Note from BBT: I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that it is or will be the new battlefield in the rise of black consciousness in Brazil. I speak of the term “amor preto”, meaning ‘black love’. Years ago, the topic was considered off limits, and to a large degree, many people would prefer to keep it that way, but the topic simply won’t go away. I’ve written about this in past posts, but as I know everyone hasn’t read all of my material over the course of nine years, I don’t mind repeating it from time to time.
Being from a black community in the United States, I have long been aware of a certain rejection that exists among African-Americans toward interracial unions. In the late 1980s and early 90s, there was a sort of revival in the sentiments of honoring and protecting black women as well as the desire to maintain the strong bond between black men and black women.
In some circles, anyone known to have a desire to seek love outside of the black race was considered a “sell-out”, an “oreo cookie”. Spike Lee’s 1991 film labeled this desire “jungle fever” while a track by musician Meshell N’Dgeocello declared that any black man pursuing vanilla love as having his “Soul on Ice”.
Delving into the studies of black Brazil, I hadn’t come across this open expression and demand for black love in the early part of the 21st century. In fact, it seemed the exact opposite. It seemed that wherever I looked, most black and mixed Brazilians expressed the idea that “love has no color”, which in later years would appear to me as a manner of saying “I prefer white”, but hidden behind the national mythology of race and color not mattering.
My hunch seemed to be proven by most music videos and novelas (soap operas), as it seemed that every well-known Afro-Brazilian male was paired up with a white woman, be it in TV/film productions or in their personal lives. I started to really wonder at some point, “What’s going on here? Where are the black couples? Why does it seem that every prominent black Brazilian male and a large percentage of prominent black Brazilian females have white partners?”
Somewhere along the way, I discovered the policy of embranquecimento, meaning whitening of the black race via continuous interracial relationships until, after 2-3 generations, a black family would become completely white or something close to it. Embranquecimento was Brazil’s official policy/plan for the eventual disappearance of all traces of the black race.
The plan didn’t exactly work within the period of a century that complete whitening was predicted to have taken place, but it did lead to a large population of mixed race which includes millions of Brazilians of whom it is difficult to categorize as belonging to only one race.
This encouragement of the black population to seek white partners in order to “improve the race” lead to countless black families openly acknowledging a desire that their children marry and reproduce white, or at least whiter children. Over the last two decades, from Bahia to São Paulo, I’ve seen countless families in which this whitening process was in full effect.
Despite the fact that it isn’t really a topic that I would hear people discuss out of the blue, when I spent time teaching English in São Paulo, I noted that if I initiated the conversation, it was rather common for black and mixed teenagers to acknowledge being encouraged by their families to date and marry persons with white skin growing up in their homes.
It appeared clear that the ideology of the whitening process had been widely spread throughout the general population. Of course, the numerous conversations I’d had with adolescents doesn’t necessarily count as sufficient evidence to prove my hypothesis, but in the various social networks, from the defunct Orkut to Facebook, I’ve read hundreds of comments of Brazilians all over the country who, after coming to understand what the process of embranquecimento was, clearly indicated an acceptance of this value system in their homes.
Whitening, what I gather from these conversations and comments, was never seen as anything strange, it was just accepted as something normal that one should aspire for. The difference from the United States was clear. White Americans were so obsessed with maintaining “pure” whiteness that anyone known to have any trace of African blood was automatically labeled black, courtesy of the infamous “one-drop rule”. On the other hand, black American families staunchly encouraged their children to “bring home someone black”.
Of course, for years, in many states, interracial unions were actually outlawed, but with the rise of these unions from the 1980s on, it was common for people in the African-American community to frown upon interracial unions. Maintaining the appearance of one’s family as clearly black, the promotion of black love and rejection of interracial unions could also be gauged in numerous Hip Hop songs of the late 1980s/early 90s as well as the aforementioned Spike Lee film Jungle Fever.
For the most part, the opposite was going on in Brazil. Throughout my two decades of experience with Brazil, I have rarely heard black men or women openly express a preference for black women or black men or declare that they exclusively date people of their own race. In many ways, walking the streets of various cities across Brazil, it seemed that black Brazilians were on a crash course for extinction by way of miscegenation.
