Black men and black women are loving each other: How Afrocentric relationships reverberate with processes of self-affirmation of black cultural identity

capa

Note from BBTWhen we speak of the question of black unity and why it is necessary, it appears to be a  topic  that’s  pretty  simple. Black  people  on  a  global  level  need  to  unite  in every way, pool their resources, have each other’s back and commit to building something great. In reality,  it’s  not as simple as it may seem and it’s infinitely more difficult to try to make the concept a reality.

Whenever discussions of the problems within the black community come up, people from outside of the community are quick to say that the institution of slavery ended a long time ago and that many of the problems that exist in the black community are actually created by black people themselves at this point.

What I always note in this type of argument is the fact that the European role of setting the wheels of self-destruction into motion is often ignored. Much of the self-hatred that black people around the world have for themselves as their equals originates has origin in European colonization and mass enslavement of Africa and its people.

From the jokes that we make about the darkest skin tones amongst our people, to ridicule of the tightest coils of kinky-curly hair, to our preference for European clothing, the worship of European beauty to the belief that ‘’white man’s ice is colder’’ than our own, black people on a global level have been indoctrinated by theories of white supremacy.

This factor is something that cannot be understated. This ever-present desire for white acceptance influences both our relationships with each other as well as with the white population itself. When we consider just this enormous influence alone, there is no way that we can possibly consider the social, psychological and financial situation of the two groups as equal in any way. There have been simply too many studies, documentaries, books and dissertations to even dispute this.

With the recent debate over what’s being called ‘critical race theory’, these facts still lead to not only a necessary conversation, but action.

For decades, Brazilian elites led us to believe that such a conversation would never be necessary in Brazil because the situation was completely different. Brazil never had legalized segregation, never outlawed interracial marriage, blah blah blah. These justifications of Brazil being totally different from the United States have been thoroughly debunked for decades. In the end, while I would agree that Brazil in some ways used different tactics to achieve the same objective, it is as successful or more successful than the United States at dominating its black population.

I’ve come to this conclusion after following the situation for over two decades. When you read the studies and statistics according to race, I believe many would support my assessment. But even more than these official reports and studies, a clincher for me are the things that black Brazilians themselves say about the situation. With the popularity of the internet, social networks, blogs, YouTube, etc., the effects of white supremacy on Brazil’s black and brown population have become very clear.

Some of the comments I’ve read over the years were sometimes shocking in their brutal honesty.

I could go and on. The point here is that, when a group has been completely dominated psychologically, it poses no threat to the dominant group. In Brazil, nearly four centuries of slavery and 133 years of de facto racism has accomplished this relationship between the white population, blacks and browns.

With its particular brand of racism, Brazil managed to snuff out, if not completely, at least partially, the possibility of any sort of black unity on a mass level. After all, if no one believes racism and white supremacy existed in Brazil and that everyone was equal, there would be no need for any organizing along lines of race because Brazilians were just Brazilians without any divisions according to phenotype.

But over the course of several decades now, non-white, brown, black and would be black Brazilians have been coming to the conclusion that they’ve been lied to for decades, centuries in reality. Many are coming to see themselves as black when they didn’t for years due to Brazilian society’s desire to avoid all things black. People are recognizing just how racist Brazilian society really is and are also recognizing the forces of anti-blackness within their own families.

This anti-blackness within so many black Brazilian families has led to not only a lack of unity within the black community, but also a sort of loneliness that affects the entire the community. In a recent piece, Attorney-General of the Federal Government Chiara Ramos spoke about this as well as this question of loneliness.

‘’We talk a lot about the loneliness of black women, but there is a tendency to reduce this feeling to issues related to romantic love, when it is much more than that. When we talk about the loneliness of black women, we are also talking about the institutional loneliness of those few who managed to ascend and occupy spaces of knowledge and power in a society structured on patriarchal racism. I was experiencing an existential crisis, and all I felt was loneliness.’’

Chiara Ramos

Ramos explained the loneliness she felt in becoming an attorney in a legal profession in which very few people looked like her. That is until she came across a collective of black women lawyers, the Abayomi Juristas Negras, meaning Abayomi Black Women Jurists. Coming to know this group of black women brought tears to Ramos’ eyes as such a group simply couldn’t have existed just a few decades ago. But Ramos went further. Upon meeting these women, she also shared an experience with these women that perhaps millions of black Brazilians have gone through.

Abayomi Juristas Negras, a collective of black women lawyers in Recife, Pernambuco

‘’At the end of that day, I opened my heart to those women. I explained that I come from an interracial family, violated by the politics of whitening, which means that I grew up without any racial literacy, alienated from my own identity.’’

Here, in this short excerpt, Ramos hits on something I’ve noted from the time I started studying Brazil from the perspective of race. Brazil’s agenda to undermine and destroy the racial identities of millions of African descendants as well as its insistence that racism didn’t even exist in the country has led to too many consequences to name. just a few of those consequences include

I would never say that there haven’t been groups and individuals who have discussed these issues before, but I will say that the recognition of these issues within the population at large has never been as widespread. All of these issues are being discussed within literally hundreds of social network groups, blogs, YouTube channels and even material in the mainstream media.

