Note from BW of Brazil: Anyone who has studied the topic of race has come across the classification morena (moreno for men). Morena/moreno has to be the most versatile term of the many that exist in Brazilian culture. It’s versatility and widespread usage is due to the fact that it can define such a wide range of phenotypes. As explained in one of our first posts on this topic, morena/moreno can define a white woman with dark hair, it can define a person of mixed race, it can define persons who are difficult to define racially, and can also define both light-skinned and even brown-skinned Afro-Brazilians. In recent years, politically-conscious Afro-Brazilians have been increasingly rejecting the term when used by persons of visible African ancestry as it is seen as an attempt to avoid defining oneself as negro (black).
Morena/moreno is the perfect representation of the racial situation in a country that prides itself on its ambiguity as “everyone is mixed” and avoids any real discussions on the existence of a racial hierarchy also due to the “shades of gray” argument. It has long been believed that “mulatas” or “morenas” have clear advantages over their more indisputably black brothers and sisters in a society dominated by Eurocentrism. In a racist society in which lighter skin and less curly hair clearly does offer certain advantages, what type of ‘advantages’ are they and do they always apply?
As we have discussed in numerous posts, the ‘mulata’ may be seen as more physically attractive (per her proximity to the European standard of beauty) than the darker-skinned negra or preta who is thought to only be good enough for hard labor, but the ‘advantage’ of the mulata is often connected to her perceived hyper-sexuality. Even if the ‘mulata’ is considered more attractive than the negra, she is also often thought to be only worth a quick sexual encounter and as such doesn’t warrant the same respect of the branca (white woman).
And what of the morena? Does she do any better in the hierarchy? Check out one woman’s analysis below.
“Exotic morenas”: A debate on colorism, blackness and feminine archetypes of the ideology of racial mixture
By Bianca Gonçalves, courtesy of the Mina Explosiva blog
Throughout our experiences, we are accustomed to believing that Brazilian society was constituted by the harmonious blend of races, our ancestors – European, indigenous, African – a complied ethnic and cultural mixture, which led to the mestiço (person of mixed race), or still, to Brazilian identity. Thus undermining the recognition of differences, the myth of racial democracy was founded. Strategic, this perspective that naturalizes and maintains racist discourses that permeates the construction of our identities, and therefore whitens, as mandated by the hegemony, much of the heritage and discourses of historically oppressed peoples.
In Rediscutindo a mestiçagem (revisiting miscegenation), Kabengele Munanga shows that the positivated discourse of mestiço identity (ie, miscegenation as an element that “lifts” a nation, and not vice versa, as occurred in the US during racial segregation) took place through a long path until reaching the pinnacle with the racist Gilberto Freyre, who gave theoretical form to this myth.
Freyre would find in the “mulata” of colonial Brazil the subject par excellence of the myth of racial democracy: at the same time in that he evokes a less alien otherness, synthesis of the “I” and the “other”, it will also correspond to the sexualized condition of the enslaved available to the white master of the plantation, which contributes to the domestic confinement of the white woman, producing thus the stereotype of the ultra-sexualized, overtly sensual black woman.
As we know, the ideology of miscegenation, like all ideologies, falls into contradictions, since it does not give account of explaining the maintenance of racism. Such aspect of this data makes itself, precisely, for trying to hide the oppression of race and lead to some very particular racist ideas. One of the practices perpetuated by Brazilian racism was to elect certain features as “pure black” and certain others as “pure white”. This is how, for example, that white hegemony affirms things like, “You’re a fine-featured black”, “He’s very light for being black,” “she has thick features but not the point of being black”, etc.
We come, therefore, to the discussion concerning colorism, characterized by the hierarchy of skin tones, a determining factor in the level of discrimination that a black person can suffer. As Neusa Santos stated in Tornar-se negro (becoming black), it is through this color continuum – in which white and black are located on each end of this unbroken line – that ascribe themselves “several meanings according to the criteria of the greater the whiteness, the greater the possibilities of success and acceptance.”
The myth of racial democracy then gains colorism as an ally, making itself an agent of branquitude (whiteness). Joined to this we have intermediary classifications, racist deceptions that promote embraquecimento (whitening) of those who are conditioned to declaring themselves “pardos” (browns), “mestiços” “ (mixed), “morenos” (brown/light brown skinned/mixed).
Here I will dedicate myself to the classification “moreno” or better, “morena”, as I understand that reading inter-sectionalized race with the reading of gender provides us more effective data so that we can go through the process of self-recognition of an oppression that affect us. It interests me in focusing on this classification because it was, for a long time, a spectrum that haunted the affirmation of my blackness, and that, often times distressed me for not knowing for sure what spaces the white hegemony conceded to me (1).
“Morena” is an ambiguous definition: at the same time in which it is used for white people with dark hair (Xuxa doesn’t become “morena”?) (2), it’s also commonly used to classify mulheres negras de tom de pele mais claro (black women of lighter skin tone). This ambiguity is not by chance: it’s another gesture of embraquecimento (whitening) promoted by the racist ideology of miscegenation, conceiving a false link between negritude (blackness) and branquitude (whiteness).