As far as I could tell, black Brazilians weren’t even concerned about the gradual shift from coffee to cream as perhaps many actually welcomed it. It was only in 2005 that I came to notice via the comments section of a black Brazilian website that there existed any type of hostility at seeing so many Afro-Brazilian sports figures and celebrities marry white. Less than a decade later, the propensity of specifically black Brazilian men choosing white women for long-term relationships and marriage had earned a term: palmitagem. The men participating in such unions were nicknamed “palmiteiros”.
Some time between 2013 and 2014, Afro-Brazilian women began blowing up the internet with essays and articles about how these “palmiteiros” were responsible for tens of thousands of black women not being able to find mates, spending longer periods as single women or in fact never managing to get married. From 2013 to 2020, there have been endless debates on “palmitagem”, Afro-Brazilian men making the same accusations of black women and eventually, the first dating app, Afrodengo, that sought to match black men and women who sought partners specifically within the black population.
The call for more black couples, Afrodengo, amor afrocentrado (afrocentric love) and amor preto (black love) began to be hot topics in social networks as more and more black Brazilians were beginning to see that Brazilian culture had deceived them into a preference for whiteness and beginning to see interracial unions as another weapon of the genocide of the black population. This is not to say that all black Brazilians see it this way, as, in my view, most black and mixed Brazilians continue to believe that racial politics should have nothing to do with love and relationships.
But there’s a change in the air. The new battle lines have been drawn and Afro-Brazilians are increasingly starting to call out what they see as contradictory behavior when they see prominent black entertainers who present themselves as representatives of “the struggle” dating or married to non-black partners. The list of famous Afro-Brazilians who have been put on blast online over the past year for “talking black and sleeping white” deserves an entire article itself (which I will eventually get to). On the topic, others choose not to criticize interracial unions but rather promote their belief in the necessity for amor afrocentrado or amor preto.
Let’s be clear, in Brazil, THAT is revolutionary.
Another artist whose recent work takes on this theme is Larissa Luz. In recent years, Luz has made clear her belief in black representation and in her new video, she takes another step in this direction by releasing a visual presentation of black love and affection.
Black love is the theme of singer Larissa Luz’s new videoclip
By Victor Lacerda with additional information courtesy of Jornal de Piracicaba
Production illustrates the artist’s new track, entitled “Não Tenha Medo de Mim”; actor Fabrício Boliveira is Larissa’s co-star in video
Last Thursday (17), the Bahian multi-artist Larissa Luz gave life to a musical track with the release of the videoclip of her new song, entitled “Não Tenha Medo de Mim” (Don’t Be Afraid of Me). With her own script, composition and musical production, the work is the result of a more introspective and reclusive moment of the singer, who seeks, in music, to access more sensitive places within herself. In a poetic way, the production tends to explore the black woman’s search for sensibilities and forms of affection in everyday life.
Directed by Edvaldo Raw and produced by Paula Neves, the audiovisual production includes the participation of actor Fabrício Boliveira, who forms a romantic pair with Larissa to illustrate the sensibility of amor preto (black love) and the experiences that involve the afroafeto (Afro-Affection).
Whether on stage, as a singer or an actress, or in building her trajectory in music production, Larissa Luz’s powerful speech echoes to the four corners and now explores a new connotation.
The video represents a new facet of the political and social discourse cultivated by the multi-artist. About the change of narrative choice in the musical construction, always potent in her works, the singer claims to be occupying other spaces of discourse within black activism in this new phase. “I have realized that I am allowing myself to talk more about this, about love,” she says. “In recent times, I have talked a lot about politics, social issues and now I am allowing myself to access more sensitive places, which have to do with welcome, feeling and affection, which also correspond to militancy,” reflects the artist.
The work is born from the introspection that Larissa had been assisting for some time. In June, the singer shared two poems in the networks that allowed greater contact with the narratives of other women – “Cúmplice” and “Hoje Eu Não Vou Poder Te Desculpar”. Both contrast in the processes to access not only a vulnerability, often taken from black women, but also the understanding of the love they deserve.
The singer also positions herself as an agent who was heard for the current musical turn in her career. “At this new moment, I want to explore in a poetic way the sensibilities and forms of affection, a black woman who is also looking for transformations”, concludes the multiartist.