When you think of Brazil, what comes to mind?

The beaches? Carnival? One of the world’s best football squads? For many, the South American nation serves as a backdrop to tropical vacations, sexy women and a non-stop party atmosphere.

But on closer inspection, Brazil is far more than it seems.

Despite the images exported around the world, Brazil is one of the world’s Blackest nations in the world.  In fact, it is only second to Nigeria in the number of African-descendants residing within its borders. During the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, over 40 percent of all of the slaves were sent to Brazil, far more than any other country, including the U.S.

Despite the large concentration of African-descendants, however, Brazil’s racial history has been a complicated one. Although most residents—up to half—boast African-ancestry, the country has not fully embraced its identity as one of the Blackest nations in the world.

After slavery ended, Brazil’s government welcomed European immigrants and encouraged “race mixing” as a way to “whiten” the country. Even today, many Brazilians pride themselves on the diversity of their country, but the lack of visible Black or mixed raced public figures speaks to something else entirely.

Recently, Brazil’s complicated racial past made headlines yet again as news of Lázaro Ramos spread throughout the media.

Ramos, an actor, just nabbed a leading role on a popular Brazilian soap opera and is the first Black man—ever—to do so. Sure there have been a few Black actors cast on the soaps in the past, but Ramos is the first to be the star.

“Of course, it’s late,” Ramos said of his starring role.

“There’s something visible, perceivable, which is this inequality of the country, of television, of being black, of being in theater. This is the reality we live with. But I like to talk about the positive side,” he told the Christian Science Monitor.

The positive side for Ramos is that he thinks his new role will open the doors for other Black actors in Brazil. Although he’s been a prominent feature on the independent film circuit, Ramos’ role on “Insensato Coração” takes him into the homes of millions of Brazilians each night.

Despite Ramos’ achievement, however, everyone is not so happy about his new role. Many of his fellow Black actors have mixed feelings about Ramos’ character on the novela.

“We are divided. We commemorate it [but] it’s a very ambiguous feeling,” André Santana, an actor who once worked with Ramos, says of his prominent but hypersexualized character. “We have a step to the front because we have an actor on [the mainstream channel] Globo, but we have two back because it is such a negative role.”

The push to see more Black actors on TV screens in Brazil coincides with the rise of the Black and mixed-race middle-class. According to the Christian Science Monitor, for the first time in the nation’s history, less Brazilians are identifying as White, many claiming either Black or mixed-race heritage. And of course, Brazilians want this change reflected on popular telenovelas.

“Brazilian telenovelas denied [for years] our racial diversity,” says Mr. Zito Araújo. But he sees the growing movement for mixed-race Brazilians to call themselves black and a rising esteem for interracial relationships – “It’s starting to be chic” – as positive steps for integration. “It makes people admire this [black] middle class in Brazil.

Despite the push for many in Brazil to self-identify as Black or mixed, the fact that it’s 2011 and Ramos is the first Black male lead on the Brazilian soap opera speaks volumes.

Just like in America, Ramos’ achievement once again highlights that racial barriers still exist in many countries around the world…even in those that claim to have moved beyond race.



*Special shout out to Clutchette Chanel Sykes for sending us this tip!


  • Mannie

    Thank you for publishing this article!

    All too often, African Americans go into tangent about the hardships of racism in America but the world outside is the same if not far worse.

    We all have to start thinking that racial tension is everywhere, including in Africa. The culture isn’t the same, but racial hierarchy is everywhere.

  • http://shebreathes.com DS

    I find some of the comments you made about “Brasil’s refusal to accept itself as the second blackest nation” a bit rubbish. I really take issue with a lot of people trying to decipher my country’s history, and how we the people born and breed in the country feel about “race”. Is Brasil a racial democracy No, far from it. But, do we deny our African heritage? It’s impossible. African culture is so deeply imbedded in our culture, that it’s nearly impossible.

    I also know very few people in Brasil who have an all “white” or all “black” family, mines included, and I know very few “black” Brasilians who aren’t raised on their African culture. I could really bang on, but what I think it’s time for me to do again is address the media’s growing obsession with how Brasilians view “race”, and how we self-identify. The fact remains that Brasilians will cite the colour of your skin before they cite you just black or just white. Many view this as some sign of denial, when it’s just how we view things. It doesn’t make us “wrong” or less “progressive”, because {to me} that would an unfair assessment, especially if you’ve never spent more than a month in Brasil, and not just in Bahia or Rio.

