Black Racism: 21 people tell When They Realized They Were Black
Note from BW of Brazil: As long as I’ve been learning about what it means to be black in Brazil, I am still sometimes amazed at how racism can be so blatant but at the same time seems to have effectively disarmed so many black people’s defense mechanisms against it. When I note how clear it is for white people to clearly know who is black and who is not, and then discover how long it took for so many black people to come to understand that they are black in fact black, it’s yet another reason for why I see Brazilian style racism being more effective in Brazil that in the United States.
I grew up in a relatively segregated society in which my city, Detroit, was somewhere between 80-90% black. In the years that I grew up in “tha D”, the three block area that I considered my immediate surrounding neighborhood was probably 100% black the time I reached about the 4th or 5th grade. I remember having white neighbors, one of those families being Jewish, on both sides of out house, but they seemed to have fled for the suburbs around the same time, replaced by two more black families.
As a child, I also remember having quite a few white classmates during nursery school as well as kindergarten, but by the time I reached a Catholic elementary school, I remember seeing one white kid in the six years I stayed there. When I went to second Catholic school a little further west in the city, that school was divided about 49/49 black/white with a sprinkling of Asian/Hispanic kids in student body as well.
The difference that I note between how I grew up in the US as an African-American boy and how many Afro-Brazilians grow up is that there was never a time when I didn’t know that I was black. Even though once upon a time I thought my brown-skinned father and light-skinned mother constituted an interracial couple, I was never confused about who I was. I also never discovered that I was black due to some negative comment made by a child or adult of the Caucasian persuasion.
As much as Brazil likes to position itself as the “superior” country in terms of its race relations, the more you dig into how race plays out in Brazil, the more I appreciate having grown up in a segregated society. Growing in a black neighborhood in a overwhelmingly black city that featured black people of many skin tones and hair textures, the separation from white Americans didn’t seem to give us this feeling of inferiority, at least outwardly. We were the norm.
As such, when I began to co-exist with white people in junior high and high school, I had already been firmly rooted in my racial identity for several years. When I entered these mixed environments, black people and white people, for the most part, co-existed, even while maintaining a self-imposed segregation that everyone was sort of used to. We didn’t have any racial problems because both sides pretty much knew where they were coming from. Black people didn’t take no sh*t because the Civil Rights/Black Power era gave us a certain pride in being who we were and if we had to stand up for this from time to time, that’s how it would be.
On the other hand, what I see in Brazil is that the country’s myth of a racial democracy and poor blacks and whites living side by side made it seem as though everyone was the same, in other words, “just Brazilians”. It duped its black population into believing that “all Brazilians are equal” while internally, everyone knew that the whiter you were, the better you were seen or accepted. From the comments below, you get the feeling that the rhetoric that “all Brazilians are equal” and “we are all (just) Brazilians” seemed to truly be accepted by those Brazilians of visible African ancestry who didn’t know they were black, until someone said or did something that acted as a sort of slap in the face.
Growing up in the segregated US, I never felt this way. I knew who I was, and I also knew who “they” were. Looking at the way so many people describing a sort of rude awakening of what it meant to be black in Brazil, I’m glad I grew up the way I did.
“At 5, when I heard: ‘Don’t play with them. They’re black”: 21 people tell when they realized they were black
By Aline Ramos
We asked some people at what point in their lives they understood that they were black. Below are the answers:
1. “I was only fully aware starting from my initiation in the Candomblé“.
In addition to approaching my ancestry through the orixás, the capillary transition ritual (in candomblé, the head is shaved) in my initiation to religion was fundamental to my racial consciousness. – Floriza Fernandes
2. “When a teacher asked us to make a colorful drawing of our hands.”
I saw them all pointing their pink ‘Peppa Pig’ pencils and I went in the package. I only realized I was wrong when I looked at my hand and looked at the pencil. Today I laugh, but at that moment I felt a little bad for not being like the others. Now I am very proud of my color and my origins. – Tadeu Bernardes
3. “When I once heard from my colleagues: ‘who will want to dance with the black?'”
