP) would end up will all the protesters inside jails.”

      Jail as a government response to organized hate toward a specific group of citizens sounds fair to me.

      By the way, if organized and public demonstrations of hate against black people are so acceptable, why Stormfront always denied that they have any racist content in their website, saying that is just about “White Pride” – a place to “praise the achievements of white people”, and not to hate black people?

      “Do you guys remember when a Brazilian girl was arrested or sued by the Government because she said something bad about Northeasterners on twitter? (…) The hortifruti ad comes as a burst of fresh air saying that we are not totally crazy just yet! We are still humans and we do make light-hearted jokes.”

      Hortifruti is playing with images of China in the Brazilian imaginary, but don’t make any judgment about China or Chinese people. That girl was saying that all northeasters should be killed, because they were the solely responsible for all the problems of Brazil. If memory serves me right, the “problem” at that moment was the election of Dilma. That’s a moral judgement, and it’s related to old prejudices – the notions that the northeasterns are uncivilized, lazy, mischievous, prone to theft and usually hide knifes – the peixeira – under their shirts.

      “It’s very common to see black people referring to their own hair as “bad hair” here too…”

      A racist remark isn’t less racist because the target of it accept it, agree with it or don’t care about it. Also, ‘bad hair” carries a derogatory tone – something that don’t seems to occur, in my opinion, with the advertising of Hortifruti.

      Reply
  11. BrazilianSoul
    BrazilianSoul says:

    Anything can be derogatory… It depends solely if you are attacking a “vulnerable” group or not. Take this video as an example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uC_a0lskfY
    That girl is pretty racist against white people if you ask me, the NGOs she belongs to is probably the Black version of Stormfront… But we won’t see the Government taking action like it did when the girl made the comment against Northeasterners.. Why? Because she belongs to the “vulnerable majority”. The same way an Apartheid against white people in Zimbabwe is well accepted by the rest of the world. We don’t see Asians as “vulnerable” in Brazil, since most of them live well, thus we don’t a see problem with this ad. But if this Hortifruti ad were trying to make a joke about “Brazilian vulnerable groups”, then we would see hell and people getting arrested.

    Reply
    • Cesar
      Cesar says:

      Brazilian Tv make jokes about “Brazilian vulnerable groups” everyday – specially gay people, and i haven’t see anyone been arrested. On top of that, the problem isn’t to make a joke about a person or group – is to make a derogatory one, fulled by hate and prejudice, and meant only to offend, humiliate, despise someone for what he is (like a racist or homophobic joke, for example).

      Again, Hortifruit ad don’t seems racist to me because i can’t see any kind of judgement being made towards Chinese – or Asian – people. The ad casts old images of linguistic mistakes that, in our imaginary, are related to Chinese immigrants, but do so in order to enforce the play with words that is the base of their propaganda – Couve chinesa——-> master of kung food.

      But this mistakes are related to their condition of immigrants, not to a intrinsic incapability of Chinese to speak brazilian portuguese: they are foreigners, therefor struggle to speak a language that isn’t their own. Given that no one is expected to speak perfectly other language than their own, the ad don’t seems to me as particularly derogatory either. Maybe this could hurt someone, but even so, it, by itself, don’t make the ad racist.

      But, as i have said before, the ad isn’t about me, my people or my culture, so is quite easy for me to take it as an innocent joke.

      About the video, i think that she made it pretty clear: it’s not about us. Its about them. On top of that, i can’t see where she is wrong. Regardless of any semantic gymnastic it’s a fact that the majority of black people are at the lower strata of Brazilian society. Quotas to them helps to minimize the social gap between us – it’s the old equity principle: people with different needs should be treated in different ways by the government, in order to equalize their condition.

      “That girl is pretty racist against white people if you ask me, the NGOs she belongs to is probably the Black version of Stormfront…”

      The black version of …? Are you trolling me?

      I mean, are you comparing an affirmative action, even a though one, with a white supremacist website used to discuss the biological inferiority of black people? Or, as a tread that i remember clearly, how black people are plain ugly? You bother to take a look at Stormfront before talk about them? (i don’t know if the site still exist, btw)

      Reply
      • BrazilianSoul
        BrazilianSoul says:

        No, I’m not “trolling” you. She “hates” white people, stormfront hates “black people”. They complement each other. And the cotas are very unfair with poor white people. The cotas should exist based on social class, not on color of skin.

        “But, as i have said before, the ad isn’t about me, my people or my culture, so is quite easy for me to take it as an innocent joke.”

        Fair point, and yeah, we should sue Hortifruti and arrest someone.

