‘I faced my own prejudice and that of society by adopting black children’: white woman comes to terms with the influence of racism in Brazil



Note from BW of Brazil: It’s an area in which we once again see the Brazilian preference for whiteness and again demonstrates a rejection of blackness and racist tendencies of the Brazilian population. We first dealt with the issue of interracial adoption back in May of 2012 in an article entitled “Black children continue to be passed over for adoption”. Again, one would assume that rejection of certain phenotypes wouldn’t be possible in a nation such as Brazil where centuries of racial mixing of the three original races, African, European and American Indian, has resulted in every sort of mixture possible among descendants. But again and again we see that this simply isn’t the case, as Brazilians, whether they admit it or not, continue to clearly favor a physical appearance that most approximates the European portion of the Brazilian mixture.

Recently, a popular actor came face to face with Brazil’s predilection for whiteness when he and his actress wife decided to adopt an African child. I have no idea if the actor knew anything about racism or was the type that lived in denial of its existence, but in cases in which adoptions are made across racial lines, knowledge and understanding of the influence of racism in the society should be a part of any parents to be’s course of “Parenting 101”. Not knowing/admitting the existence of such a powerful social disease and how to cope with it would be a huge disservice to the child that doesn’t have the privilege that comes attached to white skin and European features. 

‘I faced my own prejudice and that of society by adopting black children’

By Noemia Colonna


“When you need to think about the clothes that your children should wear when going out, so that something bad doesn’t happen to them, you realize the degree of racism and prejudice that still exists in Brazilian society.”

Karina Teles, 39, a lawyer in the capital city of Brasília says she’s discovered the weight of prejudice on a day-to-day basis from living with her children, who are black. For her, awareness of what it is to be black in Brazil came with the adoption of João, aged 6, and Camila, 5.

Racism faced by families adopting black children recently surfaced with the accusation made by the  couple, actor Bruno Gagliasso and wife, actress Giovanna Ewbank, for comments made on the internet about their daughter, Titi.

For families like Karina, such experiences are part of a painful process that usually takes at least three steps. The first, in her case, was discovering and overcoming her own racism. Then, understanding the extent of prejudice in society. Finally, how to prepare her children – and the society around them – to deal with the issue.

Image copyright: Karina Teles with her husband, Hugo, and their children João and Camila: the couple had to face their own prejudice in the adoption process

The journey of Karina and her husband, Hugo Teles, also a lawyer, began when they decided to have children, by in vitro fertilization or by adoption. They knew they would have trouble conceiving a baby because her husband had childhood cancer and underwent chemotherapy, which affected his fertility.

“We wanted to be parents, and the way this would be done, by fertilization or adoption, would be very welcome,” recalls Karina. The couple filed the request in Vara da Infância (Children’s Court) and, while they waited, they left for fertilization. The negative result of the in vitro attempt came before the court’s response on adoption. And that was how Karina was sure she would really be a foster mother.

Requirements for adoption

The couple went through all phases of the adoption process. Voluntarily, Karina and Hugo decided to join a support group to prepare for the arrival of João, adopted newborn in 2009, and Camila, adopted when she was one in 2012.

“Receiving this support was fundamental. We know parents in the same situation and we strengthen each other,” she says. But Karina didn’t expect to face a difficult moment when filling out the form with the profile and physical characteristics of the child she wanted to adopt.

“It’s a standardized form all over Brazil, where you put down if you accept groups of one, two, three siblings, if you accept twins, blacks, Indians, browns, whites, boy, girl, age group, types of disease. It’s a very painful form to fill out, because it gives a very bad feeling of qualifying individuals, as if some deserve more than others,” she says.

For the lawyer, it was also a chance to face her own prejudice.

“It was a shock. Suddenly, when I marked that I wanted only crianças brancas (white children), I discovered that I was more prejudiced than I imagined, and I also realized that my choice was based on my fear of not being able to deal with the different. Then it started to sink in: ‘So, what difference? What am I talking about? Of difference in color, of being human? Am I racist and didn’t know?’”

Karina said she understood that “all of us, in one way or another, are prejudiced and racist.” “And that racism is such a subtle thing at some times that you don’t even realize it until you’re confronted by it.”

The presence of a black couple in the adoption support group, Karina says, helped her and her husband change the choice restricted only to white children.

“They talked about the difficulty they faced with racism, their struggles and pains, they showed their world.” Suddenly, I said, ‘I want this! I want to love someone regardless of color, gene and anything. Either you love someone because that person makes you well, because you make that person well, or you are not really capable of loving,” says the lawyer.

Data from the Cadastro Nacional de Adoção (CNA or National Registry of Adoption), by the National Courts of Justice (CNJ), show that the position of couples such as Karina and Hugo, who do not show racial preference in adoption, has grown.

In 2010, for example, adopters who accepted only white children were 38.7% of the candidates for adoptive parents, but this rate in 2016 (until to May) is 22.5%. In the same period, the percentage of candidates accepting black children jumped from 30.5% to 46.7%.

Between 2010 and 2016, the percentage of candidates accepting black children jumped from 30.5% to 46.7%

Of the total of 252 adoptions made by the national registry from January to April of this year, 119 (47%) were of preta (black) and parda (brown) children. According to the agency responsible for registration, this is also due to the increase in so-called late adoptions (of children over three years old), which accounted for 50% of the total number of adoptions in 2015 – almost 70% of the children in the CNA with more than three years are pretas or pardas.