At the time of primary school, there in Paraná (state), there was a festa junina (party), with dancing and such. No girl wanted to dance with me. I was the only black in the class, from first to sixth grade. Everyone was a couple … and I once heard from one of the classmates: “who will want to dance with the black?” I was only 7 and it had already gotten real. – Eduardo Dudu
4. “At 5, when I heard: ‘Don’t play with them. They’re black.'”
At 5, in the private school. A 6 year old boy saw that his sister was playing with my brothers and said: “don’t play with them. They’re black“. – Iris Abrantes
5. “I realized I was black during a theater piece at school, in elementary school.”
Among the various characters, there were angels. I tried to play one of them, but a classmate said that I couldn’t because an angel has to be branco, loiro, de olhos azuis e de cabelo bom (white, blond, with blue eyes and good hair), and that since I was black, I could only play a demon. – Angélica Alves
6. “When I was 11 and a classmate’s mother accused me of theft.”
In the middle of her discussion with the coordinator, this mother said that a black girl would never be able to buy a glue stick, which was a novelty at the time. – Aniele Bernardo
7. “When one of my cousins refused to play with me claiming that he didn’t like black people.”
I am an adopted daughter in a white family. I discovered my blackness at the age of eight, when one of my cousins who lives in Bahia refused to play with me claiming that he didn’t like black people. For an eight year old child, it hurt. That day, I discovered my racial identity. However, I denied being black. I wanted to be like my brothers to be accepted. Only at the age of 12 did I begin a process of self-acceptance, seeking more about the history of my ancestors and their struggles against slavery and racism. – Gerla Dutra
8. “I heard my ex-sister-in-law comment that I cleaned the house very well: ‘it’s because of the color.'”
One weekend, I cleaned my ex-mother-in-law’s house and heard my ex-sister-in-law comment to her that I cleaned the house very well. I heard the answer loud and clear: “it’s because of the color.” At the time it didn’t make much sense to me because I didn’t understand myself as a black woman. I was a café com leite (coffee with milk), a mulatto, a moreninha. But that messed with me, not only the sentence, but the tone she used, it stayed in my head. Knowing feminism and the sense of empowerment better, I understood the importance of accepting (myself as) black and never being silent when they try to reduce me because of it. – Thais Moreira (Black Racism)
9. “At thirteen, when a white aunt said that I would never stop looking like someone poor.”
At thirteen, when a white aunt said that I would never stop looking like someone poor. I looked around and saw all my white, straight-haired cousins. I will never forget this. – Nara Lacerda
10. “When my mother said she prayed every day asking God that I will be born with fair skin so I wouldn’t suffer.”
At various and various times. However, it really hit the mark when once, talking to my mother about her pregnancy (with me), she told me that she prayed every day asking God that I be born with fair skin so I wouldn’t suffer. That broke me. – Keren Nonato
11. “People have always made a point of emphasizing the ‘unhappiness’ of me not having fine features and being blonde like my mother.”
Because she is the daughter of a white mother, people have always made a point of emphasizing the “unhappiness” of not having fine features and being blonde like her. It bothered me a lot. When I was a child I didn’t understand, I came to realize now as an adult. – Ana Carolina
12. “When my boss said in front of 40 people that my hair was not hygienic, it was dirty for the hospital environment.”
When, at the age of 18, I introduced myself to the welcome meeting in the extracurricular internship. Academics from Medicine, Nutrition, Pharmacy and Physiotherapy (my area) were present in the auditorium. During the meeting, the chief physician in charge asked us to introduce ourselves and say which sector we were in. In my turn, I replied: “my name is Raíza, I’m 19 years old and I took a test for the Adult CTI”. He replied: “welcome, Raíza, but I have to tell you: either you change your hair or change areas! This type of hair is not allowed in an environment like the CTI”.
At the time I didn’t understand (my hair was a medium-sized afro, wrapped in a turban), I only realized it when I talked to my only black professor at the university. The real thing is that he said in front of 40 people that my hair was not hygienic, it was dirty for the hospital environment. Seriously! I spent a year in the internship, suffered bullying in the first two months because of my hair, until I took a (firm) position: I said he would contact my lawyer. They just never brought it up again. – Raiza Cabral
13. “I think the key just turned around once I started my first job: an internship at the Court.” (Black Racism)
I didn’t perceive any malice about how things worked out of the home-school routine, it took me a while to realize what made people look at me and treat me differently.
