Category: RACE RELATIONS

Is Neymar Black? Brazil and the Painful Relativity of Race

Ever since his “It’s not like I’m black, you know?” comment, Neymar has served as a focal point in Brazil’s cultural reckoning with racism, whitening, identity and public policy.

neymar

Years before he became the most expensive player in the world; before his Olympic gold medal; before the Eiffel Tower lit up with his name to greet his professional move from Barcelona to Paris, Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, the Brazilian forward known to the world simply as Neymar, faced his first public relations controversy.

The year was 2010, and Neymar, then 18, had shot to fame in Brazil after a sensational breakout season. During an interview for the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, in between a conversation about Disneyland and sports cars, he was asked if he had ever experienced racism. “Never. Not in the field, nor outside of it,” he replied.

“It’s not like I’m black, you know?”

His answer was heard like a record-scratch across the country. Was this young man in denial about his racial identity? Particularly when in the same interview he outlined his meticulous hair care regime, which involved getting his locks chemically straightened every few weeks, then bleached blonde.

Or was there a less alarming explanation behind his comment? Could Neymar merely be pointing out that, as the son of a black father and a white mother, his lighter skin tone shielded him from the racist abuse directed at other players? Had he, at least in his context, reached whiteness? Whatever the interpretation, Neymar’s words revealed the tricky, often contradictory ways that many Brazilians talk, and fail to talk, about race in a country with the largest population of black descendants outside of Africa.

When audiences tune in to watch Brazil play, they are treated to a rich spectrum of skin tones flashing vibrantly across the screen. The racial makeup of the Brazilian squad, in fact, generally reflects the demographics of the country. According to 2017 data released by the census department, 47 percent of Brazilians identify as mixed-race, while another 8 percent identify as black. One third of marriages happen across racial boundaries. Such numbers confirm the common belief held by Brazilians, and the millions of international travelers who visited last year, that the country is a racially fluid society.

Unlike the national team, however, the upper echelons of most professions in Brazil — be it medicine, media, business, entertainment or government — are occupied by whites. The nation’s raw demographic data paints an accurate portrait of a diverse people; yet it also adds patina to the old myth, promoted for generations by the government and first intellectualized by sociologists nearly a century ago, that Brazil is a democracia racial, or “racial democracy.”

Because Brazil never had an apartheid system like South Africa, or a ban on mixed-race marriages like America, went the argument, a spirit of warm relations blossomed across racial divides.

Never mind that Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery in 1888; or that after abolition, the ruling class mounted a campaign to whiten the majority-black population, by fully subsidizing the immigration of over four million white Europeans, giving them free land, and compelling Brazilians to take up with them.

A Black Woman Who Defied Segregation in Canada Will Appear on Its Currency

viola desmondOTTAWA — Nine years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Jim Crow-era bus in Montgomery, Ala., Viola Desmond tried to sit in a whites-only section of a movie theater in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.

Ms. Desmond, a businesswoman who had her own line of cosmetics and who died in 1965, was prosecuted for trying to defraud the provincial government of 1 cent — the difference in sales tax for a seat in the balcony, where blacks were expected to sit and the whites-only ground floor ticket price. While she offered to pay the tax, she was convicted and fined 26 Canadian dollars, including court costs, at a trial at which the theater owner acted as the prosecutor and she was without a lawyer.

Now she is about to become the first black person — and the first woman other than a British royal — to appear alone on Canadian currency. The new series of $10 bills is to be released this year.

“Outside of the Underground Railroad story, which has a fair amount of mythologizing around it, Canadians do not know about black Canadian history,” said Barrington Walker, a history professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “Black history was imagined as not central to the founding of the country.”

Underscoring Mr. Walker’s point, Ms. Desmond’s story was little known in Canada until her sister, Wanda Robson, began drawing attention to it after taking a course in 2003 on race relations. Ms. Robson, who unveiled the design of the bank note last Thursday in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was 73 at the time of her studies at University College of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, the sisters’ home province.

Lupita Nyong’o Criticizes Magazine’s Altered Image of Her Hair

The Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o has spoken over the years about her struggles to learn to love her hair and skin color. She was taunted as a young girl for her “night-shaded skin,” she has said. She once felt “unbeautiful.”Finally, Ms. Nyong’o said she realized that beauty was not a thing that she could acquire or change. “It was something that I just had to be,” she said at a Black Women in Hollywood luncheon in 2014.

But now, at 34, Ms. Nyong’o has yet again found herself defending that beauty.On the cover of its November issue, the magazine Grazia UK featured an altered image of Ms. Nyong’o. Gone is her mass of curly black hair, held in a thick ponytail at the back of her neck in the original photograph.

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On Instagram, in a post that was widely viewed and shared, Ms. Nyong’o rejected the magazine’s use of the image.

As I have made clear so often in the past with every fiber of my being, I embrace my natural heritage and despite having grown up thinking light skin and straight, silky hair were the standards of beauty, I now know that my dark skin and kinky, coily hair are beautiful too.