        Reply
        • Cesar
          Cesar says:

          “She “hates” white people…”

          First, It is not a personal video, braziliansoul, is an advertise; she is an actress, interpreting a text written by someone else – a blogger. Just see the credits at the end of the video.

          Also, there isn’t hate in that. The message is pretty clear: black people are going to take the university – a locus that until recently was open only to that old white ultra-conservative middle and upper classes that so strongly opposed to black people’s affirmative action. Isn’t hate. Isn’t like stormfront, where black people were considered biologically inferior to white people. Seriously, i think that you are underestimating stormfront and others hate organizations.

          “And the cotas are very unfair with poor white people.”

          The last five centuries were unfair with black people. Now they are turning the table. On top o that, the Quotas in university aren’t only a matter of better job opportunities to black people. The problem is that black people were kept in the margins of social process until now, prevented from exercise any major role in the formation of the nation by our racism – and a social power structure that enforced it. This don’t means that they don’t try to do it, and their struggle is evident. Also, there always a surreptitious resistance and counter attacks, but the social structure handed down by colonial and imperial slavery still don’t recognize them as legit agents of the social process: the slaves were liberated, but still were poor, discriminated and couldn’t take advantage of the public institutions that could help them to establish themselves inside the socioeconomic structure. They continued to be poor – and discriminated also because of that.

          In that sense, we need Quotas in the university because we need black historians, black sociologists, black philosophers, psychologists an anthropologists to bring another look at our social formation – a look from below, in opposition to the old interpretations of Brazil written by the members of the economical and political elite of the time. We need black journalists in order to denounce the dire situation of black people, giving that white journalists seems to prefer to keep it away from the news – with a few exceptions. We need more black lawyers and judges, just like we need more black medics, mathematicians, physicists and others – simply because they don’t exist, although the fact that black people are the majority of our population. The Quotas are a tool of social inclusion – not just a ticket for a better job. Isn’t unfair at all.

          Reply
  12. tomlemes
    tomlemes says:

    Guys, I was just thinking this morning how happy I am that everyone has been able to have such an intelligent discussion on this subject, despite the fact that there are clearly quite a few points that we don’t all agree on. Can you imagine the YouTube version of this discussion?! 😉

    It’s been really interesting to hear everyone’s point of view on this – clearly there are some fairly consistent differences between the ‘average’ Brazilian attitude and the expats who’ve commented (mostly Americans, but also a Brit – me!). But most of all I’ve been really impressed how we’ve all remained polite, courteous (that’s just another word for polite really, isn’t it?!) and friendly. What intelligent readers I have – thanks! 😀

    Reply
  13. anna
    anna says:

    I dont think the horti add is racist at all. Chinese have difficulties pronouncing “r” in european languages not just portuguese…

    Also I dont see what is the problem Spanish basketball team picture…We all know they have very small eyes. nothing new here.

    the american boy got arrested for painting his face black?? That is just absurd! would they also arrest a child who wear a super blonde wig to represent Marilyn Monroe? I doubt it.

    I think the UK is in a very dangerous position now with their political correctness . An english friend of mine was not allowed to enroll her daughter at her local school because schoolmaster told her she was too white for that school. It is incredible you can not say anything bad about blacks , asians or eastern europeans in the UK but its ok to discriminate locals.

    Reply
  14. Marcos Bezerra
    Marcos Bezerra says:

    Hello Tom!

    I can see that Brazilians don’t like it when they are criticised for doing something wrong. I’m Brazilian and I also think the hortifruit advertisement is offensive to the Chinese people. Some people deny the there’s racism in Brazil but I can tell you that there’s racism in Brazil too. I’m a black guy and I was a victim of racism few years ago in a snack bar. Racism is very common in Brazil. Brazilians are hypocritical when it comes to racism. It’s part of the Brazilian culture. Let’s accept the critics. Let’s be open to criticism. We (Brazil) aren’t better than any other country. You’re right Tom. Thanks.

    Marcos

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Hi Marcos! Thanks for your comment. This post (or more accurately, the issues raised by the post) divided opinions more than any other. The majority of Brazilians said the advert wasn’t racist, most people from Europe/America said it was racist. I guess attitudes to what is and isn’t acceptable change over time and in different locations. 20 years ago that advert would have been fine in the UK. Today it is not. Sadly there is still racism in the UK too, and in some ways Brazil is better with the issue of race. But I think it is good to be sensitive to how people (especially disadvantaged minorities) are affected by things like this. And I suspect that in a few years time, attitudes in Brazil and Europe will be much closer.

