Brazil’s colour bind

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive, Passing, Politics/Public Policy, Slavery, Social Science, Videos on 2015-08-03 01:46Z by Steven

Brazil’s colour bind

The Globe and Mail
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Stephanie Nolen, Latin America Correspondent

Brazil is combating many kinds of inequality. But one of the world’s most diverse nations is still just beginning to talk about race

When Daniele de Araújo found out six years ago that she was pregnant, she set out from her small house on a dirt lane in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro and climbed a mountain. It is not a big mountain, the green slope that rises near her home, but the area is controlled by drug dealers, so she was anxious, hiking up. But she had something really important to ask of God, and she wanted to be somewhere she felt that the magnitude of her request would be clear.

She told God she wanted a girl, and she wanted her to be healthy, but one thing mattered above all: “The baby has to be white.”

Ms. de Araújo knows about the quixotic outcomes of genetics: She has a white mother and a black father, sisters who can pass for white, and a brother nearly as dark-skinned as she is – “I’m really black,” she says. Her husband, Jonatas dos Praseres, also has one black and one white parent, but he is light-skinned – when he reported for his compulsory military service, an officer wrote “white” as his race on the forms.

And so, when their baby arrived, the sight of her filled Ms. de Araújo with relief: Tiny Sarah Ashley was as pink as the sheets she was wrapped in. Best of all, as she grew, it became clear that she had straight hair, not cabelo ruim – “bad hair” – as tightly curled black hair is universally known in Brazil. These days, Sarah Ashley has tawny curls that tumble to the small of her back; they are her mother’s great joy in life. The little girl’s skin tone falls somewhere between those of her parents – but she was light enough for them to register her as “white,” just as they had hoped. (Many official documents in Brazil ask for “race and/or colour” alongside other basic identifying information.)

Ms. de Araújo and Mr. dos Praseres keep the photos from their 2005 wedding in a red velvet album on the lone shelf in their living room. The glossy pictures show family members of a dozen different skin colours, arm in arm, faces crinkled in stiff grins for the posed portraits. There are albums with similar pictures in living rooms all over this country: A full one-third of marriages in Brazil are interracial, said to be the highest rate in the world. (In Canada, despite hugely diverse cities such as Vancouver and Toronto, the rate is under five per cent.) That statistic is the most obvious evidence of how race and colour in Brazil are lived differently than they are in other parts of the world.

But a range of colours cannot disguise a fundamental truth, says Ms. de Araújo: There is a hierarchy, and white is at the top.

Many things are changing in this country. Ms. de Araújo left school as a teenager to work as a maid – about the only option open to a woman with skin as dark as hers – but now she has a professional job in health care and a house of her own, things she could not have imagined 15 years ago. Still, she says, “This is Brazil.” And there is no point being precious about it. Black is beautiful, but white – white is just easier. Even middle-class life can still be a struggle here. And Sarah Ashley’s parents want her life to be easy.

Brazil’s history of colonialism, slavery and dictatorship, followed by tumultuous social change, has produced a country that is at once culturally homogenous and chromatically wildly diverse. It is a cornerstone of national identity that Brazil is racially mixed – more than any country on Earth, Brazilians say. Much less discussed, but equally visible – in every restaurant full of white patrons and black waiters, in every high rise where the black doorman points a black visitor toward the service elevator – is the pervasive racial inequality…

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Treating a medical mosaic, doctors develop a new appreciation for the role of ethnicity in disease

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Canada, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2012-03-12 03:53Z by Steven

Treating a medical mosaic, doctors develop a new appreciation for the role of ethnicity in disease

The Globe and Mail
Toronto, Canada

Dakshana Bascaramurty, Reporter

Baby X is born in a Canadian hospital and her tiny, wrinkled body is placed on a scale that reads 3,061 grams, or 6 pounds and 12 ounces.

Things can go one of two ways for Baby X, whose parents are immigrants from India.

According to the standard birth-weight curves used in Canada, which are modelled after norms for Caucasian newborns, this baby could be labelled as underweight, a classification that comes with a higher risk of death and lower cognitive ability. She could be subjected to a battery of unnecessary tests and follow-ups. Her concerned mother might overfeed her in hopes of speeding up her growth.

Or, if a new birth-weight curve developed at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital – one that takes into account a wide range of ethnicities – is used, Baby X will be classified as having a perfectly normal weight and will be sent home. South Asian newborns are typically smaller than those of many other ethnicities.

It’s just one example of why there is a move in Canada and other countries to collect data on their diverse populations to deliver better patient care.

Doctors and researchers are putting greater stock in ethnicity as a variable in health outcomes. A large body of research suggests certain groups are at a higher genetic risk for particular diseases. And physiologically, what is accepted as “normal” and “healthy” varies between ethnicities.

But there are no universal standards or terms of reference used to classify ethnicity, which has made it a highly fraught subject. Some say it shouldn’t be considered a variable at all, arguing that the link between ethnicity and health is manufactured. The Canadian Institute for Health Information doesn’t collect data on ethnicity, and the Canadian Medical Association has no formal policy on the best way to classify the diverse backgrounds of Canadians.

Joel Ray, who led the St. Michael’s Hospital team that developed the new newborn birth-weight curve, is baffled that an old model developed in 1969 based on the weights of 300 Caucasian newborns in Montreal – a population unreflective of modern Canada – is still used in some parts of the country. In a study published Wednesday in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, his team analyzed 760,000 live births in Ontario and, by their measure, more than one in 10 South Asian babies was at risk of being misclassified if one of the standard Canadian birth-weight curves was used.

“They’re completely archaic – there’s no other sweet word for it,” Dr. Ray said.

Dr. Ray previously studied rates of gestational diabetes among women of various ethnic groups and found South Asians had the highest risk levels, followed by those from East Asia and the Middle East. Previous studies have lumped these three groups together under the catch-all category “Asian” – missing the heterogeneity within.

“You may as well call them human if you’re going to call someone Asian,” he said…

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Multicultural ‘obsession’ drives new Parliamentary Poet Laureate

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Canada, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2011-12-28 22:38Z by Steven

Multicultural ‘obsession’ drives new Parliamentary Poet Laureate

The Globe and Mail
Toronto, Canada

Jane Taber, Senior Political Writer

Fred Wah is a little more familiar with the outside of Parliament than the inside, having from time to time protested on its sweeping lawn as part of the Writers’ Union of Canada.

But that’s about to change. Tuesday, the award-winning scribe was appointed the country’s new Parliamentary Poet Laureate. As such, the 72-year-old Saskatchewan-born Vancouverite is not required to be reciting poetry on the floor of the Commons or the Senate, but is hoping to at some point unleash his pen on the country’s political institutions…

…Although he sees his appointment as “a symbolic gesture,” he’s got some ideas about what he wants to do, including the “possibility of developing some educational aspects” into the post. “I think there is a great need to get some our poetry and some of our Canadian literature into our schools,” he said.

Characterizing himself as a “Heinz 57,” Mr. Wah’s father was half-Chinese, his mother Swedish and he grew up “in my father’s Chinese-Canadian restaurant.” That has helped to fuel his “obsession” to the issue of race and multiculturalism. “And I’m very interested in the whole notion of hybridity and how we negotiate that in our culture,” he added.

He points to his book of short prose fiction, Diamond Grill, as a example of that. In it, he looks at family and identity. He is also proud of his 1985 book of poetry, Waiting for Saskatchewan, for which he won the Governor-General’s Literary Award…

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