    The biggest thing people need to do when looking at Brasil and “race” is understand that poor black and white Brasilians procreate, the hang-ups, and or issues we find in the US {well, I find after living here for a while} aren’t as big in Brasil when it comes to interracial relationships, thus miscegenation, thus the multi-hued country we’ve become. The fact remains that there are just as many poor whites in the favelas as there are blacks. Very few people point this out, or even mention that poor whites and blacks live so close together. Even the movies focus on some nation that hides their black people, or interracial dating. I blame Brasil as much as I blame the international media for this. Movies like Cidade de Deus, etc play into these images and pre-conceived notions about black Brasilians. So many people apply the way their country deals with race to Brasil, and it just won’t work, because the average Brasilian is nationalist, listing their country over their heritage. The very food we eat can’t be done without bumping into Africa. But, just like many we struggle with how to address the racism in our country, the classism in our country. But, not all black Brasilians are poor, we’re not all down and out, or illiterate, and we don’t all sing, dance, or play sports — sound familiar?

    I could never deny that racism in Brasil is real, that the media in Brasil {like most countries} refuses {on a daily basis} to acknowledge the diversity, or that like in the US, or any other part of the world “white” is the ideal standard of beauty. But, what I ask of people is to remember to judge from a different eye. Racism in Brasil plays-out very differently than in the US or even the UK, and I know this from experience. Race in Brasil is closely tied with class. Do we have a long uphill battle? Yes, we do. It’s very hard to be black and poor in Brasil, and then try to rise above that. Class is huge in most Latin American countries, drizzle race on top of that and the standard race issues become far more dire and complex.

    And, yes in a country as diverse as my Brasil we’re still having “firsts”, just like most of the world. The only thing unique about Brasil are some of the things I mentioned above, but we deal with the same issues as many brown and black people around the world. We aren’t above or below. We’re trying to figure it all out as well, and just because we have a large concentration of African descendent people, doesn’t mean we should be anymore elevated than the rest of the world. This is the myth I’d like to end, because the fact remains we have a lot more of that suffering in common than not.

  • Culturally Aware

    I am not an expert, but I know alot about Brazil, I lived there, speak Portuguese, and I am black.

    *Lazaro Ramos is very popular, so this role is not a surprise. It’s a great accomplishment inspite of the negativity of his role as a womanizer.

    *There have always been black people in Brazilian telenovelas & movies, but unfortunately they always play the stereotypical role of ‘maid’, ‘nanny’, ‘poor’ and the list goes on.

    *More than half of Brazil does not boast African ancestry, its actually denied, especially when its not very obvious in the physical appearance.

    *It’s true Brazil does not embrace the title of ‘the blackest nation outside of Africa’…especially since its coming from non-Brazilians who do not understand the complexity of race in Brazil.

    Brazil has a long way to go as far as providing equal opportunity + access to quality education to all races in Brazil. Brazil’s solution to racial problems cannot be an American one…because the history is so different. The global community needs to put pressure on Brazil to make changes, because unfortunately the Brazilian people in general, are complacent and the quality of public education has a huge impact on how they percieve their reality. Most people are in survival mode, so a movement for change is the last thing on their mind when they are trying to keep their head above water.

  • Culturally Aware


  • LemonNLime

    Absolutely perfect

  • Jennifer

    I love your comment.

  • robbie

    Unfortunately for us, the color issue will never go away. Coming from a black French woman living in the States. No matte rwhat we do or say, the Eurocentric standards of beauty will always prevail wheter you live in the US, France, England, Africa and South America. We simply cannot get rid of it.

    I enjoyed reading this article Britni.

  • Alex1

    The author made ONE comment in her fifth paragraph concerning Brazil embracing it’s African identity and you choose to zone in on that with a college paper length comment. Smh… your comment was a mess. It seems like your just getting offended for the sake of being offended.

  • http://shebreathes.com DS

    @ Alex1: That was the starting point, and then I expanded to explain why that part wasn’t true, thus the college length. The entire article was taken into consideration — I don’t do knee-jerk reactions, so there is no offense here. It sounds like you’re the one that’s offended, because I offered my opinion. As a Brasilian I will speak when a topic moves me, especially about my country. I’m sure you do the same when something compels you.

    I’m glad I was given the space to express my opinion, it’s not the definitive one, but it’s mines. And, thank you to everyone who enjoyed what I had to say. I’m open to others opinions about Brasil, but when myths keep getting repeated I will do my best to dispel them.

    @Culturally Aware: Spot-on!

  • Jess

    I don’t know, DS. I’ve met and heard some Black and Mulato Brazilians say they are treated like sh*t because they are Black/African descended. Yes, Brazil like all the countries in the Americas where the slave system was Latin (vs. anglo and germanic in North America) kept strong African cultural roots, but it doesn’t mean people acknowledge their Africaness or Blackness with much pride, and don’t regularly look down on them with disdain, marginalize them to the poorest communities, limit their opportunities for education, or give them poor treatment overall.

