Being black (in a country that doesn’t want to be)

“You don’t even look black”: Photo from the campaign ‘Ah, branco, dá um tempo!’ (Ah, whitey, give me a break!)

Note from BW of Brazil: Yes, the question of identity. When this blog first started back in 2011, we posted an article about the complexities of understanding how race and color-related terminologies work in Brazil. The post was necessary as when discussing the issue of race/color in Brazil, one can become confused if said person isn’t Brazilian, hasn’t lived in Brazil or studied the question of race in Brazil, or any other Latin American country for that matter.

Now before we move into today’s piece, I must once again point out the fact that the self-identification of the author of the post doesn’t necessarily apply to all, or even most Brazilians of African descent. In fact, in his description, he defines quite well the deeply rooted culture of denying one’s blackness in Brazil. Simply put, why be black when the culture gives you so many options to avoid this classification, up to and including the much-desired classification of branco/branca, meaning white. Over the course of this blog’s existence, many readers have insisted that Brazil’s black population should be considered only 8% black, as this is the percentage of people who define themselves as preto/preta, meaning black, while another 43% define themselves as pardo/parda, meaning brown or mixed. The truth of the matter is, we may never come to a clear consensus on just how black Brazil is as so many people disagree on exactly what constitutes blackness. 

Many authors who write material about issues of identity on this blog have expressed the obstacles they confronted in coming into an identidade negra or black identity. And in this process they face bouts of confusion, denial and ridicule from friends, family, co-workers, etc., people who continue to express a firm belief in the negativity of blackness. Often times, it is within the home that they internalize these ideas of blackness that come from their own parents who themselves were indoctrinated into accepting anti-black sentiments. The stories and personal essays we present here on this blog clearly don’t represent the experience of the majority of afrodescendentes (African descendants), most of whom will never make the transition into full acceptance of a black identity. But pieces such as the one below speak to the process of those who do. 

The photos in this piece were taken from a photo campaign entitled ‘Ah, branco, dá um tempo’, meaning ‘Ah whitey, give me a break’. 

“You’re not black. You’re moreno claro!” – My relatives. Taken from the campaign ‘Ah, branco, dá um tempo!’

Being black (in a country that doesn’t want to be)

by Victor Soares

I am one more example of the Brazilian people: the son of a black immigrant and white mother, less pigmented, cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair)…Anyway, someone like the overwhelming majority of our population. In Brazil, having lighter skin provides some benefits of which I could take advantage of if I were to identify myself as branco (white). We are many pretos “facultativos”, “pardos” (“optional” blacks, browns/mixed) and other classifications with strange names that only exist here.

I have skin light enough to have already been called white in life, ignoring my features, hair and origin. The miscegenation brought an identity conflict in the Brazilian who was brought up with the premise of “branco é bom, preto é ruim” (white is good, black is bad). If you are a mixture of the two you are framed in the bizarre palette of colors such as moreno claro (light brown), jambo (1), mulata (a horrible word), where the darker you are, the more you will suffer.

“You’re not black, you’re moreninha” – From the campaign ‘Ah, branco, dá um tempo!’

So why do I declare myself black? I’m lighter, I could just shave my head and go “unnoticed”. I spent my childhood with cropped hair, after all, the menina crespa alisa (kinky/curly haired girl straightens)  and the menino crespo raspa (kinky/curly haired boy shaves), only to meet the standards of that society that transforms the majority into the minority.

How can the majority be oppressed? In my view, the reason is that the black majority of this country doesn’t see itself as such. It’s fundamental the struggle of the collective (such as the wonderful MBP – Meninas Black Power), groups and institutions for the rights and empowerment of blacks. I declared myself a homem preto (black man) at work and they told me: – No, you’re moreno! Because in their heads it’s absurd that someone choose to be black when they would have the option of not being.

“Mulata: comes from the Portuguese term mule, the result of the crossing between a donkey and a horse”: Photo from the campaign ‘Ah, branco, dá um tempo!’