It is because of these ongoing discussions that a growing percentage of black Brazilians are understanding the necessity of black unity, both in terms of relationships as well as within the black community as a whole. Even in my assessment that most black and brown Brazilians continue to see the issue of relationships in a ‘’we are the world’’, ‘’love has no color’’ lens, I am seeing a growing number of people who want the world to know that black Brazilians are indeed loving each other, which is exactly what the article below is all about. 

ILUSTRAÇÃO HALLINA BELTRÃO
ILLUSTRATION BY HALLINA BELTRÃO

Black men and black women are loving (and arming) each other

Afrocentric relationships in a perspective of aquilombamento of affection

By Geisa Agricio

Quick, how many famous and powerful black couples can you recall and list at first thought? Barack and Michele Obama, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Will and Jaden Smith? And in Brazil? The lack of representativeness of black families in the cultural industry, in a country where 54% of the population is black, but which practically only punctuates the presence of actors Taís Araújo and Lázaro Ramos as an admired couple reflects how the subjectivity of love has been denied to the black Brazilian community. We still naturalize as a romantic model and well-structured family nucleus the stereotype of the margarine commercial: with white, thin, light-eyed parents and children.

However, the strength of the black cultural identity that has been consolidated by social movements and affirmative policies in recent years has increased the debates and made the contradictions of racial issues in Brazil more explicit. Racism and the way in which it structurally affects the lives of pessoas pretas e pardas (black and brown people) are on the agenda and, consequently, questions arise about the profound impacts that a structure of oppression – which made invisible and sought to erase the very existence of black people – causes in the construction of their affectivity. It hasn’t been many years since debates on complex topics such as the loneliness of black women and “palmitagem” (a pejorative term to designate the passing over of black people for white people in relationships) became popular.

In the inherently human condition of the search for love, it is possible to delineate in the specificity of an engaged blackness an increasing number of people of African descent investing their relations in ethnically similar people, despite the symbolic violence still imposed today by the myth of racial democracy, as the song “Ponta de lança” by rapper Ricon Sapiência cites:

We beat drums, they beat pots
We stole the scene, don’t have a knife
The patty melts like mozzarella
Hotness that doesn’t even have chapinha in the crespo
No, crespos are arming themselves
I insist on putting in my text
That black men and black women are loving each other.

“In general, the relations between people of the same race is the tradition of the formation of families in Brazil, but when one looks at the spectrum of social ascension, in spaces of power mostly occupied by whites, there is a strangeness both due to the presence of black people in these ‘non places’, such as the fact that they can deliberately choose themselves as an option for attractiveness, admiration and meeting. It’s seen as if the Afrocentric relations were an affront to this naturalized preference for white people as a search for acceptance,” says Túlio Custódio, sociologist and knowledge curator who composes with his wife, the black architect and feminist Stephanie Ribeiro, a young influential couple among black intellectuals of the current generation.

Psychologist Jesus Moura, with a master’s degree from the Federal University of Pernambuco and a specialist in the care of black women, contextualizes that, in Brazil, “a genocidal project to whiten the population was rooted, with miscegenation being a forceful way of erasing black roots, of dispersion of identity. To give you an idea, for decades, it was as if blacks didn’t exist, not even in the census, in which more than 130 self-references of color/race have been identified, such as chocolate, coffee with milk, wheat-colored etc., in a form of annihilation of perception of the black origin of most Brazilians. When the Movimento Negro (black movement), from the 1960s to now, imprints in some way the valorization of intra-racial relations, it begins a stimulus to the maintenance of its own history, a path of self-preservation, through a search for conditions of equality in the approach of people who have experienced similar pains or see racial issues from a similar perspective.”

As an example, the emergence of Afrodengo, which brings together almost 50 thousand people from all over the country in a closed Facebook group, is emblematic, and has the criterion of being an exclusive flirting space for black people. The initiative, which made possible the origin of the first Brazilian startup focused on Afrocentric relationships, acts as a kind of “Black people’s Tinder”. The northeastern expression dengo, which means affection, pleasure, sweetness, comes from the word ndéngo of the Quikongo African dialect. Thus, Afrodengo aims to fulfill a demand for a healthy and safe space for black men and black women to relate to each other.

A arquiteta e feminista Stephanie Ribeiro e o sociólogo e curador Túlio Custódio
The architect and feminist Stephanie Ribeiro and the sociologist and curator Túlio Custódio became an influential couple among black intellectuals of the current generation. Photo: @ SaoPaulo Fotografia

The creator, the Bahian journalist Lorena Ifé, is preparing to transform the project into a reference brand on black affectivity through political actions, entertainment and technology as a means of fighting racism. She is looking for investments to materialize a platform that brings together flirting applications, events and face-to-face meetings, as well as a website with content and a library on relationships and blackness.