    Afterall, Brazil kept African-descendants enslaved 30 years longer than the U.S. and initiated “whitening” immigration campaigns to eliminate the huge African-descended presence there. Sure, a lot of Brazilians dont “look” continental African, but neither do a lot of Black Americans from the U.S. Even if they don’t acknowledge it, Brazil is still the largest Black/African-descended nation outside of Nigeria.

    Also, I mean, let’s be real. Keeping and celebrating some aspects of a culture doesn’t mean you want, like, or don’t discriminate against all the other aspects of a culture/people. Case in point: In the U.S., almost every city or town still has its Native American (a.k.a. Indian, First Nations) name. Many streets have Native names, some states still use native words and tons of cities like Mississippi, Connecticut (anglicized), Cuyahoga County in Cleveland, Manhattan in New York, Chicago, Massachussets, Florida, and thousands of others. Things that represent strength are named with Native words, like Cherokee, Apache automobiles, etc. Native food is heavy in the American diet now because of corn. Many people happily admit to Native blood in their family. The list goes on and on. Much of Native culture is represented to this day in the U.S.

    But that doesn’t represent how many of the native groups are mistreated and marginalized in the U.S. and how, while Americans will claim Native blood in some mythical sense, they don’t want them in any real positions of power, strength, or success. American people will claim their admixture, but don’t generally aspire to be Native, (unless they think they can get something out of it, imho). Much of U.S. culture still looks down on them and celebrates various defeats they’ve had, all while holding up their images, using their words and names, and mythologizing them into some kind of exotic, magical people.

    That is what Brazil is to me. Everyone claims their African blood with no problem, and acknowledges and uses their cultural contributions daily, but many don’t want to be Black or African, (or not TOO Black or African); Brazil doesn’t allow Blacks any true position of economic or social parity or power, and are mainly happy if they are satisfied singing, dancing, and being exoticized as sexual in their own country.

  • http://shebreathes.com DS


    That may very well be true, as I don’t see where I’ve denied that being black in Brasil is peaches and cream. What I do take issue with is your stance, because by your own admission it’s based on what you’ve heard or read. Have you ever been to Brasil?

    My opinion is based on 1) Being Brasilian, and 2) Having lived, breathed, etc amongst other black Brasilians. I’m not drawing conclusions based on someone else’s opinion or what I’ve read, so you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t really take your opinion of Brasilians loathing being black/African as a fact. And, let me also say that our “African” culture isn’t cherry picking or even passing, it’s real, it’s daily. I know exactly where my ancestors come from in Africa, I know which tribe my indigenous ancestors of Brasil come from, and yes I know where my Portuguese slave-owning ancestors come from in Portugal. I know a lot of Brasilians like this, who were born and raised to know who they are down to the very last slave. Of course not every single black Brasilian is raised this way, and I certainly never claimed we’re all happy-go-lucky when it comes to “race”, what I said is stop trying to judge Brasil based on your ideals and systems of racism, and actually visit for more than a week, and learn how it plays-out. And, I will say again and again racism in Brasil is closely tied with classism. And, I will state again we are not without the same issues plagued by many who think “white” is the only standard of beauty. We were certainly taught to hate ourselves, but show me a country with brown/black people in it that wasn’t? Even Africans from various countries have been taught to hate themselves. So, I don’t really get your point, because I’ve never denied this.

    My issue with this entire article and most like it, is people seem to expect Brasil, a third world country, to lift the entire world into racial democracy, because some idiot in my country perpetuated that we were a “racial democracy” — this is a lie. And this lie was based solely on white and black Brasilians procreating without any hang-ups, on our diversity, but it’s rubbish, but the way racism plays-out in Brasil just isn’t the same as in the US or other places, sorry but it’s true. This whole “Brasil needs to acknowledge they’re the second blackest country outside of Nigeria” is a bit insane to me too. Insane, because Brasil has bigger issues, yes bigger than race. We first need to educate the poor blacks and yes, whites, we need to level the playing field, and we need to pull ourselves out of poverty as a whole. Again, despite everything about race, we’re still a third world country. So, of course people are going to do what they need to get ahead, and yes that involves denying who you are, or trying to be “whiter”. Again, we suffer from the same issues as many black and brown people around the world – I assure you, we’re not special, and or exotic – those are just more myths to dispel.

