Note from BW of Brazil: Historically, Brazil has always promoted itself as a “racial democracy” where races mixes in harmony without the racial conflict of other multi-racial societies. While it is clear that racism is a strong element in Brazilian society (whether of the blatant or subtle variety), dissecting the relatively high rate of interracial marriage is often used as “proof” that racism is not a problem in Brazil. In reality, the analysis below points out factors that actually show that racism and assumed racial superiority are also a factor in the marriage arena.
According to numbers from the 2010, around 75% of people who define themselves as white are in long-term relationships with other white people. In the case of black men (homens pretos), 26.4% are married to white women, 39.9% are married to black women (pretas) and 32.1% are married to brown women (pardas). In regards to black women (mulheres pretas), 25.5% marry white men (brancos), while 22.9% marry brown men (pardos) and a little more than 50% marry black men. Among persons defining themselves as pardos (brown men and women), about 69% marry other pardos. These numbers can be analyzed in a number of ways. First, the percentage of interracial marriages continues to rise in the country as a whole, with about 31% of all marriages being of the mixed variety. Other interesting facts are that black women are more likely to marry white men (brancos) than brown men (pardos) and that the rate of marriage with whites is 10% higher for black men than for black women.
Social status, social mobility and marriage has been studied within the larger study of race/racism in Brazil for the past 50 years and even outside of academia, everyday Brazilians have pointed out a racial hierarchy in terms of interracial relationships/marriages. This racial hierarchy often places black women (mulheres pretas) at the bottom of the marriage ladder as women in this group spend more of their lives single and are on average older at the time of marriage than members of other demographic groups. It is also a well-known fact that over the past century, there has been an ideology within many black families that encourage their offspring to “whiten” or “improve” the family by marrying persons of lighter/whiter skin. This ideal of embranquecimento (whitening) was actually an acknowledged ideology of white elites in the late 19th century to rid the nation of Afro-Brazilians in the pursuit of a white population. With these facts in mind, one could argue that there is much more going on besides just love when the topic is interracial marriage/relationships.
Below is how one blogger saw it.
Racism, miscegenation and interracial marriages in Brazil (Racismo, miscigenação e casamentos interraciais no Brasil)
by Alex Castro
When I write about racism in Brazil, many readers (in deep denial) argue that we are not racist, citing as evidence our “miscegenation”, our interracial marriages.
A typical email that I get:
Here in the United States, if you are black, you can be famous, rich, which was: When you marry a blonde with blue eyes from Kennebunkport, Maine, NOBODY will think it’s beautiful. In Brazil, if you are black and poor and exactly like Ronaldo Fenômeno (the retired soccer superstar), you are OK. When you become famous and rich (just like Ronaldo), you are OK. If you marry a blonde, her family thinks it’s beautiful! If anyone says that’s a lie, I’m all ears for an explanation. As it is, Brazil is a classist country, placist above all. Now, racism and prejudice exists in the world, it has always existed, it will always exist. There is no place that is 100% racism/prejudice free. But using this as an argument is not seeing the main problem. In the country where Pele dated Xuxa (the whitest woman in Brazil, and according to (singer/songwriter) Chico Buarque, the only white woman) and everyone thought it was beautiful, they say: if Pelé was poor, what would you think? Yeah…
I must really have understood everything wrong. To me, this just proves that, in Brazil, racism is for sale.
Yes, there are many interracial marriages in Brazil, but in most of them (5 in 6 , according to the book Racismo à Brasileira: Uma Nova Perspectiva Sociológica (in English, Race in Another America: The Significance of Skin Color in Brazil) by Edward Telles), the black spouse (in a marriage) has superior socioeconomic status.
The phenomenon has already been studied in other societies as racist as ours, and in English it’s called “status exchange in interracial marriage.”
Basically, according to Telles, individuals of the race considered socially inferior (in our country, blacks) but we are in a position of social, educational or financial superiority, can “exchange” their alleged/perceived “racial inferiority” and “socioeconomic superiority” for the alleged/ perceived “racial superiority” but “socioeconomic inferiority” of poor individuals of the race considered superior (in our country, whites).
