Seeing in Black and White

“Often called “the capital of black Brazil,” this tropical city swelled with civic pride last month when the local Olodum Afro drum corps played with Paul Simon before a huge crowd in Central Park in New York.

But back home, recognition is not always so easy.

This time last year, Olodum’s cultural director, Eusebio Cardoso Ferreira, was recovering from multiple shotgun wounds inflicted by a military policeman.

“Eusebio had packed a suitcase and was on his way to London,” said Alan Trajano, a church human rights lawyer familiar with the case. “But the policeman saw a black man with a bag and assumed he had stolen it from a tourist.”

On one hand, Salvador has recently seen a renaissance in Afro-Brazilian culture. Under coconut palms on the beaches, women in turbans sell snacks whose recipes of palm oil, okra and shrimp trace back to West Africa. The city’s most widely followed religion is candomble, whose gods and Yoruba chants first came from 17th-century Dahomey. At carnival time, Salvador’s cobblestone streets reverberate with African drums and samba lyrics composed in homage to ancient empires in Mali, Angola and the Congo. Council Overwhelmingly White

But in the spheres of civil rights and political power, the lot of Salvador’s blacks seems frozen in amber.

Although 80 percent of Salvador’s population is black or of mixed race, the city’s Mayor and all but three members of the 35-member city council are white. On the state level, the racial equation is the same. The Governor of Bahia State is white and the congressional delegation looks as though it just stepped off a plane from Portugal, Brazil’s former colonial power.”

- Source (more here. Article from the year 1991)

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