“No question, being a black man is demanding. The fire’s in my eyes and the flames need fanning” – Talib Kweli
“I grew up learning that being black is ugly” – Simples Rap’ortagem
Note from BBT: When I started this blog back in November of 2011, I originally called it Black Women of Brazil. Many people have asked over the years why it was that I decided on the title. In fact, I noted the surprise people had after discovering the blog was actually created by na African-American male. One particular website that would ocassionally re-post and share material from the blog actually created a topic saying something along the lines of, “So, as it turns out, Black Women of Brazil was created by a black American man.”
Five years after the blog’s debut, I decided to publish a post as a type of introduction of myself to my followers. Up to that point, I didn’t really want my identity to detract from the material I posted. I still see it that way, well at least to a degree. I also never intended for anyone to believe I was attempting to speak FOR black Brazilian women, but rather just sharing their stories and struggles as well as those of black Brazilians as a whole. But somewhere along the way, I started understanding the necessity of changing the name of the blog.
I originally called it Black Women of Brazil because I noted that black Brazilian women seemed to be the driving force behind the black social/political movement as a whole. Various sites and blogs featured the writings and views of black Brazilian women and the drive for the acceptance of natural black hair was also driven by black women.
I had been considering the change of the blog’s name for some time going back to about 2016, at the height of the blog’s popularity, but it was an online discussion of the controversial docu-series about African-American singer R. Kelly that showed me that the time had come to move to change the blog’s name. Over the course of that series, I had never supported the behavior or the popular singer, consistently maintaining that, if Kelly was guilty of the accusations, he deserved the punishment he had coming.
But I also pointed out problems with the entire series. My point was, YES, there was plenty enough evidence to convict the singer and I had no problem with that as it appeared that Kelly had some serious issues. On the other side, there was plenty of blame to go around that helped facilitate the singer’s behavior. In a number of direct message debates with a handful of women, I consistently proved my point to the degree that my detractors had to agree with many of the points I was making.
My mistake was stating opinions and facts that many people didn’t want to deal with under the name Black Women of Brazil. The remedy for this was, again, was to change the name of the blog, which I finally got around to doing last year.
Another issue that I was becoming aware of was a growing frustration and disdain by many Afro-Brazilian men over the postures of modern feminism. In one of the WhatsApp groups in which I participated, all of the members were black Brazilian men. Most were college-educated, hands down the most militant of any group of black Brazilian men I had ever seen in one group, and were staunchly anti-feminist.
The men in that group regularly roasted some of the most well-known black Brazilian feminists and the manner in which they demonized all black Brazilian men with the label of “toxic masculinity”. These men regularly pointed out the contradictions they saw with “black feminism” and, in their view, the way it was being exploited by the white power structure.
One Afro-Brazilian feminist became the clear face of black feminism and Brazil’s racist media seemed to be promoting her every chance it got. For the brothas in the WhatsApp group, any black woman accepted by the racist white media was someone that could not be really trusted. When said feminist went public with her relationship with a white male, the criticism got even stronger as the men consistently pointed out how common it was to see black feminists in relationships with white men.
As I’ve already discussed palmitagem at length on this blog, I won’t even get into the question of interracial unions here. For me, both black men and black women in Brazil have strongly contributed to Brazil’s elites historical desire of the whitening of the black population. This simply cannot be debated. Even not living in Brazil, a number of black readers have noted this pattern among black Brazilians.
Anyway, my point here is that, for black Brazilians to change their situation as a whole, both black women AND men need to be able to understand the situation and make advances. This is a similar discussion happening among black American men and women.
In my view, if black people as a whole, meaning both black and black women, don’t move forward together, the situation simply cannot change because 1) one of the groups will be left behind or 2) the constant bickering will continue to drive a wedge into the community. With black men and black women continuously bickering and pointing the finger at each other, in essence, they help to advance the goals of the very oppressive system that each claims to want to dismantle.
With this in mind, I think it is also very necessary to tell the stories and challenges of both sides. Afro-Brazilian women led the way in attacking the idea that natural black hair was something to be ashamed of and this challenge to the Eurocentric view that only straight hair was acceptable would also apply to black Brazilian men. And similar to black women denouncing stereotypes of what black womanhood meant, so too are black men coming to understand that there also need be a change in the image of the black male.
