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Top U.S. official says Brazil is making progress in combating racial inequity

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Salvador, Brazil, is often called the cradle of Afro-Brazilian culture. A top Biden administration official visited the city this past week to discuss diversity with a member of the Brazilian cabinet. NPR's Michele Kelemen takes us there.

FERNANDO BINGRE: Well, as you can see, you know, it's a beautiful city with so much history, culture, music.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Shouting over the drummers, tour guide Fernando Bingre is showing U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield a main square in Salvador. It was here where slaves were once tied up on poles and whipped in public. And it was here where Michael Jackson made his music video "They Don't Care About Us." Thomas-Greenfield came here to revive a racial equity program with Brazil that was first launched 15 years ago by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Brazil's new minister of racial equality, Anielle Franco, says the new government is focused on this.

ANIELLE FRANCO: (Speaking Portuguese).

KELEMEN: She says the fact that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva elevated the office on racial equity to be a government ministry is proof that this is a new Brazil. Franco describes the most recent elections as a division between barbarism and democracy, hate and combating fascism. She blasted the former president, Jair Bolsonaro, for once saying that he would prefer a dead son than one who would date a Black girl. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield says the U.S. and Brazil have a lot in common, especially when it comes to race relations.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: In the United States, we say, Black lives matter because they do. In Brazil, you say, don't kill me, kill racism because we should.

KELEMEN: The ambassador made it personal, talking about her own life growing up in segregated Louisiana.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Unfortunately, like so many, I have been subjected to racism all my life, every single place I've been, all around the world.

KELEMEN: Now she represents the U.S. on the world stage at the United Nations and says she wants to work with countries like Brazil to fight racism.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

KELEMEN: This was her first time in Brazil, though she seemed to feel at home drumming along with young performers from the Olodun Creative School and dancing in the streets. She says it felt a lot like New Orleans.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Salvador, Brazil. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

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