AFRICANGLOBE – Note: This post is yet another great analysis of how Brazilian society has contributed to the historic manner in which blackness is seen and experienced. Frequently we cover topics such as Black identity (or lack thereof), racism, exclusion, stereotyping, murder, interracial marriage and image, all of which, one could argue, are connected. Wherever the debate about the topic of race and racism in Brazil may take place, someone is sure to make the argument that “those problems don’t exist here”, “we’re all mixed” or “Brazil’s not like that”, but some of the very personal stories and revelations presented tell another story. Stories that get right at the heart of the denial and present very poignant realities of the low social value associated with blackness or attributes that denote African ancestry.
We see it in the many stories of “parda” (brown) women who spent years fleeing from an identidade negra (Black identity) because of the negative images associated with such a classification before coming to self-acceptance. We see it in the countless women who go through struggles attempting to attain the straight hair that Brazil’s standard of beauty imposes upon them. Dare we say that we see it in the near impossibility of seeing a successful Black man with a Black woman at his side.
Brazil loves to portray itself as a place of racial harmony where everyone freely mixes with no problem and thus avoiding the racial turmoil of other countries. But as post after posts demonstrate, a large part of Brazil’s mythical “racial democracy” is based on the fact that the country’s efficient brand of racism has convinced a large parcel of the Black population that blackness is indeed a curse to be avoided. It is to be avoided by distancing one’s self from this identity. It is to be avoided in the denial of the depths of the effects of overt and covert everyday racism on the psyche of the afrodescendente (African descendant). It is to be avoided by not wanting offspring to have to endure such a wretched existence, thus voluntarily whitening one’s self or one’s future offspring, in a process known as embranquecimento. Brazil’s sinister brand of racism also assured that there were no widespread Black pride or Black consciousness movement to counteract the daily anti-Black psychological assaults.
Of course there will those who will read this post and its theories and vigorously deny the validity or even possibility. But I would challenge those who see otherwise to read Neusa Santos Souza’s 1983 Tornar-se Negro (meaning becoming Black), a book as importance as Frantz Fanon’s 1952 classic Black Skin, White Masks in understanding the psychological effects of racism, and then debate the issue. A number of Black Brazilians have become aware of this silent assault over the years and have been speaking out on the topic and its effects. Which leads to today’s piece….
Brazil: The Place Where The Dream Of Blacks Is Not Being Black
I went to buy a gift for my father late and I thought I was going to suffer physical violence because of the hatred towards my hair. Today I live in a dangerous area of Rio de Janeiro, police conflict vs. drug trafficking goes on daily. It doesn’t have a time. There are some days that I can come home and there are days when I cannot. Some days there is a body on the ground on the corner at 6pm. Here, you can’t flinch, it’s no use to keep creating confusion or arguing with someone even if you’re right. Here, you hear something go down and have to remain silent. You live based on the fear of talking.
I went to buy a souvenir for my father in the square here at home and seven moleques (little boys) began to humiliate me. I had never seen them before in my life. I didn’t even look at them. But only because of my stopping in front of them, they felt obliged to say completely racist and sexist comments. All related to my hair. From “go wash that hair” to “if the hair is like that imagine the p*ssy.”
I stepped away. Securely. But the path was such that I would need to go near them. I went by again and decided to act. It was all or nothing. They could beat me, it was the only thing I could think of. But I decided that would keep on.
I passed in front of them. There they were: the seven. Soon as they saw me, “look at her!”, alerting the other anonymous ones who were close to them. Of course, the more we looked at each other, the greater the embarrassment. And they began another series of humiliations. I stopped in front of them straight, firm, and started looking into the eye of each. In silence. I could feel the bitter taste in their mouths with each look. Two didn’t handle the situation, and looked away. I stood motionless for one minute waiting for any sound. The silence was absolute. They panicked. I fumbled around in my purse, grabbed my cell phone and tried to make a call. It wasn’t connected any way, it was dead. Within 10 seconds, even before putting the phone in my purse (with every action done looking at them), no one was left. They caught the first bus that came along. “We better go on,” said one. Terrified, wide-eyed; they were also afraid.
When we talk about public policy for Black youth, we speak of this too. When we talk about self-esteem, the thought sometimes, for those who will NEVER understand, if they don’t go through it, is what it is being humiliated in the public square for being a woman or man, Black woman or Black man, free of sodium hydroxide, after more than ten years of PHYSICAL pain, always in the superficial field of external beauty, this that we say is short-lived, that’s vanity. But no. When a group of girls begins to discuss race according to hair they are making it political! When those of you who say “ah, this is the group that complains about everything”, ask that this group, Black youth from the favela (slum), see themselves more in the media, in the spaces, networks, occupying spaces by law, it’s because of this too. It’s nice to hear that visibility generates rights but without the political it only generates hate. It’s cool to see in the novela, it’s beautiful to see on television. But here, in life, the chatter is different.
I walked up the street crying and sobbing. My father was coming down the street to get some roast chicken with potatoes for us to have a Father’s Day lunch. He was terrified when he saw me crying. I said: “7 boys humiliated me.” He asked, “did they beat you?” I said no. He replied: “..Ô, my child, don’t be weak. Stay strong. You’re a strong woman, you’re gonna stay stuck on that? Go on, I’ll get a chicken and be right back.”
But I am stuck on that. Not only from what I heard, but because I know that these seven, poor Black favela kids are humiliated daily by the State, by advertising, consumed by the hatred acquired by the social pressure that they face. This is the Rio that we have, this is Brazil, a place where the dream of Blacks is not to be Black. There’s a lot of hatred, there’s extermination in the city. How can a Black humiliate a Black? How can anyone humiliate someone that they never saw in their life, never exchanged a word? There’s a lot of struggle ahead. We have to keep going strong, not leaving behind priorities. The fight is not for applause, the fight is not to dictate that society has to see Black hair and Black skin as beautiful, but to see them as PEOPLE. And people, you know it’s for respect.
At most, respect cabelos crespos (curly/kinky hair), ok?
By: Yasmin Thayná
Brazil An Inconvenient History