Comfort zone

Karina is cautious in stating that she it’s not fitting to judge people who sign up for adoption, opt for white children and face long waits, because most of the children available for adoption are non-white.

“There are a lot of people who can’t get out of these limitations or go through changes, because it’s not easy. É preciso ir atrás, sair da zona de conforto, dos benefícios e privilégios que a vida te oferece por você ser branca (You have to go back, get out of the comfort zone, the benefits and privileges that life offers you because you’re white). It’s not easy, But it’s another motive that makes me grasp this flag of love and being equal, with great force, regardless of ethnicity.”

Among what she refers to as “loss of privilege” is the certain restriction of a freedom of coming and going without receiving suspicious looks and unexpected comments.

“What we perceive is the famous disguised prejudice. It’s the comment of a friend or relative, like, ‘Oh, you have to tie down that girl’s hair! Ah, is she going to go out dressed like that?’”, she says.

Bruno Gagliasso (with wife Giovanna) filed a police complaint for racist offenses on the internet against his daughter, Titi

And she adds: “The other day, I saw Gloria Maria speaking a great truth. She says that to a certain extent, especially black women, they must always be very well dressed, neat and elegant, otherwise they will be confused with stereotypes.”

“In the case of children, if they get out in flip flops, they can be seen as street children or poor children. And I feel this up close. Somehow, I felt obliged to put sneakers on my children instead of flip flops, To go to the mall and not run the risk of being barred. And that’s desperate. Today I understand that this is why people who experience prejudice up close have such an eloquent discourse, that bothers people so many people that don’t experience this veiled prejudice,” she ponders.


The brasiliense (native of Brasília) recalls a curious situation, the discomfort caused when her daughter always asked for bonecas loiras e brancas (blond and white dolls) in toy stores.

“We showed a white and another black doll and asked, ‘Which is it Camillinha (little Camila)?’ And she pointed to the white doll, which made me anguished. Talking to psychologists, we discovered that the child, when small, doesn’t have much sense of who she is. She identifies herself a lot with her parents. In our family there are no blacks. Eu e meu marido somos brancos (My husband and I are white). On TV there were no cartoons with black characters. How can I expect my daughter to identify herself as black?”

The couple then opted for a different tactic.

“We went to see movies with blacks, listen to songs sung by pessoas negras (black people), and so on, and that was easy, because it’s amazing the huge amount of amazing and talented black people, but not as visible as whites. At least not in the world of whites, which was what I had lived until then. “

When they realized that their little daughter was not interested in black dolls, Karina and her husband went further in the quest to make blackness a stronger reality for their children: the father started to collect black dolls and play with them when his daughter called him.

“That’s when our daughter started to identify herself, because if dad liked those black dolls so much, then that was very good.” From then on, she began to play and to prefer dolls similar to her..”

Another time in which difference manifests itself, Karina says, is in school. Some moms are looking worried and asking how they should explain the difference in races in her family.

“You’re going to explain that people are different, there are people of all colors, families of all forms, ours is like that,” he says.

For her, those who ask do so in good faith, to avoid prejudiced discourses. “I am very happy when this happens. I’d rather a crude question than a deep-seated silence, full of prejudice,” she says.

Karina says that the story of families like hers and that of actors Bruno Gagliasso and Giovanna Ewbank are emblematic because they help to understand the importance of the debate on racism and adoption.

“I feel compelled to make the world a better place for my black children. Obviously I think of them first, but I also look around, because a world where people have privileges for the simple difference in skin tone can’t be good. This is inhumane.”

Note from BW of Brazil: I must say that it is commendable to see a white Brazilian woman take an honest look at herself and come to terms with her own beliefs and privileges in relation to whiteness. As many of our regular readers already know, typically white Brazilians either flat out deny the influence of racism in the lives of black Brazilians, downplay it, utilize baseless rhetoric that says “we are all equal” or point the finger at black Brazilians who they believe are simply ‘whining’. For me, the best situation would be that Afro-Brazilian children are raised in loving, supportive Afro-Brazilian households so that this situation doesn’t exist in the first place. But if trans-racial adoptions are necessary, I DO wish that more white people would take an honest look in mirror, assess themselves and ask if they are truly prepared to deal with the complexities of raising a black child (1) and if not, seek guidance for what could be a lifelong commitment. 



  1. Particularly in relation to racism, racial identity and the acceptance of black features, all issues that are by-products of racism/white supremacy.
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. I’m always highly suspicious of whites that want to adopt black children. Its like some novel experiment for them to see blackness/African experience and maybe live out some deep seated colonial fantasy. Are they going to educate themselves in African Brazilian and African history to give the children a strong and healthy identity? Does she even know how to care for a black child’s hair? How much effort will they use to counter white supremacy at home/school and in all areas of life?

    If whites feel so string about racial injustice in my opinion they would be far better fighting the social and economic injustice of the white supremacists who create the need for these overwhelming black children to be adopted. Why dont they adopt a white child and grow that child to be just and true. I suggest they are far better equipped for that than running their own personal experiment!

    We see this with Europeans adopting African children and the horror stories that have come out of that. These children end up very confused/ abused within the whites wider families and don’t have the tools to negotiate a world dominated by white supremacy.

    I think we should remain very suspicious of such acts.

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