I'm starting a new series about social stratification in Brazil. Today, I'm going to discuss elitism and the upper class.
My parents, Eli and I are currently staying in a ritzy resort town outside of Rio, one of the few small towns I've seen in Brazil with very little visible poverty. In a way, it's kind of a relief not to be constantly surrounded by poverty, and certainly reduces the constant, if sometimes unconscious guilt I feel all the time in Rio. Everything is clean and orderly, calm and quiet.There are very few lower class areas, and no favelas. The whole town breathes money and comfort.
Even though the town doesn't have very much crime (certainly much less than Rio), all of the beautiful houses and condos are set behind large walls, occasionally lined with broken glass and barbed wire. It's not just practical protection, it's symbolic: this is MY space, the walls seem to say. Keep out. Everyone drives in cars or rental buggies, able to show off their Jaguars and Mercedes with less fear of them getting stolen.
So as I've walked and dined, somewhat uncomfortably, amongst the well-heeled of Rio, Sao Paulo and the like, I got to thinking about elitism in Brazil. It's natural for it to be more pronounced in countries with inequality, but is especially apparent here. It seems to me that things have changed little since the times of slavery with the stratification of social classes and the desire of the elite to separate themselves, physically, culturally, and symbolically, from the rest.
My personal impression is that much of the elite harbors several mentalities, though I don't think they're necessarily conscious. The first is that they are better than everyone else and therefore what they think and do counts more than what a poor person thinks or does. Money doesn't just buy things; it buys power and control that are often subtler than one may expect. They may live in the same city as poor, or even on the same block, but they may as well be on a different planet.
The second is a distinct sense of entitlement. This means that the rich expect to be above the law (see the Goldman Files), and above the rules normally set for the rest of society. They expect to get what they want and for things to be their way, and since in some ways Brazil is still socially feudal, they accomplish exactly that. Justice can easily be bought in Brazil. But this entitlement extends to every part of life, from schooling to jobs to hired help to even going out to dinner, and deserves a post for itself.
The third is the desire of separation, to be divided from the rest of Brazilians. Some upper class Brazilians turn their nose up at Carnival and seem to even be embarrassed by it. They strive to be in their own little bubble with their own people, in everything from schools to restaurants to clubs (which explains why, in Rio, covers for nightclubs are quite high). They don't want to be seen canoodling with people from outside their class; it wouldn't look right. On the mental plane, some even think they are smarter than the poor (unfortunately, due to educational costs, they can sometimes justify this). They try their best to separate their interests, the places they live, the places they vacation, the things they buy, and the things they do from the rest of Brazilians. It helps bolster the concept that they are better, they are above, they are different.