Note from BW of Brazil: I really dug this piece. The reason being is that, even with so many people of African descent coming to understand themselves as black over the past few decades, there are still millions more “would be” black people who see themselves as “pardos”, “morenos”, “not quite black”, “almost white” or even “white”. Of course there are plenty of people in that category that realistically have reason for not being able to feel comfortable in either the negro (black) or branco (white) categories because both groups express the idea that said person is “too (fill in the blank)” to be on their side of race fence. But others who make the full transition into blackness often go through a process of self-discovery that clarifies their identity, often times due to certain experiences often connected to subtle forms of racism that tell them that society doesn’t accept them as white, even not blatantly saying so. In today’s piece, Theo Frazão Nery explains how loving a woman who embraces her blackness and the struggle that comes with this helped him to discover his own blackness.
On loving a black woman
By Theo Frazão Nery
Despite being black, it took me a long time to perceive myself as such. (I was a) moreno, at the most. The son of white families with blacks, of people of skin more and less dark on all the sides. As an extended family never had a very strong presence, I grew up in an ambiente de brancos (white environment) and I identified myself as such.
Claro que eu sabia que não era branco (of course I knew I was not white). The world makes a question of warning you early on when you’re “different”. But I thought I could be equal. Mostly, I thought I that I might not care about the racial issue and be as racist and segregating as whites. Of course, I didn’t violently oppose black people, I didn’t want to segregate or treat (anyone) differently. But I thought it was normal to understand cabelo black (natural black hair) as exotic. Or have no referential of beleza negra (black beauty). Or know exactly where my white ancestors came from, but only knowing that at some recent point I had had a slave grandmother. And I told this as historical curiosity, without even understanding what it meant to my life.
Then I was growing up, opening the world, meeting new people, engaging myself, learning. I began to understand better the feminist struggle for gender equality. The gay struggle for acceptance and inclusion. The struggle of socioeconomic inequality for access to opportunities.
But I didn’t understand the racial struggle. For me, it happened far away, to the dark-skinned, poor, peripheral blacks who were dying young and imprisoned by the bunches. I thought my social condition kept me from suffering as a black man. That I would never understand this fight.
Until I fell in love with a black woman. And I began to listen to her experience, to try to understand the context of what she experienced. And in this process, I began to discover more about my experience as a black man, and especially about the difficulties of being black in Brazil.
I began to learn about the solidão da mulher negra (loneliness of the black woman) and how they perceive themselves as less worthy of love and affection because of being constantly passed over for mulheres brancas (white women) in loving relationships.
On the impostor syndrome that makes black women feel unfit for the jobs they do, even when they receive promotions and compliments. They are constantly led to believe that they are less capable, have few examples of other black women in situations of prominence and leadership, leading to low intellectual self-esteem.
I learned an incredible word: intersectionality. How the violence against these women intersect because they are women, because they are black. How their struggles are invisible, erased. Because there are already opportunities for blacks (but for men), there were many achievements of (white) women.
I understood the difference between being a negro de pele clara e um negro de pele escura (light-skinned black and a dark-skinned black), but also about how prejudice excludes us in similar ways. That the amount of melanin in your skin and your features being more or less European makes you more or less apt to be well received (which is called colorism).
I began to realize how black women are treated as stereotypes rather than as individuals with unique characteristics and different potential.
And I think one of the hardest things I’ve learned is how we put into the struggles of minority groups, black women as the great heroes, the great forces of resistance. As if they had, by obligation, to be the front of the fight, who takes the greatest and the first impact every time.
“This ideology of ‘black women will save us’ forces black women into the role of ‘saviors of humanity’. It’s also a belief that does not allow self-reflection within liberal branquitude (whiteness) or molos for minority communities.” “Our heroine!” “I don’t remember having agreed to this … “
I used to find it curious how this woman I loved got pissed with so many things that happened and unleashed, even if only within me, the anger she felt at the injustices and violence suffered daily by black women.
Today, I get pissed off.
But my passion doesn’t only bring fights. It brought a new way of looking at beauties as well.
I learned how to look good with a nariz largo (broad nose), lábios grossos (thick lips), cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair), tranças (braids) and dreads. I learned to stop to listen when a black woman was talking about her experience. To value the history of my family. To know the religions of African matrix. But mostly, I learned to listen to someone who is often not heard.
Because loving a wonderful woman made me fall in love with a cause, with new cultures, for more forms of beauty. It made me more open and more attentive.
And I hope I can do the same with you too.