SALVADOR:A shared struggle
Salvador, Bahia’s rich cultural vibe has tourism officials touting it to tourists as the capital of Brazil’s African heritage. But a look past the enticing travel brochures reveals controversies that Black American visitors may find disturbingly familiar.
In a social sense, Salvador, the capital of Brazil’s Bahia state, is a coin with two sides, heads and tails.
Heads, the positive side, is Salvador’s status as the de facto capital of Afro-Brazil, the proud, emphatically beating heart of African culture in South America’s largest country.
Salvador is 80 percent Black, and present-day Salvadorans show their pride in this culture in the most direct way possible: They live it. Food, dance, dress, music, religion, language, even martial arts, all bear cultural threads that stretch all the way across the Atlantic, back to Senegal and the Gambia, Benin, Angola and the Congo.
That vibrant culture, combined with tons of natural beauty, has made Salvador an increasingly important tourist destination in Brazil. Local, regional and national tourism officials all hype Salvador to would-be visitors and travel industry professionals alike.
If all that is heads, then what is tails? For that, let me introduce you to a friend and colleague of mine, journalist Kiratiana Freelon:
“Salvador is a place where black men are constantly harassed by an intimidating police force, one that many say kills freely and with impunity.”
For more than a few Black Americans, those words carry the sting of grim familiarity. Ms. Freelon offers details in her recent report, “Fighting a Black ‘Genocide’ in Brazil.”
By the time you finish reading it, you’ll know how to say “Black Lives Matter” in Portuguese.
The Brazilian equivalent of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in Salvador is an organization that calls itself “Reajá ou Será Morto” — React or Be Killed.
Its leadership has called on tourists to boycott Salvador, especially during the pre-Lenten celebration known as Carnaval, the biggest annual event across Brazil.
Others seek to use the Carnaval celebrations as a public platform to speak out against brutally heavy-handed police conduct.
On the one hand, police harassment and homicide against Salvador’s Black population could justly be viewed as grounds for a travel boycott. On the other, seeing how the people of Salvador face a deadly problem we here in the States know only too well could just as easily be taken as a good reason to head below the Equator.
If nothing else, it reminds us that the travails of Black Americans aren’t unique to the United States.
Heads, a shared heritage. Tails, a shared struggle. Flip the coin.
Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.