Note from BW of Brazil: Racism is nothing new in Brazil. But as I have stated in previous articles on this blog, what IS different is the collective Afro-Brazilian voice speaking out against it. As I must continuously remind readers, the way Brazilian dealt with racism was to deny its very existence, a powerful and deceptive tactic that often times deceived the black population itself into believing this to be the case. Today, we feature a number of prominent Afro-Brazilian women from various genres speaking on how racism affects them on a daily basis or at some time when they reflected on the issue. As their voices are so very important in bringing out a social ill that many Brazilians still refuse to acknowledge or address, they will surely educate thousands or perhaps millions of black Brazilians who are regularly victims of racism but still don’t know it or don’t know how to deal with it. With such voices speaking out, they will continue to push the issue out into the open, on the front pages, in the workplace and homes and continue to stimulate a dialogue that desperately needs to happen. As the saying goes, “each one, teach one”!
14 black Brazilian women talk about how racism affects their lives
Racism does not manifest itself in only punctual episodes: it affects entire lives. Every day, each of these women face this reality.
By Giovana Feix
Contrary to what many people think, racism doesn’t exist only through punctual episodes of prejudice – such as the recent case of hatred against Titi, the adopted daughter of the actor/actress couple Bruno Gagliasso and Giovanna Ewbank. Instead, it is embedded in the base of our society, affecting daily (often, silently) the lives of more than half of Brazilian men and women.
It is against this backdrop that we select statements from 14 black women, coming from the most diverse areas of action, to clarify how racism is present in Brazil from day to day. It is necessary for us to hear these voices – and that, in the way that we can, help to broaden its scope more and more.
“I noticed racism with a door slamming in my face. There was no social network. Then you wonder, but why did you slam the door on me? I didn’t do nothing. You did, yes. Você nasceu negra (You were born black). And it’s like that”.
Elza Soares, singer, in an interview with EBC.
“A criança negra (black child) is already born being capable of being arrested. He’s generated without rights, subject to a failed education, which prepares no one for a decent future. There is a terrible logic, maintained by the corrupt political system that puts poor against poor, killing each other. The State doesn’t make itself present with social policies and transforms the periphery into a deposit of suspects to show that there is active public security. But acting to kill our children?”
Débora Maria da Silva, creator of the Movimento Livre Mães de Maio (Free Mothers of May Movement), in an interview with Claudia magazine.
“My parents put me on a pedestal from the moment they saw that they had a problem at home: a 7-8 year old child wetting her skin in a bucket with bleach to discolor the skin. My father was so outraged, he would say ‘you are so beautiful’, and I would say: ‘but only you (two) say that! I get to school and even the teacher is cursing me – she mocks my hair, says I was born cursed because I’m black. (…) I only remember the name of two teachers – that were the two that I liked. The rest, I forgot everything because I got disgusted with them. They talked a lot of shit, from ‘you have no reason why you were born black’, and I thought that was real – I would ask Papai Noel (Santa Claus), I said I wanted to be white.”
Karol Conka, rapper, in an interview with the program Saia Justa, of the GNT channel.
“I had the idea of the cordéis (1) series with black heroines in the History of Brazil because these references were lacking for me; in school and in college, they never told me about any black women who created something important or marked history. I had to research this on my own and with great difficulty, so if I had in my hands affordable, inexpensive and didactic literature, there is nothing better than to tell the stories of these women in my cordéis.”
“Black women on Brazilian television oscillate between the role of the maid, poor, hardworking, poor self-interested and enslaved. These are roles in which wonderful women, who are real queens of acting, like Zezé Motta, still star. I remember how the protagonist Helena played by actress Tais Araújo was poorly seen by the public and, for me, it has everything to do with her being a successful and rich woman, really a black woman. The public is not used to it.”
Stephanie Ribeiro, student and activist of black feminism, in an interview with Claudia magazine.
“I’ve already gone through this not accepting my hair and being bullied at school. So the message I want to pass on is to the girls who still suffer from it, so they are aware and know what to say at those times. (…) My hair is not duro (hard), it’s cacheado (curly). Hard is your prejudice.”
MC Soffia, rapper, in an interview with MdeMulher.
“Until recently, I was looking at L’Oréal’s page, which published a photo of a model with cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair), and the girl was attacked on the page. People don’t understand that it is racism appealing to taste. To say: ‘my personal taste is that your hair looks like an umbrella’ is racism, because it doesn’t accept the quality of the other person.”
Tássia Reis, singer, in an interview with ELLE magazine.
“Brazilian literature – accompanied by its criticism – from the formative texts to the most recent contemporary, portrayed black women mainly under the aegis of domination and created categories of stereotyped representation that persist to this day: it’s the ultra-sexualized body-object of the mulata; It’s the submissive, passivity, generous and self-sacrificing of the mãe-preta (black mother) (2); it’s the bestialization of the enslaved negra.”
Fernanda Rodrigues de Mirana, a “black, migrant and feminist” woman, in an interview with the Suplemento Pernambuco.
