09/10/2014 08:09 am ET Updated Nov 10, 2014

Marina's 'Post-Racial' Brazil

Stating the obvious can have its merits, so I'll risk the inevitable criticism for stating the obvious: Two women, one white, one black, are the top contenders for the presidency of one of the world's largest democracies.

Maybe the NSA is blocking my access, but I spent the afternoon hunting around the Brazilian media for a discussion of gender and race in this election and found but a handful of articles. Perhaps the gender angle is easier to explain -- Brazilian women have been running for president off and on for the last 20 years. The 2010 election may have been more of a breakthrough than 2014. But the muted, if absent reference to race surely owes more to the reluctance to talk about Brazil's racial divide and the persistence of the myth of a race-blind society.

Why talk about race and gender when there is so much more that has put Brazilians in a sour mood of late? Recession, crime, household debt, inflation, poverty, international atrophy. Now, and like the protests last year, the Marina surge as the anti-Dilma, as the markets' unlikely favorite, has energized the public debate about Brazil's future. A certain irrational exuberance around Marina has morphed the sour to sweet.

Marina's made-for-TV story makes her hard to attack. As Barack Obama once said of his own candidacy, everyone can find something in Marina to project onto and identify with. Like Brazil itself, Marina, for lack of a better word, comes off as a hybrid. She embodies multiple elements of an identity: black woman of the Amazon formed by nature, disease, poverty, social movements, the influence of an heroic martyr, politics, bureaucracy, democracy, and oh, yes, God, or her religion's idea of God and creation.

A lot of materia prima shaped her identity. And it stands in contrast, but complements the story lines of Brazil's recent presidents -- exiled academic outsider-cum-reformist-cum-transitional architect; Northeastern-migrant industrial working-class trade unionist-cum-transformational democrat. After 25 collective years in power, the PT/PSDB narrative has, by contrast, come to embody Brazil's many successes just as these have begat the need for major change.

Indeed, the deeply ingrained cross-party view of progress as middle class consumerism can't carry Brazilians to a sustainable future because the environmental, climate, and resource requirements just don't give a satisfactory answer to a question capitalism seldom allows: what constitutes enough? Marina's candidacy, and the protests before it, forces those questions.

What I admire about Brazil is that these questions are front and center. Here in the United States, we are a very long way from asking or answering them. Also, we in the United States may be decades away from having two women of different races compete for the White House. Remember that when those sour thoughts return.

This article was originally published in Portuguese in Folha de São Paulo. It is originally available here.