Note from BW of Brazil: Such a very Brazilian story! If you’ve ever had any dealings with Brazilians, particularly those who you may see as black but who don’t see themselves as such, today’s piece will sound very familiar. It involves the host of a very popular YouTube channel and her journey through the maze of development of racial identity. With the rise of a number prominent Afro-Brazilian YouTubers, I had been been aware of Rayza Nicácio for some time even though I haven’t been regular follower of her channel. In my coverage of popular black women YouTubers, I began to wonder why it was that Rayza wasn’t being referenced in a number of articles that had shined the spotlight on the growing influence of these ladies in a Brazil where Afro-Brazilians were still being marginalized and nearly invisible in the media. A recent piece by journalist Silvia Nascimento (presented below) may have touched on the reason.
You see, Rayza, like perhaps of millions of Brazilian women who look like her, wasn’t absolutely secure of her racial identity and, as such, it hadn’t been a focus of her videos. But as her videos became more and more popular, people began to question her about her identity. After all, all of the Afro-Brazilian women YouTubers who have significant followings ocassionally addressed the issue of race if not featuring the topic in some way in most of their videos. People were beginning to think that Rayza wanted to remain neutral and not offend her white followers nor her darker-skinned black followers. Which is another reason why she felt the need to “come out”, so to speak.
It’s kinda funny actually. I, like Silvia Nascimento wrote in her post below, always saw Rayza as black, so for me it was a little surprising that she posted such a video. But apparently this has been an issue eating at her and her black followers for some time. Listening to her video reminded me of so many conversations I’ve had with (would be) black Brazilians over the years. The topic happens to come up with a person you assume to be black but when the question arises, the person gives you a family history of the type, “Well, my mother was a mulata with straight hair and she married my father who is mixed between black and Indians. My maternal grandmother was Portuguese, Italian and black while my maternal grandfather was an Indian with straight black hair although his skin was really dark….”
Rayza takes us on a similar journey explaining that her mother has light skin and fine features but with kinky/curly hair. She described her grandfather as having very, very light skin, but being visibly black, having features and characteristics of a black man. Rayza then described her grandmother as having finer features but darker skin and her father as a black man. She goes on to tell us that in the past, she didn’t look at herself as a black woman but knew she wasn’t a white woman, thus settling on intermediary terms such as “morena” or “parda”. “Parda”, loosely meaning “mixed” or “brown”, was how people defined her and she accepted it. In a 2014 video, a guest (white guy) asked her if she considered herself negra or mulata to which she responded that she hadn’t managed to define herself as either although knowing she had a “parda” skin color with facial features of a black woman. Hmmm, with all of that said…
I wondered how she could have ever been confused. She knew she wasn’t white, knew she had characteristics of a black woman and also defined herself at least as a “person of color” (parda). With all of this in mind, please keep in mind that there is still a struggle over the terms “parda” and its masculine form “pardo” with black activists saying it is simply a category within the black race while others insist it is a completely separate category that defines neither black nor white. To tell the truth, there are some pardos/pardas in Brazil who one would have difficulty categorizing as either black or white, but for me, Rayza is NOT one of those people. She strikes me as simply a light-skinned black woman. But remember, this is Brazil where millions of people continue to struggle with racial identity.
With that said, I guess congrats are in order to Rayza! Welcome to the black world!
“I am a black woman”: One of the greatest Brazilian YouTubers reveals her mistakes and successes in search of her identity
By Silvia Nascimento
“Branca demais para ser preta, preta demais para ser branca” (Too white to be black, too black to be white). It was with these words that Rayza Nicácio, one of the first women to talk about cabelos crespos (kinky/curly hair) on Youtube, released the video on her Youtube channel, where she tries to put an end to the controversy over her color/ethnicity. I particularly started to follow her well at the beginning of the channel always thinking she was black. But it caught my attention, when I saw in some discussion groups, a staff criticizing the Youtuber for not assuming herself as black.
I’ve always been a little worried about these demands of assuming color and sexual orientation, I say, as if speaking about being part of the group of the oppressed and being subject to offenses and aggressions, on and offline, was something simple and easy. We discover ourselves in relation to our gender, sexual orientation, our color, beliefs among other things. And every internal construction process does not have a timed or established “normal” time. Each one has his/her own and there are those who despite all the evidence will die old thinking they are moreno.
Fortunately, Rayza discovered it while still young and is fine with it. She even assumed she had remained on the fence in many times where she might have said she was black, but with good humor and humility she confesses that she was lost about who she really was and people defined her, not herself. “O meu pai é um homem negro (My father is a black man), but I only know that today. When I was a kid I had never thought about it,” explains Rayza.
The Youtuber said she had been coerced by some followers to not assume herself as black. Other comments from black people also intimidated her and hampered her process of “coming out of the closet”. “I received private messages from dark-skinned people saying that I was not black because I had studied in a private school and never suffered racism,” says Nicácio, who said, in her video, that she suffered racism, even on account of her hair, that she hated for a long time.
She quietly assumes her ignorance about issues, let’s face it, are beyond the reach of most of the black population that doesn’t use Facebook as a source of information for social and political connotations, which are colorism, black feminism, and reverse racism.
Happy in her own skin
Through videos of black Youtubers, like Nataly Neri and Gabi Oliveira, Rayza said that she began to understand who she was, and that assuming herself as a black woman came to be inevitable. “I always knew that I was black, but I was afraid really because of the position of some militants of the Movimento Negro (black movement), but today I want to talk and learn from them. I’m very proud of what I am and nobody can take it away from me, even if I have pele clara (light skin),” says Nicácio, who still suggests that her followers watch Dear White People (Netflix), so like her, they can better understand what it means to be a black person in the world.
No one is required to make a video saying that she has discovered that she is black, but in the case of influencers, such attitudes help her followers who also have similar questions. Nossos jovens negros (our young black people) need not only the handsome black face, but empowered speeches like what Rayza did in her video. She no longer needs to talk about race or racism, but being a black woman with more than 1 million subscribers on her Youtube channel, she becomes one of our greatest Afro-Brazilian references today.
This is no doubt one of the craziest articles I’ve read. Reminds me of Christopher Columbus. Does she actually have to identify herself as black? I can understand if she looked like Jessica Biel or even Vilma. Anywhere else this would be a non-event.
I agree but this is quite normal in Brazil. Often it takes Brazilians years to accept/realize that they are/or are seen as black. For Americans unfamiliar with Brazil, this type of story may seem ridiculous, but it is the Brazilian reality.
Yes, in America she would be perceived as black and treated as such.
”One of our greatest references today”? Good lord, what’ve happened to us..Raca negra, Cidade negra, Sandra de sa, Carlinhos Brown and others.
I’m sorry but she ain’t black but mixed. It’s a shame that a woman that light is considered black while she’ll never face what a black woman may know. Really, black women need to have real black women in my opinion. I mean you can be light skin but her nah nah doesen’t make any sense
The vast majority of people of African descent in the Americas, who are descendants of slaves have European ancestry. Hence very few of us could claim racial purity. That said we still need to have some standards in regards to who is black.
I find this whole thing about people needing a revelation or soul-searching to determine what race they are to be astounding. To me everyone should already know what race they belong to from an early age. The people around you will also inform you of what is your race.
I do not think she is a black woman, in the sense that she is immediately recognizable as an individual with significant African ancestry. Given her phenotype I seriously doubt that she has lived the black experience.
I am well aware that race in Brazil is complicated, because Brazilians are heavily mixed race.