Orville Taylor | Brazil makes me proud of being Jamaican
It might not be as big a contradiction as a woman having prostate cancer, but Brazil is one of the biggest paradoxes in the world. Yes, the XXXI Summer Olympiad began two days ago, and Jamaica has completed its 68th year of participation and winning in this sporting spectacle.
True, since mining gold in 1948, we have excelled, winning a total of 67 medals, including 17 gold, but we know more about Jamaican athletic prowess than about our host nation. Cheer all you want for Brazil, that country makes me so proud that I am Jamaican.
The first less-than-obvious fact is that it is the second most populous black country in the world. Indeed, with a population of some 204 million, it has a whopping 85 per cent of its residents having traceable African DNA. Of course, soccer star Neymar, with his bleached and coloured hair, and 51 per cent more of them are in severe DNA-ial, but a project completed in 2007 revealed that 85 per cent of Brazilians have some African genetic material. And according to the American one-drop rules, that is enough to trigger the N-word and flashing blue lights in the rear-view mirror.
Nonetheless, these 174 million Africans who don't even know it list themselves as around 50 per cent white, about 43 per cent mulatto (haha - black in America), and only seven per cent black. They may not know it, but only Nigeria, with around 180 million, has more 'brothers' and 'sisters' as a single country.
If it were to truly embrace its enigmatic status, it would be recorded as not only the first Latin American country to have hosted both the football World Cup and the Summer Olympic Games, but, more important, it would be the first black-majority country to do so.
Nonetheless, it is the first ever black host of the Olympics.
Don't be fooled. Brazil is not a tiny nation; it is an economic giant. Ranked by gross domestic product (GDP), its US$1.78 trillion places it ninth behind the big-name nations. When adjusted by purchasing price parity, its US$3.19 trillion pushes it up into seventh. Behind Brazil are the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Canada. Yet, its US$15,600 GDP per capita (average annual income per person) still leads to 21.4 per cent of its population living below the poverty line. Jamaica with our modest US$8,800 GDP per capita manages a poverty rate of around 17 per cent and a similar life expectancy as Brazilians of around 74 years.
Brazil is not the best place in the world to be black, unless you are a mosquito, and even so, the Aedes aegypti, now a notorious star, has white bands on its abdomen and legs. It is the last place in the Western Hemisphere where slavery was abolished. In fact, there are persons who were alive a few years ago who were born before this dark stain on humanity was finally abolished in 1888.
Today, legislators of distinct African ancestry are seriously missing from congress. Last time I checked, there were only two black senators, and less than eight per cent of elected congressmen/women are of admitted African ancestry. Indeed, Dilma Rousseff became its first female president in 2011, six years after Portia Simpson Miller first cracked the glass ceiling, and Sister P 'wappied back' in the same year. Nonetheless, a sort of 'coup' led by rich white male interests has reversed this historic moment. In our country, our history-making female did not need a male racist cartel as she did it independently.
Brazil is a dangerous place, too, with a homicide rate in the same range as Jamaica's. However, it boasts that it has a low 'crime-against-tourist' rate, especially in Rio de Janeiro. Jamaica's is one of the lowest in the world. Never mind the threat caused by the Zika virus. True, there have been just under 2,000 cases of microcephaly and a still-undetermined number of Guillain BarrÈ Syndrome cases, but there are far more prevalent killers in Brazil. Apart from the anaconda, which is the largest snake by weight, and perhaps the only snake truly capable of swallowing a human, it has the rattlesnake and a slew of other venomous serpents such as the coral snake, bushmaster, pit viper, and tree viper, all of which can end your life within a few hours of being bitten.
There is a funny-looking green frog called a monkey frog, whose poisonous skin coating has caused myriad fatalities. Add to that the Black forest scorpion, which is no cake walk, and the bullet ant, which can deliver a heart-stopping sting, which is akin to being shot (yes, ants sting but mosquitoes bite). Caterpillars are also in on the action, with one very fuzzy one capable of killing a child or weak adult just from being touched. The brown recluse spider might not kill you, but it can leave a hole the size of a tea saucer in any part of your body it bites.
And last in this still-incomplete list is the wandering spider. This arachnid epitomises the paradox of life and pleasure. Its venom is a powerful neurotoxin that speeds up the heartbeat and leaves male victims with an incredible erection. Unfortunately, if he doesn't die, in total, that phallic appendage will predecease him, thus contributing another cause of his ultimate demise.
No Jamaican arachnid, insect, reptile, frog, or any other creature, except the crocodile, can kill you. Our backbiters are human, and nothing leaves a big hole in one's legs. Oh! Brazil's big felines are no little pussycats. The puma and jaguar can eat you alive.
In the Olympics, Brazil has only won 35 track and field medals since its first entry in 1920, and of those, only four are gold. In contrast, little Jamaica has won an average of one gold medal for each of the 17 games in which we have participated.
Take their samba, futbol, capoeira, and their Zico (not the virus), but in these games, they will be seeing what Jamaican speed is, up close and personal. Bet you they try to find a Jamaican track and field equivalent of Rene Simoes to import from us. And by the way, Bolt is a bigger star than Pele ever was.
• Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host, is the author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.