Note from BW of Brazil: This very poignant piece has been touching all that read it for the past week or so. It’s a short piece penned by designer/businesswoman Ana Paula Xongani whose name, work and thoughts have appeared in a number of articles on this blog in the past few years. Her description and interpretation brought several things to mind in my analysis of how a racist Brazilian society affects black women before they even enter adulthood, often times becoming a part of their daily lives from the time they are little girls. In a section of the book Blessed Anastacia: Women, Race and Popular Christianity in Brazil, John Burdick describes a scenario that is all too common in the lives of teenage black girls, and as we will see in today’s post, it actually starts much earlier. The following is taken from pages 38-39 of Burdick’s Anastacia:
“From their perspective, pretas (dark-skinned black girls) do not experience themselves in the courtship arena merely as passive objects of the male alternation between lust and avoidance; they engage in active avoidance themselves. In particular, they endeavor to minimize situations in which they will be subjected to humiliating comparative gazes. At dances, pretas tend to cluster away from morenas, mulatas, and brancas (mixed/brown/light-skinned/white). “The black funkeiras are always by themselves,” said Carla, a teenage preta, “dancing alone and with each other.” The pattern is visible not just at dances. In any social situation where flirtation is in the air, such as at house or block parties, girls tend to gravitate into darker and lighter groups, while groups of boys tend to remain mixed in color. I asked several young people about this. “Yes,” said a preta. “It is hard to stand next to uma menina mais clara (a lighter girl) at a party. A guy passes by, he looks at you, he looks at her, he says something to her. I like to stand with my friends who are my color.” Avoiding humiliation is also why pretas often reject the advances of lighter boys.”
I can verify the existence of this exclusion and belittling of darker-skinned black girls and women from my time as an English teacher in São Paulo. Often times when would discuss color and racial issues, male teenage students would openly tell me that they are not attracted to black girls, regardless of how pretty they may be or express a preference for branquinhas (white girls) and also that they were taught to appreciate light/white skin growing up in their homes. The rejection of pele preta (black skin) It is a FACT that most Brazilians will deny under the rhetoric of “we are all equal”. But study after study shows us that darker-skinned black female teens and adults have confirmed such ostracization. What Ana Paula hints at in her piece is that this rejection of dark skin starts long before black girls begin to think of finding a romantic partner.
In the story below, it is apparent that Ana Paula’s daughter can sense that she’s been excluded from circles of friendship and games although she doesn’t necessarily understand why. Although we know that most people would prefer to pass on the myth that skin color has no influence on relationships or prospects for success in life in Brazil, the reality is that Brazil is a very anti-black/pro-white country and Ana Paula’s daughter’s skin color could very well be the reason for her exclusion. Black teens know it. Black women know it. And as this young girl grows up, she too will surely understand this.
Being the mother of a black girl has brought me many challenges
By Ana Paula Xongani
Originally published in the author’s Facebook profile
In tears I write:
There are a lot of beautiful things in maternity, but there are a lot of pains too. Ser mãe de uma menina preta me trouxe muitos medos, muitos desafios e muita força. (Being the mother of a black girl has brought me many fears, many challenges and a lot of strength)
It is very sad to see your daughter being rejected! Even before saying “hello” she comes close and they all run, she approaches, and all the others group together, she calls and no one answers. They isolate her, exclude her, hurt her.
She doesn’t understand, but she feels it. She doesn’t complain but gets sad. My heart breaks!
This time I was here spying, crying and thinking of ways to welcome my daughter. This time I called her onto my lap, hugged her, said she was beautiful and intelligent, I told her I loved her.
But when I’m not there?
We always talk about the solidão da mulher negra (loneliness of the black woman), often related to adult affectivity. But this loneliness begins very early, it begins in childhood. Racism is learned by structures and reproduced by children in a frightening way. We have made progress, but our black girls are still passed over, rejected, isolated.
I asked my daughter:
“Don’t your friends want to play?”
And she answered me,
“It’s always like that, but I don’t care, I like to play alone.”
Does she like it? Or at 4 years is she already protecting herself in solitude?
And for those of you who believe it to be “coisa de criança” (a child’s thing) you’re certainly not a black woman. We black women experienced these same traumas in childhood, it was bad but over time we forgot, surpassed or reflected in other moments of life. But being a mother makes you relive some of them, and this time more intensely and much more painful.
It hurts a lot!
*I recorded and published a video/broadcast on youtube channel Ana Paula Xongani – name of the video: “EU TENHO PRESSA” (I’m in a hurry) *