Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Don't Blame it on Rio by Jewel Woods and Karen Hunter

The Real Deal Behind Why Men Go to Brazil for Sex.

Don't Blame it on Rio is an ambitious and bold book by doctoral candidate Jewel Woods and Pulitzer-winning journalist Karen Hunter. In it, they examine the phenomenon of middle class and professional African American men making regular trips to Rio de Janeiro to look for the sex, freedom and respect they feel they don't get here in America.

It's a fascinating read - a brutally honest examination of a growing trend that, Woods and Hunter argue, has devastating consequences for African-Americans back in America. Consequences that affect the women they date and marry here at home, plus the outlook and mentality of the men who engage in Brazilian 'sex tourism.'

The entire book is balanced on something of a tightrope. Looking into the reasons (or excuses) men give for travelling to Rio, Jewel Woods can't help but uncover some uncomfortable home truths that polite, 'politically correct' society wouldn't want to talk about.

For example, the idea that African American men journey to Rio because the relationships they have with African American women in America simply aren't satisfying.

It's cringe worthy stuff - through a series of anonymous interviews, Jewel Woods reveals the true feelings of many African American men - feelings they might not have been willing to admit publicly.

Some men feel that the modern black woman is too materialistic, too competitive and too masculine to have a old-fashioned relationship with. Others complain that the high rates of obesity amongst African American women (which is far above the norm amongst other ethnic groups) mean that the majority of women simply aren't as attractive as their Brazilian counterparts.

By far the most convincing reason Wood's interviewees give is that, in Brazil, they can have satisfying relationships with beautiful Brazilian women without all the 'bullshit' they have to deal with here in the states.

Finding out what encourages African American men to travel to Brazil brings up a very difficult question that Jewel Woods asks: "Are black women necessary?"

It's a question he only addresses in the final chapters.

A Difficult Read

I felt awkward reading Blame it on Rio because the book was clearly intended for an African American audience - a good example being Wood's use of the term 'sisters' to describe black women. Considering I'm white and British (so neither African nor American) I clearly don't have the background knowledge to fully appreciate the book.

What I did appreciate was the raw honesty required to answer Wood's questions straight on. He doesn't pull any punches. Jewel Woods highlights exactly why he believes African American men are looking elsewhere for sexual and emotional relationships and some of those observations are painful. The fact that they're so awkward and uncomfortable to read must stem from the fact that they're based in truth.

Despite being a brutal read, Don't Blame in on Rio actually ends on a very satisfying note. Jewel Woods spends two hundred pages explaining the perceived faults with African American women and the seductive nature of the Rio life style. However, his final chapters turn the whole focus of the book around and place the 'blame' for Brazilian sex-tourism not on Rio itself, nor on the African American women black men find so unsatisfactory. He accuses African American men of taking the easy route, of not being loyal to black women in the same way they expect them to be loyal in return.

In short, the message of Don't Blame it on Rio seems to be 'grow up.'

Considering Rio de Janeiro seems to be something of a Disneyland of Sex, I'm not sure how many sex-tourists will be dissuaded from vacationing there based on this book alone. But even if it doesn't stop the phenomenon of 'business trips to Rio,' it will at least make any man who reads it closely examine his reasons for buying that airline ticket.

Don't Blame it on Rio is available from all good bookstores and Amazon.com.


The Chemist said...

My anthropology prof did her research in Rio, and our class is reading an ethnography on it, so maybe I'll ask her about it.

Suki said...

Oh wow.
When we read about women in minority communities, it was usually in terms of "the other of the other", and the African-American woman possibly epitomises that. She's lowest in the hierarchy - lower than the African-American male, who is lower than the white male.
I feel it's time to overturn these hierarchies. It's become a case of "give the dog a bad name and hang him", IMHO.
(And yes.. I'm not African-American, but I'm a brown-skinned Indian woman)

Miss Caught Up said...

That was an intriguing post! I'll have to check out the book! Thanks!

Jeannette Belliveau said...

This book explores one fact of the dating war between men and women in both the West and in the developing world where Westerners visit for trysts. I explore this phenomenon in detail in my book, Romance on the Road: Traveling Women Who Love Foreign Men.

EmmaK said...

Sounds like a pretty intriguing book! Will get it from the library.