Note from BW of Brazil: The experience of being black in Brazil can has various differences depending on the region of this country that is about the same size as continental United States. In other words, being black in overwhelmingly majority black states such as Bahia or Maranhão (both in the northeast), in many ways can be different experiences from being black in states such as São Paulo (southeastern state, about 30% black) or the three most southern states of the country, Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, where about 80% of the population defines itself as branco, or white. The experience of blackness in a state such as Ceará, also in the northeast, is yet still another piece of the puzzle. Like another city in the state, Cariri, where it’s normal that whole families “fail to recognize themselves as black”, in the capital and most populous city, Fortaleza, being black, understanding what it is to be black and the commonly understood associations with blackness are yet another challenge. Add to this, the experience of an African immigrant, a group that has been experiencing much hostility and racism in the country, and we understand yet another side of anti-black ideologies in Brazil.
África and black identity in the state of Ceará
In April, O Diário website began a special series on the crossings of African immigrants and the social construction of color
Photos: Fabiane de Paula
The crossings are various – the first by the Atlantic Ocean – faced by Africans in Ceará, with over three thousand immigrants. The discreet presence is disrupted on the busy sidewalks and in the hallways of universities. Or in the death of an immigrant in Fortaleza and the recent protest by students of the Universidade Internacional da Integração da Lusofonia Afro-Brasileira (Unilab or International University of the Integration Lusophone Afro-Brazilian) in Redenção. Now in solid local associations, Africans in Ceará seek ways to reaffirm their identity and deal with Brazilians, frankly, an almost taboo in a country of racial mixture: discrimination of color.
We crossed, in our turn, the path of honest dialogue with the African community. Or communities, quite in the plural, and the deconstruction of the idea of homogeneous Africa, one of the biggest challenges faced by those who try to show their own singularities. The stories depict a pain imposed by prejudice. A pain of color. But it brings, in the same blood, overcoming in the form of resistance beyond stereotypes.
From the financial difficulties of many, the lack of food on weekends when universities close – and therefore their cafeterias, the open debate with the Brazilians about the condition of the country’s blacks. After the Atlantic crossing, the African takes to Ceará the finding of himself and the social construction of his color.
Looks like someone from Ceará
Only when he left Cape Verde, in Africa, to live in Ceará, did the young Andy Monroy realize he was black. Before, he simply didn’t need to be. But heard from the Brazilians who came he came to know that, silently, “he even looks like someone from Ceará.” “Today, with less of an accent, I must look like it even speaking.” (1)
One night, when he came to his house, Andy saw the face of panic of a lady who was walking ahead of him. She quickened her pace when she saw the young man. Quickly, the woman was spotted by the doorman, opened the door. But the young man entered the same place. Worse, in the same elevator. “She was very scared.”
When he perceived that looking at him was the last gesture of some people before crossing the street to the other sidewalk, or rolling up their car window, his anguish increased. In an internship at an advertising company, they suggested that he cut his hair. Besides his color, his volumous, cabelo crespo (curly/kinky hair) made him look more like the folks of the other.
“The others (pointing to those of the same color) have a more decent hair cut”, he heard from the manager. Knowing the origin of the other “morenos”, the newly arrived African came to identify two sides of the city, one that had Papicu, Aldeota, Benfica e Praia de Iracema (Iracema Beach). What was not this was the other side, where, by chance, he would soon live, in a second time, in Fortaleza. On this side, the other, there were more people of his color, hair and less looks and fears.
Today working in advertising, a graduate of the Federal University of Ceará (UFC or Federal University of Ceará), married and living in Fortaleza for seven years, Andy has no doubt: “I never imagined I would find racism in Ceará. Here, it comes to be worst, because they don’t admit that blacks have always existed in this place. If I say sou negro (I’m black), they interrupt me like someone correcting an insult. ‘No, you are not negro, you’re moreno.’” (2)
Delce, a young student from Guinea-Bissau, an Unilab (3) student, went through a recent embarrassing moment shopping at a flea market in Fortaleza. He chose and paid for a shirt, but when he left, he was approached by police officers who accused him of stealing “something”, a suspicious that came undone when he opened the bag and showed that there is nothing beyond the clothes he had bought. “I didn’t steal anything,” he said to himself, having never thought that one day he would need to say that. “My parents don’t know that here we are discriminated against, as if we did something wrong. One doesn’t think that there is racism in Brazil and Ceará because it’s all mixed. So, it shouldn’t have it. If my parents knew, they would suffer. Me, even more.”
“The Africans are coming here overcome delicately constructed racial boundaries in Ceará,” says sociologist Pedro Mendes of the Universidade Estadual do Ceará (Uece or State University of Ceará). He has devoted the last few years studying the socio/spatial relationship with Africans in the state and thus the condition of local blacks.
In the year 1813, according to a survey done by government officials of Ceará, no less than 65.93% of the population consisted of negros and mulatos. In 1872, the percentage of non-whites (in the era defined as negros, mulatos, caboclos and pardos) it was 62.74%. Over time, studies began to renounce the existence of people of the color negra, pointing to the construction of a “Ceará caboclo”, formed by whites and Indians.
Source: Diário do Nordeste
1. Very interesting to note Andy’s sentiments here. One, because it is often believed that a foreigner discovering himself as black is something that would only happen in a blatantly racially divided society such as the US. And two, over the past several years many Africans have immigrated to Brazil in pursuit of better economic opportunities. Often times, such Africans are quite recognizable as they are usually much darker in skin color than Brazil’s black population. It could be argued that Andy, being from the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde, could easily be mistaken for an Afro-Brazilian, but even so, he clearly notes the differences in how he is treated in the land of the “racial democracy”.
2. “You’re not black”….In Brazil, it is very common for one person to tell another person that they “are not negro/negra” (black) but rather “mulata” or “morena” in an ideology that insists that being black is something negative, inferior, poor, ugly or any other pejorative meaning. For many, the usage of terms such as “mulata” or “moreno” is a means of persuading another person that they are somehow better than negros, or if they in fact are negros, to at least lighten the weight of this classification by defining one’s self with a more “acceptable term”. A number of articles on the blog deal with this issue, either simply revealing how often people hear this type of exchange or a further analysis of the dialogue. See a few of the articles below in the related articles section below.
3. Unilab (Universidade da Integração Internacional da Lusofonia Afro-Brasileira or University of the International Integration of Afro-Brazilian Lusofonia)