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Brazil’s Ebony English: Where Language Is The Key

Brazil’s Ebony English: Where Language Is The Key

Posted by Dalton Higgins on June 24, 2014

Whenever any of my colleagues, friends and/or relatives inform me that they love visiting Toronto, I am always quick to query them about what version of Toronto they saw. There are about five to six different Toronto’s I know, all operating simultaneously yet completely separate from one another, based on race, class, and generational distinctions.

For any curious onlooker tracking the news developments in Brazil, in the lead up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup being held there, it’s much the same. It’s a tale of many Brazil’s. For some, the forthcoming World Cup (and the 2016 Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro), will bring unprecedented wealth-generating opportunities. For others, these events might have the opposite effect, as riots continue to rage in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo over unresolved wealth distribution issues in the country. Everything from a rise in public transportation fee’s to surging homelessness rates has been protested. The eternal question remains: how do governments continue to find billions of dollars to stage world class sporting events, while such amazingly large groups of its own citizens – many of whom are black in this case – continue to live in slums and can barely scrape by? 

The race question in Brazil is a large complicated one, given that one can literally view how one is faring in the country, economically, politically, socially, by looking at the colour of their skin in general terms. Over the years I have had the opportunity to bring some very special Afro-Brazilian acts to perform on Toronto concert stages including soloist Seu Jorge and legendary percussion-dance ensemble Olodum, so from a musical and cultural aesthetic there is little doubt that black Brazilians have always driven some of the best art the world has seen. Never mind just in Brazil. It’s arguably in the sectors outside of the playing fields (i.e. football), kitchens and concert stages that the rate of progress for too many blacks has been glacial. Given the fact that there are more black people in Brazil, than in all of America, this particular pink elephant in the room stands quite large.

But then there are citizens like Rodrigo Faustino, a Sao Paulo born educator, who has devoted some of his career to bringing about social change for those black citizens who are striving to master the English language, among other things. Faustino started the Ebony English school -the first English language school in Brazil that teaches English with a commitment to including  black cultural reference points – because he wanted Afro-Brazilians to be able to access better opportunities both within Brazil, and outside of it. And he saw that for many who couldn’t speak or communicate in the English language, their life opportunities might be limited.

“In the middle of last decade, the African Brazilians don’t have access to English Courses that contained our history,” he explains. “The English courses in Brazil generally reflect just white people. For example they play songs of Elvis Presley and Beatles, and they are good. But we can also play Billy Holiday, James Brown, Marvin Gaye or Bob Marley…Ebony English emerged to improve the self-esteem of those of African descent.”

A seasoned Production Technologist who’s been working in education since 2002, Faustino’s work as the Strategic Manager of the institute mimics the energies being expressed by a large and growing sector of the black population of African descent (including black mestizos) who feel socially excluded from many aspects of Brazilian social life, and who have now organized to critique institutional racism, and work in fruitful ways to provide better opportunities for black Brazilians from all parts of the country. Some of these feelings are being expressed in rap songs by popular Sao Paulo bred rapper Emicida and seen on the attractively popular I Africanize São Paulo tee’s created as the slogan comparable to “I love NY”, that says that it’s okay to publicly acknowledge and celebrate one’s black identity.  

While developing the Ebony English academy, Faustino basically figured that the more versed black Brazilians were in areas of language, the easier a time they would have navigating Brazil’s muddied racial waters. “I’m always sad that the racism in Brasil is one of the most sophisticated in the world. It’s a strong mental mechanism with strong consequences that’s been happening since the end of slavery. Because we don’t have strong segregation like the US and South Africa, the white people don’t feel racism and the blacks don’t feel discriminated. We have a false idea of racial democracy and that’s because we think that we are integrated, but we (blacks) don’t have the same access to health care, education, good jobs, or high positions in companies or the government.”

Thankfully, some change has been coming as Faustino admits that over the last decade he has observed the emergence of a black middle class. Some part of the reason for that upsurge can be attributed to programs like Ebony English that have made it so that there is more access and reserved placements for African Brazilians to attend colleges, universities and to work in the public services. In particular, he cites the leadership role that black women in Brazil have played in bringing about some of these improvements. “Black women in Brazil are our main force. They are studying more, working more, and are our main entrepreneurial force.”

As Faustino works eagerly to prep a group of his students to come to Toronto in 2015 to exchange ideas about the respective cultures, and more specifically to learn about African Canadian history and culture, he feels that the more his students learn the English language, they will be better equipped to relay the genuine stories of their communities to outsiders looking in, and that this will create a better dialogue across communities throughout the African Diaspora. “As we learn more English, we get more references. We know a lot about African American history, but we need to know about African Canadians too. And we need to know English to be able to tell you our version of history that you will better understand…the most important fact to me, is that today the people can talk about the racial situation in Brazil.”

 

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