Being featured on the cover of a magazine fulfills me as it is an opportunity to show other dark, kinky-haired people, and particularly our children, that they are beautiful just the way they are.

I am disappointed that @graziauk invited me to be on their cover and then edited out and smoothed my hair to fit their notion of what beautiful hair looks like. Had I been consulted, I would have explained that I cannot support or condone the omission of what is my native heritage with the intention that they appreciate that there is still a very long way to go to combat the unconscious prejudice against black women’s complexion, hair style and texture.

Ms. Nyong’o affixed the hashtag #dtmh, the acronym for the song “Don’t Touch My Hair,” by Solange Knowles. The London Evening Standard magazine apologized to Ms. Knowles last month for removing a significant portion of her hair from an image that appeared on the cover of its October edition.

In September, the hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj called out magazines for altering her hair while not doing the same to women of other races. “For years, fashion mags would change my hair for their covers but allow women of a diff race to wear the exact style on the cover,” she said on Twitter.

On Friday, Grazia magazine issued a statement apologizing to Ms. Nyong’o but deflecting blame for the image alteration.

ESPN Is Terrified of Jemele Hill’s Honesty on Racism

EYESI’ve watched the N.F.L. on ESPN for more than 20 years in part because I grew up with the kind of father who pretty much refused to talk to me until I showed interest in the game. One Sunday when I was 12, I parked myself on the couch next to him, and because we were watching Brett Favre, I asked him what an interception was. “When you throw it to the other team,” Dad said. That quarterback would go on to set the N.F.L. record for passing interceptions.

On Monday, ESPN issued a two-week suspension to Jemele Hill, a tough, opinionated black woman who anchors “SportsCenter,” because she violated the network’s social-media guidelines. The night before, the Dallas Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones, had said that if any of his players were “disrespectful” of the flag, they wouldn’t play. Hill noted on Twitter that this puts his black players in a bind: “If they don’t kneel, some will see them as sellouts.”

Then she remarked that Cowboys fans could boycott the team’s sponsors if they were dissatisfied with Jones’s position, instead of relying on Cowboys players to protest. Hill clarified that she wasn’t calling for Cowboys fans to boycott the N.F.L., but rather that “an unfair burden” has been put on players. (This wasn’t the first time controversy had arisen about one of Hill’s tweets; last month, she called President Trump a white supremacist.)ESPN’s decision to suspend Hill, whom it pays to express her opinions, suggests that the network might be scared of boycotts and that the Cowboys’ sponsors, as well as the network’s own, are more important than supporting the idea that black people might be people.

Let’s be clear: The N.F.L. players who refuse to stand for the anthem aren’t protesting the flag or the anthem; they’re objecting to the obscenely high number of unarmed black people brutalized and killed by police officers in the United States. When Jerry Jones says that players can’t be “disrespectful,” what he’s really saying is that black people are not supposed to complain that we are routinely killed by the police, even when unarmed. We are supposed to embrace the idea that our lives should not be valued, because floating the opinion that maybe we shouldn’t be killed for no reason might offend advertisers.

It’s also hard to reconcile ESPN’s decision to suspend Jemele Hill for not quite calling for a boycott with the outspokenness that ESPN prizes in anchors who are not black women, who say things much more offensive and only get a slap on the wrist.

Suspending Jemele Hill is the sort of desperate move ESPN undoubtedly hopes might attract more viewers, much like the network’s sudden decision not to allow an Asian-American broadcaster named Robert Lee to call a college-football game last August. ESPN’s subscriber base dropped to 87 million households in September from a high of 100.1 million in 2011, and the network has laid off more than 100 people this year in addition to 300 workers in October 2015.

Tyranny of the Minority

26goldbergWeb-master768Since Donald Trump’s cataclysmic election, the unthinkable has become ordinary. We’ve grown used to naked profiteering off the presidency, an administration that calls for the firing of private citizens for political dissent and nuclear diplomacy conducted via Twitter taunts. Here, in my debut as a New York Times columnist, I want to discuss a structural problem that both underlies and transcends our current political nightmare: We have entered a period of minority rule.

I don’t just mean the fact that Trump became president despite his decisive loss in the popular vote, though that shouldn’t be forgotten. Worse, the majority of voters who disapprove of Trump have little power to force Congress to curb him.

A combination of gerrymandering and the tight clustering of Democrats in urban areas means that even if Democrats get significantly more overall votes than Republicans in the midterms — which polls show is probable — they may not take back the House of Representatives. (According to a Brookings Institution analysis, in 2016, Republicans won 55.2 percent of seats with just under 50 percent of votes cast for Congress.)

And because of the quirks of the 2018 Senate map, Democrats are extremely unlikely to reclaim that chamber, even if most voters would prefer Democratic control. Some analysts have even suggested that Republicans could emerge from 2018 with a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority.