I call attention because of my cabelo crespo, I hear prejudiced jokes and innuendos because I don’t fit the expected standard for an engineer in a large company, but I move on, I’m on the front line, another black man in a corporation and someone in the suit and tie white world.

We’re getting there, bro, we are reis e rainhas (kings and queens). Oh, if they want me to cut my hair, I have the response on the tip of a sharp tongue. Now that I found out I’m a king, I don’t want to remove my crown. Now that they gave us a voice, we will not be silent.

More on the theme of colorism here.

Source: Meninas Black Power


  1. Jambo is a fruit that comes in three varieties: jambo-rosa (pink), jambo-branco (white) and jambo-vermelho (red). In reference to skin color, morena jambo or morena de cor jambo (morena of the color jambo) refers to a person who appears to have a year round tanned color
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. Very intriguing your comments here Amon! Of course, having studied the racial situation in the US and Brazil, I agree with your arguments here. Brazil is so anti-black it is sometimes shocking! Perhaps the worst thing is that the US constantly gets this tag as being so racist while Brazil continues to operate “under the radar”.

    Over the years, I’ve known so many Brazilians who are supposedly white but who have clearly distinct black features (face/hair, etc) and even a black parent. It’s like, some people will openly say, “I know she has a black father, her hair is straightened and her features are black, but she’s considered and considers herself white.”

    But Brazil’s system is so effective by allowing these people to believe they are white…at least until the moment when someone who looks whiter insults them! But terms such as “moreno”, in a way, allow the ‘racial democracy’ myth to continue.

    Now, as far as genetic studies, I’ve seen numerous reports that show how these studies are often flawed. One of them from several years ago really struck me. It was an African-American woman’s dissertation and it was quite convincing in how she questioned the validity of these tests.

    Of course, in Brazil, Sergio Pena from Minas Gerais has done the most in this area. But I question his results that attempt to show how European Brazilian DNA is. A simple question would be, if one attempts to prove that Brazil is so European, how can you show high European DNA in pretos and pardos without an equal African contribution to most brancos?

    I haven’t seen these studies in a few years and I always believed that if black scientists got into the game they would begin to question these studies further. Can you cite any studies that question these DNA tests?

    • Gatas,

      The DNA studies are for sure a bit European biased, but they are not that bad. The separation one can do within the same continent is a joke, but if the question is merely at a continental level (Africa, Europe, Asia, Americas) they are accurate enough if you agree to get your answer within 3-5 % error. If you don’t believe it you can actually test it yourself, as in the end the problem with these studies is to get enough information about population references.

      You can make a test with FTDNA and they will give you an answer. Of course, you shouldn’t take their answer as final. What you can do is to learn to use gedmatch and there you will be able to run your raw data to several, several other datasets, and some projects are much more focused on people with African ancestry. You need to learn how to use it and make a critical assessment of the results based on the variations and understanding which reference populations exist within a project. Once you do this, it is relatively easy to come to a conclusion on your own admixture. Besides testing my own DNA (with very unsurprising results), I have made blind tests with people I didn’t know and I never got it wrong.

      The problem with Sergio Pena studies is in my opinion not so much the single tests. I believe he got right the specific individuals he tested (within an error I believe is a bit larger than the 2% he claims, and systematically biased to European populations). The problem with the vast genetic diversity of Brazil is that the population size he used and the lack of regional diversity (and that makes a difference even within a city) is that he claimed those numbers as representative of Brazil, which I do not agree is true. I do believe he grossly underestimated the size of the African genepool in Brazil, but due to a small and not sufficiently diverse population size.

  2. Amon!

    Thank you for your efforts in exposing this! These links are a gold mine! Can’t wait to check ’em out!

