RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Former Brazilian national midfielder Arouca, playing for Pele's old club Santos, was doing a sideline TV interview a few months ago when opposing fans began to chant "monkey, monkey, monkey."
Those taunting hit him with another jab: Go to Africa and find a team. Get out of here.
President Dilma Rousseff, who has pledged a "World Cup without racism," tweeted quickly: "It is unacceptable that Brazil, the country with the largest black population after Nigeria, has racism issues."
It does, and Brazilians are slowly waking up to it.
Still, they are more accustomed to saying this is a country free of prejudice, and the subject is rarely discussed openly and seldom makes the news. Many hold to the myth of a "racial democracy" because the country never had laws separating the races.
"The Brazilian form of racism is worse than apartheid because it works on the basis of deception," said Elisa Larkin Nascimento, director of the Afro-Brazilian Studies and Research Institute in Rio.
"There is denial," she added. "Many people — particularly the ruling class — say there is no racism. With that stance, you are left with nothing to talk about."
Over the last few decades, Brazil has begun to introduce affirmative-action programs, African diaspora history is being taught in schools, and a cabinet-level position has been created to deal with racial equality.
"The biggest leap was to get the society to talk about racism and realize that, in fact, it does exist in Brazil," said Larkin Nascimento, who wrote the book "The Sorcery of Color: Identity, Race and Gender in Brazil."
Settled by Portuguese and a mix of other Europeans, Brazil imported about 5 million slaves — 10 times more than the United States — and ended slavery in 1888. That was 25 years after the United States banned the practice.
Blacks in Brazil earn about half of what whites do, and there is only one black minister in Rousseff's cabinet. The first black justice on Brazil's supreme court — Joaquim Barbosa, who rose to chief justice — recently announced his retirement. Magazine covers seldom feature a black face, movies often feature all white casts and the very popular soap operas feature mostly white actors.
Brazil's present World Cup team is made up of 90 percent black or mixed-race players, though Brazilian fans attending World Cup matches — and Brazil's club matches during the season — are predominantly white. Its most famous player was Pele, who was known as "The Black Pearl." He would have been banned from playing early in the 20th century when the game, introduced by Europeans, was closed to non-white players.
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