The sixties are coming to Brazil

This is off-topic, but readers may be curious to read a translation of today’s essay by your blogger in the online version of Época magazine, in Ruth de Aquino’s blog. The original is here, with a great photo by Margaret Day, of the young journalist and community leader from Complexo do Alemão, Rene Silva.

Perhaps the fact that a growing number of young black Brazilians are letting their hair grow, without using straighteners or wearing braid extensions, is more than a passing fashion statement. The new look, which harks back to the time when black militants were fighting racism in the United States, is called “Black Power” — in Portuguese. It speaks of power and self-esteem.

And, as we saw last year during the many street demonstrations, it’s not only black people who are starting to feel important in Brazil.

Contrary to what my children think, I’m too young to have participated in the core American counterculture years. I didn’t ingest a ton of drugs and I didn’t take part in a ton of anti-war protests. Yet I do recall how everything was up for discussion, the disdain for the “establishment”. Young people went to sit-ins. They wanted to participate more, manage their own lives and learning experiences. The police who dragged them away from the sit-ins (and who actually shot people, killing some) were called pigs.

The counterculture came out of the growth of the American middle class. Like thousands of Americans, my father, a son of poor immigrants, came home from World War II and went to college under the G.I. Bill. He became a lawyer, left the poor neighborhood of his youth, and took his wife and daughters to live in a house near good public schools, with a lawn to mow in the summer and leaves to rake in the fall.

The post-war generation revolutionized American life. No longer did we blindly accept the orders of teachers, principals, bosses, religious leaders, parents or police. No longer did we follow traditions. We didn’t like presidents who sent young people to their deaths in the Vietnam War. We traveled, tried out new things, invented stuff, introduced new behaviors and ideas: the Frisbee, Rubik’s Cube, the mini-skirt, sex before marriage, expresso coffee.

In Brazil at that time there were also demonstrations and a questioning of authority. But the social structure didn’t change much. After all, the military took power in 1964 and stayed in Brasília until 1985, to maintain the status quo. In their time there was economic growth and a measure of social mobility. The structure, however – who was in charge of whom – didn’t change.

Today, millions of people in the old “third world” countries, including Brazil, are leaving extreme poverty. Since the 1988 constitution, a larger proportion of people stay in school until age 14. Formal employment, with its benefits, has grown significantly. Wages and pensions have seen real gains. Universities now offer quotas and scholarships for low-income students. Everyone, even favela residents, travels more than their parents did. Almost everyone uses the internet – though the Brazilian connection is often poor.

Just how long this scenario will last is in doubt. But there is reason for some hope. Politicians, police, unions and parties are on the downside of the seesaw. Right before our eyes, centuries-old authoritarianism is withering. Não me representa! — this doesn’t represent me! is the slogan of the day.

As information (correct or not) flows, networks are born and citizens begin to ask questions, the social structure is shaken up.

There’s chaos, we’re in a pressure cooker. Lynchings, buses in flames, tragedy and incoherence spread across the country.

Yes, it’s the sixties, coming in for a landing in a terrain with more inequality and less social and institutional infraestructure than the United States had, when Lyndon Baines Johnson was president and Martin Luther King led the battle for civil rights.

Order must be restored, the army called in, strikes judged illegal. But it’s also important to realize that the hair has grown and gone curly. Brazilians have discovered just how quiet, safe and efficient the buses are in New York. And the 2014 World Cup is showing us, as if the soccer ball were a kind of sun lighting up our most hidden and sordid corners, who loses and who wins every day in this country.

Beginning in the 1960s, a dialogue developed in the United States that resulted in more citizens participating in the institutions that rule over everyone. Today, for example, no one calls a cop a pig. As a matter of fact, every time a stop-and-frisk occurs, the police officer has to fill out a form, detailing the reasons for it! Accessible to the public, the forms are analyzed by academics and groups that defend constitutional rights. Issues of racial discrimination are taken up in court. The press and politicians take part in the debate.

As for us here in Brazil, what will we come up with to replace the old authoritarianism, in this, our counterculture moment?

About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
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17 Responses to The sixties are coming to Brazil

  1. agogo22 says:

    Reblogged this on msamba.

  2. Robert Hebert says:

    I love this!!!

    Robert Hebert

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. ARvWD says:

    Not off topic at all. Agree it feels like the 1960s here – exciting!

  4. Pingback: The sixties are coming to Brazil | MemePosts

  5. Peter Knight says:

    I agree with your reasonably optimistic view of the “new ’60s” here in Brazil. But don’t think we who demonstrated against the Vietnam War solved much in the US. We got Iraq and Afghanistan, unnecessary wars, and accelerated surveillance and crackdowns on whistle blowers under Obama whom we helped elect hoping for “change”. Read Glen Greenwald’s book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State. Chilling, Orwellian. With steadily increasing inequality and massive surveillance, all is not well in the US. Let’s hope Brazil can take advantage of the wave of justified demands for better education, health, public safety, transportation — and fight corruption, impunity, and the black blocs and police violence that scare away legitimate protesters.

    • Rio real says:

      I certainly agree that the US is in a bad way, but the demonstrations did away with any chances for a draft and gave us a significant number of years without a big war. One could even argue that Vietnam is why the first George Bush didn’t “go all the way” in the Gulf War, for better or worse.