    I wouldn’t be surprised if these studies are faulty. Europeans and their descendants have been known for distorting, misinterpreting and outright lying in various studies. Often times results can be altered for the highest bidder or if there are powerful interests involved…

  3. Those studies are only the tip of the iceberg. Most Black Americans do not trust genetics tests at all because they have been used by White Supremacists to lie about the history of African Americans and have been heavily implicated in negative political and health policies against the Black community. When these tests first came out it was stated that the Average African American was 60% black and 40% white. Now this is considered a ridiculous and hilarious joke, due to Black Geneticists and Anthropologists fighting the good fight. The US has a long refined history of eugenics and false genetic studies are one of the tools that are used against us.

    The secret is that Black people in the western hemisphere are not nearly as white as these geneticists say we are and European people have more African DNA than they are willing to admit. It amazes me how crazy dishonest and deceptive white people can be when it comes to hiding the history and legacy of black people.

    • Hi Amon,

      Thanks. But I was not talking about trusting any Labs results. One can learn (although this is not straightforward) to use raw data and SNP info and make his own conclusions – most of these studies are simple programs who scan this info trying to conclude how much alike these SNP markers are. For example, I’m able to run some tests with the raw data, and using a program that I wrote, to calibrate how much am I bullshiting myself by taking my families DNA and am able to check that my son is 50% related to me, an uncle 25%, and a cousin 12.5%. If there is a conspiracy going on here, it is a really, really clever one, taking into consideration these raw data were taken separately, with different labs and without then even knowing we were at all related.

      Taking random people’s DNA from all over the world, I’m also able to conclude on average my DNA matches African people in Brazil, in Haiti and in the US, people that I knew nothing about. As I said, this is not to say I agree that Brazilians are “70% white” . that’s of course some bullshit sold as if they know more about the Brazilian gene pool that they actually do – Brazil is a much less obvious case compared to the US. But in any case, individual admixture tests themselves are hardly rocket science and hey are very seldom far off in my experience.

      • There is not so much a conspiracy as much as it is Europeans mis-classifying genetic markers for their own benefit. For instance, they will say that any Brazilian man whether white black or indigenous that has any autosomal DNA or Y chromosome DNA that clusters with Portuguese people is primarily European on their paternal line when the Portuguese themselves primarily descend from Africa on their paternal line due to the thousands of years of ruler ship by the Moors.

        When the Portuguese first settled in Brazil, most of these men were very heavily mixed and many of them looked like your typical Drake or Obama because their grandfathers and great grand fathers were Moors from Africa.

        A large portion of these Moors who were expelled from Spain and Portugal actually settled in Brazil and many of these so called European settlers were actually Black men. Even when immigrants came to Brazil in the Late 19th Century, Lebanese Persians and other people from that region of the world were allowed to come in the country and be classified as white. This is why the standard for white is so different in Brazil. It’s because the Portuguese settlers where already mixed themselves and were willing to compromise.

        When it comes to autosomal DNA and admixture studies, this is where the madness starts. If a Black man from Maranhao clusters with a Portuguese man 50% of the time and an Angolan man 50% of the time, these nonsensical Brazilian studies will say that he is 50% white and 50% black. But that same portuguese man probably clusters with men Sweden 30% of the time, Senegal 40% of the time and Iraq 30% of the time. If a Black man from Rio is of the R Y DNA Haplogroup and has SNP markers most associated with that patrilineage these Brazilian geneticists will say that his paternal line comes from Europe when the oldest R Haplogroup lineage is found in Africa around the area of Cameroon and there are millions of black men all over the world with this lineage.

        It is all about how they classify the genetic markers. They lie and say that certain markers are 100% indication of European ancestry when the data is extremely cloudy especially on the autosomal side. It may come out that the Brazilian population is more than 60% of African ancestry. who knows. But what is certain is that with just the basic knowledge of genetics and African history many of the lies that are published in these Brazilian genetics papers are very easy to debunk. The right wing in Brazil wants to make the Brazilian population more white than it actually is for political purposes. That is the true reality of the politics of genetics in Brazil. It is not a neutral science. It is a weaponized science used to uphold white supremacy.