Almost always marked by a sensualizing endeavor, women considered as “morenas” are also affected by the mark of “exotic”, just as the white hegemony usually classifies those escaping Eurocentric standards of beauty (and here it is also fitting to reflect on what it means to have an “exotic beauty” in a country where half the population is black). A quick Google search shows that “morena”, and also, added to the terrible “exotic”, is a heavily used expression in pornography and hyper-sexualization of black women’s bodies.
Still, having consciousness of the peculiarities of colorism in Brazil, in which less pigmented black men and women are tolerated in the spaces of whiteness – but never accepted, since, therefore, it would be necessary to acknowledge the existence of racism – we can examine how white hegemony describes and tolerates the presence of these women.
When author Glória Perez decided to elect actress Nanda Costa, a woman “with a face of the favela (slum)”, as the protagonist of the novela Salve Jorge – who has a love story with a policeman, very suitable plot for the propagandistic Globo moment of the operation of the UPP (Pacifying Police Unit) in Rio de Janeiro – she claims to have dealt with prejudices precisely because she doesn’t fit within the standards of the novela’s “little girl”. We remember that Nanda Costa, who once starred in Sonhos Roubados (with its theme the story of three girls in a favela) is considered by the media as an “exotic morena”. Not by chance the name of her protagonist was Morena.
There is no denying the fact that black women labeled as “morenas” or “pardas” carry privileges in relation to more pigmented mulheres negras (black women), but we must recognize that these spaces are limited, interdicted by whiteness, that spares no efforts to confine them to the space of archetypes, often ultra-sexualized and whitened.
Contrary to what white hegemony affirms, the tones of black are a thousand. Black men and women are a heterogeneous group. Just look, for example, at the various African ethnic groups and note that they are plural: phenotypic diversity is a hallmark of the black people. And also of us, daughters of the diáspora negra (black diaspora). May no gesture whiten us!
Source: Mina Explosiva
1. An issue that has affected countless Brazilians. Many posts on the blog touch on the topic of the development or denial of racial identity. See here.
2. The ever-popular blond, very white children’s television host, Xuxa Meneghel, who temporarily dyed her hair brunette thus, according to hair color, could also have been defined as a morena.
I’m sorry, but with exception of Vanessa da Mata, these are white women. If you want to extinguish the “morenas” and “mulatas” that’s the price you pay. In principle I would agree these are not white women, but they are MUCH further away from being black. The subject of colorism is complicated and much more complicated for mixed raced people, specially mixed raced who are > 3/4 white (but still visibly not white!). But if we want to see the world in black and white with nothing in the middle (I understand the rationale that some white people will discriminate any drop of African blood they identify on you, but that doesn’t help mixed race people who are visibly not white but still far from black).
My father used to say he was very proud of being a “mulatto” (yes, the term comes from mule and in the PC era we should not even use it, but I’m almost sure he didn’t even know that, for him this was jut another word). He also used to say that “mulattoes” were the ones who had the hardest life as they were “discriminated by whites and seen with suspicion by blacks” and he was very sure these whole black = brown was complete bull-crap.
When I was 7 years old my father also said that Brazil was such a racist country hat I could bet USA would have a black president way before Brazil (done).
He also denounced the racism of mixed raced women who would always treat other mixed raced men in a condescending way.
He ended up marrying a white woman from south Brazil (my mother) who till to this day loves him and respect him to the fullest. They love each-other like no other couple I’ve seen, but race had a definite influence on my parents being together, whether they acknowledge this or not.
In any case, he also used to laugh about this whole “racial democracy” shit, saying “this is just a term people invented to put black people in their place”.
He also had to fight with his racist Portuguese father who, although married a mixed raced woman, didn’t want him using a Afro-hair (he wanted all theit children to shave the head so to pass as white).
Very complicated subject, one that I’m afraid is not going to be solved by simply saying “now brown = black” let’s unite and fight”. Very cute in theory but in practice is not so simple.
Hello! Thanks for your comment! There are actually points that you made that I agree with here!
The point of the article is simply to show that conscious people are discovering the myriad number of ways in which racism connected to non-whiteness can function. The issue of mixture and at what point someone is white or black is endlessly complex, which in fact, is EXACTLY why it was promoted. The histories of numerous societies proves this.
Persons of mixed race who look much whiter than they do black have their own paths to decide upon and for those who know the signs, they know they will not be fully accepted as white is all social circles. As in your example, for many, it would be easier to simply straighten/shave their hair and try to “pass”, which points to another myth.
In the US, “passing” for white is a common thing that is documented throughout history, but Brazilian social relations would have us believe that in Brazil this would be ridiculous as the spectrum of whiteness in Brazil would not be so strict as in the US. The very fact you point out a situation in which someone should shave their head and simply try to pass shows that having fair skin and less negroid features doesn’t necessarily equate to automatic whiteness in Brazil!
