Note from BW of Brazil: As even a recent New York Times article recognized, Brazil is a country that is in denial over the severity of racism in the country. Anyone who has had a conversation about the issue with a Brazilian will surely hear a range of excuses or deflections from the subject:
“We Brazilians aren’t racists” – “Racism? That’s a thing of the United States” – “We Brazilians are all mixed so how can we be racist?” – “I have black friends” – “My grandmother was black” – “Blacks are racist against themselves“
These are only a few of responses one will hear in any dialogue on this subject. But what should we expect? Since the release of of Gilberto Freyre’s seminal work Casa-Grande & Senzala (released in English as The Masters and the Slaves) in 1933, the official Brazilian discourse has been the denial of racism and the proclamation that Brazil was a ‘racial democracy’ even into the 1950s/1960s with the release of numerous studies by Brazilian, American and European scholars continuously debunking this mythology (Andrews 1996). And even today, while many Brazilians will admit racism in fact exists, rarely does anyone admit to personally harboring racist sentiments.
Another continuing problem is the fact that few people truly have an understanding of how racism and white supremacy functions in every area of the society and its effects on both the victims and those who express such sentiments. Just to touch on a few belief systems: Racism is not simply someone calling someone of African descent a monkey; it is not simply someone not wanting their son or daughter to marry a person of African descent. In fact, considering the last example, the existence of interracial marriage isn’t proof of the non-existence of racism. One researcher, picking up on numerous previous reports, has argued that when one analyzes the socioeconomic statistics, the high rate of interracial marriages could be seen as another symptom of Brazilian racism.
Problematic still was the fact that as academia was beginning to debunk the idea that Brazil was a ‘racial democracy’, groundbreaking research was not reaching the population at large. But fortunately, in the past few decades, more and more everyday Brazilians were discovering the truth, sharing their experiences and speaking out on how much race factors into the lives of Brazilians who are not white. What’s also intriguing is how a number of Brazilians who no longer live in Brazil have weighed in how they see race and racism in their country of birth. We’ve previously featured Brazilians who live in Germany, Canada and Ireland. Today we present a brasileira living in Belgium.
by Natália Van den Eynde
Discussing racism is something that happens very often in my life. I promise I will not have any more heated debates with the people on Orkut (1), which is no use, a waste of time and anger for nothing, but I can’t. Today I it mostly appears to me that an individual who prefers to form a black family is racist in order to speak of segregation. I don’t think of the formation of black families as segregation but as valuation. We think together. The black in Brazil has a very low self-esteem yes, because his/her beauty is not shown anywhere. How many actors are black? How many politicians are black? How many Misses (beauty contest winners) are black? How many black teachers have you ever had in school? They say the negra and mestiça (black and mixed race) population has already passed 50% of our population. What percentage of blacks who do you see in these sectors I mentioned above? Now let’s think about the maids, garis (street sweepers), etc? Did the percentage change?
A beauty salon only for blacks for example I don’t see as segregation, I see it as specialization. Why doesn’t anyone say that we go into in salons and only see photos of blonde woman with flowing hair? It’s already so ingrained in our minds that it passes into the automatic as a detector that is ‘normal’ in society. Or has anyone here ever seen Seda or L’Oreal with posters with cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair) (crespo, and don’t come to me with curls ala Ana Paula Arosio!)? I miss seeing this in society, you know. There’s no need to be programs formed by only black actors as in the US, because in Brazil the situation is another thing. But there they are working, getting rich and getting famous. And in Brazil? In the lie that everyone has an equal chance, who really has the chances? Tell me ONE black family that has appeared in a novela (soap opera), it doesn’t even need to be as the protagonist, but in the role of entrepreneurs, successful, in a nice house? (2)
This talk of “what is to be black in Brazil” is very beautiful in theory. I even agree with it, if I isolate myself in a glass case and think that I already read this in the books. But the difference in practice is so striking that I feel a bit stupid raising this flag. I’m not going into the merit of discussing it in the US or Europe, I will focus on Brazil. Let’s face it, everyone knows who is black in Brazil. And this talk that everyone is mixed, the Neguinho da Beija Flor has 90 something percent of European blood is bullshit (3). Do you know why? Because no one asks for blood test before they discriminate.
And worse, they are racist and afterward use the excuse that they have black friends and cousins, that in Brazil it’s mixed and that racism does not exist on the tip of the tongue! Wow, Pascal does not understand an A in Portuguese was shocked by the numerous situations that he saw around here. Why then are so many people going through clearly embarrassing situations every day and continue fazendo a Kátia (pretending they are blind)? As (anthropologist) Kabenguele Munanga has already said: ‘racism in Brazil is a work of engineering’.
