About the Author: Amber Forbes serves as a Public Affairs Assistant in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
The U.S. Department of State held the fourth meeting of the U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan in Atlanta, Georgia, from May 20-21. The meeting, “A Call to Action,” was designed to support and mirror the goals of the Joint Action Plan: integration, equality, and diversity. The conference included 19 working groups in which members of the U.S. and Brazilian governments, civil societies, and private sectors sat side by side and discussed ways to promote racial equality in key areas such as education, labor, health care, and media.
The unprecedented design of “A Call to Action” led to an incredible level of interest, energy, and expertise in the working group discussions. In fact, it was difficult to keep the meetings to their respective amounts of time! Some of the policy suggestions arising from the working groups included a call for increased mutual exchange programs between different sectors of Brazilian and U.S. societies such as health professionals and educators, expanded data mapping and statistical research on racial equality in both societies, and increased commitment to diversity programs from the private sector. Several more policy suggestions were made, providing several ways for the Joint Action Plan to move forward.
As interesting and engaging as the workshop discussions were, the highlight of the conference for me was the cultural evening at the Carter Center. After an intense day of meetings, workshops, and panel discussions, the cultural event provided the perfect atmosphere for participants to relax, enjoy tasty appetizers, listen to great music, and dance.
That's right. Dance. The cultural evening featured a performance by Giwayen Mata, the “award-winning soul-stirring, all-sistah, dance, percussion, and vocal ensemble." This group of female drummers sings and dances to the beat of African drums. The group was nothing short of spectacular. Chosen for their energetic display of the shared cultural heritage between communities of the African Diaspora, the performers united conference participants by inviting them to actively participate in their performance. By the end of the night, Afro-Brazilian youth, civil society leaders, and even senior U.S. and Brazilian government officials were dancing out of their seats, clapping, and singing along. The site was truly remarkable and quite hilarious to say the least.
Another highlight of the conference was the digital town hall. During this event, prominent members of U.S. and Brazilian media discussed the role that media plays in shaping our views of race. When asked about the how the portrayal of African-Americans in the media has changed over time, Hill Harper of CSI: NY gave a mixed answer. He noted that some areas of the media have increased their positive portrayal of African-Americans. For example, African-Americans can take positive leading roles in movies. On the other hand, he argued that music videos portray a more negative view of African-Americans than those of 20 years ago. A Brazilian journalist noted that Afro-Brazilians are pressured to look “African” now, whereas 10 years ago they were told to straighten their curly hair if they wanted to look professional. While it is now acceptable to look “African,” the journalist observed that Afro-Brazilian women in the media are still being forced to conform to the acceptable stereotype.
Participants in the meeting of the U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan, while recognizing that racial inequalities still exist in both the United States and Brazil, were optimistic about the future that lie ahead. The Joint Action Plan allows multiple levels of our societies to work together and to share our lessons learned in an effort to promote racial equality. As these meetings progress and policy suggestions are incorporated into new programs and initiatives, both the United States and Brazil will come closer to achieving racially equal societies.