Last week Danish journalist Mikkel Keldorf Jensen left Brazil after deciding he could not participate in the coverage of the World Cup because he felt complicit to how the Brazilian people are being ignored by the authorities. He could not, in good conscience, perpetuate what is happening in Brazil.
This attitude is interesting because, while his intentions were good, his position reeks of privilege. Mikkel is a freelance journalist who spent five months in Brazil, reporting and selling stories internationally. He doesn’t have anyone to pay for his travels as he was not tied to any particular publication.
Brazilians suffer with poverty, lack of education, racism, sexism, exploration and a thousand other issues every single day and the needy are daily ignored by authorities. Seeing this suffering is hard and sometimes even maddening. Mikkel has a pretty huge privilege over low income Brazilian families though: he had the means to come, see and leave. Maybe he feels that by leaving he is not helping FIFA – but the truth is that his ability to flee is the biggest show of privilege of all.
During the World Cup, tourists will come to Brazil and will do the exact same thing: they will come, see, shake their heads in disapproval and leave. Brazilians will be left behind with the same lives they have always had and the same corruption that has stalled social mobility for generations.
I write this not to make tourists feel unwelcome, but to point out the incredible privilege they have in coming to Brazil and not having to stay if they don’t want to.
As a privileged woman in Brazil, I know how fortunate I am when having the ability to leave. In reporting human rights violations in Rio de Janeiro I have been able to walk away from misery and poverty after I finished writing. That’s privilege. And that’s something I have to recognize to properly understand the world around me.
So what does it mean to be extremely privileged in a third world country? It means you can leave when things get ugly.
It might be that the Brazilian government thought tourists would bring more prosperity, and perhaps that’s true. But since the World Cup and Olympics were announced, the cost of living in Brazil has soared – without any increase in the minimum wage. Unemployment in Rio de Janeiro has declined, but with the rise of living costs people’s social status remain the same – and it’s a given that once the event is done with, there will be a rise in unemployment.
Thousands of people have been removed from their homes in the last four years to get the country ready for tourists and for football. Poverty is rampant, violence is commonplace. And Brazilians are forced to live with it.
And of course, as foreigners, there’s virtually nothing you can do about it – it’s not your job to do anything, but it is your job to leave with a better understanding of what Brazilians go through and the toll that the World Cup has taken on them. As writer Eliezer Yudkowsk has put it; ‘You are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in.’
It’s important not to live within the illusion that we are all equal. The human race is very distant from equality, and denying it by claiming to be ‘colour blind’ or any such excuse is counterproductive. It is better to think that we all should be equal. Whether we like it or not some of us benefit more from the status quo than others and that’s not about to change in a second.