Poetry Betrays Whiteness

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive on 2016-04-14 17:43Z by Steven

Poetry Betrays Whiteness

Harriet: A Poetry Blog
Poetry Foundation

Lucas de Lima (Introduction by Daniel Borzutzky)

Among the many pointed questions that Lucas de Lima raises in “Poetry Betrays Whiteness” is that of how positions of unitedstatesian privilege can be used “to fight structural inequality and global anti-blackness.” This far-reaching essay touches upon, among other things, conceptions of race in the U.S. and Brazil; afro-Brazilian artists who have offered alternative conceptions; and a fascinating discussion of the ways that Brazilian Portuguese has been shaped by indigenous and African influences.

Lucas concludes by drawing our attention to a racist and sexist post on Harriet in 2008 that I had never seen before, and which sadly seems illustrative of the disgusting racism embedded in U.S. literary institutions that has been exposed in the past few years. Lucas asks, among other things, for the Poetry Foundation to take responsibility for the publication of the racist post it provided a platform for. This is a fair request, and one that I second. We should know why such posts are published. Editorial policies surrounding racist content should be clearly articulated and transparent

…When I’m in Brazil—the country with the largest Black population in the world outside of Africa—I am not a light-skinned Latino or a person of color. I occupy the position of a white person.

Lately, moving between racial categories has magnified my political feelings. The more time I spend in the country I left as a child, the more I hone the grief and rage that whiteness, as a global logic, provokes in me. For every Black person killed by the police in the U.S., countless more are killed in Brazil. In both places, the rise of police brutality and mass incarceration is one condition of racialized life. Another is the exploding suicide rate in Native communities, particularly among youth.

I think of nation-states as inherently militarized spaces articulated through each other. When Frederick Douglass said Brazil was less racist than the U.S. in its treatment of freed slaves, he anticipated the self-fashioning of a ‘racial democracy’ whose mixture would be defined against U.S.-style segregation. Like the vast majority of Brazilians, I have mixed-race ancestry. Because my nonwhite ancestors survived, I am alive and need to be explicit about the horrors of miscegenation—the rape of African and Indigenous women by Portuguese men. My light skin is the result of policies that whitened the population by incentivizing European immigration at the turn of the century. I think all the time about how the state transmits white supremacy through my body. My phenotype encodes a national fear of being too black and brown. As in other slaveholding societies, the idea that Brazil could one day be Haiti haunted the elite…

Read the entire article here.

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