Firstly, I should say I've never been the reactionary type. I've always been fully aware of the situation in Brazil, the damage caused by the military dictatorship, and how "coronelismo" (a form of machine politics) and its history of exploitation continue to influence the country to this day. I never voted for the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democratic Party) or the PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) for president, but the PT (Workers Party) was never my first option in the first election term. In fact, I loathe classifying people by these ignorant terms that have become the rule in virtual conversations.
That said, I was the kind of person who repeated fallacies like "affirmative action is a form of inverted racism," "I don't have any historic debt because I never enslaved anyone," "He is a socialist with a penthouse in Leblon," etc. It's a little embarrassing to think about it now.
On my first day of history class at a new school, the teacher asked for our opinions on the labor system, and I said: "I think people who have had better educations and have better professions are entitled to earn higher salaries." He then said, "Okay, here we have a capitalist." And I didn't see a problem with that.
So what changed? In college, I had already started to consider that some things were not quite as I had thought. I had 90 percent of my tuition covered by financial aid at an extremely expensive college, and yet I didn't have money to spare. I lived off of overdraft protection checks and credit cards even before my first job, so I wasn't exactly privileged compared to many people who were able to pay their tuition in full. But I started to see that I was still privileged compared to many of my classmates who also had financial aid.
After leaving Brazil to come to London, where I still live, I experienced a full 180-degree change. Perhaps I needed the distance and worldly experience to understand exactly what was going on in Brazil. Fortunately, most of my friends did not need to experience anything so radical to reach the same conclusions. And like me, they needed to study more history, read more articles, understand more about the world, about politics, etc. Without knowledge, our opinions remain shallow, superficial, and turn into Facebook posts to "show off our rebelliousness."
When I arrived in Europe and discovered that a child not being in school is a crime, that the government provides housing, financial help, prescription drugs, and a ton of other benefits for any citizen who needs it, that although prejudice exists against foreigners it's not targeted by the color of their skin, and that any case of racism is treated with the same severity as a crime of physical violence, it was a shock. It was shocking primarily because I realized that the country where I was born and didn't identify with is still more problematic than I had thought. But moreover that this was caused by what I had already suspected: by power remaining in the hands of those who have controlled politics and the system for a long time.
Brazilian culture is rooted in the dominant classes oppressing the poorer ones. Racism is so rampant that I cannot fathom what I was thinking when I repeated the nonsense I'd often heard from the most conservative Brazilians. It turns out that many of the conservatives in Brazil lack knowledge. They have not yet understood that there are certain things that should not be fought, even by them.
The change for me was simple: I just had to think of how many black journalists, lawyers, doctors, and professors I saw in Brazil. How many black colleagues I had in private schools where I studied, how many black friends I had during the time I lived in Brazil. And then I had to think about where they were, the people who make up 51 percent of the Brazilian population. Working as janitors, waiting tables, cleaning houses. Something is very wrong when this is so extreme and rampant. Of course, we are always flooded with stories like: "I know someone from the slum who became successful through his own hard work." Of course, I also know someone who made something of himself. But why is this still news? Because they are the exception. And that's what needs to change and be fought against. And fast.
No, I don't think being white and middle class is a reason to feel guilty. No, I don't think it's wrong to lean to the right; after all, the world has its political polarity. But yes, I do think there is a lack of deeper understanding, by many people, to comprehend what Brazil's real problems are and how they need to be addressed. There is no use in dividing the world into "hard workers" and "bums" when you have never experienced the fear of going hungry.
Just like in Blindness, by Jose Saramago, I realized I didn't see. And that contagious blindness is still getting spread around. As this continues to happen, there will be a surplus of selfishness and a lack of compassion, and Brazil will continue to be far from the country of the future.
This post originally appeared on HuffPost Brazil and has been translated from the original Portuguese.