Note from BW of Brazil: Wow! So here we go again with another assault on a black image. The end of the year is fast approaching and here we see a near repeat of something that happened around this time last year. Last year, we saw a group of black men carrying a statue of an image of a white woman as the African goddess of the sea, Iemanjá, on a beach in Rio. In a repeat performance of the whitening of black images, a clothing store was recently at the center of controversy for pulling the same trick! I’m sure there are those who insist on seeing the world in a Michael Jackson “We Are the World”, “it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white” type of utopia, but in a highly racialized world in which African descendants are routinely killed simply because of being black, I can’t be deceived with this sort of fantasy. Apparently, others can’t either! See the story below…
Farm uses a white model to represent Iemanjá and causes controversy on the web
By Júlia Amin and Thais Carreiro
What was supposed to be a tribute became a huge religious controversy. In celebration of the feast of Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Our Lady of Conception), celebrated on Monday, that in religious syncretism corresponds to Iemanjá, the Farm store posted a photo on its Instagram account, of a white model representing the orixá (African deity). Users criticized the choice of the model and put in question the absence of black girls in fashion catalogs.
“They want to use an African image using black culture and don’t even the courage to choose someone who really represents this…”, asked one young woman. Another adds: “true Farm, you’re missing black girls in your collection.” Another follower goes further: “The problem is that everyone loves black culture, but not everyone loves blacks. A black model would be too much to ask to represent black culture, meaning you don’t need her anymore, right?”
For the representative of the Comissão de Combate à Intolerância Religiosa (CCIR or Commission of the Combat of Religious Intolerance Committee), babalawo Ivanir dos Santos, it would be consistent that the store represented Iemanjá with a black model. He explains, however, that in Yoruba culture, where the orixá comes from, Iemanjá is the sea.
“For the Yoruba people, Iemanjá is the sea, it doesn’t have any shape, it’s not a mermaid, or a woman. The black or white figure comes from the syncretism with the mermaid from Umbanda and with Catholic saints. However, if the homage paid by the store wanted to preserve the worship of where Iemanjá comes from, they should have chosen a black model,” says Ivanir.
The brand, however, says that the image had no intention of representing religion or race flags. According to André Carvalhal, Farm’s marketing manager, the picture is part of the Carnival catalog of the brand.
“It was not the exaltation of anything or anyone. It is a fantasy. Fantasy has no race, can be used by anyone. It doesn’t represent any flag of the brand, be it sex, religion or race,” André affirmed.
* Under the supervision of Thais Sousa
Note from BW of Brazil: After the photo was posted on Farm’s Instagram account, a debate ensued with a number of comments labeling criticism of the photo as “victimism” or the idea that Afro-Brazilians find racism in everything. Such ideals represent the victory of white supremacy in Brazil as those who have white privilege often fail to even see it. One woman noted the absurdity in such opinions and summed up her opinion this way:
Translation: “I searched on google ‘Colecao (collection) farm black model’ and found 2 (one being farm adidas) in a universe of 50 white (models). It appears (to be) coitadismo (victimism) when it’s not in your skin, it seems silly because you never felt excluded or mobilized yourself for someone who felt it. No white has the right to speak of racist coitadismo or that some act is or is not racist. The same goes for straights talking of homophobia with frivolous looks, for men who detract feminism thinking that sexism does not exist.”
Note from BW of Brazil: Like others who have noted the vast over-representation of white models in commercial advertisements, the above commentary points to Farm’s lack of black models in their ads, a standard practice in Brazilian advertising (1). Very telling is the Farm representative’s comment basically justifying what many rightfully deem to be cultural appropriation by spinning the accusations into an acceptable interpretation of universalism, non-racialism and multi-culturalism. A re-invention of Brazil’s “racial democracy” for the 21st century you could say.
Considering the country’s long history of violently suppressing African-oriented religions and cultural practices, this sly attempt to disconnect historically racist oppression and exclusion continues 21st century attempts to erase the African image from the nation’s cultural legacy. We’ve seen various examples of cultural appropriation in the past year or so (see here and here) and we’ve seen public figures whiten their images to gain fame and fortune or shortly afterward. As such, none of this is actually surprising. After all, Brazil has already shown that it desires to erase the history of Afro-Brazilians and their very physical presence. In racist Brazilian discourse, a better Brazil is a whiter Brazil!
1. Let us also not forget a recent controversy surrounding the whitening of singer Preta Gil’s image on a magazine cover. See that story here.