Note from BW of Brazil: I’m sure there must be some who read this blog that wonder why a common theme here is the development of black identity. As was explained in other posts, the development of blackness in Brazil encounters several obstacles among the general population. Blackness in Brazil was always deemed something negative; something ugly, associated with poverty and ignorance. As whiteness was always considered superior by elites (and the general population as well), miscegenation became a solution to the “black problem” and a policy for the disappearance of the black phenotype in the late 19th century.
Another important measure in pushing for the collective “erasure” of blackness was the exclusion of the category “race” in the census of 1900 and 1920, an idea that was welcomed by intellectual João Ribeiro. In his 1923 article “Brancos de toda cor”, meaning “whites of every color”, Ribeiro wrote: “Our government, it is known for many years, deleted (and did well in deleting) from the census lists the stigma of color. No one is preto (black) or pardo (brown) anymore: they are all brancos (whites)” (Domingues 2003).
Another important piece to this widespread ideology of “escaping blackness” is the fact that most families don’t discuss the issue of race, racism or racial identity in the home. As such, when children of visible African ancestry start regularly interacting with society, being unprepared for the racial issue, they are often shocked and humiliated when white colleagues hurl racist insults in their direction. As they had been taught first by their parents and later by society that “we are all equal” they often don’t know how to deal with this blatant contradiction. They know they don’t look like blond media darling Xuxa or other clearly white Brazilians, but they also don’t see themselves or want to be seen as negros.
A contributor to this blog, Daniela Gomes recently summed up this phenomenon this way: “The brain washing that was done to the black Brazilian is so strong that part of the black population doesn’t know that it is black and of the other part that recognizes itself as such, many don’t realize the racism that they suffer daily (thus) they either deny the existence of racism or say that it never happened to them” (1).
It is within this context that the article below must be considered.
Kendy Neris, 28, a quota student in her senior year of Social Sciences at the UnB, Universidade de Brasília (University of Brasília)
“The quota system also serves for me to understand my identity. After I entered UnB, I was able to accept myself with my color and my hair. I started to research and go after understanding the racial issue”
I am the oldest daughter of José, black, that works as a gatekeeper, and Ivanilde, white, a kitchen assistant. My brother, Hygor, was the first in my family’s history to graduate from college. At the end of this year, it’ll be my turn.
I entered UnB through the quota system (2). From that moment on I was never the same. In the first semester I started to intern at Centro de Convivência Negra (Center of Black Co-existence). There I would assume my negritude (blackness), re-enforced by Pensamento Negro Contemporâneo (Contemporary Black Thought) classes, with Professor Edson Cardoso.
Until then, I didn’t recognize my beauty: I straightened my hair, I had white dolls, my references were white women. I had never reflected on how racism touched my identity and self-esteem, trying to hide my features. My parents, to “protect” me from situations of racism, encouraged this visual proximity to white women, as if this were a way to avoid my suffering.
Racial consciousness changed my way of seeing the world. Today I understand that there are violent historic questions that exclude the black population. I understand that situations of which I went through are related to the history of Brazil and Africa with the black population in Brazil. I realized that thousands of people are seen as inferior because their skin color. I understood that black people always fought for liberation and recognition and that they have to be represented in all spaces of society.
At UnB, there is liberty of expression. Even so, it isn’t easy to be negra (black) in this context. I’ve already heard professors complain that “UnB is looking like Africa,” or that “it’s badly frequented,” or that “the quality of the teaching will fall because of the cotistas (quota students).” It’s difficult for a young black to want to enter into a public university when everything and everyone around you makes it so that you understand that that is not your place.
This is how racism works in Brazil: in a sneaky, sly way, silencing blacks. It’s a cruel racism that kills, holds you by deception and excludes you. The place of blacks is in every place, but society still doesn’t understand it like this. The system of quotas is there to repair this error.
I want to be able to say to my children that they are free to be where they want to be, that they can be rich like so and so from the novela, that they can be doctors like uncle such and such, that they can be presidents like Obama. It’s our role to define what will be from now on. I want a more just society.
Source: Correio Braziliense, Trip #231, Domingues, Petrônio. Uma história não contada: negro, racismo e branqueamento em São Paulo no pós-abolição. Senac, 2003.
1. Daniela Gomes’ original comment in Portuguese.
2. UnB was the first federal university to adopt the system of quotas, 10 years ago. Research conducted by the university and published in 2013 shows that the performance of students entering the university through the quota system are similar to scores and grades of non-quota students. The system will be reviewed in the next few months.