Colorism: The Development Of Black Identity In A Country That Encourages One Not To Be Black

Colorism: The Development Of Black Identity In A Country That Encourages One Not To Be Black
Brazil is a society where white supremacy goes unchallenged

AFRICANGLOBE – Only at twenty years of age did I manage to recognize and self-affirm myself as negra. Even when I tried many times to identify myself as white – due to having a white mother and grandparents – I didn’t cease from suffering racism. I, over the years, whitened, and I had my identity and ancestry made invisible. I learned only very late, that colorism is one of the cruel ways in which racism manifests itself.

To self-affirm oneself as Black is, in addition to a political posture, a cry of resistance. There is no way to fight oppression without recognizing it first and without knowing your roots.

Colorism, friendships, is by definition the division of negros between “the true” (dark-skinned) and negro-non-negros (light-skinned). Colorism is what we call a legitimate form of veiled racism. From birth, negros, mestiço (mixed-race) children of a white father and Black mother and vice versa, are called pardos (brown). Why pardos? What is it, after all, to be pardo?

“Pardo” is one of many terms created so that they call us “not so Black”. We are called “not so Blacks” for not being able to apt to standard that branquitude (whiteness) established to legitimize our identities, but at the same time we do not possess white privilege. Our features scream and no embranquecimento (whitening) shuts us up.

Colorism functions as an agent of the maintenance of whiteness and ensures that the society continues to see what is “branco/claro” (white/light) as good and what is “negro/preto/escuro” (black/black/dark) as bad. We are whitened because that’s the purpose we serve, being negros that in fact “are not so Black”. Magazines, television, billboards; advertising tells us it’s okay to be Black if not we’re not “so Black”. Our references are made whitened in advertising campaigns. They try to suffocate us by all means.

Our features denounce our ancestry and define us, however, as negros. We are not “almost Black” or “negros de pele clara” (light-skinned blacks), we are Blacks.

I remember that in my childhood, my only reference of a Black woman was the grandmother of a friend of mine. The woman, a heavyset Black woman with straight hair, was always praised for her hair that even white, drew attention. I also praised and often wondered how a Black woman with straight hair was possible. Now I understand that the hair of Grandma Regina were praised for referring to whiteness and I discuss, from readings I did some time ago, about the proportions of the cruelty of racism. The miscegenation of Blacks began in the senzalas (slave quarters, when slaves were raped by their sinhôs (2). Wouldn’t be, as such, that exalting the “white” traits of a Black person is not legitimizing the pain of those women? The animalization to which they were submitted?

I must, however, emphasize that self-affirmation should not be trivialized. The affirmation of your blackness is not an open space for whites to appropriate and demand space to speak in our movement. Self-assertion is an empowering agent for Black people who were whitened during their lives. I saw in recent days two people saying they were Black because of having curly hair. Being Black is not having curly hair. Curly hair is a European trait also. To white people I say: be careful with appropriation and attention to location of your comment.

The appreciation of terms such as “pardos”, “mulatos” and “morenos” brings us closer to “almost white” and we are not that. We are Black. I repeat: we exist and we are many.

As a final consideration I raise the question: Why is it that whites are in thousands of biotypes – redheads, blonds, light and dark eyes – and still they affirmed whites, but Blacks have to fit into the standard of strong features/dark skin or then are “not so Black?”


Brazil An Inconvenient History