Saturday, May 7, 2011

Everything Would Change

For some reason that continues to elude me, the driver on the overnight bus from Cali to Bogota that I took last month decided to blast salsa to the back of the bus even though the lights were out and everyone (except for him presumably) was trying to sleep. Just as I was settling into some semblance of a comfortable sleeping position, a song I didn't recognize came on the speaker. "Si Dios fuera negro, mi compay, todo cambiaria...si fuera nuestra raza, mi compay, la que mandaria...", I turned to Felipe and said, disbelieving whatever I thought I had just understood, "did that song really just say, if God were black everything would change?" "Oh yeah, it's a salsa classic." In the dark sleepy haze of the bus my brain exploded a little bit. The next day, I asked a friend we were staying with in Bogota if he knew the song, "Yeah, that's a classic!" he responded immediately. "You don't find the lyrics totally crazy?" I asked them both. "Yeah, I guess so...I never really thought about it...they are pretty intense..." was the answer I got. I could chalk their answers up to obliviousness, but I think the whole race conversation is just different in Latin America, though from the song's lyrics you can tell that they aren't blind to race by any means. The song goes like this:

If God were black- my brother- everything would change
If it were our race- my brother- in charge

The president would be black, and the governor

The lawyer would be black and the doctor would be black, brother
If God were black- my brother- everything would change
If it were our race- my brother- in charge

Black lily
Black chalk
Black Snow White
Black Mona Lisa 

If God were black- my brother- everything would change
If it were our race- my brother- in charge
The day would be black
The sun would be black
The morning would be black
The cotton would be black

If God were black- my brother- everything would change
If it were our race- my brother- in charge
The pope would be black
And so would the minister
Black angels
Black Jesus Christ- brother-

If God were black- my brother- everything would change
If it were our race- my brother- in charge

So then, the jokes start about what the world would be like if black and white
were reversed—they're reversing black and white in common sayings (reverse
black and white to get the standard version):

I need a new tire because mine's all messed up. -I have a white one which I'll sell cheap but if you want it with the black line it's going to cost you more (because tires for vintage cars with white bands are normally more expensive)

You see that white dude over there? Even though he looks that white, he has a black heart (laughter) (to say someone has a white heart means they're a good person...)

(police sirens) Hey, what's going on? -You went over the black line! (road lines are normally white)

Man, I've got a white hunger! (I've got a black hunger=I've got a mean hunger!)

What are we going to play? -Let's play white eight ball with a black cue ball!

I guess we're already seeing what the world is like with a Black president (he can't possibly be legitimately American, obviously), but while we're on the subject, because it seems to be something that a lot of Americans at least are not aware of—there are lots of people of African descent in Colombia and in Latin America in general (just not Argentina). Henry Luis Gates Jr. just recently did a documentary with PBS on the subject, although from the previews oddly enough it looks like they've left Colombia out of the discussion (I say oddly enough because the Black population here is very prominent). All I can say from my limited experience is that the discussion here is a lot less politically correct, for better or for worse. And Latin Americans think Americans are obsessed with race and therefore racist. I did start wondering to myself after hearing the song...would it be "better" if it were written by someone of African descent? Would it be "worse"? When I looked at the video, it seemed to be a mixed race group...and the same people who were saying "our race" were the ones makes the "racist" jokes at the end...and all these questions makes me into the American obsessed with race...

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