I continue to find myself fretting over the sheer amount of information Mr. Bush must not know, given that he was, until recently, unaware that there are blacks in Brazil.
Take soccer, for instance: that game variously known as ffatbol, boldspil, voetbal, calcio, Fudfball, sepakbola, fotboll, pilka nozna, fudbal, nogomet, futebol, jalkapallo, fotbalu, knattspyrna, fodbold, labdarfagf3, and football-no-the-other-kind, a.k.a. the most popular sport in the world. As James Carville pointed out, it’s hard to live on this planet without hearing about Pele o rei de futebol, and there’s no mistaking what color he is.
It bothers me. You don’t have to be a fan of football, but there are times — this week, for instance — when the subject is completely unavoidable. Where has GWB been?
Lay that aside for the moment. Let’s go after this question systematically. At minimum, Bush is missing several centuries of the post-Columbus history of the New World. Within that, he’s missing the history of the black Africans’ emigration (kidnapping? diaspora?) to the New World. He can’t know about the triangle trade, which means he has a defective grasp of early North American history, because the triangle trade was a big deal in Colonial times. He doesn’t know anything about the history of Cuba, because if you know even a little about it, you’ll stumble across the fact that there are blacks in Brazil. One somehow feels the Leader of the Free World ought to know something about Cuba, unless the title “Leader of the Free World” is now trading at par with”Holy Roman Emperor.”
Next step: I think this also has to mean that Bush didn’t know there are blacks in all the Latino countries in the Western Hemisphere. Now that he’s been tipped off, he’ll probably claim that he did too know that, but … nope, can’t. If he knew there were blacks in all the other countries, but he didn’t know there were blacks in Brazil, he’d have to have thought Brazil was somehow an exception to the rule. But he can’t have believed that. No sane person could. Brazil has the second-largest black population of any country in the world. (Nigeria’s #1.) So: Bush can’t have known there are black (mulato, actually) populations in every country in the Western Hemisphere. This is depressing when you consider that Latin America is supposedly his area of greatest expertise.
It’s a non-trivial point. Look at Mexico, an afternoon’s drive from his home town. He’s supposed to be really up on Mexico. During Mexico’s Colonial period, there were more Africans living there than Europeans. The second President of Mexico, Vicente Guerrero, was a mulatto. And consider the Alamo, 1836. Race and slavery issues were a lot of what brought on that war. The abolitionist movement got started early in Mexico, and slavery was abolished there in 1829. This irritated Texican settlers, who were doing the cotton-plantation cash-crop thing, so Texans got a temporary exemption from the anti-slavery laws.
If you grew up in the US, you were probably taught in school that the Mexican government imposed irksome restrictions on the Texas settlers. You may not have heard that one of these was a ban on importing any more slaves. (They already made up about a fifth or a sixth of the Texas population.) Then, in 1835, Generalissimo Santa Anna declared all slavery illegal in Mexico. The Texans promptly seceded, and while they were at it banned free blacks from living in Texas, no matter how long they’d been there. (Nice bunch, eh? Damned straight I’ll remember the Alamo.)
Anyway, to repeat a point, Latin America is the area of foreign relations we’re always being told George W. Bush knows the most about. It’s reasonable to infer that his knowledge of the rest of the world is even more superficial. That’s very bad. Not knowing that immigration to the New World was black as well as white is like not knowing that English is derived from both Romance and Germanic languages, or that the Mississippi empties into the Gulf of Mexico: a disturbingly large gap in its own right, made even more disturbing by the larger areas of ignorance it implies.
But I’m going to take one step further, this time into speculation: I know George W. Bush has visited some or all of the Latino countries of the Western Hemisphere. No matter how good his security was, he has to have seen something of their populations, and within those populations there have to have been quite a few blacks (mulatos) (whatever) (this gets complicated). Is it possible that he doesn’t recognize them when he sees them? That he thinks some Latinos just happen to have frizzy hair and darker skin, while others happen to look more like indios, and a few look kind of like Europeans, but that racially they’re all in the same category, that being “mostly-brown people who speak Spanish”?