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?