AFRICANGLOBE – Continuing with a very important theme, we bring you another text on the question of racial identity. And as there are surely people who will read this text and, depending on where in the world they may be from, will ask, “What’s the deal? Of course she’s Black.” Well, as has been discussed in previous posts here, persons of African descent in Brazil and other Latin American countries often don’t receive any orientation on the question of race from a society in which they learn that all that is Black is bad and thus if it were possible, if one could avoid this classification the better off one would be. But asked about the various terms (“parda”, “mulata”, “morena”) that Brazil offers to her to avoid being labeled or labeling herself with the term “negra”, Dulci Lima, the author of this text, responded in the following manner:
“When they ask me or try to identify me as a mulata, parda, morena, I leave it clear that I consider it a misunderstanding and sometimes even an offense, because I’m negra (black). My indigenous and European ancestry is of no relevance. What marks me in this world is being Black and that’s how I want to be identified!”
With that clarification, below is how Dulci describes what she learned and what her mother taught her about Blackness…
I don’t remember any moment of my life that I didn’t know that I was Black and the implications this has. I cherish memories of early childhood in which I heard my mother revealing her experiences with racism. I heard these stories repeated times, but only recently realized how much they were instrumental in my life.
My maternal grandmother died when my mother was only three. Unable to raise four children alone, my grandfather – a brickyard worker, wandered from one to another all the time – handed over the two younger children (my mother and her two-year old sister) to people interested in “taking care” of them. My mother was “adopted” by a widow lady who had other children. All white.
In this house my mother was responsible for housework and other tasks. When she reached ten years of age, she began to be sent to “family homes” as a maid. She says that she received clothes and food as “payment”.
My mother was practically illiterate. In her second year of school she was removed from the school on the grounds that she was very troublesome. She beat up children who called her “macaca (monkey)” and “neguinha fedida (stinking little black)”! My adopted “grandma” also concluded that there was no need to keep her in school as she had already learned the basics: writing her name and doing simple math. Being a woman and Black, literacy was a luxury that my mother had no right to enjoy.
I am from the Xou da Xuxa (Xuxa Show) generation (1). Like many children in that period, I was glued to the television and insisted on eating “breakfast” with Xuxa. She eating fruits and other things I had never seen, while I ate my bread with margarine and coffee with milk (I now realize how violent it was for whoever had little or nothing to eat in the morning). My mother criticized my interest in the “blonde”. She would point to the TV and say: “Xuxa doesn’t like Black people! Do you see any Blacks there?
And so I grew up understanding that my skin color distinguished me in a certain way from other people and that made my life more difficult in some respects. I would have to face suspicious looks and obstacles that people with lighter skin tone never had. But, I also learned to defend myself, not passively accepting the offenses and not dwelling on obstacles!
Racial consciousness: this was the great lesson that my mother taught me! I have learned this since a very young age (and still am) very important in my path. It helped me deal with many things and also caused some problems for my mother. As when, at about seven, I was fixated on wanting a doll with my appearance. But that’s another story.
1. One will note how the blond television host known as Xuxa (Maria da Graça Meneghel) was and continues to be an important reference in the lives of Brazilian children. In a country like Brazil where there is a huge lack of Black role models, many activists argued that the prominence that Xuxa has held for the past few decades has had devastating effects on the identity of Black children.
By: Dulci Lima