Black cultural misappropriation in black spaces: “They want black cultures, without black women and black men!”

negra dressing branca
negra dressing branca

Negra dressing branca

Note from BW of Brazil: The photo above was taken several months ago and when it was posted in a social network, it provoked a number of comments on the issue of cultural appropriation. The clothing featured in the advertisement is by a brand known as África Arte and the purpose of the photo was to divulge the fact that brand was now available in the Rio de Janeiro store Savana Rio. Not knowing the owners of the store, I won’t make any quick, baseless judgments, but there are numerous conclusions that one could come to just from the photo. If one visits África Arte’s Facebook page, you will see that the brand specializes in beautiful African-influenced fabrics and patterns. But the question in terms of the photo would be, why have a black woman dressing a white woman in African-inspired clothing?

África Arte clothing ad
África Arte clothing ad

Now before there are any ridiculous accusations of “reverse racism” (a topic we really need to discuss anyway), this is not to be construed as a declaration that white people can’t wear African-inspired attire. Whites from the United States, Europe, Africa, Brazil and other places around the world have all made it clear that they have no problem experimenting in certain aspects of black culture. The problem comes when said people suddenly attempt to “take over” the style and soon “crown” themselves as originators of said style. We’ve already seen extreme examples of what this could like when African fashion styles were on display at São Paulo Fashion Week but with no black models and then when a Rio de Janeiro play inspired by Afro-Brazilian religious figures featured white actors in the prominent roles

The other problem I have with the photo is the long held imagery of the black woman working for, pampering or at the service of the white woman. Besides Brazil’s long association of black women with cooking and cleaning, we saw a blatant example of this in a popular clothing store commercial last year.

In Brazil, the debate over cultural appropriation has been raging for a while now with extremes of opinions going in both directions. In some of Brazil’s cities, it is a common site to see African immigrants selling their goods in bustling downtown and middle class neighborhood streets. A few months ago, an Angolan that currently lives in São Paulo told me that in the business of sales, white people are often their biggest consumers. And no businessman/woman is going to reject the chances to make a sale because of someone’s skin color. Nor should they! Sometimes the prices of the items for sale are outside of the budget of black consumers and, as such, anyone practicing sales based upon race could run themselves out of business very quickly. This brings out another possibility regarding the photo. Was it an attempt to market the brand as race neutral in order to not be labeled as a “black” brand and thus possibly driving away the more lucrative (whiter) middle classes? It’s a shame because, as we’ve seen, product marketers often use the excuse of low sales as the reasoning for not having black models representing their products

África Arte

In a previous article from November 2014, the attitude toward the usage of headwraps was that they “are part of the head of women with attitude, whether white or black.” Maybe so. But this approach always runs the risk of pushing the image of those responsible or most associated with the style into the background. Which is where black populations always seem to end up in multi-racial societies. 

Black cultural misappropriation in black spaces

By Juarez Xavier

Closing of activities of Neocriativa [1] “this semester” (1st of 2015, due to the strike of 2014). Socializing at the “U Baiano” bar. The mood of the meeting remained heated, hours later. Studies, research and reflections on surrealism [manifestos, contexts, inventors and works].

Inevitable: the work of Aimé Césaire (1913-2008), Martinican activist, politician, writer and poet, considered by André Breton (1896-1966) as one of the best poets of the movement.

In this scenario, the Freirean pedagogue Patrícia Alves formulated a theory. Elegant. Sophisticated. Simple. Synthetic, as the best concepts should be: “There is an ongoing process of cultural expropriation of blacks in black areas; they want black cultures, without black women and black men!”

According to her, it is not a mere appropriation – “I take it, period; it’s mine!” Or a universal process of access to black culture,”because we are a cultura mestiça (mixed culture).” None of this! It is the eviction of blacks from their culture.

The dream of 19th century hygienists conducted without bloodshed. Clean is efficient.

Open the “circle of culture”, flowed the debate.

(I remembered a conversation I had 19 years ago with an anthropology student at the University of São Paulo, in a Candomblé Ketu house, in São Paulo. At the end of the sacred act, a roda de samba (samba circle) opened up, followed by capoeira. Out of nowhere the girl said, “Mestre Bimba degraded capoeira”” Ready for a debate, I replied: “you don’t have the experience, the game, the age and even the color to speak of Mestre Bimba.” (1) The girl widened her eyes, mumbled something inaudible, and left).

In a recent class administered in the training course for teachers, sponsored by the Centro de Estudos Africanos (CEA/USP or Center for African Studies [CEA of University of São Paulo], and coordinated by Prof. Dr. Kabengele Munanga, in the end in the debate, one of the participants said that a Candomblé house in São Paulo does not accept black men and black women, only whites, “to maintain the level.”

These narrative fragments – which are repeated in several places, with several protagonists, corroborates the thesis of the pedagogue: yes to black culture; not the presence of black men and black women though.

Dream of the monarchist elite/Brazilian republican, if not destroy, dismantle.

João Batista de Lacerda (1846-1912) said, in 1911, at the Congresso Universal das Raças (Universal Congress of Races), held in London, that in a hundred years, in 2011, the culture and the presence of blacks would be distant memories in the country.

For him to the “Redenção de Can” (Redemption of Ham) painting, by the Spanish painter Modesto Gomez (1852-1936), of 1895, was the representation of the national future. In the table, a black lady thanks “heaven” for the fair skin of her grandson, sitting in the lap of her mixed-race daughter, next to the white husband. Teoria do embranquecimento (Theory of Whitening).