    Also, to debate who was the worst in the slave trade or slavery period is a bit insane to me. Slavery in and of itself was a monstrosity perpetrated on a entire group of people, there is no “my slavery was better than yours”. Just because Brasil kept it longer, or allowed dualism, and the US didn’t doesn’t make any of it better, because honestly all of it was horrible, whether it was in the US, the Caribbean, or Brasil. Why we bang-on about ranking who got the better end of the deal is beyond me. I think it’s absolutely horrible that African slaves in the US was stripped of their heritage. I think it was horrible that African slaves in Brasil had to buy back their freedom, and the freedom of their families. I think it’s all horrible, and refuse to even debate who got the better end of that horrible pill, that we’re all still dealing with.

    And in closing, I disagree with your “Brazil doesn’t allow Blacks any true position of economic or social parity or power, and are mainly happy if they are satisfied singing, dancing, and being exoticized as sexual in their own country.” — Ha! My father was a Cardio-Thoracic Surgeon {he’s deceased now}, my mum is a retired professor, my brother is an architect, my eldest sister is a pediatrician, one brother is a filmmaker, several uncles own a manufacturing business in Bahia, which employs many poverty-ridden men and women, etc etc. My family isn’t an anomaly. This I know for a fact. Plenty of us exist in Brasil, but you’ll need to take a trip there to know we exist, breathe, live, and thrive daily. Just like African-Americans plenty of black Brasilians have been able to pull themselves up, not all of us, certainly not all of us, but many of us have and will continue to do so. So, sorry I respectfully disagree with your assessment of us, and implore you to book a trip, and live-out that 90 day visa offered to US citizens, and if you’re not a US citizen, then do explore the freedoms of staying longer, and actually getting to know what’s really going on in Brasil, but be sure to leave your broad stroke brushes at home, and prepare to form an informed opinion.

    And not to make this book any longer {my apologies}, but for every person who is like “oh black Brasilians have it bad” so do plenty of poor white Brasilians who are of the wrong class. Goto the South of Brasil and see how much privilege those white Brasilians have, they’re struggling just like the black ones are all across Brasil. And, this is always interesting to me too, because no one touches that topic — that my beautiful country has just as many poor whites as it does poor blacks, but I digress.

    Thanks for response.

  • Clnmike

    Nice article, its ironic that blacks are not shown prominently on Brazilian TV when you consider how many great movies came out of there featuring a large black cast. They did have a series called City of Men that was on TV. If I were to judge the future of TV in Brazil for blacks in comparison to what’s going on in the silver screen than the future looks bright for them.

  • AustralianGirl

    Hi, as a South African born woman from the ‘Cape-coloured’ community, living in Australia, i find it really interesting how race and ‘blackness’ is seen differently throughout the diaspora. I am mixed-race, however I also identify as a Black woman.

    Even here among the Aboriginal community, we have some blonde, blue-eyed and extremely fair-skinned people who proudly identify as Aboriginal, and do not see themselves as any different from full-bloods.

  • preta

    Thank you so much for the comment!!!!!
    That thing you have wrote, i could not wrote better. It´s frustrating read about my own culture, my own history trough a foreign eye. Read thing like “the country has not fully embraced its identity as one of the Blackest nations in the world” or ” It seems like your just getting offended for the sake of being offended” can be very offensive. And it’s more painful when everytime there is a post about a country in latin america on this site, the comments are about the “facts” that black people in here are not awareness of their own race or are ashamed of their blackness. This is too much preconceived notions of a place that most only heard about it. Yes, we do have racism, yes we do are far away from a race utopia, but again, this is my history, my culture, so, me, as a black brazilian woman knows what i’m talking about it.

  • Culturally Aware

    great comeback DS. I understand you point of view and agree with many parts of it.

    As an American, who lived in Brazil for more than 90 days and speaks fluent Portuguese, initially,it was very challenging to understand the concept of race in Brazil. Prior to going to Brazil, I never really experienced blatant racism or really felt it as much as I did in Rio de Janeiro. I wasn’t overly shocked by it, but it made me feel very inferior in a way I never felt before. I understand that social injustice is experienced by all races in Brazil. I was judged alot because of the color of my skin in Brazil. I believe I was judged by my physical appearance then assigned to a class category. For black and mixed raced Brazilians, that is a daily reality. I realized that my good sense of style and mannerisms could not erase the fact that I was still treated ‘as a less than’ by Brazilians who knew nothing about me. It didn’t feel good to have white Brazilian friends explain my social achievements and Americanness for non Black Brazilians to give me a time of day. Hearing “She is black, but she has this that etc…… was just too much! Why does that matter, if race is not as important as class? As a result, its difficult for me to accept that class is held a higher standard than race in Brazil.