“In the United States, these confrontations are happening, but there, things are very different. When blacks are murdered by the police, as happened in Ferguson, the population takes to the streets. Here in Brazil, we still naturalize [the death of blacks] (3). There is ‘Black Lives Matter’ and so many other movements. It has a more direct confrontation. Recalling that blacks in the United States are 15% of the population and here in Brazil, we are 52%. There, in fact, blacks are minorities. But there is another understanding of the black movement in the United States, because there racism was constitutional. Blacks always knew they had a problem, knew that he could not enter such places, that he would be killed if he went to a particular neighborhood. So, since [racism] was extremely declared, there was no other way than to confront it. Here in Brazil, as this myth of ‘racial democracy’ was created, in which everyone loves each other and everybody is cool, often the black subject himself has difficulty understanding that our society is racist.”
Djamila Ribeiro, philosopher, in an interview with Vice Brasil.
“I wanted to be a judge, but when my grandfather died I realized it was just a child’s dream. That the poor, the black, to come to being a judge is a sea without a boat.”
MC Carol, singer, in an interview with the BBC.
“The school had no black heroes and personalities to present to me. And I grew up seeing myself enslaved in the textbooks. I grew up watching my classmates talk about black slaves as unreal creatures. And these ‘creatures’ were all the reference I had to my past. I remember the excerpt from the history book that told, ‘passandinho’, about the quilombo of Palmares. It ended with ‘and all blacks were EXEMPLARY murdered or imprisoned’. Exemplary. E-xem-pla-ry. The religions of African matrices were never cited in my school days. At my school they had great annual cultural fairs, but in them they never spoke very well of the African countries, which the teachers considered only ‘Africa’, and of the works I remember doing about countries, I, the eternal only aluna negra (black student) in the room, only had the opportunity to do Italy and Germany. There was also a year of religions, with presentations on Hinduism and Judaism, but I never saw Candomblé. Today, as a teacher, I know the gigantic failure of my teachers consistently steering me away from the study of my origins.”
“The school had no heroes and black personalities to introduce me to. And I grew up seeing myself enslaved in the textbooks. I grew up watching my classmates talk about black slaves as unreal creatures. And these ‘creatures’ were all the reference I had to my past. I remember the excerpt from the history book that had, ‘passandinho’, on the quilombo of the Palmares. It ended with ‘and all blacks were EXEMPLARLY murdered or imprisoned’. Exemplarmente. E-xem-plar-men-te. The religions of African matrices were never quoted in my school days. At my school they had great annual cultural fairs, but in them they never spoke very well of the African countries, which the teachers considered only ‘Africa’, and of the works I remember doing about countries, I, the only eternal black student in the room , I only had the opportunity to make Italy and Germany. It also had a year of religions, with presentations on Hinduism and Judaism, but I never saw candomblé. Today, as a teacher, I know the gigantic failure of my teachers to steer me away from the study of my origins. “
Nayara Garófalo, editor of TW: Preta!, in a text in Medium.
“It happens to this day. When I come to a restaurant in Brazil, people who are just like me are just cleaning and serving. It’s Brazil telling me that my place is to serve and clean, almost saying that I have no right to be eating there. Being Taís Araújo softens it, but does not exempt it. In our country, prejudice is present the moment we leave home.”
Taís Araújo, actress, in an interview with MdeMulher.
“I can’t remain silent. If my work allows me some expressiveness, I will use my voice for many who suffer this kind of racist attack every day and go back home quiet, tired of not being heard, to cry alone.”
Cris Vianna, actress, in a text on Facebook.
“Taís Araújo, when she was the protagonist of a novela: there could be criticism in favor, criticism against, like or dislike, but what came on top of Taís, 90% was out of prejudice. ‘How could a black woman be the protagonist of a prime-time novel?’ When I did (Globo TV Sunday news journal) Fantástico, I would receive a letter saying, ‘aren’t you ashamed to be sitting there hosting this program with so many white people wanting to be in this place?’ I got tired, I got tired of receiving [messages like this]. So racism is a much more violent and much stronger thing because it can paralyze you. If you don’t have a solid structure, you get paralyzed and you stop living.”
Glória Maria, journalist, in an interview with Marília Gabriela, on GNT.
Source: M de Mulher
- Cordel (plural cordéis) literature (from the Portuguese term, literatura de cordel, literally “string literature”), are popular and inexpensively printed booklets or pamphlets containing folk novels, poems and songs, which are produced and sold in fairs and by street vendors in Brazil, principally in the Northeast. They are so named because they are hung from strings in order to display them to potential clients. Source
- In Brazil, the imagery associated with “Tia Anastácia” (Aunt Anastácia) or “mãe-preta” (black mother) are often similar to the American figure of the “Aunt Jemina”.
- Activism against the murder of Afro-Brazilian youth has become more and more vocal over the past few years with a number noteworthy marches taking places in various cities throughout Brazil. See here and here for examples.