The Brazilian mongrel and the British deity

“Brazil is undoubtedly a superficial entity. A relatively new colony of various European immigrants and therefore of mixed identity, combined with a lack of history and any worldly pedigree will always create a superficial populace”, writes Henry Whittaker, a JungleDrums reader commenting on my article piece entitled Brazil “for the English to See” (click here in order to read the article).

Henry was outraged at my criticism of the BBC documentary Brazil with Michael Palin. He vents his fury: “I would hazard a guess that you have spent significantly more time practising English (no doubt in London without ever venturing outside the M25) than Michael Palin CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) has done Portuguesse. [sic]”

He thinks that the bizarre and old-fashioned accolade (bizarre and old-fashioned because the British Empire no longer exists) makes Michael Palin a holy and untouchable entity, while the wrong assumption that I’m a foreigner who has never ventured outside the M25 makes me a mongrel or a pariah.

Besides, he believes that Brazil’s “lack of pedigree” disfranchises me from any sort of opinion.

For two months I pondered whether I should respond to Henry Whittaker. I often thought of Brazilian playwright Nelson Rodrigues who famously claimed : “one should not expand the voice of the imbecile”. In the end, I decided against Rodrigues.

I must make an important note, however, before I start my response to Henry Whittaker. I have profound respect and admiration for Michael Palin – mostly because of his invaluable contribution to Monty Python. But respect and admiration do not preclude criticism.

Now, my response to Henry:

Firstly, the history of Brazil is long and complex. Only Eurocentric idiots with the shallow view that nothing existed before Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas think that Brazil has no history. Our history starts with the indigenous peoples of the America. They arrived thousands of years ago by crossing the Bering land bridge into Alaska and then moving south.

Secondly, Brazil is the second most powerful emerging nation on earth , after China. It is already the 6th world economy and growing, ahead of the stagnant United Kingdom. It could soon get a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

Thirdly and most importantly, Brazil’s mixed identity is a bonus, not an onus. It makes us culturally rich, vibrant and sonorous. It is little wonder that our Carnival resonates across the Atlantic and in almost every corner of the planet.

The idea that mixing is detrimental to progress is nothing new. Hitler also believed in racial hygiene and went to extreme lengths in order to preserve the “Arian race”.

I believe exactly the opposite. Mixing makes us stronger. Brazil has some of the biggest colonies not just from Europe (Portugal, Germany, Italy), but from all over the world (Japan, Nigeria, Syria, Lebanon, etc). Brazil is probably the most mixed nation in the world, and this shows in every aspect of our culture. From the vatapá served in Bahia (a local dish mixing indigenous, African and Portuguese ingredients and techniques) to the Brazilian jiu-jitsu (created by a Japanese expat, honed by a Scottish family and now practiced by Brazilians everywhere) – to mention just a few examples – we are a radiant melting pot.

The UK is also similar to Brazil. Take away the successive waves of invaders/ immigrants (Vikings, Celts, Normans, Indians, Brazilians, etc) and we would be left with little more than the Picts.

Maybe Henry Whittaker is a proud Pict. One way or the other, Henry’s Britain is much smaller and darker than mine.

My Britain is bright, colourful and immensely proud of its cultural diversity. The colours of my flag are red, blue, yellow, green, black, white and orange. Henry Whittaker’s Britain is sad, gloomy, arrogant and conceited, stuck in a racist and imperialistic past. I shudder to imagine the colours of his flag.

Sadly the barmy army of racist xenophobes is not confined to Mr Whittaker. Other members include Nick Griffin, Tommy Robinson and the gentleman who called me a “bloody foreign cunt” for having to stop his car at the zebra crossing for me (read the story read). But I believe that these people are slowly disappearing and will soon be confined to a few murky and regrettable chapters of British history.

But Henry Whittaker wasn’t the only person angry at my Michael Palin article.

The Times correspondent in Brazil Dom Phillips also seemed to dislike my piece. He thinks that my criticism of Palin makes me a mongrel. Brazilians who don’t like the documentary suffer from “a peculiar mix of pride and insecurity” also known as “the Mongrel Complex”, he speculates (read his piece here). Coincidentally or not, Henry Whittaker says that Brazilians lack “pedigree”, while Dom calls me a mongrel.

I see things differently.

I am Brazilian and I have lived in the UK for more than 16 years. I have a deep understanding of both cultures and good command of Portuguese and English. I feel qualified to criticise Michael Palin – particularly when he is portraying the country where I grew up to a very familiar audience. It is also healthy to do so. Can you imagine if no one reprobated the almighty BBC and their nobility?

In reality, criticising the BBC isn’t a problem. The network is often subject to harsh beatings in the British media. The real problem is that the pundit here is neither British born nor British by heritage. And this problem has a diagnosis.

Henry Whittaker, Dom Phillips and the insulting driver all suffer from the same malady: the Sad Queen Syndrome. Those affected by this newly found medical condition (discovered by me) wince and squeal at the sight of impertinent foreign rascals (like me) taking over their old empire, desecrating their soil and insulting their royal and sacred institutions.

Does anyone know the prognosis? And could they please help me to find the vaccine?

4 Comments

  1. William

    Read Dom Phillips piece. He makes a series of good points, which I think Fraga misinterprets.

  2. Alex Robinson

    I don’t think it’s necessary to dignify any kind of bigot with a response. You are clearly educated. Mr Whittaker is not. Bigots exist everywhere, even in Brazil. When living in Sao Paulo with my (Brazilian) wife a friend told her that she didn’t want ever to meet me as she hated all gringos. This was one of a number of incidents. It never changed my view of Brazil which I love and admire. Don’t let it change your view of we English. Brazil is a great country. Your criticisms of Palin are valid, as I am sure Palin, who is a far broader man than Whittaker would accept.

  3. Victor Fraga

    Dear Hoover,

    I agree that stooping to someone’s level can often drag you down into the mud. But I also think it is my duty to expose thinly-veiled xenophobia in Britain. This is the real issue with Henry Whittaker, the BNP, the EDL and many people you meet on streets, share a pint with and sometimes even welcome into your place. Sadly prejudice is everywhere – it needs to be continuously debated and decimated.

    I would also note that my piece is not a celebration of Brazil above Britain. I value both countries equally and I praise their cultural diversity.

    Best regards,

    Victor

  4. Hoover

    A fine example of the struggle for relative status. Most people don’t care about this bickering over the merits of respective countries.

    If a commenter is offended by what you said about Michael Palin, let him be offended. If he calls you a mongrel, let him call you a mongrel. Responding in the same way is divisive and cheap, seeking to create conflict and animosity between people.

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