Note from BBT:
Several days ago, Brazil’s online black community expressed its discomfort, rejection and repudiation of the thoughts of one of the country’s richest women, television host Xuxa Meneghel. Meneghel recently said in an online chat that she supported the idea that Brazil’s prison population, which is the third highest in the world, be used as basically guinea pigs for future testing of medicines and vaccines instead of lab animals.
Needless to say, I was also disgusted, but to tell you the truth, with some of the things I’ve seen Xuxa do and say over the years, all I could do was shake my head. Meneghel has been in the public spotlight since the early to mid 1980s, but it was some time in the 1990s that her career exploded with a series of television programs featuring and targeted at children. By the end of the 90s, it seemed that every Brazilian child wanted to be one of Xuxa’s “baixinhos”, meaning ‘little ones’ or ‘shorties’.
As I am not Brazilian and was not a child when I discovered Xuxa’s influence in the early 2000s, her work never appealed to me. But after having read an article that cited one particular book, I wanted to know more about the Xuxa phenomenon. The book was entitled Xuxa: The Mega-Marketing of Gender, Race, and Modernity by Amelia Simpson and was released in 1993. As I’ve always followed Brazil with an interest in how race played in the country’s culture, the title of this book appealed to me for obvious reasons.
In terms of race, I would say that there is a large percentage of Americans who don’t completely understand the question of race when it comes to Brazil or Latin America in general. I mean, if there are people who would see someone like supermodel Gisele Bündchen as technically “a woman of color” simply because she was born in Latin America, I can say that there is a lot of confusion when Americans hear the term Latino/a or Hispanic.
In general, Americans don’t see Latin America as a place where you’ll find many people with very white skin, blond hair and green or blue eyes. But this most likely has to do with what the type of Hispanics/Latinos that Americans are regularly exposed to. As the United States is the home of tens of millions of people of Latino or Hispanic origin, it is understandable the type of image that comes to one’s mind when these terms come up.
For many people, a Latino or Hispanic is someone that has looks like a mixture between Native Americans and Europeans, a more indigenous appearance, or persons that denote a mixture of indigenous, European and African peoples. But in general, folks don’t think of people that look like either Gisele or Xuxa when they think of Hispanics and Latinos.
I have always maintained that, in terms of phenotype, there are several millions of people of Latin America that would be considered white anywhere in the world. This is based not only on my two decades of exposure to Brazil, but also having been to Uruguay and seen television programs and documentaries of other countries in the region. As such, I can firmly say, YES, there are white people in Latin America.
Countries such as not only Brazil, but also Argentina, Mexico and others, all had the intent of whitening their populations though European immigration, which explains why there descendants of these immigrants in these countries. Argentina, in fact, has prided itself on being the most European country in the region. But this sentiment also applies to southern Brazil where millions of Germans, Italians and other European population settled after the initial colonization by the Portuguese. Today, Brazil’s southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná are considered a sort of extension of Europe in the tropics with about 80% of its population classifying itself as branca, meaning white.
This is part of the reason Xuxa’s history is intriguing to me. Brazil has long divulged the idea that Brazilians “don’t see race” or that all Brazilians “are equal” even in the face a vast socioeconomic statistics that say otherwise. Beyond the statistics, Brazil has a long history of anti-black sentiments among its citizens. People have long been taught to believe that having physical characteristics denoting African ancestry in particular was something one should avoid.
On the other hand, looking white or having few traits that denote non-European ancestry was something people desired to pass on to their children. In short, a large percentage of Brazilians dream of having a baby that would grow up to look exactly like Xuxa Meneghel. As the aforementioned book made clear, Xuxa’s look played a huge role in her appeal and popularity. There’s simply no way to deny this. Clearly Xuxa knows the advantages that her whiteness brings. This goes back to the question of why she never had a black or brown girl in her wildly popular song and dance group The Paquitas.
Recently, after her controversial comments, people have found a video from the early 90s where Xuxa seems to confirm an understanding of what her whiteness means in a country like Brazil, again, a place where many people in countries like the US, Canada or Europe wouldn’t expect to find people who look like her.
