Note from BW of Brazil: Those of us who are not familiar with the Brazilian reality hear reports that many of the country’s African descendants don’t accept a black identity and scratch their heads in puzzlement. But as a number of articles on this blog have shown, this escape from blackness was a well-developed orchestrated elite plan. The combination of the spread of negative connotations associated with blackness, a desire to escape these meanings through inter-mixture combined with a media that presents whiteness as the ultimate desire has lead to the wideness destruction of black identity throughout Brazil. But against these odds, over the past few decades, a number of groups and organizations have set out to challenge this hegemonic belief in black inferiority. Below we present another of these groups that has taken on the task of the re-construction of black identity.
Identity and Resistance: black women in the battle against standards of beauty
Manifesto Crespo: Meeting in Aldeia Guarani in SP, shares ancestral customs and fight against the fashion industry stereotypes
By Vanessa Cancian, the Namu
In the extreme south of the city of São Paulo, in the village of Tenondé Pora, where part of the Guarani community lives, the collective Manifesto Crespo, formed by black women, promoted the event “Tecendo e trançando arte” (weaving and braiding art). The project, created with the purpose of discussing the real beauty of the Brazilian woman through the breaking of the stereotypes that predominate in fashion and media, took to the Indian community workshops and knowledge exchange activities among the women present.
Within a still preserved area of Mata Atlântica, the women came together to share ancestral customs and put in contact these different ethnic groups, but with common historic struggle, suffering and resistance. In an environment marked by diversity, host and visitors strengthened the ties that historically unite the two cultures.
“The meeting in this environment, together with the native peoples was chosen because the village has Jerá Guarani, female leadership that gives us pride and know that in the past there was much unity between the black and indigenous communities,” said Lúcia Udemezue, a member of Manifesto Crespo. According to her, activist Jerá Guarani in various political movements strengthens the participation of women in the village. “We believe that the agendas of our struggles meet in some way and we are together defending a larger flag, seeking equality being done for justice that was not done for centuries in our country,” added Udemezue.
“By learning the wrappings to take to the children I realized that we do it in the same way as blacks. You can see the similarity between the ancient wisdom present in both parts, “says Poty Porã, a Guarani woman and a school teacher in the village. She said it was gratifying to participate in activities and learn to make turbans and other wrappings that were taught by the group members.
Beautiful is being different
“The stories of Brazilian black women have similar accounts: When they were children they had their hair braided by family members, in their teen years they straightened and in adulthood, there is the search for accepting the crespos (kinky/curly),” says Denise Souza, educator and member of Manifesto Crespo. For her, the organized experiences found points in common, regardless of the place where it’s applied.
“The media, currently, shows its aggression because we are reacting. The more we fight, the more this opposing force will come,” says Lúcia Udemezue. The project aims to show the beauty of diversity and of black women in the fight against the media and the monochromatic advertising that it insists on making explicit in advertisements, movies and novelas (soap operas) one type of woman, with white skin and straight hair.
“When we do this kind of activity you can see people’s looks change and they begin to see black culture in another way,” points Thays Quadros, project producer. She says that the collective aims to pass on the braiding techniques and turbans from generation to generation, encouraging children to learn these traditions. “When a child knows another culture, she leans about the differences and will look with different eyes and appreciate the beauty of diversity. To combat racism we must teach people to respect differences,” she adds.
Braiding and weaving art
In 2014, the Manifesto Crespo, in partnership with the União Popular de Mulheres do Campo Limpo (Women’s Popular Union of Campo Limpo), was awarded the “Prêmio Lélia Gonzalez – protagonismo de organizações de mulheres negras” (Lélia Gonzalez Award – roles of black women’s organizations). The initiative proposes to adopt the redeeming of the artistic culture of African braids and turbans in 5 cities in the state, which have women leader representatives and traditions linked to African culture in Brazil.
“Our project started with a group of young black women who met to discuss the question of identity through the hair,” says Lucia Udemezue. The initial impetus for the birth of the collective came, she said, from the difficulties of the acceptance of cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair). “We started to put together several experiments to mount a project of an artistic, pedagogical and also political nature. For this, creating an environment where we could share our experiences and hear from women how they are not accepted in society because of an imposed standard of beauty,” she adds.
Source: Negro Belchior
Many countries in Latin America with large Black populations had Tuban Laws that required Black women to cover their hair. They also had laws the it was forbidden for Black women to wear gold or silver jewelry.
In our course we’ve been discussing the limitations and variations of black political resistance through the vehicle of cultural practices. Part of the problem in measuring the effectiveness of such forms of resistance rests on the definition of black resistance, itself. While the expressly “political” maybe explicitly absent from groups like Manifesto Crespo, I would argue that, in its own way, these practices play an extremely important role in deconstructing and challenging cultural and racial hegemony.
It seems, at the very least, such customs and traditions (especially when intergenerational and sensitive to intersections of class and gender) are prerequisites to successful political projects, without which such attempts at political and material contestation become vulnerable to absorption (including co-option and depoliticization) by the dominant group. It has been argued that, to some extent, Candomblé and Capoeira have suffered these epiphenomena. In other words, the “marketable ethnicity” of Bahians has been great for tourists and gentrifiers, not so much for residents of Gamboa de Baixa.
So maybe the question becomes how can productions of knowledge and culture (and importantly, ones which challenge accepted notions of beauty, status, and power) effectively predicate or facilitate movements of political and economic resistance in a country where the recognition (and celebration) of cultural differences is often used as evidence for racial equality, thereby delegitimizing claims for the very political and economic access to which these groups have been historically and consistently denied?
I think projects like this are great and prove useful in promoting culture and instilling cultural values as well. The article makes a great point on how the media portrays beauty, and beauty is only seen through pin straight hair. You hardly if ever see a celebrity on television with curly or natural hair. Projects like these really help younger girls to embrace their culture and not feel different for having hair that the media does not portray. It brings to light as well how the media has a set way of doing things, and that is that it always seems to be in a ‘white’ way. We see women of color on television as news reporters, celebrities and in other positions, with straight hair. It is rare to see a women with natural hair, which I personally think looks beautiful. It’s sad to see how people feel forced to change the way they look because of what a magazine shows or the way people on TV look. I think more of these projects should be available because they offer cultural value.
It’s always so great reading about organizations like these that promote culture and encourage women to be themselves. I like how this article states, “being beautiful is being different.” I couldn’t agree more. This article shows black resistance when it talks about media and how they portray certain things. Media has always had negative connotations towards women and what is considered beauty, and the discrimination is worse off for Afro-Brazilians. Its unique how their project started with the hair and how they continue to focus on the natural look of Afro-Brazilians, these women are breaking the stereotypes and making history, good for them!