In contact with lawyers, it was common for them to question my position, as if I was not fit for the activity I was engaged in. In the elevators, there were frequent times when they avoided sharing the space with me, even knowing it was 12 floors and it would take some time before another one came. And what embarrassed me most was that every day the same security guard greeted everyone in the morning, but he insisted that I present my badge for two whole years.
A way for me to understand this difference also happened when I realized how good I felt and close to the maid who works on the floor below the ground floor: a lovely black lady, who treated everyone like her grandchildren, even though not everyone would reciprocate with the least bit of education.
This experience was also divisive when I realized to make a difference even on the streets and, for some time, I thought I was to blame for the looks and behaviors, whether it was the way I dressed, the way my hair was or even the facial expression of when I walked. – Guilherme Tintel
14. “When I happened to know the Black Panther movement and the Dear White People series.”
Everyone considered me parda or morena, I never saw myself as black and I had never been identified as such. When I happened to know the Black Panther movement and the Dear White People series, my mind finally seemed to open up. I started to find out more and more and it was like I finally found myself. I am very proud to be who I am and, no matter what they say, I am black and I will always be fighting for my ideals. – Clara Portela
15. “With a commercial that had (actress) Taís Araújo self-affirming herself as black.”
Fortunately, in a positive way, with a commercial that had Taís Araújo claiming to be black. I saw that I looked like her in terms of skin tone. – Cássia Victória
16. “I was playing with a red-haired cousin in the park of the condominium and a girl warned me “gently” that the employees’ children could not use that area.”
I always knew I was black, but I discovered racism when I was seven and I was playing with a red-haired cousin in the condo’s playground and a girl warned me “kindly” that the employees’ children could not use that area. Detail: my aunt lived in my parents’ apartment. – Aline Medinah
17. “I needed the police once, to register a violent approach by the police itself and I was denied the right to register the police report”
I realized that I was black when I saw that when I went to school, went to a square or walked home at night, my biggest fear was being seen by the police. Because whenever the police saw me, it was more of a violent approach. I needed the police once, to register a violent approach from the police itself and I was denied the right to register the B.O. (police report) I realized what it was to be black when walking on a street and people changed sidewalks or most of the time they ran. – Willi Jhon (Black Racism)
18. “When my father taught me how to conform to the police and not be repressed.”
Look, I remember some basic things in my childhood. As my father taught me how to conform with the police and not be repressed, he said that I should always treat them as “sir” and do exactly what they asked. And he always said that although I am a little lighter, the eyes of the police would always be racist. Detail: my father was a police officer for 10 years in Belo Horizonte. – Victor Rodrigues Batista (Black Racism)
19. “A security guard took me by the arm and said that that wasn’t the place for me.”
I spent a good part of my childhood without feeling black and without recognizing myself as such. Having a white father with a good living condition, I didn’t deal directly with racism. The day it hit me I was 11, it was when I went to a fancy restaurant with my father. At one point, I went to the bathroom. When I was leaving, a security guard took me by the arm and said that that wasn’t the place for me. He dragged me to the back exit while I cried and said my dad was inside. What surprised me most about everything that happened was that the security guard was also black. – Eric Satine
20. “The answer was that if it I wasn’t black, maybe I would be a lot better looking and he would get with me.”
When you are black and gay, it is quite common to hear from some guys that you would be much cuter if you weren’t black. Besides, my parents were a biracial couple, so I was the moreninho. I liked a boy at school and I wasn’t outgoing, so I fell into the nonsense of asking if he thought I was interesting. The answer was that if it I wasn’t black, maybe I would be a lot better looking and he would get with me. The following year, I became friends with an incredible girl who always addressed racial and LGBTQ issues, I learned a lot from her. – Andre Aphonso
21. “She, the director of the college, demanded a badge from the only two black women in order to expel us from the computer room.” (Black Racism)
When the director of the college campus where I graduated came into the computer room (open to everyone, it’s public) and shouted for anyone who was not a student to leave the place. She demanded a badge from the only two black women in order to expel us. I showed my badge. The lawsuit and police investigation are ongoing at the Federal Police because the university is federal. She tried to frame us and we even responded to the inquiry at the time. That was when racism was delivered in my face, my skin, my body. – Juliana Florentino