The period was the breaking point in the production system.

The transition from forced labor to wage labor was that of the experimentation of strategies of genocide and ethnocide of the black population.

According to sociologist Clóvis Moura (1925-2003), in 1850, the basis for the articulation of an authoritarian national state of radical and expanded segregation of the non-white population was created.

Without individual and family savings to “buy a piece of land,” the Lei da Terra (Land Law) [2] deprived afrodescendentes (people of African descent) of the most important means of production of the time.

The decision for the safe, slow and gradual dismantling of the statute of slavery deepened the material and immaterial difficulties of the period [Lei do Ventre Livre/Free Womb Law, 1871; Lei dos Sexagenários/ Sexagenarian Act, 1885; Lei da Abolição/Abolition Act, 1888].

Between 1870 and 1930 more than 3 million Europeans entered the country, according to Darcy Ribeiro (1922-1997). The goal was to replace the black population with the white.

When they arrived, they found a country built by black and indigenous hands, with the territory drawn up, the national language established and the frozen social system, which imprisoned the descendants of African men and women at the base of the pyramid.

(In the beginning, the elites wanted to northern Europeans, but were content with those from the south of Latin origin: Portuguese, Spanish and Italian)

It is with this background that emerged the “sacred wheel” of black cultures: Candomblé, samba and capoeira.

Harassed by the police state, Candomblé set up its border of resistance “on this side of the fence”. Surrounded itself. Closed itself. Protected itself to preserve itself. And it did!

Júlio Braga, in his book Na gamela do feitiço and in his research showed the magnitude of the persecution of afrodescendente traditions in that period.

Samba closed itself on the hill. Spaces of African trans-culturality were invented. Strengthened themselves. It spilled over the city.

Capoeira, and this is a defining feature of their contribution, gained public space. The “mobs” (Nagoas and Guaiamús) messed up this disruptive period of transition, sometimes alongside monarchists, others alongside the Republicans, and created their networks, connections and processes in the public sphere.

The common feature of these circles was resistance to genocide and ethnocide in progress. They were spaces for the defense of life. Of diversity. From multiplicity, against extermination.

Black men and women rose and lodged in these loci of African resistance, as agents and protagonists of their history in the foundation of their future.

Dislodging them implies evicting them from their stories of resistance.

Solano “Vento Forte Africano” (Strong African Wind) Trindade (1908-1974) drew this out. His efforts to maintain cultura negra (black culture) were to preserve the African logos. As did the old women and men who founded their asé and ntu. As did the old women and men that bequeathed samba to future generations. As did the old women and men who “invented” capoeira.

Preserving the black spaces with their black women and black men is an act of revolutionary courage, on the stage of physical and symbolic articulated violence, aimed at ethnic cleansing and extermination of the poor, black and from the periphery.

It’s what “scented mouths” of elders and elders whispered, in the “soft ears” of their descendants.

Whoever kneaded the clay with their feet knows its density!

[1] Núcleo de Estudos e Observação em Economia Criativa.

[2] Law 601 from 18 of September of 1850.

Source: Alma Preta


  1. Mestre Bimba, born Manoel dos Reis Machado (1900-1974), was the creator of the Luta Regional Baiana, later known as capoeira regional. He is a legendary figure in the history of the Afro-Brazlian martial art. Source
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. Once again, I am fascinated by how OBSESSED white people are with, well, EVERYTHING that comes from Black culture!! I have seen them pinching off bits ad pieces from the indigenous people across the world, Indians, and Asians, but never to the degree that I have seen it with Black folks.

    What’s even more interesting is that they never borrow from other white cultures from around the world. The most I have ever seen is the VERY occassional wearing an Irish/Scottish traditional kilt (and then, only for special occassions)! I never see them walking around in leiderhosen, or other traditional clothing from around Europe. There was even a stir in North America a few months ago about how a magazine was teaching white girls that they too could wear afros, if they had the right chemicals (while, of course, failing to have any discussion of the significance and history of the afro/ black-power hairstyle). This obsession is so strong now that we even have white people trying to “pass” as Black!

    Underneath their apparent hate or displeasure, they want so badly to BE us! The “blackface” phenomenon is the most fascinating to me. They can’t come up with their own music, dance art, fashion, stories, spiritual/religious practices, language, etc., so they have an overriding need – more than any other race – to take from other people’s cultures.

    I would say that “raiding” what does not belong to them is written into their DNA, as they come from the most barren and lifeless places on Earth. One only needs to look at Europe to see that there is basically NOTHING THERE – nothing of value to the world writ large, anyway. You only need to visit a European (the White ones, not the Brown ones) friend and eat dry potatoes, listen to their cheesy music, try to talk to depressed atheists about the meaning of life, and watch them refuse to dance at a dance club to see how barren they are as a people!

    I WANT to be offended by their shenanigans, but I must admit that I find their curiosity and paradoxical obsession QUITE fascinating, to say the least…

    • “They can’t come up with their own music, dance art, fashion, stories, spiritual/religious practices, language, etc., so they have an overriding need – more than any other race – to take from other people’s cultures.” …… this is what pretty much sums it up… they aren’t creative and they are culture vultures… they will destroy yours and then require you to create more for them… that’s a level of evil that I don’t think we acknowledge like we should…

  2. Great post. I am American Black woman of Jamaican lineage and cultural misappropriation is also an issue here in America. Many White people want to appropriate aspects of our respective cultures but fail to give credit to the originators of it all. I see this often and it also upsets me.

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