The White Man’s Illness

The White Man’s Illness
Slavery in Brazil: White master and his enslaved Blacks

AFRICANGLOBE – Brazil is nation in which many prefer to pretend or not acknowledge the racial hierarchy that clearly exists throughout the country. When people say “we are all equal”, in reality, it is a façade that attempts to mask the reality in which everyone knows the “place” reserved for members of the society according to race. There is simply no way to deny this fact. We can see it the way in which the society will fall in love with a blond, blue-eyed crack addicted beggar while walking past dark-skinned beggars as if they have some sort of incurable disease.

We see it in the advertising industry’s continuous obsession with whiteness. We can see it in the low aspirations of Black children. We see it when children insist on playing with white dolls. We can see it every time someone of visible African ancestry attempts to distance themselves from blackness. Perhaps denying these facts are a way of alleviating the displeasure it brings when one cannot deny the reality. But if we continue to deny the illness, we cannot procure its cure. Or perhaps its simpler than that: Maybe people actually know the facts and simply don’t care.

We have stated that racism is a disease that affects everyone, not just Whites. It is a social anomaly, which ensnares us in the senses of the dehumanization of the other. In the Brazilian case, of the other human being who is Black. Regardless of our ethnic and racial origin, we participate in this historic process, and our challenge is to become aware of its existence, denounce it and finally find mechanisms to overcome it.

The latent aggressiveness of the person, white or non-white, a consequence of the types and levels of frustration that affect differently these two groups, finds itself in the Black population a culturally defined target and – adopting irony expressing in what I write – clearly denigrated.

The young protagonist of the short film Vista Minha Pele, from 2003 (directed by Joel Zito Araújo and distributed by the Center for the Study of Labor Relations and Inequalities – CEERT), becomes a spokesperson for a series of unprecedented criticism, when she points out that racial discrimination is not a problem only for Blacks.

Much is said and written about racism, but almost never does one consider how much we have to do with it as individuals or members of social groups in a context of social dominance whose values​​, discourses and institutions routinely reiterate the segregation between whites and other populations marked by appearance, by their phenotypic characteristics, particularly Blacks, who make up the majority of the population.

It’s worth our focusing a bit on one of the dimensions of racism in which psychological science must deepen: branquitude (whiteness), which positions the ideal of white people as the reference of humanity and value to be achieved by all, by means of embranquecimento (whitening).

Psychologist Maria Aparecida Silva Bento, of CEERT, which created the argument of Vista Minha Pele, has developed over decades, research on the subject, and has shown that the critique of embranquecimento  commonly focuses on Blacks, as passive subjects who allow themselves to embranquecer (whiten), and with this failing to recognize that it is part of the mechanism of power of the white elite on the Black masses, when it only sees some upward mobility by minimizing the maximum or hiding their africanóide traits, the phenotype that places them in the spectrum of racially discriminated.

Since the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel recognizes that dialectical servant-master incurs not only the subordination of the slave as an inferior human being, but equally the master depends on this degraded relation to assert himself as an independent consciousness, to which neither of the two (master and slave) will never co-exist in this asymmetrical relationship.

The terrible legacy of racism for white people, expressed in branquitude as the affirmation of a supposed superiority over these Black people, is a socio-economic privilege and imagery that transforms, equally, into a precarious self-concept, dependent upon discrimination against Black men and women, and on a collective level, configure itself as an oligarchic defense of interests that excludes from democratic processes a significant portion of the population, that “washes its hands” in regards to certain social injustices.

Whites, in this privileged position, get sick, live in a displacement in regards to the Black other that is excluded, and when they don’t recognize the suffering caused by racism, as a result of prejudice, fear or ignorance (or in technical terms, from collusion when one discriminates without realizing it), refuse fundamental dimensions of their humanity and the historical project of citizenship: the affect of the relation between one and the other, the principle of solidarity and empathy with discomfort.

The disease of the white that is content with privilege is, at a deeper level, the “cannibalistic” necessity to assimilate the oppression on the Black as an element of their personal identity, and on a more visible level, teaches Benedict, is fear, if not panic, that often expresses itself as an inexplicable hatred towards the Black other, a narcissistic hatred of “my” group against the other.

This other becomes a symbol of the risk of physical and moral degeneracy, while the white I reaffirms itself, rhetorically, as the universal subject, the physical and moral model of an idealized humanity.

The psycho-social limitations prevent the formation of a democracy in fact, because Black citizens are still seen as “poor things”, being that they are responsible for their own situation, and that need the “help” of the included whites. The perpetuated inequality in the hearts and minds can’t be changed in the gestures and decrees.

There is then the prevalence of a paternalistic thinking, which makes self-criticism and a hetero-identification with the human in the other impossible; there is, in this logic, the recognition that the empowerment of the Black population goes through the affirmation of their equality, in terms of humanity, with whites.

Affirmative action, in this sense, configures itself as foundations for a new paradigm, which assumes the need of reparations of the past in which points to the necessity of modifying the social environment in which Blacks and whites co-exist without equality.

How to deal with the disastrous reality of branquitude is a theoretical and practical challenge for researchers, managers and activists. Regarding the field of mental health, there is the identification of high psycho-social costs of racism, as a structural system of society, as much for subjects who through this ideology are oppressed (Blacks) and for those who because of it are socialized into a perverse role of oppressors, even though they do not recognize it (whites).


By: Jacqueline Gomes de Jesus


Brazil An Inconvenient History


  1. The white people’s nature is more accurate. White men, women and child all play a part in white supremacy. Illness implies racism is bad for white people. On the contrary, everything they have of value, they got due to racism. It’s beneficial and they enjoy it. Also, I’m really tired of reading words like discrimination and privilege used in relation to racism. Racism is terrorism. Racism is warfare against everyone on the planet who is not classified as white. White people don’t suffer from racism’s illness. We suffer from white people’s pathological need to dominate all forms of life they classify as nonwhite.