  4. Hi Amon,

    I don’t think I disagree that there is a lot of misconceptions and misuse of the studies and certainly as I pointed out in my first post, within the same continent it’s sometimes difficult to draw conclusions. A classic problem is for example, how to distinguish a Frenchman from a German, due to very long history of battles and invasions these countries had. I also agree that certain populations that had strong African influence, could potentially confuse results. However, having done several of these runs myself I never got very extremes results inter continent, simply because there are certain markers you find only within a certain continent. Never, never experienced a run that the proportion of African ancestry was wrong by 10%. Putting in other way. If you use as control groups and African and a Portuguese and and African and Swede you won’t get inconsistent results as 40% Swede, 60% African and in the other 60% Portuguese and 40% African. You will definitely get a variation, but never that large.I fit DNA data myself using several population databases and there is no such thing. The only way to get such an error would be the absence of a population reference. For example, if there is no Asian reference group the fit my systematically be wrongly attributed to a European group.

    You also need to have in mind how these control groups are taken. They simply include people who claim theirs 4 grandparents are from the same ethnic group and country. So what these studies are capable of saying is simply the percentage of your DNA that looks more like group A or B, groups that exist today. All human groups originated in African anyway, so is what is not African, and that can very easily be identified by the absence of these markers in any African group, that generally tell the difference. Africans for example, have had no contribution from Neanderthals, whereas Europeans have 2% Neanderthal DNA on average.

    The problem with the Brazilian studies, I repeat, is not the individual tests. These are easy and I don’t think controversial, if you understand what the message really is. The problem is one of extrapolation. The Brazilian groups are so diverse genetically that you would need to test a great deal amount of people and take into account the huge regional differences and these were not properly done. That’s why I believe they got the average wrong. Sandra de Sah for example, appears to be nearly 100% African. I believe the number of people like her in the country was completely underestimated and I agree very likely deliberately so. But I don’t think her test or any other one presented was off. If I were to test these myself with datasets I completely trust since there are several independent projects with African only population references developed by African descendants, I doubt very much I would get a large disagreement. It have never happened.

  5. Jut one more thing I forgot to mention. You’re absolutely right that the use mtDNA or Y-chromosome markers alone to delineate African ancestry is completely bogus. I have observed crazy variations in these and indeed there are research papers that cast doubt on them.

  6. “Genetics without archeology is not reality it is simply conjecture.” -Dr. Clyde Winters

    Archeogenetics is a complete science because it uses archeology and linguistics to better interpret genetic data. The reason why most genetics studies are false is because of the fact that they completely discount the fact that African people encountered European people and Amerindian people long before the slave trade.

    If European people and African people have the same genetic markers, it is usually assumed by white geneticists that the African people got it from Europeans when in reality the African is the blueprint. Much of the genes in modern European people came from bottleneck African populations like the Skraelings who left Africa and migrated to other continents. Trying to racially classify these markers without the accompaniment of archeological data detailing limb proportions and craniometrics as well as available linguistic data is both irresponsible and extremely unethical.

    As I stated before, much of these genes being analyzed in both Afro-Brazilian and Afro-American populations that are classified as European today will be reclassified as more related to the African gene pool once the field of archeogenetics becomes more refined and developed.

    • Fair enough, and I think we will just have to disagree in some points. The important bit for me is that it’s not difficult to tell by DNA if a person is black or white and that is the bit that I’m interested. You won’t get DNA from a ethnic Swede and somehow get it wrong this person is not white, neither you won’t get a DNA from a Nigerian and not know this person is not African, which for me is sufficient indication that method works sufficiently enough for my needs. I really don’t care about the origins at all. I know as you do, that all started in Africa, which is not a reason so say there is no way to distinguish DNA raw data from populations that are alive today. For example, I’m sure I would get Obama’s DNA > 50% European. I care nothing if his mother was a bit African or not, what I care is that in one generation for him, there would be very clearly a big chunk of chromosomes that clearly belonged to a person that would not have an African phenotype. You probably know this, but you can even guess to some good level of accuracy a person’s eye color just looking at DNA data.

