“Identity is my perception, not yours”: Running for São Paulo’s city council, João Paulo Demasi declares himself black

Note from BBT: One of these topics is something I’ve been wanting to talk about for some time. The other is one of the “here we go again” variety. To make this clear for readers, let me first approach the political issue. As has been well-documented over the course of this blog’s existence, black Brazilians lag behind those considered white in nearly every social category. With their lack of representation in the political realm, there’s no shock in the fact that when they do attempt to run for political positions, they receive far less funding for their campaigns, and have less visibility in political ads. With the rise in demands for equality of the black population in recent years, there have been steps taken to balance out these deeply ingrained inequalities in Brazilian society.

It has been evident for decades that political parties invest the most resources behind their candidates that fit into the standard white phenotype. We’ve read about controversies involving even those parties that supposedly support a black agenda, such as the PT (Workers’ Party), the party of former Presidents Lula da Silva and Dilma Rouseff, as well as the PSOL, the party of Rio city councilwoman Marielle Franco who was assassinated in 2018. If this is what happens in left-leaning parties, one can only imagine the case of those more conservative parties.

To address this inequality, a few months ago it was announced by the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) that the division of the Electoral Funding and TV ad time must be proportional to the total of black candidates, with the new rules to come into force starting in 2022. This division is to be regulated by Court resolution. Two months ago, Minister Ricardo Lewandowski of the Federal Supreme Court (STF), determined that the proportional division of resources and electoral advertisements between black and white candidates will become effective in this year’s elections. The decision was made on Thursday, September 10.

The minister stressed that the proportional division of resources and advertising time is not a change in the electoral process. “Therefore, there is no reason to impose the prohibition provided for in the Constitution. In the case file, it can be seen that the TSE did not promote any innovation in the norms related to the electoral process, conceived in its strictest sense, as it did not change the discipline of party conventions, nor the electoral coefficients nor the extent of universal suffrage,” the minister said.

In August, the Superior Electoral Court approved, by a vote of six to one, the proportional division of campaign and advertising funds on radio and TV campaigns, however, the rule was to only be applied after the 2022 elections. The decision took into account the principle of anteriority, which prevents the application of changes in the electoral process less than a year from the vote. “[The rule] Only introduced an improvement in the rules relating to advertising, campaign financing and accountability, all with an eminently procedural character, with the high purpose of expanding the participation of black citizens in the democratic struggle for the conquest of political positions,” concluded the magistrate.

Technically, one would think this was good news with the rising numbers of black Brazilians entering the political arena. But we’ve already seen that it’s still not quite panning out that way. I will discuss this in an upcoming piece. In another stunning, but typically Brazilian, turn of events, there has been a spike in the number of non-white candidates. It may be true that more black and brown people are declaring their candidacies, but equal to the controversy of white candidates defining themselves as black or brown to enroll in universities through the affirmative action program, we are seeing a similar trend in the political spectrum.

With the recent decision that campaign funding must be divided equally among white and non-white candidates, we’ve seen a huge upsurge of candidates who had defined themselves as branco, or white, suddenly changing their color and self-identifying as preto (black) or pardo (brown). Suddenly, the average profile of candidates for this year’s election cycle has gone from a white male to a black male, married with a completed high school education. This we learned from the TSE itself.

This is a dramatic change from the profile of candidates in the 2016 elections. This is the first time since 2014, when the TSE first started collecting candidate data according to race, in which the average candidate is black or brown. There are more than 548 thousand registered candidates participating in this year’s elections. Of all candidates, 49.9% are of people who declared themselves being brown or black. According to IBGE, the group of blacks is formed by the sum of blacks and browns. Whites represent 47.8% of the total. In addition, 0.4% declare themselves indigenous and another 0.4%, yellow. There is no race information for 1.6% of the records.

More than 25,000 candidates changed the race they declared in this election season, with 40% switching from white to black/brown. I just suppose this would just have to be a coincidence considering the recent ruling on candidate campaign funding and equal media promotional space. This phenomenon of candidates switching from white to non-white is something we saw happen in Bahia back in 2016.