Also, considering this debate, the US having the first black president before Brazil would also be questionable when we consider that Nilo Peçanha assumed the presidency of Brazil in about 1910. Defining him as negro or mulato is not even an issue. Obama is also a mulato. Peçanha faced discrimination because he was mulato/negro and those around him KNEW THIS! The same was true of Machado de Assis. My point is, I don’t disagree with your point completely, but that as your own comments show, whiteness and race isn’t always so different as one would assume comparing the US and Brazil. This essay simply shows that more “morenas” are beginning to see through the mythology of how race is perceived in Brazil.
About Nilo Pecanha, I was thinking about him and wondering if you would bring it up, but he was not elected, he became president because of the death of a white president. This is not the same as being elected, like Obama.
I mostly agree with what you said too. I just want to point out that for some mixed persons it is absolutely true what you said that ” they know they will not be fully accepted as white is all social circles.” But this is true just as far as it goes because it is also true that they know that they will also not be fully accepted as black by MOST social circles, black or white.
Well, in fact, in your comment, you didn’t write about the US electing a black president; you simply wrote that the US would have a black president before Brazil:
“When I was 7 years old my father also said that Brazil was such a racist country hat I could bet USA would have a black president way before Brazil (done). ”
You’re right and I’m familiar with how Pecanha became president. There’s actually a post on the blog that mentions this. It’s just an interesting piece of Brazilian history that most Brazilians probably don’t know.
Also, my impression in both Brazil and the US is that once a person defines him/herself as black, they are accepted as such. Yes, they hear jokes and are sometimes disrespected for various reasons, but are in fact accepted in the community. I have seen this happen in both countries.
The question for me would be do they get more rejection from the white community or the black community?
One final curiosity .. the google “morena exotica” experiment cannot be reproduced outside Brazil. Or to put it differently, you need to specifically go to “Gooogle Brazil” to get some of these results. Tells something about Brazil, in my opinion.
“The question for me would be do they get more rejection from the white community or the black community?”
I couldn’t really tell, because I have not the experience you have that
“once a person defines him/herself as black, they are accepted as such.” ..
Are you talking about US? That’s certainly not the experience from Rio I have. Once a person defines him/her self as black that does not change anything…
OK, but if I had to chose, rejection from blacks wins by far. Source: my own life.
I am tired of these sick of white attitudes!
The whites were the first to call the first black slaves “NEGRO !” and I think for them when call a mixed person that is “Negro!” refer to the past or is an insult!
No, because today have changed ! Black Brazilians call themselves negro is not a bad thing but in Western whites call blacks in various terms disrespectful “like negro, nigger or the modern term nigga then click the lynching!
The fact they don’t bear that the first humans appeared on Earth were blacks and that have dominated this world before the appearance of the light skin?
In ancient times the true beauty was dark skin! I do not think white people have never understood what it mean the value of having the black skin in this world! Because when I look their behaviors I can understand how they are so much ignorants! Africa is the most clear testimony to the fact that black skin is stronger than the light skin and is less a victim of skin cancer!
Not me I never supported interracial marriages between whites and blacks because of the attitude deviant who have their children biriacials is an insult to black people! I’m tired of these “NEGROS” who treat white partners like their owners, they do not teach the history of black people and they do not speak of racism to their children because they don’t want offend the sensibilities of white partners! I can consider myself lucky because I will not be forced to remain silent or to offend the sensibility of someone not to speak of racism and white supremacy that stifles and oppressing black people in this World!
You touch an important point. Children of mixed raced marriages are rejected by whites AND blacks. Yes, we know that. So, when black people say “brown = black” because brown are discriminated by white just as black, they’re promoting their OWN agenda, Go figure.
I tell you the truth I don’t like biracials or mixed people between whites and blacks!
Because mulattos are racists with black people many of them believe they are the best than blacks!
Most of them don’t believe and don’t know in the existence of black slavery made by whites because black parent does not teach black culture to their mixed children!
They are ashamed to be blacks, though some of them have the white look to you more ashamed of this! Their presence for me is an insult to black people! The blacks suffer a monstrous racism in this world just for the fact of having dark skin!
They are not racist with white parent but with the black parent! Therefore I don’t like these types of relationships!
The white parent inculcates in the minds of these mixed children, black is ugly! The fact that they are beautiful because they have no mixed blood, but they are beautiful because they have white blood in their veins! For this reason biracials are arrogant because of having white blood!
The white parent carries on this game while the black parent with self-hating black and undergoes passive racism in silence!
I think that if you do not like blacks why do you want have children with them?
Why does put the poison in your offspring?
For me, the whites are not capable of educating and raising black children, their nature have racism in their soul!
This was good article — I thought it was really interesting the point about classifying different features as black or white. That said, I didn’t understand what the author is trying to say with the paragraph on Salve Jorge and Nanda Costa. What do they mean by “a little girl?” Was it Gloria Perez claiming she had experienced prejudice or Nanda Costa? The wording is rather unclear.