Note from BW of Brazil: The question of black representation has been one that has been on the Afro-Brazilian agenda for some time. As we live in a society in which the media manipulates and often controls the minds of its audience, constructing/supporting ideologies that dictate what/who is important, what/who is beautiful, etc. it is easy to understand why black Brazilians want to play a larger role in media, government, education, etc. Without this involvement, black children continue believing that all that is successful, powerful or beautiful is white and wanting to distance themselves from their racial identity. And there is still more consider beyond this. And the subject of today’s piece points this out. It was an issue I brought up in an article over a year ago.
Attempting to maintain the identity of one’s work can diminish potential profits. But on the other hand, if you target the product at the general public, it runs the risk of being appropriated by those who care not about its origin and culture. We’ve already seen various incidents that have strong signs of cultural appropriation in which things created or associated with black people are belittled and/or degraded until someone with white skin wears or participates in it. We’ve also seen what happens when white people produce TV series starring black people (see here and here). Often times they rely heavily on well-known stereotypes and cliches about black people with very little substance. As such, as long as our images are “in the hands of white people”, we will continue to have the same results.
“Black symbols are on the rise, but in the hands of white people”
Professor Patricia Anunciada talks about cultural appropriation and the importance of teaching Afro-Brazilian culture in schools.
By Ana Paula Machado
On November 20th the Day of Black Consciousness is celebrated. To reinforce the importance of this date, this month, Claudia (magazine) sought out black women opinion makers and militants to discuss issues such as cultural appropriation, racism and representation. As a result, we launched a series of interviews on the importance of increasingly discussing racial issues in Brazil.
Patricia Anunciada is a teacher of Portuguese and English at two public school schools in São Paulo. She is proud of her afro hair, black features and of studies in Afro-Brazilian Literature. “But it was not always like that,” she says. Two incidents changed her life: 10 years ago, when she underwent a chemical procedure, her hair fell out (1): “I promised that I would never do this to myself again, and I began to treat my hair naturally.”
The other incident was to having found the research of Nilma Lino Gomes – pedagogue and former Minister of the Secretariat of Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality – on black aesthetics. “It changed my mentality and my view,” she says. In both elementary and high school classes, Patricia makes a point of addressing the racial issue so that her students don’t need casualities for their lives to change. For her, the key is education.
CLAUDIA: For you, how is black beauty seen in schools?
Patricia Announced: When I was a teenager, I was ashamed of my features and my hair, I wanted to hide them. I still perceive this attempt in schools. I see girls straightening their hair, putting gel in it, tying their hair down. But I also identify a change over the understanding of beauty itself. Some girls say they want to have hair like mine, they ask me what products I use, where I cut my hair. Today I am proud of my beauty and happy when it inspires other women to recognize themselves. Because it’s not just a matter of aesthetics, it’s a political act.
And is black culture addressed in basic education?
We have black roots and many black students in public schools, but a law was necessary to force the study of Afro history and culture in the institutions. We are developing projects and receiving books on racial themes and African culture. This makes a difference for students.
How do you see the space of black culture in Brazil today?
Unfortunately, it remains attached to the peripheral. The artistic production is great in places like Capão Redondo (São Paulo neighborhood), where there is a predominance of the black population. Poetry, for example, is rich and diffused in saraus. There is the Sarau do Binho, of the Cooperifa and Fala Guerreira! (speak warrior woman) (made up only of women). But little by little, this is becoming better known at events outside these areas and the internet. This is the case of the poets Jennyfer Nascimento and Elizandra Souza, and the poets Sérgio Vaz and Allan da Rosa.
At the same time as black culture is removed, it is incorporated into the white culture in a certain way. Do you think there is an appropriation in this?
Yes, various symbols of black culture are on the rise, but in the hands of pessoas brancas (white people). The problem is that they are being commodified and losing their meanings. The Afro-Brazilian religion became almost an anthropological study, something exotic. Iemanjá had her skin lightened, acarajé is being known as Jesus’ cookie and the turban became a simple accessory. The turban is a historical, religious and feminine empowerment piece. And worse, the black population is being diminished by making use of these symbols. I have suffered prejudice by wearing a turban and I see the prejudice against blacks that wear braids, rastafáris and dreads. People feel the right to attack them and diminish them. When it is on the head of someone white is “stylish.” They are two weights and two measures for the same things.
How can we change this?
People need to think about it. There is a failure in education. We need to educate them to respect these symbols and also understand the Afro religion as something sacred. Not only in November, the whole year. But it is difficult to work with this and have the support of the public power and society. There is an opposition that hinders the entry of black religions into schools, for example. We need to address these issues, discuss them.
And in Literature, your area of study, how is the issue addressed?
Lack of representativeness. Interestingly, most authors who write books with black themes are white. And this brings with it the problem of stigmatized reproduction. Many take ownership of the theme without breaking with stereotypes. We need the black vision, the protagonistWe need the black vision, the protagonist. The black author is still seen as a minor, dealt with superficially. And the black author feels even more difficult to appear. There is a lot of quality content being produced, but there is another which is divulgation. We also need – and we have the right – to space.
Source: Revista Claudia
- Numerous black Brazilian women have spoken on experiences using chemicals which led to their hair falling out. It is a common experience for those who come proudly accept their natural hair texture. For examples, see here and here.