Let us remember that Bahia is a northeastern state with the largest percentage of not only self-defined pretos but also one of the states with the largest combination of pretos (blacks) and pardos (browns). But even with such a huge black/brown population, Bahian politics has always had a white face. Maybe it’s just me (not really), but it seems pretty obvious that these white/near white candidates are changing their color classifications in order to appease a new rise in black political demand.

In 2020, Bahia isn’t the only northeastern states where white people are suddenly discovering their blackness. In recent developments, of the 105 candidates from the nine capital cities of northeast region, 24 changed their ethnic classification, whether on the municipal, state or federal level. This represents a change of 22.85%. Ceará is the northeastern state that has seen most dramatic shift of white candidates “becoming” black or brown. Although it may be true that this is more apparent in the majority black/brown northeast, the phenomenon isn’t occurring only in the northeast.

Take the case of entrepreneur João Paulo Demasi for example. Check the story below and I’ll weigh in afterward.

João Paulo Demasi, with wife, TV host/cook Bela Gil, declares himself black for upcoming elections

Candidate for city councilor in São Paulo, Bela Gil’s husband declares himself black: “It’s my perception”

Courtesy of Notícia Preta

The businessman João Paulo Demasi is running for a seat as a city councilor in São Paulo for the PSOL (Partido Socialismo e Liberade) party. So far, so good. The controversy comes with his electoral registration: JP, as he is known, declares himself as preto, meaning black.

João Paulo Demasi with wife, Bela Gil

The phenotype – skin color, hair, mouth, nose – does not match self-declaration. However, Demasi, who has been married to TV cook/host Bela Gil since 2003, says that these traits do not define his identity.

“It is not my nose, my mouth, my hair that identify me. This has to change really through education. Identity is my perception, not yours. My mother is black from Bahia. I was the menino preto (black boy) at a white school. I suffered. I saw my mother cry and I cried for my mother. I heard ‘it could only be a black’ since I was 12 years old. I have identified myself as black since I was a child,” he argued in an interview with the Folha de São Paulo newspaper in September this year.

After determining the proportional division of electoral resources for candidacies of black people and white people, the profile of candidates underwent changes: 40% stopped declaring themselves branco (white) and started seeing themselves as preto (black) or pardo (brown) in 2020. Demasi, however, says that his self-declaration has nothing to do with the new decision.

Demasi is running for a seat on São Paulo’s city council

Note from BBT: There’s so much going on in this story that I’ve thoroughly discussed in past posts, but this is the reason why I felt the need to cover this piece. Before I analyze the story, I must first declare that, in terms of politics, I can’t align myself with either the political right or left as I don’t feel that either side really have any interest in advancing the progress of the black community. As such, there will be times when I can agree and disagree with representatives of both sides.

For example, take the current president of the Fundação Palmares, Sérgio Camargo. Having been chosen as the new president of the governmental organization that is supposed to represent the interests of Brazil’s black population and safeguard aspects of black culture, as a black representative of the extreme right, Camargo’s statements and actions have made him an enemy of the Afro-Brazilian population that has attempted to have him removed from his position due to many comments considered inflammatory by members of black social movements. I can’t even keep up with everything Camargo has said and done in the past few months that have earned him the reputation of being one of the worst sell-outs black Brazilians have ever seen.

For African-Americans not familiar with him, think of a Brazilian Jessie Peterson, Larry Elders or Armstrong Williams to get an idea of what Camargo is about. To be truthful, there are actually things that I can agree with black conservatives on, some of them just come across as so anti-black that sometimes it’s hard to even consider their rhetoric. Camargo came hard when he learned of Demasi defining himself as black. In recent tweets Camargo posted the following comments about Demasi:

President of the Palmares Foundation, Sérgio Camargo blasted Demasi for claiming he is black

This preto de Taubaté (Taubaté black man), Bela Gil’s husband and candidate for city council in São Paulo, also insults whites by denying his own color, as if it were a demerit…The left steals everything, even the skin color! Another fake black appears for the left. David Miranda (white) at least tries to look black. This guy here doesn’t even bother. His racial opportunism is an insult to blacks, who need to deny him the vote. No matter how you ‘perceive yourself’, you will always be a WHITE MAN!”