“I grew up like all of us, in a context of social cleansing that slavery marks in our affectivity, in this view that the feasible thing is to seek to ‘clean the family’, ‘have a clean stomach’ (both meaning to whiten the offspring), and in the displacement of affection as a possibility. We suffer from this difficulty of showing affection, seen as fragility. The group was created as an attempt to appease my personal disappointments in relationship apps that did not account for diversity, even though I am in Salvador, a metropolis with an 80% black population. In less than a week, in January 2017, I was shocked, as there were already 5,000 requests to participate. Today, the group has people from different parts of the country and, in two years, we have collected countless stories of groups of friends, dating, weddings and even children from the meetings generated by Afrodengo,” comments the creator.

The tonic of afrocentric relationships, not only affective-sexual, but also networking, of friendships, of professional contacts, translates the desire and the impulse that has been spreading in the black community: that of coming together and surrounding oneself with one’s fellow men, in an attempt to share the burden of the fight against institutional racism and to share spaces, to demarcate territories of conquest as a collective question.

It is a consequence of the deepening of the identity process that Brazil has been going through, of a greater number of people identifying themselves as black, undergoing transitions to natural hair, assuming their negroid features and everything that starts from the perception of a recognition, of self and of the other, by the process of redemption of black self-esteem and desire for belonging, which the black movement calls an aquilombamento (see note one).

Stephanie Ribeiro, who writes a column on the themes of black feminism in the magazine Marie Claire, has previously written at the TPM website about the lonely weight of “no place” of being a privileged black woman occupying middle-class spaces, markedly dominated by whites. She knows that the visibility of her marriage to Túlio Custódio causes a good sense of representation for black families, but considers that – more than simply a position of militancy – the relationships between black people must be due to natural processes of choice and not necessarily a deliberate effort to fill gaps.

“We noticed the strangeness, in our neighborhood of Higienópolis (upscale neighborhood of São Paulo), when we walk our dog,” comments Stephanie. “Something that is so trivial to the middle class seems exotic with us, in this world that does not know how to deal with our presence. Race is not the main reason we are together, not in a simplistic way. We are united because we share affinities, including our racial perspective, but there is also a legacy project, to build and create heritage, not only material, but social and affective, that impacts the lives of people like us around us. However, it is necessary to think that, in these comfort zone circles of white people, we end up living more with them, in our jobs, in the places we frequent, in the friends with whom we exchange. Perhaps afro-centrism is the potential to surround oneself with others without having to deal with the agenda of blackness all the time, as if we could only meet with blacks to discuss racism. It is important to think of these ties in lightness, too, for the right to everyday simplicity, to talk nonsense, to talk about film, theater, decoration without being in pain. We also want to be able to be the couple who can look at their own lives.”

Túlio, 34, met Stephanie, 26, four years ago, when she was participating in a meeting that would put her name among the main voices of racial debate in Brazil. It was “Art and debate: the representation of the Negro”, promoted by Itaú Cultural in crisis management, since it had to cancel the season of a theatrical show in which white actors acted in black roles wearing the pejorative blackface. “A mutual friend commented that we should get to know each other, we started exchanging messages online and, after the debate, we went to dinner with a group”, says the sociologist.

“I could have stayed from there, but Túlio says it wasn’t the pretense of the moment,” she recalls, laughing. “We started dating, I was still living in Campinas, it was about two years. When we adopted our puppy Basquiat and decided to live together, create and build our own house, it made sense for us to get married, to think like two people who will strengthen each other’s trajectory. When Beyoncé and Jay-Z are acting together it is much more than a black couple posing in the show business, it is to reframe the structure of the industry that will impact the lives of generations of black boys and girls by what they are planting now,” says the architect. They have been married since June of 2019.

THE MYTH OF RACIAL DEMOCRACY

According to the American philosopher Angela Davis, in the book Women, Race and Class, in the colonial period, black men and women were equally massacred by the objectification and animalization of slavery. Used only as pieces for profit, and dehumanized in their emotions, they maintained in the relationship between equals a kind of horizontality of domestic life. The African sense of solidarity threatened the patriarchal order of the colonizing system and, for this reason, black families were raped in order to humiliate and demobilize their groups.

Mothers, fathers and their children or wives and their black husbands were repeatedly estranged, traded to different destinations than their close ones, with no right of family connection. There was a deliberate fragmentation of ties as a strategy, including a ban on the registration of paternity of enslaved people as the right of black children, many of them generated by rapes by white masters. The cultural basis of societies stemming from colonization is fragmented and dysfunctional black families and white families traditionally structured on conservative values to be preserved and protected.

Although we did not experience in Brazil the separatist rigor promoted by apartheid, instituted as law and policy in the United States – until 1967, in some U.S. states, it was a crime for whites to have sex or to marry blacks – and in South Africa (until 1994), racial discrepancies have been perpetuated in a similar way in the country since the time of the Colony.

O pianista Amaro Freitas e a poeta e performer Luna Vitrolira - foto Rennan Peixe
The pianist Amaro Freitas and the poet and performer Luna Vitrolira. Photo: Rennan Peixe

The Brazilian history forged by the narrative of the ruling classes reinforced in the popular imagination the convenient theory of peaceful coexistence among peoples, making miscegenation between whites, indigenous and blacks the result of a Brazilian styled racial democracy. Based on the work of Gilberto Freyre, Casa-Grande & Senzala (1933), the effects of slavery in the racial construction of Brazil and the consequences of power relations between races were minimized. In this sense, racism came to be considered “soft” in Brazil, sublimating itself from factors that impose inequality, income concentration and lack of social mobility as if social injustice were only a matter of class.