    In my opinion, Brazil’s race issues creates enormous social problems that need to be addressed. Brazil’s answer to improving social equality among all races cannot be an American solution. Brazil’s history is not just a black and white one…and the brainwashing of this mixed race society gives Brazilians a different perspective on race that Americans don’t have. So putting one race against another and using that as a basis for starting a movement is not going to work for Brazil, in my opinion. There is no common perspective on ‘who is a black/white/indian/japanese brazilian’ due to mixing. In America, we created the common perpsective with the one drop rule, but that does not apply to Brazil and the international community has to understand that and stop assigning titles like “Brazil is the blackest nation outside of Africa”….because Brazil does not agree with that title.

    Food for thought::::Again, stop and think why Brazil does not embrace that title…beyond the fact that every Brazilian is mixed with a little bit of everything? What is the common perspective of what it means to be black to the Brazilian people?

    I can write a novel on this…because I have experienced Brazil as a resident, not as an occasional tourist.

  • Culturally Aware

    @ Jess === {{I agree}}

    Keeping and celebrating some aspects of a culture doesn’t mean you want, like, or don’t discriminate against all the other aspects of a culture/people. ((That is called a FARCE…Brazil’s government is skilled at brainwashing an large pop. with limited education))

  • http://shebreathes.com DS

    @ Preta: tudo bem menina? Let me just say it’s taken me years to master the non-offensive stance {smile}. So many swear they know Brasil, better than Brasilians, and that’s cool, but don’t expect me to agree fully. I’ve known people who live in Brasil for over 20 years and still say they’re baffled. I don’t have all the answers, but I know from whence I come, and I can and will speak my truth and the truth of those I represent, and I won’t accept broad strokes of me or my country. Despite all that can be said about Brasil and Brasilians. I am proud to be one, anally nationalistic to a fault. But I love learning about others, their culture, etc thus why being offended isn’t an option. We have to all learn from eachother, because offensive remarks work both ways. It’s easy to target and prod Brasil, because it’s a third world country with many, many issues, and twenty steps behind the rest of the world, but I refuse and rebuke sweeping generalizations, thus my thesis like comments. Don’t let it anger you, just allow it to be a chance for your to give insight into what you know and believe. I find more people are receptive to learning, even if they won’t admit it.

    @ Jess: You’re entitled to your opinions, because that’s your experience with Brasil. I don’t agree with everything you’ve said, but it’s yours and I respect it. I have black American friends who live in Brasil who report different things. And as many times as I visit my country with several friends who are black, I’ve never had to explain their class and or blackness. I dunno. I often find that my black American friends, and my non-Afro-Brasilian friends are treated better automatically, so again I dunno. We’ll have to agree to disagree, but let’s clarify something here, I never said that class trumped racism in Brasil. I said they were closely tied, and I stand by that.

    @ Robbie, somehow I missed your comment, but what a powerful and honest sentiment.

    Thanks for engaging me. But, this will be my last comment. If anyone has any questions, feel free to click my name and shoot me an email. I am open to learning/sharing through dialogue.


  • http://twitter.com/hbpy2k Harold B. Pritchett

    This is great news for black people the world over. A black male should have been the lead for many soap operas but blacks are always over looked. This is why I created a black soap opera for the internet titled “Inner City Bluz” starring black children. There are 26 webisodes in this African American Soap Opera for the net.

    Visit http://innercitybluz.00movies.com/

    Support Black soap operas on the internet. The webisode “Inner City Bluz” promises to reveal the hard edge of at-risk inner city children when the bottom of life falls from under them. Forced to live on the streets, the children learn life skills and begin to understand the morals their deceased mother gave them.

  • Hola

    I agree with you, up to a certain point. I went to Brasil with a friend who is blond. He got so much attention he didn’t like it at all. Although people were friendly, he knew immediately that it was because of his skin color and his blond hair that made him interesting. Now the difference between the US and Brasil is that the US doesn’t deny racism. Brasil pretents it’s not there, yes it does. When you admit there is a problem, you can work from there. Brasil is a huge country, in the US black people are a minority in Brasil they are absolutely not. I i.e. hate the telenovelas. Reasons are bad acting and the actors being “too white” as in FAKE. The first time I saw one, the first minute I immediately thought: okay something is way off here. Where are the beautiful black, mixed, white(also) Brasilian people. Brasil is known for it’s beautiful people. Yet I have seen the most uggliest people totally rebuilt by plastic surgens on tv, because they are white. It immediately turned me off. But f people want things to change, they must take matters into their own hands and stop whatcing these crappy television channels.

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