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Any Black folks in the house?

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One of the things we've gotten used to as African Canadian professionals in Canada is being the Black elephants in the room most of the time.

Whether it's at meetings at work or on the sidelines of our kids' soccer matches, we're usually representin' Canada's black folks. Now, in Canada, where folks identifying as African Canadian made up around three per cent of the population in 2011, this may not seem entirely weird. However, in Brazil where, in the same year, Afro Brazilians overtook whites as the majority, it is a bit bizarre. But this is exactly what we're experiencing so far in Rio.

We're staying in Flamengo which is a mostly middle-class residential neighbourhood. We're in a modest AirBnB apartment with two white door men who alternate 24 hours a day letting people through the locked gate (all white except us, that we've seen). Ninety-five per cent of the people working in the shops and restaurants are white. This morning I got the local paper which featured a picture of the Brazilian Senate with a story about former President Dilma Rouseff's impeachment process. Of 81 Senators, one is Afro Brazilian.

We've seen a sprinkling of Afro Brazilians among the various Olympic security forces. (It must be refreshing for Americans to see young Black men with machine guns who make them feel safer.) We've also been watching the Brazilian Olympic TV coverage and have seen only three Black athletes out of 485 on the Brazilian team. One guy was on the basketball team and two were female gymnasts: 17-yr-old Rebeca Antrade and 16-yr-old Flavia Saraiva.

The Brazilian gymnastic team has very interesting parallels with the Americans, who just defended their 2012 London Olympics gold medal in the white dominated sport, with two Black women, Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas, leading the way. With African Americans being only about 14 per cent of the U.S. population, Biles's and Douglas's stories are remarkable. However, after having spent just a few days in Brazil, it's clear the other story that may be even more important is who came fourth: Brazil's Rebeca Antrade.

In a country that seems to have pullled off the amazing feat of making 100 million Afro Brazilians invisible, her win will ensure at least one thing that will be radical in its simplicity: she will get seen a lot.

We're heading to the country's Afro Brazilian cultural capital, Salvador, next week. Maybe that's where all the Black folks are...

Image: flickr/paulgalbraith

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