Portugal Sounds Like A Paradise…

…so what’s in it for Joana Gorjão Henriques that she welcomes a change to all that?

For years, modern Portugal has been struggling to find a way of talking about national identity and race.

Has it? Or is that what you think, and so assume everyone else does?

Even though Portugal has racial profiling, race crime and the daily subordination of black people by whites

WTF? There are cotton plantations in Portugal? Who knew?

…most Portuguese would deny that their country has significant “racial problems” – that’s what they have in America, France or the UK.

Nice of you to admit it, Joana. I wonder why? What do we do, that Portugal doesn’t do? Could the answer be ‘Pander to the racemongers’..?

Unlike America, Portugal has never got its head around hyphenated identities. There are luso-africanos, but you’d be pushed to hear anyone use that compound on the street, and it’s even controversial in an institutional context. The term “black-Portuguese” is unheard of; the word “race” itself so rarely mentioned that it sounds strange and foreign.

I’m liking Portugal more and more! You should work for their Tourist Board, Joana….

The terms you do hear people use are “second-generation immigrants“, “immigrants’ offspring” or, with cosmopolitan pretension, “new Portuguese“. It sends out a clear message to non-white Portuguese: however hard you try, you’ll always be newbies in this country (conveniently ignoring the fact that a black presence in Portugal dates back to the 15th century).

A ‘black presence’? What does that mean, I wonder? You use the term ‘presence’ but that tells us nothing about size of population, distribution, employment….

There are ideological reasons behind this attitude too. Some argue that identifying people by their race is discriminatory.

Those are the smart ones.

There seems to be a similar logic behind the fact that Portuguese authorities keep no data on ethnicity or race.

Correct logic.

You might argue that none of this should matter, of course.

The subtext being that you’d be wrong. And Joana is right. Always.

And yet, without appropriate data, can you honestly argue that the lack of social mobility in poorer communities has more to do with class than race, as some argue?

Or, more to the point, without that data to manipulate, how can Portugal sustain a population of race-worriers and diversity groups and activists? ¡qué terrible!, ¡qué horror!

Ignoring race completely means burying your head in the sand, and accepting Portugal as a country that is uniformly white. We are race blind, but not for the right reasons.

Is there EVER a right reason to be race-blind in your book, Joana?

The recently appointed prime minister, the conservative Pedro Passos Coelho, is married to a black woman. In contemporary Portuguese politics, this is still a novelty. Will that make him more sensitive to questions around race? Will it make us talk more openly about race? Until now, nothing on his agenda makes us think so.

Perhaps his marriage is just that: a marriage. And not a political manouvere. It’s possible, isn’t it?

People may well read this piece and wonder just what Joana wants Portugal to be.

8 comments for “Portugal Sounds Like A Paradise…

  1. September 15, 2011 at 9:39 am

    “immigrants’ offspring”

    Now that phrase, in English at least, is redolent of a theatrical 17th or 18th century insult.

    You, Sirrah, are the offspring of an immigrant!

    (Invariably answered by a challenge to a duel.) I shall tuck that one behind my ear for the next time I am pulled up for referring to second-generation immigrants.

  2. September 15, 2011 at 10:47 am

    I always liked Portugal, they are I believe our oldest ‘Allies’

    • September 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm

      Yes, I have always liked the place. Must go back there as soon as I am able.

      • September 15, 2011 at 10:46 pm

        it’s been a while for me as well. I always remember we were in Estoril on holiday (I was 9) when the Carnation Revolution happened, even at a young age, you felt there was no threat, it was all very civilised.

  3. September 15, 2011 at 11:09 am

    So Portugal has no discernable race issues and this woman wants to create some?
    Have I read that right?

    • September 16, 2011 at 5:45 am

      That does appear to be the thrust of her ‘argument’, yes. Rent-seeking on a grand scale.

  4. Edward Spalton
    September 15, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    In the days of fascism and African empire, the Portuguese authorities would permit educated Africans to become “assimilado” as fully fledged Portuguese. Once they had done this, they had to put off African dress and wear only European clothes. So colour,as such, does not seem to have been the hang-up that it was in (say) Britain.

    If you look at some photographs of street scenes in Lisbon of the late 19th/early 20th century, there appears to have been a higher proportion of black faces than now.I would guess that the general population now is probably a shade darker than it was.

    • September 16, 2011 at 5:46 am

      “Once they had done this, they had to put off African dress and wear only European clothes. “


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