Our Constitution has always had a small-state bias, but the effects have become more pronounced as the population discrepancy between the smallest states and the largest states has grown. “Given contemporary demography, a little bit less than 50 percent of the country lives in 40 of the 50 states,” Sanford Levinson, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Texas, told me. “Roughly half the country gets 80 percent of the votes in the Senate, and the other half of the country gets 20 percent.”

Diversity or Celebrity? Cast Change at ‘Great Comet’ Prompts Outrage

In February, the producers of the Broadway musical “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” proudly announced that Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan, a member of the original “Hamilton” cast, would step into the show’s lead male role after the departure of Josh Groban. But this week, the producers abruptly cut short Mr. Onaodowan’s expected nine-week tenure, saying that during his final three weeks, he would be replaced by a major Broadway star, Mandy Patinkin, who became famous with “The Princess Bride,” won a Tony Award for “Evita,” and is now featured in television’s “Homeland.”

Although producers periodically replace lesser-known performers with big-name actors in the hopes of selling more tickets, the move at “The Great Comet” is prompting outrage among some black actors, who have turned to social media to express their concern that Mr. Onaodowan, who is African-American, was not given sufficient opportunity to succeed before being replaced by a white actor. There are multiple complicating factors. Mr. Onaodowan’s tenure was always going to be short — it just got shorter. Mr. Patinkin is unquestionably better known on Broadway, which could boost publicity for the show and ticket sales during a traditionally slow end-of-summer period. (On Thursday, for example, he was interviewed on NBC’s “Today” show.) And the show is among the most diverse on Broadway, with an African-American actress, Denée Benton, playing Natasha, and multiple other nonwhite actors in the company. But some performers are arguing that the casting change reflects a larger problem in the entertainment business. The move “raises questions about how Black actors are valued and supported within Broadway,” declared the website BroadwayBlack.“It’s like the integration of baseball, where a player has to be twice as good,” Mr. Casal said in a phone interview.

Mr. Onaodowan, who spent months preparing for the role, including learning to play the accordion, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The show’s grosses have, to no one’s surprise, dropped since Mr. Groban’s departure. The show had been bringing in about $1.2 million a week with Mr. Groban in the role of Pierre; it brought in $923,571 last week, with Mr. Onaodowan as Pierre. That’s still higher than for most Broadway shows, and still more than the show’s running costs, but not as much as the show is likely to bring in with Mr. Patinkin in the role. Mr. Patinkin is scheduled to play Pierre from Aug. 15 to Sept. 3.

The producers have not said who will play Pierre after Labor Day, but they appear to be considering the occasional use of well-known performers in key roles to excite interest — a strategy many other shows use. This summer, in addition to Mr. Onaodowan, the show has brought in the singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson to play a key role (Natasha’s cousin Sonya). The most prominent performer to express concern is the actress Cynthia Erivo, who won a Tony Award last year for her performance in a revival of “The Color Purple.” Ms. Erivo posted a series of seven messages on Twitter on Wednesday, suggesting the changeover was unfair to both Mr. Onaodowan and Mr. Patinkin.

“I honestly am flabbergasted,” she posted. She added, “The disrespect of both actors is highly concerning.”

Russell Simmons’ All Def Digital Partners with Jason Zeldes to Release ‘Romeo Is Bleeding’

ftr-romeo-is-bleedingAll Def Digital and Russell Simmons have partnered with award-winning editor Jason Zeldes to executive produce Zeldes’ documentary feature directorial debut “Romeo Is Bleeding,” which explores the power of spoken word poetry to save and elevate youth, in one of the most violent suburbs of the country. With Donté Clark’s evocative and stirring street poetry serving as a backdrop, “Romeo is Bleeding” captures the community tensions, violence and heartbreak that haunt neighborhoods like Richmond, California across the country (and around the world). As Donté leads a cast of high school students in an effort to mount a fresh adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet,” the film uses the Bard’s classic to delve deeper into the contemporary socio-economic issues that drive the violence in their city. As the play comes together on the stage, real life begins to parallel the Shakespearean tragedy. Pushed to his limits, Donté must decide if he is capable of being the leader that Richmond’s youth wants and needs him to be.

The Film Collaborative will release the award-winning documentary in select theatres beginning July 28. The announcement was jointly made today by Sanjay Sharma, President and CEO of All Def Digital, and Romeo is Bleeding producer Michael Klein of Circadian Pictures.

“This is a powerful and provocative film that could not be more timely, or timeless. It carries a critical message about the power of the written – and spoken – word to save and transform individuals and communities,” said Simmons. “As funding for the arts, the youth, and community services continues to get slashed, Romeo Is Bleeding and its star show us the importance of the arts in our lives and how one person can make a huge difference in even the most hardened of communities.” Simmons, known widely as the founder of iconic hip hop brands such as Def Jam Records and Phat Farm, also brought spoken word to the forefront of artistic culture through nearly a decade of Def Poetry Jam on HBO. He also received a Tony Award for Brave New Voices, a spoken word inspired play on Broadway.