My thing is here, her comments in this video don’t necessarily make Xuxa a card-carrying KKK member. What they do show, however, is that, contrary to the rhetoric that Brazil’s leaders would have had us believe for several decades, Brazilians don’t just see themselves as just Brazilians. For me, Xuxa’s comments show that she wants the world outside of Brazil to know that there are also white, blond people in the land of miscegenation. If it weren’t important to her, it wouldn’t matter so much that the world outside of Brazil thinks her country is a land of “blacks and mulatas”, in her words. In that very era, she took her desire a step further by assuring that all of The Paquitas looked liked smaller versions of herself. That doesn’t happen by accident.
Xuxa’s actions in the selection of the Paquitas were equal to any non-white person going to a job interview believing they would have an equal opportunity to a job post not realizing that his or her chances were zero because the employer already had in mind a certain look and color that he or she didn’t have. If my daughter would have wanted to be a Paquita back in the 1990s, it wouldn’t have been possible. I’m certain of this.
Again, in some ways, this doesn’t really matter to me. In two decades of getting to know Brazil, I know there are millions of white people in Brazil. Like the black question, I also can’t really say just how many. I’m just saying, Xuxa’s comments 30 years ago are yet another reason why Brazilians need to stop this rhetoric that they don’t see race or that it isn’t important.Whether they admit it or not, it is indeed important to millions of Brazilians, not just Xuxa.
Below are poet/actress Elisa Lucinda’s thoughts on the topic.
“What a low thought, Xuxa!”
By Elisa Lucinda
Xuxa’s statement, on Criança Esperança (see note one), in 1992:
“You don’t know what it means to leave Santa Rosa, which didn’t even exist on the map, and today hear people talking about my land, Rio Grande do Sul. Foreigners abroad think that in Brazil there are only mulatas and blacks, and this is good to know that there are also blonds, like many of us, Gaúchos; it’s good to know that there is a mixture of races. I feel proud to say, ‘My Brazil, thank you for all this!” (see note two)
When I saw, not so long ago, this statement by the Queen of the shorties, I trembled, but I thought that, since it has been almost 30 years, she had widened her gaze. At the time of this sad statement, the space for black talent was even worse, especially on TV. “But that white TV doesn’t even look like Brazil,” my foreign friends used to say when watching our programming filled with the massive absence of most of the Brazilian people.
Today, three decades of struggles later, she still insists, suggesting that the prison population be used as guinea pigs for scientific experiments!? It is already known that, because of the inequality of this stolen game, watered down by the necropolitics exercised against our people, that there are more blacks incarcerated than whites. A lot more.
It’s also our bodies athat are the ones that are opened up in anatomy classes, the ones that are found in piles in the IML, the ones that live below the citizenship line and have been used for years to train white medical students, the overwhelming majority of them. Anyone who watches Jefferson De’s film, the acclaimed M8, will come across this crudely naturalized truth. When we talk about the cruel naivety of white supremacy, this is what we are talking about: Xuxa thinks this way. She apologizes for what she said, but it is her way of thinking. She despises the Human Rights people today because she lives a life of privilege, and it’s not her children that the police murder, that are phagocyted by the millionaire scheme that the bloody war on drugs policy feeds, killing more than the overdose.
With her past of purely Aryan Paquitas, there is no video with black children congratulating her that will redeem her. I don’t buy that answer. I would prefer, on the contrary, that the host, blonde like all hosts in this country, put part of her fortune and visibility to defend the almost 400,000 prisoners in this country who are waiting in jail for a trial. Many are innocent and, one day, when the sentence comes, their family has already been lost, their dreams have rotted away, their unjust and disregarded innocence has already eaten away their voices and nerves from shouting in vain. They are black, they are poor, they need human rights. What a low thought, Xuxa!”.
Source: Lu Lacerda
- Criança Esperança is an annual program presented on the Rede Globo television network that seeks to raise awareness on the situation of underprivileged children. Somewhat similar to the American program, the Jerry Lewis Telethon, Esperança features numerous well-known Brazilian celebrities and attracts donations from viewers in support of the cause.
- Santa Rosa is city in the state of Rio Grande do Sul where Xuxa was born. Natives of the state of Rio Grande do Sul are called “Gaúchos”. Intriguing that Xuxa says it’d good to know that Brazil’s racial mixture exists, because one wouldn’t get that idea from watching series of children’s programs. As Thaís de Carvalho put it in her research, Xuxa’s Xou da Xuxa program was “a place of worship of white European culture and, consequently, of exclusion of other spectrums of the national population”