Brazil has long been willing to associate the image of the black male as threatening, dangerous, entertaining and hypersexual, but there is so much more to the experience of being a black male and black men deserve the opportunity to be able to explore their full humanity apart from the rather limited images traditionally associated with them. With a desire to be recognized as full human beings, may the evolution continue.
The piece below takes its name from one of the most popular songs of one of Brazil’s most popular Hip Hop groups, Racionais MCs and there couldn’t be a more fitting title for this important discussion than “negro drama”.
Being a black man in Brazil is to live with a series of stereotypes, which involve gender, race and social class. To discuss this is to reiterate the basic notion that no one is only one thing
By Carol Ito
Putting a magnifying glass over the way black men experience their masculinity is not an easy task. The topic is still taboo. “It is a debate that has been going on little by little, women are light years away from us”, says Caio César, a geography student. The hypersexualization of the black body, the idealization of the “negão” (straight up/big black man), good in bed, wild and virile is one of the stereotypes that accompany the ideal of masculinity of the black man. Even today, the virile man that’s good-in-bed permeates the imagery surrounding the black man.
“We are not the standard of beauty, nor the standard of rationality, let alone the standard of a family man. So, fitting into this stereotype is often what we have left,” concludes Caio, on how idealization also acts as a mechanism to circumvent low self-esteem, which makes it difficult to expand the open discussion on the topic.
For Túlio Custódio, a sociologist and member of the Sistema Negro collective, to think of black masculinity in a country like Brazil is to think of gender, race and class together, since all power relations influence the construction of identity. He considers that “the good black man is the one who performs white ethics”, as if the masculinity of the white man was the parameter of what is correct, which implies redeeming the stereotypes of a working man, provider, who has the power of consumption. “How do most black futebol (soccer) players act, for example? They boast the power of consumption, choose white partners (see here, here and here), attitudes that increase their status,” he exemplifies.
The French and Martinican philosopher and psychiatrist, Frantz Fanon, was already reflecting on the expectation that the black man fits into an ethics that is not his in Pele negra, máscaras brancas (Black Skin, White Masks), a book published in the 1950s. Another scholar who addressed the issue was the Jamaican sociologist Stuart Hall, in his book Culture and Representation, in which he analyzes the presence of blacks in cinema and Western advertising. One of his reflections is that stereotypes are formed by emphasizing differences: if the white man is civilized and hardworking, the black man is primitive and lazy. Despite the impositions, there is a “historic struggle over the image” that needs to be considered.
Hip Hop: the construction of identity itself
Although the parameter is white masculinity, black men live with a particular scenario. The Atlas of Violence 2017, produced based on a study carried out by Ipea and the Brazilian Public Security Forum, confirms an old diagnosis: young blacks are the main victims of violence. Among homicide cases, 92% of victims are men and blacks are 23.5% more likely to be murdered, compared to Brazilians of other races.
In addition to physical violence, mental disorders are also part of the universe of the black man and are still little discussed.
Alessandro de Oliveira Campos is a psychologist and coordinates meetings to discuss masculinities in São Paulo. “There are anxieties that impact mental health. Black men often consider the possibility of suicide. This is a scary symptom.”
Jé Oliveira is an actor and director of the play Farinha com açúcar ou sobre a sustança de meninos homens (Flour with sugar or on the sustenance of men boys), which addresses the experiences of black men from the periphery, with a soundtrack composed of singles by the legendary Hip Hop group, the Racionais MC’s. Hip Hop culture, as a whole, has been a reference in the construction of the identity of black men over the last decades: “there we find an ethics of the street, an ethics of masculinity that is, yes, macho, but it is also a ethics of respect for the agreement, respect for friendships, mothers, grandmothers,” observes the director.
The socioeconomic condition is an aggravating factor that hinders the deconstruction of stereotypes and limits the experiences of black men. “People from the periphery don’t know much beyond the neighborhood itself, because they don’t have the possibility, they don’t feel well circulating in other places, they feel observed, judged”, observes Oliveira.