Freyrian argument also supports myths such as the hyper-sexualization of black people and relativizes the exploitation of Portuguese in the formation of Brazil. This false “pacification” of conflicts results in the naturalization of racial dystopias such as the absence of black people in the media, in politics, in economic leaders. For racism to actually exist in the Brazilian imagination, blackness would have to be recognized first, but the process of erasure was effective in preventing most black people from recognizing themselves as such.

Recently, the militancy of black movements has guided the wave of deconstruction of these paradigms as the “roots of Brazil”. So, only now do we have the feeling that racism is poignant. In fact, we’re just talking more about what has always been silenced.

“Suddenly, you wake up from a dream in which you are drugged and put to sleep. You have to be very resistant, to wake up and understand that we need to love ourselves more. I grew up full of prejudice. I heard a side of the story that doesn’t represent me; we were denied telling our perspective. I was watching a story about the autobiography of (Mahommah Gardo) Baquaqua, one of the only blacks who managed to leave a record about being enslaved in Brazil, and I realized that, in that period, 0.007% of black people had access to literacy. I think we are experiencing the moment to resolve all of this, the topic is invading social networks, people’s minds.

The exchange is very big and the energy has generated a movement of approach, aquilombamento, affection and understanding. This movement is political and needs to be political. It needs to be present, guided and taken in a more serious and consistent way. I feel it in my skin with Luna, seeing that each post, each gesture and each action influences people’s lives. It is possible to realize this when you are also in that position as an artist,” points out the Pernambuco pianist Amaro Freitas, companion of the poet Luna Vitrolira.

“We are increasingly trying to get closer to our fellowmen, because we were in fact distanced by the colonization of the gaze, by the myth of miscegenation, from having historically tried to lighten our families, and this affected our affective and loving construction among people of the same race. Colonization prevented us from loving our own, our family members. This is very problematic, we have been banned, manipulated. We are looking to retrace the path of this love that has been denied us and that today affirms itself in this desire,” says Luna.

At 27, Amaro is internationally recognized among the new instrumentalist talents. Luna debuts at the Literary Festival of Parati with her first book Aquenda, o amor às vezes é isso. They have realized the potency of being together, by transiting artistic castes so restricted to black men and black women: the Europeanized instrumental music and the canonical Brazilian literature, which to this day denies the democratization of spaces by rejecting, despite popular support, the candidacy of Conceição Evaristo for the chair of the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

“When you see a couple of black artists in Recife, you realize how strong this is in terms of representativeness. There is even a difficulty in seeing, in spaces or in the media, couples that allow black people to recognize themselves and also want this place to relate to someone of the same color. And that this probably will not put you in a place of aesthetic subordination, nor imprison you in standards, you will be able to see your value,” says Luna enthusiastically. She met Amaro when she worked on the Paço do Frevo team. He went to visit a mutual friend, who ended up encouraging them to get closer. They have been together for two years.

LONELINESS, CELIBATE, NEGROPHOBIA

Mostly, Brazilians elect spouses of the same race, but the group that least marries is black. The 2010 Demographic Census – Nuptiality, fertility and migration, of the IBGE agency, reported that 73.7% of white men and 73.7% of white women marry each other. The behavior is present on a smaller scale among browns, 68.1%, and blacks, 50.3%, with partners of the same color. The majority (52%) of black women are single and among the oldest (over 50 years) are those who suffer the most from permanent celibacy (never having a stable union in all of their lives). Does this happen by choice? Isn’t that what relevant studies conclude about the loneliness of black women, such as the books Mulher negra: afetividade e solidão (Black Woman: Affection and Solitude) (Edufba), by sociologist Ana Cláudia Lemos Pacheco, and Virou Regra? (Has it become the rule?) (Scortecci, 2010), by social scientist Claudete Alves.

Thinking about the current behavior trend of empowered black couples is a reflection of the expansion of the debate on the right to love, in a perspective of activism and political reaction to racial injustices, as well as gender, which end up imposing emotional gaps (more aggravated in certain groups such as black women and LGBTs) to those socially seen as minors in the eligibility of the construction of a family imaginary, which still persists in the Eurocentric and patriarchal model. The situation is perpetuated in the unconscious, reinforced by a conservative wave, the projection of white and heteronormative romantic love, all other possibilities being inferior or insufficient.

In the book Black Skin, White Masks (Pele negra, máscaras brancas in Brazil), Frantz Fanon, a black Martinican author and one of the greatest thinkers on the importance of decolonization of thought, says the following:

“The black man lives an ambiguity that is extraordinarily neurotic. He recognized himself as black, but, through an ethical slippage, he realized (collective unconscious) that he was black only insofar as he was bad, indolent, evil, instinctive. Everything that opposed this way of being black was white. This must be seen as the origin of negrophobia. In the collective unconscious black = ugliness, sin darkness and immorality In other words: he who is immoral is black. If I behave like a man with morals, I am not black. Hence the saying that a wicked white man has the soul of a nigger. Color is nothing I don’t even see it. The only thing I know is the purity of my conscience and the whiteness of my soul.”

