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Xenophobia in Brazil: Patterns and Problems

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

For a country that claims so much receptiveness and open mind towards foreign cultures, Brazil has a high index of xenophobic cases towards what they call “exotic”, unfamiliar communities and customs. Since the abolition of slavery, different cultures have been migrating to Brazilian territory, introducing the country to new customs, traditions and beliefs. However, from that point on, this “receptiveness” towards other ethnicities and cultures has been “selected”; some have been praised, yet others, are seen with a discriminatory eye. Xenophobia in Brazil is selective. A pattern can be noted where immigrants that are usually black or non-white tend to be not as welcome as white immigrants. Not only that, but the country's status also interferes with them being welcomed or not. Studies have shown that immigrants from high economically developed/middle-to-high income countries tend to be more welcome than those from less economically developed countries who suffer from poverty and high unemployment issues. As welcoming as we are, this perception that everyone has of Brazil being such a receptive country towards foreigners brings false illusions to the true reality; though many Brazilians have an open mindset concerning immigrants, others still live on to “ancient” beliefs where immigrants bring more negative than positive aspects to one’s country.

Mooca and other areas from the south of Brazil such as Rio Grande do Sul, are among some of the various Brazilian regions influenced by European culture. Their beliefs, traditional parties and customs, while being different from ours, are closely aligned, seeing that their culture has ties to the Christian religion, similar to Brazil, in which the country has a strong predominance of Christianity. Having this element in common, Brazilians are most likely to understand and relate to such cultures considering that it is not very different from what they are most accustomed to. The African cultures, whose religion tends to be different from the beliefs of the vast majority of the Brazilian population, still suffer to a great extent from derogatory comments filled with hate. Their religious festivals and events, such as the “Candomblé”, very present in Angola, have been brought to Brazil and are very present in some specific areas (mostly Salvador and Bahia). However, their beliefs are heavily objectified by a part of the Brazilian population which is very closed-minded to a foreign culture, resulting in acts of violence and protest infringing freedom of expression. Studies from Correio Braziliense have shown that African-based religions are a target of 59% of religious intolerance. The lack of education concerning different communities tends to lead to aggressive and “oppressive” thoughts regarding the culture of the other.

Additionally, it is also intriguing that cultures most welcomed in Brazil are not only the ones from Europe but the ones in which the population is predominantly white. An article from Politize! discusses the Oktoberfest, an event coming from the German culture highly appreciated in Brazil and celebrated in many places such as in São Paulo, but especially in the southern areas. Their culture is “praised” along with their typical foods, dances and clothes. Mocca is another example of the Italian culture (predominantly white) becoming highly valued in Brazil and even having neighbourhoods “based” on their ethnicity. These examples are not stating that this praise of another culture and ethnicity is wrong; on the other hand, it is more than necessary to involve different cultures in the same community, that way, more knowledge is passed on, and a sense of empathy and open-mindedness becomes present. However, many cultures from African regions and in which their population is non-white don’t tend to receive the same treatment as Italians or Germans, for example. This is not a problem that has originated in today’s century; this lack of tolerance of non-white cultures stems from the abolition of slavery, as stated previously. Eugeny, a pseudoscientific movement which argued that superior races and “better strains” manage to prevail in a more suitable way the environment, made its appearance after the abolition of slavery and encouraged the flux of European immigrants to the Brazilian land in order to “whiten” the Brazilian population. This comes to show the attempts to suppress and oppress African culture and its people at that time. Due to this movement, African ethnicities suffer until this day from intolerance and prejudice from the Brazilian people. Both Eugueny and slavery played significant roles in “slowing the development” of granting black and African populations the right to access education and to join the labour workforce; to this day, the consequences are still evident. Politize! shows that the black population’s illiteracy rate is two times superior to that of the rest of the Brazilian people. Yet colour is just another of many other elements that add to the amount of Xenophobia that immigrants suffer in Brazil. The receptiveness of Brazilians is also directed to white immigrants because this is a behaviour of the country’s economic and political elites.

Colour is not the only element that induces these violent acts and protests, seeing that the discrimination against a person based solely on race is racism. Countries less

economically developed tend to be less welcomed than countries with an economy more developed. Many immigrants that come from these LEDCs (Less Economically Developed Country), though they have qualifications and diplomas to work, aren’t working in their areas of specifications and have jobs as waiters, porters, janitors, among others. Many Brazilians tend to see Haitians as “poor”, unqualified citizens that won’t contribute to the economy of the country; however, many of these Haitian immigrants have graduated and still can’t find jobs in their areas of specification; this is a consequence of the difficulty of validating international diplomas in Brazil. Through an article written by Politize!, research conducted in 2016 indicated that 60% of the Haitian men interviewed living in Belo Horizonte stated that they suffered from xenophobia and other types of prejudice at their place of work. Concerning Haitian women, the number goes up to 100%. This study is vital to show how there is still a “prefab vision” (pre-fabricated vision, also known as “visão pré-fabricada”) present in not only Brazil but also many countries around the world which see the large flux of immigrants into a country as a negative aspect seeing that they could become another social problem to tackle. Brazil is a country that deals with many economical and employment-related issues. As more immigrants come to the Brazilian territory in hopes of a better life, the “search” for a job opportunity becomes a challenge, considering the weak economy. With this in mind, there is the xenophobic thought that immigrants that came here seeking a better lifestyle are just taking up more space and resources and won’t have a proper job, therefore won’t contribute to the economy.

Though it is important to educate the population to establish a better society, where no culture is seen as “better” or superior to the other, having an open mind is not enough to deter/stop xenophobic attacks around the world. The issue of xenophobia is very complex and there are still no solutions to deal with, not only the reduction of xenophobic attacks but with immigrants receiving better lifestyles and job opportunities (such as in the case of the Haitians and their diplomas). In the case of Brazil, most immigrants that come here are from less economically developed countries seeing that they are just looking for a place better than where they were, free from extreme hunger and poverty, political persecution (in the case of Venezuela) and where they can find jobs. However, considering Brazil’s weak economy and unstable job market with a significant number of unemployed people (circa 12% of the entire population), a high flux of more immigrants into the country, it is even harder to find employment possibility, augmenting the “rage” that many Brazilians have towards immigrants.

In the final analysis, xenophobia is a delicate and serious topic that needs to be addressed more often. In Brazil, it can be identified a pattern of xenophobic attacks toward specific cultures and praise toward others. This is due to a variety of factors such as religion, different costumes, ethnicities, country’s status, and much more. As strange as it seems, Brazil has a low tolerance for cultures that are very different from theirs and don’t open their minds to new civilizations and traditions. The benefits that different cultures and a high flux of different immigrants can bring to society are many such as benefiting the economy, job employment, and cultural diversity. However, for these benefits to “occur”, proper migration laws must be applied along with a country having a stable and strong economy, which has a large and powerful job market, giving opportunities for everyone to “exert” their profession properly.


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