The marital data revealed by Telles suggest that, due to structural racism in our society, black spouses would have a perceived status so low in the “marriage market” that he would be obliged to pay a high price for advantageous marriages (“marry up”) with lighter partners. In a way very economically real, his color would have a disadvantage so large it needs many other countervailing benefits (higher education, higher income, etc.) in order to compete on an equal footing.
A typical white, Brazilian family, of the lower middle class and incorporating all the racist assumptions of our culture, perhaps chase away with a bullet the black waiter who dared approach their youngest daughter, or the black maid wanting to marry the firstborn whitey. On the other hand, a black doctor, a professional liberal black with a car in the garage and a plasma TV, maybe this was not so bad. Maybe.
Financial security and social mobility may offset the perceived taboo of uniting with someone of the race considered “inferior”.
Brazil is a racist country.
When I say this, many readers feel attacked, as if I had called all Brazilians racists, but one thing does not necessarily have to do with the other. Emphasis on necessarily. Social phenomena described above, for example, is extremely racist, but none of the actors could properly be called a racist.
Nobody is obligated to marry anyone. We cannot walk up to a white girl and wave a finger in her face, accusing her of being racist for having preferred the preto (black) doctor to the pardo (brown) carpenter who she dated before. We cannot walk up to the black doctor and wave a finger in his face accusing him of being racist for having married a poor white woman, instead choosing “a woman of his own color”! None of these people are (necessarily) a racist or is scum, or wrong, or deserve reprimands. Observing individual cases does not solve anything. People are free and marry who they want.
However, when we look at the numbers in general, it is impossible not to see in this matrimonial phenomenon one of the most glaring symptoms of Brazilian racism.
Only the fact that Brazil has many interracial marriages doesn’t prove that the country is not racist. But, on the contrary, the dynamics of marriages prove, once again, the overvaluation of whites and the stigmatization of blacks in our racist culture.
According to Telles, the weakest link in the chain are black women, victims of twofold prejudice: because they are women and because they are black.
As there are more women than men, there already exists a greater statistical probability of the women remaining single more than men.
Brancas (white women) overcome the deficit of white men by marrying pardos (brown men); pardas (brown women) with black men and so on across the spectrum of colors, until, obviously, there is a lack of black men for black women – who literally have no one “below” them.
Or at least that’s what research by sociologist Edward Telles suggests on the dynamics of interracial marriages in Brazil. The number of brancas marrying pardos is much higher than the number of brancos (white men) marrying pardas, and so on.
More data extracted from Racismo à Brasileira: Uma Nova Perspectiva Sociológica: White women spend on average 65% of their lives married, compared with 50% of (the lives of) black women, 51% of black men are married to people of other races (brancas and pardas), against only 40% of black women.
In Brazil, because of the perverse sexual and racial hierarchy, who ends up remaining in the marital musical chairs are black women.
Of course, we are not saying that all people want to get married or that marriage is the measure of success of a human being, but only that Telles’ data indicates, once again, that of all the players in the marriage market in Brazil, black women are having fewer options, are marrying less and are spending less time married.
Brazil likes to think of itself as living in a racial democracy. It loves to beat its chest and cite that our miscegenation and interracial marriages prove that we are not racist.
But even the very dynamics of these interracial marriages only prove how sexist as well as racist the structures of Brazilian society are. It’s always the black who ends up dying sooner, being more imprisoned and earning less. It’s always the women who end up working harder, earning less and suffering more violence.
And when we look at the numbers of interracial marriages in Brazil, whose marriage market happens in a deeply sexist and racist context, black women are the doubly subaltern, who suffer the most.
For everywhere we look, whether for the numbers of interracial marriages, for the racial composition of the college students or the statistics of victims of violence, all the numbers only prove our racism and our sexism.
Some Brazilians like to fool themselves saying:
“If we were really racists we would not be miscigenados (mixed). Racists are the Americans that don’t mix.”