Racism stigmatizes and disparages black people, who carry the marks and traumas of this negative treatment in their personalities. The bodies are either rejected or hypersexualized, the fragility and emotional vulnerability suppressed, their pain discredited and even their deaths ignored by the collective commotion.

For the psychologist Jesus Moura, the marker of racism crosses Afro-Brazilians in every way. And affectivity and self-esteem are also pierced by systemic violence: “How can I like myself and expect someone to look at me if I have been instilled with a place of less value, of non-beauty, sensuality or intelligence? The insecurities of always feeling less able to attract, to relate are consequences of the deep emotional order, the suspicions about who we are and our own value are always present.”

“Race is not simply a matter of personal taste. Our tastes are shaped by social construction. People are taught culturally to differentiate between ugly or beautiful, which is good or bad. A fat body in a fatphobic society or a black body in a racist society is associated with the ugly. And people are reproducing it. I believe that the loving relationship should be developed beyond race. It is actually possible to fall in love with someone who doesn’t have a racial experience like yours. But we need to understand that this can often establish a direct relationship with the loneliness of certain groups that are seen as non-standard,” reflects Maíra Azevedo, the humorist and influencer known as Tia Má.

At 38, the Bahian communicator – who participates in the Encontro de Fátima Bernardes TV program, giving loving advice and debating the intersectionality of gender and race on the internet – reveals that she has never had a relationship with white men. She always felt that the advances had only a sexual connotation and that she had been fetishized several times, never publicly assumed in an interracial relationship. “I never had a white man who agreed to take me on as a partner. They wanted to have sex with me to confirm the fantasy of knowing ‘what the negona has’, whether the black woman is actually hotter and fierier in bed. This is what happens to most of us.”

The history of the invisible black woman was repeated throughout the life of the Pernambuco poet and performer Luna Vitrolira. Only with his current partner, Amaro Freitas, did she experience her first serious relationship.

“I started to get involved with people very late, almost 20 years old, I was already in college. I had never been with anyone, so it was also problematic because of the shame and lack of experience. My affective life started little by little, but, still, very dispersed. I got with a lot of people, white and black, but I also didn’t manage to get into a relationship. Today, when I stop to analyze how these relationships were built and how I was treated, I can understand some differences. White men treated me as (something) casual, but black men hid me too. So, I was never assumed, I wasn’t with anyone at parties, in squares, in circles of friends. It was always discreet, between four walls, nobody knows, nobody saw it. It was a lot of that place.”

“Stephanie and I have different backgrounds and, in my middle-class context, it didn’t seem like a conflict to live with or relate to white people anymore. My black parents are still together today, they raised three children today graduated, they fought for an inheritance. So, historically, my whole family is structured on the model of long-lived couples raising their descendants, which is no longer common for black families. Only by meeting her was I able to better understand the issues of a black woman’s loneliness. Her family has several stories of overworked single mothers, and how this is yet another element of the racist structure in which we live. I realized that many times the discomfort that the afrocentric relationship generates in others arises from the questioning of how, at a certain point of social ascension, we choose each other, choose each other in partnership, instead of preferring white people. It is still very much associated with the idea of the union of black people to failure, to decay, as if, in a universe of prosperity, we could not be with someone like ourselves”, analyzes Túlio Custódio.

PERPETUATE TRADITIONS?

Wide smile, ethnic look, as well as an expansive and captivating personality. This is the synthesis of the image of Carmen Virginia, 43, a chef who runs the restaurant Altar Cozinha Ancestral, in Recife, and is one of the judges of the Cozinheiros em Ação program, on the GNT channel. The affective memory of the kitchen and its connection with African-based religions permeates her admirable professional trajectory, often interpreted in a utilitarian view as a meritocratic history, an example of overcoming.

Carmem Virginia is a famous and influential businesswoman with two well-raised children, João (14) and Giulia (19), together with her best friend and companion Everaldo Alves (54 years old), Vevé, with whom she shares business and leadership of Terreiro Ilê Axé Ogbon Obá, in Água Fria (periphery of Recife, capital city of Pernambuco), where they act as babalorixá and iabassê (see note two). At first glance, it looks like the fairy tale of the traditional black Brazilian family, or, in this case, a Yoruba legend.

But Dona Carmem, as she is known, despite her fame, remains a black, northeastern, peripheral, fat woman and mother. It is, in these cross-sections of inter-sectionalities, also a portrait of each one of us and our affective baggage – crossed by racism and machismo continuously, carrying the stigmas of neglect, rejection, low self-esteem, vulnerability to situations of violence, because black women are the main victims of murders, about 66%, according to the Atlas of Violence 2019. In 10 years (2007-2017), the violent death of black women grew by over 60%, while for non-black women this increase was 1.7%.

