Education from books is irreplaceable. We cannot experience everything or to learn everything from the first hands. We heavily rely on written information and we hope that people who wrote it were responsible. Most likely, they are. But everything in this world is not about the facts, but mostly about our perception and interpretation. Sometimes life experiences present the role of perception in a new light and compromise education we’ve got already.
San Salvador da Bahia made some interesting corrections to my perception of Protestant and Catholic churches. Living in a country with a strong Protestant (Lutheran, Anglican, Baptist, The Seventh Adventist) presence I had an impression that a Catholic church was a conservative and non-flexible form of Christianity which had to give way to more progressive Christian schools which relied on self-control and human values more than Catholics, and Christians realised the faults of Catholicism half a millennium ago. I had an impression that Catholics are brain washed people without a choice and a right for common sense. Some of the statements by the popes (about abortions, for example) make them sound senseless and narrow minded if not to say stupid. New Christian teachings do not have to be “true” (the number of them indicate that there cannot be so many truths) but they seemed to be more “people oriented”, more individualised, with a person being a centre point. This point of view undertook a drastic revision in Bahia.
I was pleasantly surprised with the absence of racism or any indicators of ethnic problems. It seems in Anglo-Saxon countries it is a common “issue”. Americans are deeply involved in sorting out who is guilty in doing what and who has which responsibility in resolving ethnic “issues”. Australians cannot stop arguing about Aboriginal “issues”. Ethnic “issues” in India are even beyond comprehension. New Zealanders had “issues” with Maoris. When it was mostly resolved we started talking about them (New Zealanders) as some kind of social miracle workers. Is not it a normal thing for people to live in peace with each other? Apparently not… Brazil is a pleasant exemption.
While in Brazil I kept asking about this phenomenon. Every Brazilian person I talked to about this matter agreed that there are social problems in the country, but there is no racism. The explanations which were given made me re-think some parts of history. Shortly, the theory is that Catholic religion is responsible for peace between ethnic groups and optimism of Brazilian people.
Latin America was under control by Catholic Church of Spanish and Portuguese empires, while Northern America was predominantly under the control of Protestants. Both Americas were slave societies with majority of foreign black population, some local Indian population and a very small population of white masters. But non-white population was treated differently in Roman and Anglo-Saxon parts of Americas and it made all the difference. According to the Brazilians, Catholic masters requested work to be done during the day time, but did not impose many limitations on slaves after work hours. Slaves could speak their native languages, sing songs of their motherland, and perform traditional rituals, if they did not contradict Spanish and Portuguese law.
In Northern America Protestants were deeply concerned about saving the souls of their black slaves. At no time they were allowed to speak their own languages, to modify prayers and religious rituals, to sing “strange” songs, to keep their traditions. A mission of “Westernising” of the slaves was as important as the labour they had to do.
Latin American (Brazilian in particular) slaves had a chance to compromise between their ancestors’ believes and their masters’ believes. They invented a hybrid religion which pacified various discrepancies between Christianity and paganism; it was named “condoble” and it is still alive and popular among Brazilians. They retained a big portion of their African folklore, some African habits, food and music. Most of it is not authentic any more. Habits and things transform with time, but they keep serving as a cultural cushion, giving black population a sense of identity and self-worth.
African population of the English-speaking Northern America did not keep links with their African past (apart from a few places such as Jamaica). People found themselves uprooted. It reduced their cultural and historical worth, made them feel uneasy with themselves, with the society and with white people who did it to them. They say it formed a sense of despair and a need for revenge. I am not an expert on this issue, but I guess if a school curriculum in Pennsylvania includes such subject as “History of African-American population of the USA” it indicates that a country is split very deep. May be all schools in America have the same type of subjects to study? It indicates that Americans do not perceive themselves as one nation. Actually, the fact that Americans of all races so often talk about being democratic and non-racists, and how much they value other ethnic groups and etc, etc, etc… is an indirect evidence that the topic is painful and burning.
Indian population in Latin America was present in church communities, Indian orphans were raised in monasteries and convents. Catholic missions in Latin America are well known. What about Protestant missions - I cannot recall anything about Indian orphans being educated or Protestant priests putting much effort into Indians. Maybe they never were interested?
The fact that there is a tension between black and white population of the USA cannot be doubted. Where does it come from – is a very difficult question. One thing is clear – it is not a normal situation.
Our guide Nilze told us that during the trip to the USA she discovered that “black people really hate white people”. She was talking about it with a genuine surprise and disapproval. I don’t know if observations like this one spill a lot of light on the African-Americans, but it definitely serves as evidence that ethnic/racial relationships can be different.