Not true. Racists are both.
In Brazil, the existence of the “mulato” racial category is both a cause and consequence of the ideology of miscegenation/embranquecimento (whitening), and not an automatic result of the mixing of races. Miscegenation by itself, does not create “miscigenados (admixed) or “mestiços (mixed race)” or “mulato” or whatever is the term invented for classifying people who are products of the union of individuals of different races.
In the United States, for most of them that exist, are simply classified as “negros (blacks)” , period. As such, President Obama doesn’t allow me to lie.
There is no contradiction between being a “país mestiço (mixed-race country)” and being a racist country. Both Brazil and the United States are countries deeply mestiço and deeply racist.
The only thing that changes is how each culture chose to call mixed race people: the Americans call “black” whoever has a drop of black blood; Brazilians invented numerous terms for all shades of color.
Racism is the same.
When I published an original version of this text, many years ago, many readers could not comment. After some time, I discovered the reason: To prevent comment spam, the system had a long list of words used by spammers and any comments with some of them were not published.
Suddenly I noted the flaw and went to check the list. There it was: “interracial”. That is, any reader who tried to write a comment with this word (the actual topic of the article!) could not comment.
Spammers use that word a lot in their ads because there are many porn sites about this. And there are many porn sites about this (and entire sections in American sex shops of only interracial porn movies) because this is a recurring and very strong theme in racist American culture.
In other words, the very presence of the word “interracial” on the blacklist would not be a coincidence: in fact, it illustrates the very subject of the article.
According to racist stereotypes in vogue in the United States (and also in Brazil), the black man would always be bestial and sexual, desired and feared, he is well-endowed negão (big, black man or the insatiable negona (explicitly/truly black woman).
Not coincidentally, racist American culture at the same time that it more fetishizes interracial sex than Brazil, it also has much far fewer interracial marriages.
Naturally, the more the black person is fetishized as a sexual object, the less this person is considered a possible spouse.
It is not surprising that all these racist prejudices of Brazilian and American societies make it so that in these countries, black people (especially women) spend more time unmarried and have a harder time getting married.
All data came from this text:
Telles, Edward E. Racismo à Brasileira: uma Nova Perspectiva Sociológica. Rio de Janeiro: Relume Dumará, 2003. [Translation of Race in Another America: The Significance of Skin Color in Brazil. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004]
One of the best books I’ve ever read about race: basically an overview of numbers, statistics and experiments whose aim is to combat the “anedotism” of discussions on the subject and, above all, to give arguments to those who want to debate or convince the sincerely confused. But, truth be told, it has no data there that an observing person already could not have deducted alone, only by living in Brazil and not being in a state of deep denial.
It is worth remembering that the book is from 2003 and, of course, does not take into account the data of the 2010 census. The situation is always changing, sometimes even for the better.
Finally, the aim of this paper is only to present some original survey data and the findings from Telles on interracial marriage in Brazil. If you have objections to such data, or as to the conclusions that can be drawn from them, I recommend reading the book or getting directly in touch with the author: firstname.lastname@example.org
[ + ] Larissa Santiago published a series of three articles on the topic in Blogueiras Negras (Black Women Bloggers) – Relações inter raciais: I. Isso não é sobre amor (Interracial relations: I. This is not about love); II. A Negação (The Denial); III. O Desejo Construído (Constructed Desire).
[+] Racismo, a cor da relação (Racism: the color of the relationship). An article by Flávia Duarte published by the Correio Braziliense newspaper about the difficulties that black women face in romantic relationships.
Alex Castro is a straight white male (and feminist, liberal, atheist, practitioner of bdsm (Bondage e Disciplina, Dominação e Submissão or Bondage and Discipline, Domination and Submission) and polyamor), that is conscious of the privileged place he occupies in our racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, elitist society, tries to use these privileges to better search, reflect and promote agendas such as feminism, social struggles, consumerism, Movimento Negro (black movement), narcissism, slavery and domestic work. Site: AlexCastro.com.br and Facebook.