A chef Carmem Virgínia optou pou um relacionamentos afrocentrado com Vevé.
Chef Carmen Virgínia opted for an afrocentric relationship with Vevé. Photo: Isabela Lucena

Carmen spent 15 years in an abusive relationship with her children’s father, a macho, violent, possessive black man. “I was raised by my grandmother and raising my children without a father around seemed like a scary idea. I supported myself in my offspring as an excuse to remain trapped in the relationship. Having that husband was a symbol, a trophy for fulfilling the dream of having a family. But in reality, he was not a companion, he was just a man. It took me almost three years to break up, free myself of his sexual dependency, I was still convinced that without him I would be alone forever. But I was rebuilding myself with the help of my daughter, who started to question me about how I handled that situation. I was empowered by work and studies and managed to break the cycle,” says the cook.

About this, the black feminist and writer bell hooks would say in the classic book Living With Love:

“In a society where the supremacy of whites prevails, the life of blacks is permeated by political issues that explain the internalization of racism and a feeling of inferiority. These systems of domination are most effective when they alter our ability to want and love. We, blacks, have been deeply hurt, as we say, ‘hurt to the heart’, and this emotional wound that we carry affects our ability to feel and, consequently, to love. We are a wounded people. Wounded in that place that could know love, that it would be loving. The will to love has represented an act of resistance for people of African descent. But in making that choice, many of us discover our inability to give and receive love.”

“It is important to rethink the idea of love that we have absorbed, to reconstruct it, so as not to also generate inconsistency between speech and practice in the relationships between black people,” points out the poet Luna Vitrolira. “Because there is still a lot of violence, aggression, manipulation, within the idea of love as possession, of jealousy as proof of love, which also puts women in a place of subservience and inferiority, in an attempt to make her remain in the domestic sphere. The inheritance of the black woman in the service of the casa-grande (big house/slave master’s home) is still very strong and heavy, and the black man also ends up reproducing and placing this woman in the same place to serve him, in bed, at the table, in the bath, at home. These are issues that we are also fighting against, in feminisms, in our intersected case.”

In the case of Carmem Virginia, it was the conscientious and questioning youth of daughter Giulia, then 14, who encouraged her to reframe her gender and race perspective and rescue her personal brilliance. In this way, she felt emotionally available and romantically found her friend Vevé, with whom she had had a quick relationship 23 years before. He was always close to his family, a friend of his ex-husband and an affectionate presence for her children. It was with him that Carmen counted on, sharing the difficult moments. The couple’s relationship arose from the intimacy and trust already established between friends.

“Vevé has a sense of empathy, of caring for others, of facing life for opportunities and not for limitations, even though he is blind. With him I found love without barriers, without prejudice and with a lot of complicity. When we first met, I, at a very young age, I resisted moving forward, because of his bisexuality. But it is a good thing that the world has come back for us to meet again, in our affinities, in religion, in our careers, to support each other. I didn’t fall in love with him being black, the physical issue should not be decisive in the exchange of knowing the other, but I very much doubt that if he were not black he would be the person he is, with this way of understanding life and people,” Dona Carmen praises the husband, with whom she has been for five years.

For Maíra Azevedo, Tia Má, who has been dating Marcus Rodrigues (40) for two years, manager on an oil platform, the Afro-centric relationship facilitates understanding and empathy only when the two people are available to share and deal with racial issues, not due to simply the matter of skin color. “Because not every relationship between blacks is Afrocentric. Marcus was not yet so aware of this process. I come from the black movement and he doesn’t. But we have to understand that we can build the racial debate together, each with our own look, even if I have a greater literary framework, a greater experience and a greater discussion, he brings the look of a black man, who is subjected to certain perversities that I, as a woman, don’t go through. The terror of the black youth genocide affects men much more, the perversity of the criminal stereotype too,” she points out.

Giulia Batista, the daughter of Carmen Virginia, who is a symbol of blackness and ancestral culture in Pernambuco, also had to perceive and feel secure in her own blackness to recognize her own beauty and awaken to the desire for affective connection with black people. “We are from a peripheral reality, most of my friendships grew up with me and, although I now go to college and accompany my mother in elite environments, full of white people, I have always felt more comfortable among people like me. Even so, I also grew up projecting whitening ideals, mainly in pop culture. I was a huge fan of K-pop, but when I went through the hair transition process, those references stopped making sense to me,” she observes.

“When I was dating white people, including girls, I felt differences, the difficulty of empathy and even abuse. I decided to invest more in blacks, through Tinder, but this exchange is not so simple. Many black guys are not looking or taking care of themselves, many have depression, emotional instability, don’t feel good about themselves and are trying to assert themselves in cool discourses about being black, hip hop slang, to surround themselves and attract white and standard girls, discarding black girls. Until I met Renato, who has another way, and has also suffered from feeling diminished,” says Giulia, who is a law student.

