Things that a racist society does to you – Brazil: Where being a black woman is an automatic stereotype

Djamila Ribeiro at the I Encontro Feminista de São Paulo (1st Feminist Meeting of São Paulo)
Djamila Ribeiro at the I Encontro Feminista de São Paulo (1st Feminist Meeting of São Paulo)

Note from BW of Brazil: The practice of racism plays out in a myriad of ways. Often times, when people hear the terms terms racism or racist, they automatically think of overt racism in which people are blatantly denied entry or service at a determined establishment, or when someone is insulted with a racist epithet or when someone is unfairly treated in a certain scenario purely because of their perceived belonging to a certain racial group that carries with it socially accepted stereotypes. Let’s be clear, all of the aforementioned types of racism exist in Brazil, but there are also the subtleties of racism that many people also perceive that are a regular part of everyday social interactions. This type of racism may not always be perceived by those who are not keenly aware of racist comments that masquerade as compliments. And as Brazilian society has a hierarchy as such that every group has their associated “place”, when someone is present in a certain place that is thought be outside of the normal “place” of their social group, the racist stereotype automatically shows its ugly head. Sometimes the stereotype assumes that such a person must earn a living using her body in some sort of way. Or the assumption that that if such and such a person is here, she must be a maid. Ahh, life in Brazil. Sometimes it seems as if one would have a better chance at keeping their sanity if they were completely oblivious to everyday acts of racism. 

Things that a racist society does to you

By Djamila Ribeiro

You, on a beautiful day, are at college and a person who barely knows you walks up to you and tells you: “Ooh my, if I were you with this beauty, I wouldn’t be here. I would have picked up a rich gringo (foreigner), you know that they love mulheres negras (black women).” My goodness, they discovered me! But clearly that’s what it is! I’m a frustrated model dummy who tried to be the weather girl and the Sargentelli mulata and failed. Then I had the bright idea of pursuing a rich husband to give so I could have a good life. Then I thought, where can I get a rich gringo? In the Philosophy course! I had four years of undergraduate study, and now I’m working on my master’s, but still haven’t finished. But, I’m in the struggle!

You’ll take your daughter to practice a sport. We already don’t speak much with people because you’re tired of them. You open a book to read Beauvoir, puts a “do not disturb” look on your face, but even then, out of nowhere, comes a soul who hardly knows you, checks out the cover of your book and tells you: “I was watching you from afar and I couldn’t believe it; I came over to see if you were really reading Beauvoir!” But of course, she had to be surprised, I study Beauvoir  in my masters course, have already  presented papers on her work, but it’s well done for me, who doesn’t have the face of someone who studies. And moreover, I was reading a book in English, as well, a bilingual negra? It’s the end of time!

Djamila Ribeiro (2)

Again, you take your daughter to practice sport. While there, you listen to music because you’re tired of the people who are there. Then a lady who doesn’t know you, approaches you, makes you stop listening to the beauty of Nina Simone and says to you, “look, I’m looking for someone to clean my house, if you know someone, tell such and such a teacher.” The teacher in question was also black and surely we must be from the same family. Of course, Thulane is only there because he gave her a scholarship. I was there in the same room as her, waiting for my daughter (who amazingly, is black!), but I must be lost there or must be a consultant of domestic human resources for clueless ladies of leisure.

You’re in space that some people think that isn’t for you. People look at you with that face of “who let these people come in” or look at you as if you’re a scientific experiment gone wrong. Not satisfied, they come and approach you and make an interrogation: “where do you live?” “what kind of work do you do?”, “what did you father do?” “Where school does your daughter go to?” People who have never seen you before or that you barely know you. It’s a great way to make friends, in fact, it’s super common for you come up asking invasive questions of people you’ve never seen before. It’s even a method recommended by the etiquette guide Glória Kalil.

You’re talking to some people, when suddenly, one stops, looks at you with surprise and says, “wow, you’re smart, well spoken!” Wow, such a nice person, she was surprised that I could speak! Or when not very (surprised) she wants to be congratulated for not considering herself racist, “You know, I don’t discriminate against anyone, I even let my children be friends with people like you!” Look, what a wonderful person!! Next time I’ll get her full name and have them make a plaque in her honor!

Then, there are still people that come up to say that we only talk about racism and keep posting the Morgan Freeman video saying that the best way to end racism is to not talk about. Of course, the reason we talk about racism is because we like to. The society is so wonderful, all persons are treated equally and with respect, and so, we self oppress ourselves. Actually, I’ll tell you a secret: blacks, queers, dikes, transgendered and transsexuals, meet monthly and have a summit. At each meeting, we decide who will be the oppressed group next time. Then, we also beat ourselves down to bring about more veracity and emotion. Ironic how there are people who don’t have the slightest idea of what they are doing in the world! The impression that it gives is that they came from a distant planet and decided to stop the spaceship on Earth, looked at Brazil, they wanted to stay, but kept their mind on another planet. They haven’t the slightest idea of the social problems of the country you live in, and worse, blame the others, when the others impose themselves against it. Impressive. Or, there are those people who say that only positive thinking heals and that we should stop talking about the evil that afflicts us. And they stay in a bubble of optimism that’s scary, it will handle. Be positive towards life is important, I don’t deny, but to think that everything is resolved with this, verges on madness. Could it be that Amarildo didn’t think positive enough? Oh, spare me. Some people, instead of questioning why they are uncomfortable with your presence, want to find reasons to justify their discomfort of bugging you. (They get) practically tongue twisted. They already naturalize so much that blacks should not be in certain areas, that they don’t question it, on the contrary, they think you’re invading their space.

It’s because of this that I say: I am not obligated to live with such people willingly. It’s enough to have to tackle institutional racism and people of which it’s not use avoiding. Precisely because of this, I don’t pay the slightest attention to some people, those who pull away from me or I just ignore them. I don’t make the slightest issue. I am not obligated to live with people who are very surprised because they think I’m intelligent. And to hear this from people who think Che Guevara was a cold, bloodthirsty killer and believe in the communist coup of 2014. To hear this from people who put their daughter in a school that uses concepts of Piaget and Vygotsky and keep disturbing the teacher asking why they don’t teach math in a “conventional” way. Hence, when you talk briefly about the two authors and talk about constructivism, then they are sure that you are creator of the Ebola virus. I want to be around people who treat others like people. A phrase is so obvious, but yet so far away. Afterward it’s no use calling me unsympathetic; I am not going to die of an ulcer nor tire my beauty having to talk to people like that. As my beautiful friend Didz of Lautaro says, it’s enough that the world oppresses us, we don’t need people like that in our midst. I adapted that resolution into my life; it makes me feel good. Without any guilt, without any fear of being labeled anti social. And speaking of the lovely Didz, I loved a phrase we learned in a course we did together: “it’s not enough to resist, you have to thrive!” And I will continue thriving and black and beautiful throwing my braids at these clueless people.

* Text Djamila Ribeiro – A master’s student in the Post-Graduate Program in Philosophy at UNIFESP (Federal University of São Paulo). Djamila is a woman who is smart as hell, an absurdly transgressive philosopher, beautiful and mother of an ultra graceful girl.

Source: Variedades Femininas

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. I don’t want to comment about her views that I actual Agree with them 100% but I want to say this story is buatfuly written/told. I mean I can’t explain how much it makes me want to read as read it, Power to the story teller.

  2. Well said, it is said that, racism/hate is considered as a mental illness. Confirm your humanity by relying on the TRUTH.

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