      I really enjoyed reading your comment. Thanks, Tom

      Reply
  15. Anna Lucia V. Josephs
    Anna Lucia V. Josephs says:

    Living in the US and only going to Brazil once a year, I am not sure to what extent Brazilians have been sensitized to racial awareness as they have been here, in California. The HortiFruti ad would be definitely be a no-no here, but then we have a huge Asian community , which is not the case in Rio de Janeiro. Was the ad shown in Sao Paulo? The locals there might react differently there.

    The artificial excesses of political correctness have disgusted many and even turned a few against the ethnic groups that were supposed to be protected from racial slurs. That’s no reason, however, to ignore genuine feelings of the minorities targeted by puns or jokes. The best thing to do is to consult them beforehand as to how they feel about jokes concerning their group, instead of deciding for them that others say is of no importance. We have no right to do that as we are not the target, so we are not the ones to feel the hurt.
    Anna Lucia.

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Hi Anna – it’s a tricky question isn’t it? But I think you’re right – this idea of a white, wealthy person saying “Oh, they don’t/shouldn’t care about that! My intentions aren’t to be offensive/racist” misses the point. The real question is how do the people who are the butt of the joke feel about it?

      The differences between attitude to race in Brazil and the US/UK are interesting. Brazilians seem to be a lot less uptight than people in the US/UK, but some of the attitudes feel like they need to be brought into the 21st century.

      Reply
      • Anna Lucia V. Josephs
        Anna Lucia V. Josephs says:

        On the surface that’s true, but if you dig deeper you’ll see that prejudice is alive and well in Brazil, so it’s superficial. It’s true that institutionalized prejudice of the overt kind is against the law there (there have never been Jim Crow laws in Brazil). There is nothing the law can do about the covert type, though. Only a few weeks ago I was in an upper-class restaurant in Gavea. There wasn’t one single black customer. there The same went for another downtown place favored by the business community of Rio and usually packed at lunch time.

        Now, I see blacks in middle and upper middle-class restaurants here.

        The difference is that prejudice in Brazil is disguised as class prejudice. Most rich people are white and most blacks are poor. Successful black professionals and entrepreneurs are common here, but still a rare one in Brazil. Of course there are exceptions, but not enough to make it representative of local society.

        Only a few years ago,, I came across an article in a popular magazine with pictures of the wedding of ACM’ s granddaughter. That was Antonio Carlos Magalhaes, the governor of Bahia. Page after page of pictures depicted the same scene of beautiful people in gorgeous attire talking, laughing, and drinking.

        Not one of the guests was black (or clearly mixed, for that matter). And this in a state where over 90 percent of the population is black. Talk about misrepresentation!

        Are you quite sure racial attitudes in Brazil are more relaxed than in the US or the UK? On the surface, yes. The empregada who works in a posh condo may use the social elevator as the proprietors do, but then . . . what else?

        Anna Lucia.

        Reply
        • tomlemes
          tomlemes says:

          Hi Anna Lucia – I think I should have been clearer about what I was trying to say. When I say that racial attitudes in Brazil are relaxed, that isn’t the same as saying “there is no racism in Brazil”. As you say, a quick glance at the racial mix of the Brazilian prison population or people holding high-powered jobs suggests that racial discrimination is alive and well in Brazil!

          What I was trying to say is that Brazilians don’t seem to actively worry about race so much. In Britain (and I’m sure it’s similar in the US), many people are nervous about things like terminology and nomenclature – what is the acceptable term to use for people of different races, how can you ask someone about their ancestral origins without appearing racist, etc. Those kind of worries strike most Brazilians as strange. Brazilians happily use terms like cafe com leite, pardo, mulato, negro without thinking twice about it. And nicknames like japa are seen by most as totally acceptable.

          You might find the following posts on this subject interesting:

          Brazil is a melting pot, not a salad

          Race, Language and the world ‘negro’ in Portuguese

          Reply
          • Anna Lucia V. Josephs
            Anna Lucia V. Josephs says:

            Hi, Tom,

            I appreciated your thoughtful comparison between the Brazilian attitude toward race and that in the US (or UK). You’re aright. Race is not on the forefront of Brazilian consciousness, consequently the Brazilian attitude toward it is more relaxed than in the US, where it is viewed as a highly sensitive subject that drives people to “walk on eggshells,” so to speak, when facing people of a different background. The legacy of the Civil War and the subsequent decades of segregation in the South left an imprint on the American psyche that determined their relationship with “the other.” (In the UK I guess colonialism was what did it). It took a Civil Rights movement to force them to examine their consciences and reevaluate the way they treated blacks, but, when it comes to individuals, the transition occurs slowly, which explains why Americans are so “uptight” about it.

            There was no war over slavery (a.k.a race) in Brazil, so it is easy to be more relaxed when referring to races (which is not to say that there is no discrimination).

            Anna Lucia.

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