PBS series explores black culture in Latin America

PBS series explores black culture in Latin America


Jennifer Kay
Associated Press

MIAMI—On a street in a seaside city in Brazil, four men describe themselves to Henry Louis Gates Jr. as black. Flabbergasted, the Harvard scholar insists they compare their skin tones with his.

In a jumble, their forearms form a mocha spectrum. Oh, the men say: We’re all black, but we’re all different colors.

Others in the marketplace describe Gates, who is black and renowned for his African American studies, with a variety of terms for someone of mixed race—more of an indication of his social status as a U.S. college professor than of his skin color.

“Here, my color is in the eye of the beholder,” Gates says, narrating over a scene filmed last year for his new series for PBS, “Black in Latin America.” The first of four episodes filmed in six Caribbean and Latin American countries begins airing Tuesday. A book expanding on Gates’ research for the series is set for publication in July.

Throughout the series, Gates finds himself in conversations about race that don’t really happen in the U.S., where the slavery-era “one-drop” concept—that anyone with even just one drop of black blood was black—is still widely accepted.

The idea for the series stems from a surprising number: Of the roughly 11 million Africans who survived the trans-Atlantic slave trade, only about 450,000 came to the U.S. By contrast, about 5 million slaves went to Brazil alone, and roughly 700,000 went to Mexico and Peru. And they all brought their music and religion with them…

…New U.S. census figures are revealing how complicated and surprising conversations about race can be. For example, the number of Puerto Ricans identifying themselves solely as black or American Indian jumped about 50 percent in the last 10 years, suggesting a shift in how residents of the racially mixed U.S. territory see themselves…

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