A filha de Carmem Virgínia, Giulia, também vive um relacionamento afrocentrado ao lado de Renato.
Carmen Virgínia’s daughter, Giulia, is also in an Afro-centric relationship with Renato. Photo: Rennan Peixe

Renato Duarte, 22, has been dating Giulia for three months, and says it is much lighter and more peaceful to be in a passion in which the two feel the same way. In a previous relationship of several years, with a white girl, he was attacked by his girlfriend’s father, who told him to “voltar para África” (go back to Africa), leave his daughter alone to meet someone better, white, rich. “And I continued, even though it was toxic. Even if I was, at most, just tolerated in that environment. In addition to the fact that we like each other, there is also a feeling of being more recognized, people admire the achievement of the type of woman that everyone wants, but, deep down, it is exhausting to have to prove this power, that you are the man, all the time.”

AS FOR MEN

In another section of Living with Love, Bell Hooks states that “we need to recognize that oppression and exploitation distort and hinder our ability to love. (…) The practice of repressing feelings as a survival strategy continued to be an aspect of black life, even after slavery. As racism and white supremacy were not eliminated with the abolition of slavery, blacks had to maintain certain emotional barriers. And, in general, many blacks came to believe that the ability to contain emotions was a positive characteristic. Over the years, the ability to hide and mask feelings has come to be seen as a sign of a strong personality. Showing feelings was nonsense.”

In almost all stories, what one perceives is that black men and women are undoubtedly affected by the racist structure in their relationships, absorbing traumas and pains for being so brutalized, fetishized or invisible in their experiences with love. But that doesn’t mean that there is a complete symmetry of these impacts. Gender roles go through generally different specificities.

There are several black men with macho practices, reproducing violence or seeking in the figure of the white woman redemption for social ascension and recognition. It is no coincidence that there are countless cases of futebol (football/soccer) players, artists from the periphery of the pagode, funk or rap music who, upon reaching success, form a family with white women, mainly blondes. In Black Skin, White masks, Fanon deals with this phenomenon of search for a masculinity that approaches the white man, the universal human ideal in colonial thought.

“I have always had relationships with black men, and I have had two abusive experiences. I think this is a consequence of my upbringing, coming from an unstructured family, with a father even present, but an alcoholic, and a mother who struggles a lot. Since I was a child, I experienced an environment of verbal violence, and this ended up shaping my worldview and of relationships. They were not easy relationships, considering that these men also came from unstructured families, but they didn’t try to work on it, or even question and analyze their traumas,” describes Bárbara Oliveira, architect from Pernambuco who has been dating architecture student Taian Paim for six months.

afrodengo
Bahian journalist Lorena Ifé created Afrodengo, a closed group on Facebook that brought together almost 50 thousand people from all over the country and has the criterion of being an exclusive flirting space for black people. Photos: Céu Albuquerque

The profusion of black feminism and the diversity of black authors broadened the debate on affectivity and blackness. Some black men, guided by these discussions, are beginning to foster more dialogues about the challenges of black masculinity as a strategy for decolonizing the toxic figure of the strong black man, “o negão marrento” (see note three).

With an Instagram profile with over 100 thousand followers, @ afro.estima (Afro esteem), which addresses reflections on self-esteem weaknesses and behavioral issues for black men and women, the administrator Mauro Baracho, a native of Minas Gerais, took his questions about the role of this “novo homem negro” (new black man) to the university. In his master’s degree in Anthropology at UFMG, he is developing the research “The construction of black masculinity: his subjectivity and affective relationships within his ethnic group in the city of Belo Horizonte”.

“I realize in these groups that, in an attempt to build other references of what it is to be a black man, many of them had no close references to black men to look up to, in a history of hardened or absent parents, who showed no affection. There is a demand for a space for the sensitivity, kindness and fragility of this man who, in general, experiences a marginalized masculinity, associated with violence, strength and hyper-sexualization,” comments Baracho.

One of the main ways to affirm the masculinity of strength is to have as a counterpoint the subterfuge of the “fragile sex”, symbolized by the docile and delicate femininity associated with the white woman. Without realizing it, affective choices point to this ideal of women. “Many of those who relate only to people of another race believe that color does not affect their affections. And, even in spite of gender issues, I realize the possibility that the black man may be oppressed by a white woman. We see several cases of famous black men with white partners – these men have a greater tolerance with white women, including humiliations in the midst of racist families, compared to what they would accept from black women,” evaluates the researcher.

For Mauro Baracho, still, black men who are not fully resolved with their self-esteem and identity replicate the dehumanization of childhood and adolescence: “For these, being in an Afro-centric relationship is more difficult because they are forced to look in the mirror, go through the same issues, like crooked looks together on a stroll in a mall or supporting his companion’s hair transition. There is a fear of losing this ‘access card’ to acceptance,” he concludes.

Thus, the phenomenon problematized as palmitagem is established, which defines the preference for white people in affective choices by the black community. Palmitagem is a structural problem of racism, whether we like it or not. Before being a choice, the denial of affection of black people is a construction, and validates the racism that continues to kill in lethal and symbolic ways. Everything is part of the same project. So much so that most white people will oppose black people who defend their rights to the relationship, but are not bothered by the impact of racism on their affective construction. Whichever term you use, any black person who sets out to discuss the impacts of racism on the affective formation of black people will be moved to the place of envy, resentment, as a strategy to erase the debate,” said photographer Roger Cipó, commenting on the topic in his profile on Instagram.