Returning to relationships, although Pascal is white, no one will ever see me raising a flag for interracial relationships, because in most cases they are not ‘neutral’. I’ve seen more than once a white boyfriend call his girlfriend ‘nega fedida’ (stinking black girl) in the middle of a fight. I’ve seen a white boyfriend order his a black girlfriend to straighten her hair. I’ve seen cases of people with my phenotype (white father and black mother) feel INSULTED because they were called negra and they say that they’re not negra, but mulata. The black woman is passed over in relation to the white woman, fact. In Brazil even more so than elsewhere. And part of that blame goes to the media. When blacks appear on TV they are garis or domestics, cabelo crespo is cabelo ruim (bad hair) and so on (and it’s useless saying that we are ignorant people who are driven by these stereotypes because although television not being the reference of life for me or for some of you guys, the media indeed shapes the minds of the majority) … I’ve already even seen people say that it’s normal to represent blacks like this, that they are dignified professions of respect. Yes, they are. But that’s not the question. Who aspires to be a gari? Who dreams of becoming a maid? Does the black child need to grow up believing that that is the future? And the prospects? How is it seeing your own being despised all the time? How is it to grow up hearing that your hair is bad? How is it to dream of being a scientist or the doctor in a commercial? Not that I’m saying that whites don’t understand or cannot position themselves on racism. But here, only empathy is not enough. A white can have an idea, but will never know what it all really means…
In Brazil it is very difficult to find a black man who says he prefers a black woman and I think it’s beautiful when it happens. Myself, I had one black boyfriend in my life and in many cases it was not for lack of desire on my part. The only famous black men married to black women I know are Anderson Silva and Lázaro Ramos. Is it normal that all futebol players, singers, etc. are only interested in white women? (4) Is it a coincidence? Is it love? I think it’s not. And it’s not directly the fault of the black man, it’s the fault of the society that paints it this way, that doesn’t see him as an object of desire (here without the pejorative sense). My boyfriend is a wonderful, sincere, caring, responsible, affectionate person that loves and respects me as a woman and black. And he’s white. I will not end my relationship because he is white. And I believe that there are many interracial couples who find balance and respect and live a ‘normal’ relationship, but they do not represent the majority. Do you remember the case of (singer/politician) Netinho who beat his wife? Of course he was very wrong, but does everyone know the reason? She called him a macaco (monkey). A woman who was married to him and shared a bed with him, in a moment of anger showed all the prejudice that was there all the time on the inside (5).
I don’t know if anyone defends segregation, I do not advocate it. But I wanted to see the formation of black families in a more natural way, I wanted that black men and women were in the same ‘market of acceptance’, you know? Until everything changes there’s still a lot of ground to yet cover. But the consciousness has changed with larger strides in recent years, which is really good. There are those who say that whites will always have the advantage and that there is nothing we can do about it. I would say that the advantage exists and I don’t know if one day it will end, but it has decreased and there is indeed a lot that we can do. Lucky that there are those who think differently, otherwise, it may be that today Obama was only another working man going to work sitting in the back of a bus in a small town in the interior of the US.
Natália Van den Eynde
Brazilian expatriate in the wet lands of Belgium. A trained historian, aspiring, the professional nerd. A mineira (native of Minas Gerais) that eats quietly, the wife of a wonderful man, daughter of loving parents, a sister, cousin and granddaughter … one more in a family of a thousand women! Clumsy, forgetful and an unbearable good mood in the morning. Writer, designer and failed vegetarian (not necessarily in that order). Passionate about cooking, travel, ’causes’, writings, photography, beer and chocolate.
Source: Cada Ser Tem Sonhos Sua Maneira, Andrews, George Reid. “Brazilian Racial Democracy, 1900-90: An American Counterpoint“. Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Jul., 1996), pp. 483-507
1. Orkut was a social network created by Google that became very popular among Brazilians from 2004 when it debuted until September of 2014 when it was deactivated. Source
2. The first black middle class family presented in a Brazilian novela only appeared in 1995’s A Próxima Vítima. The Noronha family was portrayed by Antônio Pitanga, Zezé Motta, Norton Nascimento, Lui Mendes and Camila Pitanga. Black middle class families in novelas continue to be a rarity on Brazilian television as the few black characters that DO appear often do so without any mention of their families.
3. This is a reference to popular singer Neguinho da Beija Flor whose 2007 DNA results showed that his genes were of 67% European origin, a surprise for many considering his clearly African phenotype.
4. A topic that has been approached in a number of previous posts and extends beyond only futebol players.
5. Although I remember this case I will admit I never heard that Mendes had called Netinho a monkey. But as we have discussed in previous posts, interracial marriages don’t prove the non-existence of racism which would clearly apply in this situation. Several social scientists have theorized that black men attempt to exchange their social “stigma” (race) by “marrying up” with a white women that has a social stigma, that of low social class origins. This tendency is what led sociologist Edward Telles to include this factor as yet more evidence of racism and racial hierarchy in Brazilian society. We have also seen that at least some of these marriages take place when white women have few other options for marriage and even in this case, this doesn’t exempt them from also harboring racist sentiments.