      As for DNA studies and archeology – sorry but this is where I profoundly disagree. Archeologists spent years debating and disagreeing on things DNA data simply offers the best hard evidence. For example, whether or not Neanderthals contributed or not for human DNA. This is not about markers, is about full sequence of full chains of nucleotides, which leaves zero ground for misunderstanding.

      But anyway, thanks for the discussion, it’s always good to chat with someone informed.

  7. Henry Louis Gates: “Exactly How ‘Black’ Is Black America?”
    Back in 2002, I wrote a pioneering story on DNA testing for racial admixture based on the work of geneticist Mark Shriver: “How White Are Blacks? How Black Are Whites?”

    Now, in The Root, Harvard African-American studies professor Henry Louis Gates continues on with his interest in ancestry testing, providing some updating for the preliminary data in my 2002 article. Gates writes:

    * According to, the average African American is 65 percent sub-Saharan African, 29 percent European and 2 percent Native American.

    * According to, the average African American is 75 percent sub-Saharan African, 22 percent European and only 0.6 percent Native American.

    * According to Family Tree, the average African American is 72.95 percent sub-Saharan African, 22.83 percent European and 1.7 percent Native American.

    * According to National Geographic’s Genographic Project, the average African American is 80 percent sub-Saharan African, 19 percent European and 1 percent Native American.

    LOL these white owned labs cant get their story straight. Whenever an African American is found with Saharan African DNA, this is usually classified as European when Saharan Africans are just as black if not blacker than Sub Saharan Africans. In reality 80% is a low estimate regarding the average African American.

    • As I said, these are all “averages” – I don’t have any problem if someone claims *averages” present a large divergence. That’s why I said I agree the *averages* presented in Pena studies are no believable – that depends on statstics, so 70% European ancestry for Brazil is not accurate at all. An individual test however, is well, individual and as such it does not depend on statistics. If you care to make an individual test with these companies and care about the continental results the disparity should never be that large. And as I also said, you can even learn how to fit the data yourself, either using gedmatch using tons of available free tools and projects (with a few designed within African ancestry projects). If you get inconsistent results, I would very much like to know, as in the last seven years fitting this data myself the largest error I observed was 4% and this was an outlier point, the mean error is considerably smaller.

  8. An actually, looking at your numbers again I’m actually amazed the errors for an average between different companies using different individuals and with very different statistics are so LOW. All the numbers you presented can be very roughly summarized as:

    African : 74 +- 7%

    Native: 2 +- 1%

    European: 24 +- 5%

    Since this is an average I would have expected values WAY more discrepant that that, so these results are statistically absolutely consistent.

  9. Amon, i have to respectfully disagree with you.Nearly 50% of Brazilians are indeed of SOUTHERN european descend totally indistinguishable from Italians and Spaniards and Portugese in europe.Some are even direct Germans descendants. Most of the Pardos are indeed mulattoes and NOT really black, Black Americans need to stop supporting the One Drop rule nonsense.NOT EVEN white americans REALLY follow that rule DE FACTO, given tha tin treatment since the days of slavery(House and Field Hands)The have recognised Both BLACKs and mullatoes as different and when you take it to today,from employment to Prison sentencing Mulattoes get VERY diffrenent treatment than BLACKS in America(BTW the people killed in by police are almost NEVER mulattoes).The people you show in the pictures are not really treated like or considered Black in America.Jennifer Beals even playeda white girl character in that old 80’s Movie.

    As for neely fueller’s racial classifications, they are dumb, inaccurate and dangerous.Tell me which chinese will allow a Persian to define what chineseness is? or would a German Allow Turks to define what it means to be German? A people MUST ALWAYS define themselves, doesnt matter WHO wants to define them ONE’s OWN people must always create self definition.Another question: Do you really think that Indians, Arabs,Persians,Moroccans(All of which are caucasoid types which speak Indo European or Semitic Languages and have genetics,culture and history going back thousands of years in common with europeans) or Chinese Malaysians,japanese or Mongolianshave more in common with Africans than with Whites, and If so WHy?

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