“I grew up in a privileged reality of neighborhoods and schools, of living more intensely with white people, and when you are in that context, it doesn’t seem problematic to be repeatedly in interracial relations. But many times, I felt objectified, hypersexualized in these courtships, that they are not very interested in my subjectivities, but in the stereotyped symbol of the virile black man”, reflects the Salvador native Taian Paim, grandson of the well-known samba singer Riachão. For him, the process of maturation of black men in the perception of their role will allow more balanced and healthy Afrocentric relationships.

Bárbara e Taian, juntos há seis meses
Bárbara and Taian, together for six months, see the humanized look between them as the main achievement of their meeting. Photo: Márcio Lima

In Bárbara’s point of view, these clashes are aroused by access to information and knowledge and more propitious in the field of black intellectuality. “When this black man accesses the university, he begins to have to open his head, to change his worldview,” she observes. It was architecture and projects about race in this profession, still so white in Brazil, that aroused the affinities between her and Taian. Together, since the day that the Recife native moved to Salvador to enter a Masters program in Architecture at UFBA, Bárbara and Taian see the humanized look at each other as the main achievement of their meeting.

MIRAGE OF EQUALITY

Looking deeply into identity issues of race and gender was the starting point of the documentary Hixikanwe – Estamos juntas (we are together). The film by Pernambuco director Débora Britto, who is in the post-production stage and was recorded in Mozambique, traces a biographical journey in which the director meets African women who made her perceive herself, during an exchange in 2014, as a black woman. In this process of personal investigation, in addition to the recorded scenes, the film brings as a legacy the amorous encounter with the assistant director and also filmmaker Mayara Santana, her girlfriend for a year.

“Before the film, we started to get closer starting from this exchange of blackness. They were our first subjects and I think that intimacy started to build from that,” recalls Mayara, who has been trying to relate to black women since she ended a relationship with a white woman. “I feel a lot more comfortable after a relationship with a black woman, but that’s a comma next to the things that need to be built. I think I would be able to establish a relationship with a white woman, if she made the effort to build an awareness of class and race,” she says.

“In the beginning, this was not the goal of relating to Mayara, but we are two black women aware of this. We think about structures and practices that have been imposed on us and we are faced with the weaknesses of our affectivity in the face of racism, how it affects our sentimental construction, our emotional disposition to be open. Anyway, the traumas that we bring to the relationship, having to deal with what racism has done to us,” says Débora Britto.

Also, in the process of personal re-evaluation and affective memories, Mayara is publishing the documentary Rebu – A egolombra de uma sapatão quase arrependida (Rebu – The egolombra of an almost regretable lesbian), in the form of videos, published on the Instagram channel @ rebu.doc. Between chapters, rethinking their relationships.

“I have noticed how I built my character as a lesbian who reproduces macho practices, affirming myself in being a conquerer, flirting, to affirm how good, smart, beautiful I can be, and how many times I exceeded my limits to prove it,” she analyzes.

“When you date a person that you know more or less where some of her pain comes from, another level of empathy and understanding is created. I think that, because I am with a black woman, I can minimally make an effort in this process. But that doesn’t mean that the Afrocentric relationship solves everything, it’s not a passport to Wakanda. As difficult as being a black woman is being with a black woman in the relationship. It’s complex to feel loved as well as to love and let the person feel loved. I think that, in the end, the path is therapy and self-love, because someone else will not be able to make you love yourself or to overcome your traumas, at most the person will be a great company.”

Afrocentric relationships reverberate with processes of self-affirmation of black cultural identity. To look at oneself with recognition of one’s own beauty and value in a society that denies them is an act of resistance, even of maintaining one’s own people, as happens in indigenous communities. It’s time to build new references for famílias negras (black families), including media representation. But there is no bubble of a mythical Africa, inside and outside this link, capable of fully protecting the mental health and the affective burden of the people involved there who for all their lives are crossed by racism in their stories. “It is important that this process of recovering self-esteem, turning to yourself, and perceiving the similarity as a possibility, but in a place free of bonds, not for a fanciful investment with another. By understanding the consequences of racism and strengthening yourself internally, it is possible to be free in your choices, both for what you look like and even to allow interracial relationships, but in another place, without subordination, this is empowerment,” ponders the therapist Jesus Moura.

Note

  1. Taken from the word quilombo, the maroon societies created by fugitive slaves in Brazil’s slavery period, aquilombamento means to form a quilombo or get together in a quilombo. In this sense, it means black Brazilians coming together to grow their presence in a specific area or situations
  2. In the Candomblé religion, the babalorixá or pai-de-santo is a male priest while the iabassê or filha de santo represents a true priest serving as an instrument, body, or medium for the Orisha who is incorporated into her at certain times of worship.
  3. I admit that I had never heard of this term before reading this article. Interestingly, doing a quick Google search with the term “o negão marrento” lead to various porn videos thus obviously connecting the term to sexual stereotypes of black men that also apply in Brazil.

Source: Revista Continente

About Marques Travae 3708 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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