Far beyond the “black man that takes off his hat”
“At 16, a friend said that I looked like someone who had good sex. Judging by the opinions she had already expressed at other times, that good sex was a violent one,” says Caio César, a resident of Rio de Janeiro. “It’s important to stress that the friend in question had never been in a relationship with me. Her opinion was based on sexual stereotypes linked to black bodies,” he adds.
“The black man when reduced to a penis is the object of a gross reification” – Alessandro de Oliveira Campos
In the article Na cama com o super negão: masculinidades, estéticas, mitos e estereótipos sexuais do homem negro (In bed with the super negão: masculinities, aesthetics, myths and sexual stereotypes of the black man), by the historian Daniel dos Santos, the relationship between the objectification of the black body and the country’s slave past is discussed. The enslaved black was assessed “on the basis of his physical gifts and his anatomical strength”, which would be useful in agricultural and mining services. Although it’s difficult to find official documents, there are stories of men whose job it was to produce children with slaves. They were known as breeders, chosen for their physical size.
“The black man when reduced to a penis is the object of a gross reification, of an act of dehumanization. And when he accepts this objectification, he walks moves an inevitable loneliness, because, at some point, he will no longer be an object of interest of the other,” points out Alessandro de Oliveira Campos.
It’s not personal
In the field of affections, the discussion about interracial relationships acquires more and more relevance. In 2015, Helen Lobanov, a black feminist, made a video that still causes a commotion on social networks. At the time, she exposed her revolt when she realized that many black men publicly reproached black women who maintained relationships with whites, while black women were neglected in affective relationships, as evidenced in the 2010 IBGE Census.
“It’s difficult for the black man to deconstruct himself because machismo is the only power he has within this society”, summarizes Lobanov, who now lives in the United States. “I never blamed the black man, specifically, for the loneliness of the black woman, the white man also passes her by. The black man’s responsibility is to admit that this happens and to listen to what black women have to say. The criticism is not personal,” she adds.
Campos explains that it is necessary to think about the modes of seduction and conquest in addition to individual preferences, but also “in the historical recognition of a body that has been treated as a commodity for centuries and remains almost exclusively as a fetish.” Custódio agrees that “even desire and affection are socially constructed”.
“It’s difficult for black men to deconstruct themselves because machismo is the only power they have within this society”, says the black feminist Helen Lobanov
Besides black, he’s a fag?
But it’s not only in hypersexualization that the black man lives. Homosexuals also suffer from taboos around masculinity as homosexuality is another taboo: “We see black men not being able to have a broader sexuality”, observes Jé Oliveira. He believes that stereotypes are forming shells that make it difficult for men to exercise their potential and desires.
“There are two prejudices that we suffer, because we are black and fags”. This phrase is from the filmmaker Bruno Victor who scripted and directed the short film Afronte, along with Marcus Mesquita. The production tells the story of a black and gay character who lives on the periphery of the Federal District. The short was made possible thanks to the great adhesion that they had in the crowdfunding campaign on the internet and now circulates in festivals and awards. “We wanted to talk about our reality, our experiences. At that same time, we had contact with the Afrobixas collective. They were a great motivation for the film,” adds Bruno.
“Machismo is rooted in the construction of the imaginary of gay men, which is only minimally useful when it appropriates the virile characteristics of the heteronormative standard. Being black, gay and effeminate is often synonymous with loneliness. The non-acceptance of our bodies and our behavior is incisive,” explains Marcus.
The Oscar-winning film Moonlight, brings this discussion through the main character. “He was very representative in relation to the oppressions experienced by black gay men, the sensitivity of the film is something that touches us deeply,” comments Bruno. He recommends other films on the subject: Línguas Desatadas, by Marlon Riggs, Paris is Burning, by Jennie Livingston, Favela Gay, by Rodrigo Felha and Madame Satã, by Karim Ainouz.
Questioning the standards of masculinity from a racial perspective implies “understanding that black men are more than bodies, more than sexual performance, but rather men with multiplicities, differences, fears and desires,” summarizes Caio César.
Rethinking the stereotypes that limit black men is urgent and, as Alessandro Campos points out, it’s necessary to think in the plural: “There is no masculinity, but masculinities.”