Research shows how prejudice manifests itself in interracial relationships
The basis of this article is an interpolation of a piece by Martha Mendonça
Although anyone who has ever been to Brazil could tell you that interracial marriage is much more common in that country than in the US, what people probably don’t report or admit is that prejudice against these types of couples is also very common. Although couples ultimately decide if and when they will marry, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the family will accept the union. In November of 2001, television showed one of the most explicit public displays of racism ever seen in Brazil – where the bias is often hidden, only moving forward in the shadows. The former model Cláudia Lúcia, 36, one of three participants from No Limite 3, a reality show aired by Globo TV on Sundays, revealed her opinions about the black race. “I would not want my daughter to date a black man. I keep imagining my grandchildren, all sararás (1), and having to put henna (2) (in their hair),” she said, going beyond the boundaries of common sense. Cláudia commented on the romance that a black man, Fábio Meirelles, a model of 23 years, was having on the program with the blonde Tatiana, 24.
“If we were not isolated from the world, when is that Fábio would have a chance of dating a pretty blonde with blue eyes?”, asked Cláudia Lúcia. Her remarks ended up causing more repercussion than the nude pictures she took for a men’s magazine in 1984.
The reaction was immediate. In Rio de Janeiro, the lawyer Pena Aderlan Crespo went to the state prosecutor and asked for an institutional inquiry. In commemoration of the day of Black Consciousness, on November 20, in Central do Brasil (3), appeared a sign of protest with photos of the former model. In Campo Grande, in the western region of the city, Fábio’s mother, Rejane, said she was sick of hearing the nonsense. His sister, Christiane, was indignant: “Fabio has had many girlfriends. Black, mulatto and blondes.”
Far from being an exception, what Cláudia Lúcia stated for all to hear on TV is a feeling that Brazil whispers in the corners. Interracial marriage is a major taboo of racism in the country. Many Brazilians often boast of the ethnic miscegenation in this morena land. But seeing a black man and white woman come hand in hand in a restaurant, will attract a look, hidden or overt, whether there is negative comment made or not, one will experience at least a slight feeling of uneasiness. Anthropologist Laura Moutinho completed her doctoral thesis, which is the first study of how prejudice manifests itself in relationships. She drew behavioral profiles that detail the peculiar way in which racism was installed in the Brazilian character.
Moutinho researched rich and poor areas of Rio de Janeiro and demonstrated that interracial relationships are surrounded by a stigma that the anthropologist calls “utilitarian syndrome.” In common sense, only marriages between persons of the same color would be seen as relationships based on love or an equitable interest. By the look of prejudice, couples of different colors only exist because of a “currency swap”: prestige, money, social mobility or myths of sexual superiority. When one of these a couples is formed, society tends to speculate on what the two are getting out of the union.
“A black Samba musician or soccer player that is experiencing social ascension and dating a blonde, for example, generate the classic conclusion: in the trade, he would bring the prestige and money, she, would bring the socio-cultural superiority of white skin,” says the anthropologist. The former soccer player Cláudio Adão, 46, felt first hand Laura’s theories. For 20 years, at the peak of his career as a striker on the soccer field, he met his wife, Paula Barreto, daughter of film producers Lucy and Luiz Carlos Barreto. “My mother, from a traditional family from Minas Gerais, did not allow dating,” says Paula. “When I announced the marriage, she asked: ‘Did you ever think that you would have mulatto children?’”
The actress Arlete Salles, 62, gets emotional when recalling her courtship of six years with actor/singer Tony Tornado, in the 70s. It was common to find two tickets on the windshield of the car with phrases like “Dirty white woman, why are you with this black?” Currently, Arlete has been seen with her dance teacher, also black. “Maybe today there is less aggressiveness about it, but I don’t believe that people really accept relationships like this.” For his part, Tornado once revealed that the Brazilian media banned interracial couples from being shown on television.
Now in her second marriage with a black man, actress Rosane Goffman, 44, recalls that one of the worst experiences of prejudice that she ever saw had happened at a wedding party that she attended with her first husband. “As we entered, we were greeted by frowns and raised eyebrows of a few friends. It was as if we were doing something wrong or wearing something inappropriate”, she says. When she goes through situations like that, she reacts: “We hold hands, hug and kiss each other a lot.” The journalist Janine Louven, white, aged 26, married for five years with a black musician, Maurício Almeida, she is already tired of going through such situations. Therefore, she recently made a point of taking her daughter Mary, age 4, to the Museu Imperial, in Petrópolis (4), where she spoke to the girl about Princess Isabel (5). “I explained that if it were not for her, mom and dad could not be married.”
Gilberto Freyre, author of Casa-Grande & Senzala (1933), wrote that all Brazilians have “in the soul, if not in soul and the body, the shadow or the mark of the Indian or the negro.” However, studies show that if Freyre was right, it’s more for traces of the mixed race individual of the soul than the body. 21% of the country’s marriages are interracial, a significant number when compared to the U.S. (4%) but much lower than assumed by common sense. The data was collected in 1988 by the demographer Elza Berquó, the starting point of the thesis of Laura Moutinho.
Elza’s research transformed a myth enshrined in common sense: that interracial relationships generally occur between white men and black or mulatto women, a legacy of the relations between the Portuguese and their slaves. Today miscegenation goes in the opposite direction. There is a strong predominance of marriages of black men with lighter women. “It shows the evolution of the woman, who with their emancipation, began to make choices,” says Ana Lúcia Valente, PhD in anthropology from the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul. The women have notably less racist attitudes that the men.