  6. That was an interesting article. As a community volunteer who was born in the sixties and remembers the tone of the time in the seventies Iam perplexed at the lack of Black pride in Brazil. Unlike the writer of the article I wasn’t lucky enough to chose white parents. Working were I do in Rocinha I am often disappointed at how people fail to take advantage of the sheer numerical advantages they have if they just showed up at the polls and voted. I wonder what would happen if the drug dealers stopped being drug dealers and became a guerilla army to overcome the racist opporessive regime. We can all dream. I wonder what would happen if the women that work as house keepers and child minders for the rich white women just decided we are going on strike for better benefits. I think social change can come but it cannot come at the barrel of a gun. Where I live with my finace’s family there has been little or no change. The police have accomplished NOTHING, and the government has achieved even less than nothing. While the rich whites of Barra da Tijuca, and Sao Conrado sit in their secure towers there is still no trash pick up, water and electricity outages are common and terrible transportation infrastructure. Lynchings, police corruption, terror by the militia’s still exist in the favelas and the governement is still corrupt. Viva la revolution.

  7. Good piece! Well they usually say “if you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t really there.” So the new answer just might be: “If you can’t remember the sixties, go to Brazil and refresh your faded memory.”

  8. Jeff Sher says:


    An interesting premise for discussion. I can see the similarities between Brazil today and the US then. Full disclosure: I was around in the sixties. I want to believe that your optimism proves to be true. I hope Brazil can build on the growing realization that the way their country is being managed – and exploited by a minority of the population – and return control to a majority of the population. And then I hope Brazil builds a sustainable society that can serve as a model for the world. Having said that, the revolution of the sixties had mixed results, as Peter pointed out in his comments above. I would not recommend that Brazil hold up the USA as a model, since the USA is leading the way to a dismal future through over-consumption, gross inequality, and the fascism that is required to sustain such inequality. We do not have an effective democracy in the United States any longer. Inequality is increasing. We have eroding infrastructure, deteriorating health care and education. If Brazil is improving, the USA is declining, at least for most of its population. I say this to suggest that if Brazil is going to create a vibrant, healthy society, it will have to do things vastly differently than what is happening in the USA today. Brazil must create its own solutions and visions. The solutions of the 20th century that form the basis for the ideology of neo-liberalism and market fundamentalism are outdated, counter-reality and now so destructive as to be dangerous to all life on the planet.

    The coming of the mega-sporting events to Brazil brings all of this into focus. These over-produced, over-hyped, massively over-consumptive events are emblematic of the problems of the dominant but dying culture. The amount of money spent to entertain the rich people from around the world who will attend the copa do mundo – 58% of tickets sold to foreigners – contrasts with the underfunding of basic services in Brazil. This is the world, and our current global dilemma, in a nutshell. Four of the stadiums that have been built will never be filled again. Whose idea was this? Certainly the people of Brazil were never asked to vote on the question: should we spend $15 billion on stadiums for a month-long soccer tournament or a comparable amount on better schools. In fact one can make the case that these mega-events are simply a cleverly conceived way to continue the colonial paradigm of sucking resources out of Brazil to enrich powerful interests in more developed nations, along with a small portion of Brazilian collaborators who facilitiate the fleecing of the population at large.

    So what will the people of Brazil do with this? Will they take this opportunity to press for freedom, or will they be worn down or squashed by the ruling elites, in the name or order. What order, one might ask. The order that supports the concentration of wealth in a small fraction of the population, of course.

    In the sixties the galvanizing issue was opposition to an unjust war and a system which was drafting conscripts into armed service. At one point there were demonstrations/riots on 300 university campuses at the same time. But it was an era in the USA when the right of citizens to protest was still recognized. Things are different now. The Occupy movement was viciously suppressed. The police force in the USA has been militarized. The elites have built up their thin blue line to protect themselves from the disenfranchised masses. In Brazil, the private security firm Blackwater (or whatever they call themselves now) is training Brazilian forces in counter-insurgency tactics for the purpose of suppressing peaceful protestors, and the Brazilian elites introduce these forces with pomp and circumstance as if they are to be admired, when their sole purpose is to suppress their own people. Protestors in the USA – and the language is no different in Brazil – are now frequently branded as terrorists, to justify swift and radically disproportionate police suppression.

    The USA protests of the sixties helped to stop the Vietnam war eventually, when even the military belatedly realized it could not “win” the war. But we did not follow through to stop the “military industrial complex” that Eisenhower warned about. Now we live in a nation committed to fighting an endless war against indeterminate enemies. Most of our discretionary budget (over $1 trillion per year) is spent on military and intelligence (espionage) functions, while instead of funding university education, for instance, we have turned an entire generation into indentured servants carrying a lifelong burden of education debts.

    I could continue but perhaps the point is well made. I hope Brazilians continue to press for their rights as human beings and go beyond that to create a model society. I hope this is your opening and I hope you are successful. People from around the globe will be watching, and any success you enjoy could well spark a global recognition that another way is possible. People yearning for freedom and a decent life in all corners of the globe are with you in spirit.

    • Addison Jump says:

      “We didn’t like presidents who sent young people to their deaths in the Vietnam War.” But we do like presidents who send young people to their deaths in the Iraq War. Bush was re-elected in 2004.

      • Rio real says:

        True enough, Addison. But the difference is that the young people during Vietnam had less autonomy than those who went to Iraq, because of the draft.

  9. Rio real says:

    Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments, Jeff. And for your support for Brazil. It will be a long haul for both countries, for many countries.

  10. Pingback: FIFA to Brazil: “Let’s get this party started!” | storyfountain

  11. Pingback: Cariocas – The People of Rio | Expressions of Brazil

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