Laura Moutinho shows that what has helped this trend is the recent appreciation of the black man as a sex symbol. Claudemiro Dias, 29, is one of the most sought after models in the agency L’Equipe in São Paulo. “The harassment is too much. I have a friend that has dreadlocks that is not even cute, but all of the blonds want a piece of him,” says the model, who assumes the stage name of Cláudio Negrão.
In Motinho’s research, black and white women are unanimous in saying that the white man has a lower sexual appetite – although he is more romantic. On the black man, they say they have a more beautiful body, bigger penis, “fleshy ass” and “kisses with more passion”. “Consecrated in the cultural tradition is the idea that the white man is synonymous with reason and civility, the black man, to nature and the primitive, therefore, eroticism,” says Moutinho.
The idea of sexual superiority favors black men but it is detrimental to women. “In the history of Brazil, black women were seen for pleasure, not for the conjugal,” says Moutinho. Hence the association is often made between a black woman dating white man and prostitution. Especially when they are foreigners.
The demographics of Elza Berquó revealed that among whites, there are more women than men. Among blacks and mulattos, the opposite occurs. This surplus of black men in the “affectionate/sexual market”, as Moutinho calls it, directs itself at the white woman. One consequence is that the percentage of single black and mulatto women today is higher than it is for white women. Solitude became a bigger problem for them, especially for those who have acquired some upward social mobility.
Former model and owner of a restaurant in Belo Horizonte, Zora Santos, a black woman of 48 years, has never been married. The three children are the result of “passing relationships” with black men. “Many black women have trouble finding a mate and this limitation is the result of the trap that racism created in Brazil: that white is more beautiful,” she critiques. Mylene Pereira Ramos, 36, judge of the 61st Jurisdiction of the Labor Court of São Paulo, is part of the singles list. She hasn’t had a boyfriend since 1999 and believes the very problem is the lack of self-esteem of black women. “For the values disseminated in the society, many think of themselves as inferior and less beautiful than white women,” she says.
Among the artists, there are many examples that illustrate this thesis. Soccer legend Pelé says that it’s “nothing more than coincidence” that he has married two brunette white women and dates blondes like TV host, Xuxa. “I also dated Deise Nunes (6), who is mulatto. My first girlfriend, in Bauru (7), was Japanese,” he points out. The singer Alexandre Pires, 25, does not hide his preference for blondes – especially those of the group É o Tchan (8). After Carla Perez, he has also dated Sheila Mello. Carla married Xanddy, the mulatto singer and sex symbol. But the anthropologist Laura Moutinho dismisses the union as an example. “Carla Perez’s father is mulatto. In the United States, he would be considered black. There, it goes by (racial) origin. In Brazil, it goes by appearance.”
Aware of the Brazilian tendency to overlook or deliberately conceal racial origin, the anthropologist interviewed couples who only saw themselves as examples of miscegenation. The actress Susana Werner, who lived with the soccer player Ronaldo for three years, asked ÉPOCA magazine for a moment to respond if the two were an interracial couple. After half an hour, she responded: “I had never thought about the subject. I know that Ronaldo’s father is black, but we’re both so light (skinned), right?”
Moutinho’s thesis also exposes the difficulty of some victims of prejudice to admit that friends or relatives are racist. “A black guy that was not accepted by his white girlfriend’s father justified the attitude saying that days before the man had been assaulted by a black man,” says the anthropologist.
Advisor of the researcher, anthropologist Peter Fry argues that, while discussions about racism are limited to black groups, nothing will change. “The Brazilian middle class has always accepted miscegenation, as long as it doesn’t knock at their door,” he says. There is much evidence to support this statement. In his groundbreaking work on race relations in Brazil in the 1960s, The Negro in Brazil Society, sociologist Florestan Fernandes found that nearly 90% of white Brazilians would not like to see someone in their family marry someone black. In a study from 2002, José Jorge de Carvalho, professor of anthropology at the Universidade de Brasília wrote that:
“The white Brazilian middle class of today produces its color and prestige associated with it by means of a constant effort of whitening, of severe mechanisms of control over its members and the systematic forgetting of its non-white ancestral components.”
The actress Ana Paula Tabalipa and musician João Vianna, now married, experienced similar situations in childhood, despite differences in color. João, son of singer Djavan, has always been one of the few blacks in the private schools he attended. Ana Paula studied in public schools, where she was almost always the only white girl in the room. “My nickname was Gasparzinho (little Casper). I was discriminated against”, he says. The couple doesn’t see themselves in any of the cases raised by the thesis. “We are a married man and a woman. That’s it”, says João. They look at each other and smile, hand in hand. In the baby stroller, the little Lui, 9 months old, releases a burst of laughter.
1 – Another Brazilian term for describing a certain phenotype. A person described as sarará is usually very fair-skinned, with loosely curled, afro-textured hair (color could be light brown, blond or even red), sometimes with freckles but facial features that still denote African ancestry. Cultural critic Michaela Angela Davis would be a good example of what a Brazilian would call sarará.
2 – Product used to straighten hair
3 – Important train station in Rio de Janeiro
4 – City in the state of Rio de Janeiro, about 40 miles from the city of Rio de Janeiro
5 – On May 13, 1888, Princesa Isabel signed the Lei Áurea (Golden Law) which abolished slavery in Brazil
6 – Brazil’s first and only woman of African descent to be crowned Miss Brasil in 1986.
7 – City in the midwestern region of the state of São Paulo
8 – Popular musical group from Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, debuting in 1992.
Source: Revista Época