When Camargo refers to Demasi as a ‘preto de Taubaté’ he refers to a situation that made headlines several years ago in which a woman used silicone and cloths to make her appear pregnant to get her family’s attention. In this sense, Camargo could be saying that Demasi will try to fool black folks into accepting him as black, get elected, and then having to do with the black struggle.

In general, since Camargo first appeared on the scene, I’ve been amazed at some of the things that come out of his mouth. He’s blasted figures that Afro-Brazilians hold near and dear, denounced the black movement, and removed the name of important black Brazilians at the Fundação Palmares, all of this on top of calling about people he’s sees “not really being black”, which is doing again with Demasi.

A few days ago, a friend of mine said she really couldn’t stand Camargo and I get it, but at the same time I have to ask: Is it possible that Camargo may have a point? Always remember, you can always find a few areas of common ground with your enemy or someone you strongly dislike. I probably disagree with Camargo on 90% of the things he says, but this time…Well….

This story shows how whiteness will continue to rule Brazil even though a majority of its people isn’t exactly white. Let’s first take a small peek into how we are somewhat familiar with Mr. João Paulo Demasi even though we really aren’t. Demasi is married to popular TV host/cook Bela Gil, who is the daughter of one of Brazil’s most popular musicians of all-time, Gilberto Gil.

Famed musician Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil has been one of Brazil’s most recognized faces given his history as a singer/songwriter/musician, one of the representatives of the legendary Tropicalia musical movement and his years after Brazil’s Minister of Culture. He is one of the handful of musicians I often refer to when I speak of those Brazilian singers that people outside of Brazil will most be familiar with. But in black Brazilian social networks, he’s famous for another reason. He is sometimes defined as the “king” or “poster boy” of embranquecimento or palmitagem.

Embranquecimento, meaning whitening, is the Brazilian ideology for the slow disappearance of the black race through generational race mixing of black people with lighter partners. The goal was that after 2-3 generations of black and mixed offspring marrying and procreating with white partners, the black element in Brazil would eventually disappear. Gil, like most black Brazilian celebrities also married white and had a number of light-skinned children, at least two of whom are famous, singer Preta Gil and the aforementioned Bela. Both Preta and Bela married white/off white men.

When we look at Gil’s family, it is actually the dream of late 19th century Brazilian elites coming true. In fact, in social networks, it was the daughter of Bela and João that people specifically mentioned in the terms of the representation of the whitening ideal. It was the same discussion when the Facebook page of famous black hair stylist Fernando Fernandes posted photos of four generations of his family. Black skin to blue eyes.

Another factor that comes to light with the case of João Paulo Demasi is the fact that, only recently did Bela Gil come to identify herself as black. This is one of the reasons this situation is so complex but so typical of Brazil. When I first looked at João Paulo Demasi, I thought, “Another white man wanting to take advantage of the quota system”. But then as I looked at other photos of him, I could detect that he does in fact have traits that would denote African ancestry. But the question would be, are these traits salient enough that most people would define him as black? I’d say no. Let us remember that Brazil has always prided itself on the lack of “one dropism” that has been so heavily criticized in the US.

The difference here is that, years ago, no one looking like João Paulo Demasi would ever define him or herself as black. So why now? Well, maybe this has something to do with affirmative action policies for black and brown people and the new ruling that black and brown candidates for political positions must receive equal access to campaign funding and ad time. Demasi claims this has nothing to do with his identity and that he has always defined himself as black.

To keep it 100, I have a little difficulty believing this. I mean, his wife just recently “became black” after all. Maybe he influenced her to “become black”, you might suggest. I don’t know Bela or João so I can’t say for sure either way. It’s just kinda funny that he would make news for defining himself as black now. He says he’s always defined himself as black. OK. I’d love to see his ID card from a few years ago to prove this because, as I said, I have a hard time believing this. In the past, we’ve seen stories of people having to battle with records offices to have their identity cards listed with term “preta”, meaning black, under the category of color.

On the other hand, if Demasi is telling the truth about people ridiculing him as black as a child, similar to another case, this would seem to signal that perhaps Brazil adheres to “one dropism” more than it lets on. Let us remember the old reference to one having a “foot in the kitchen” which is a saying meant to remind people with light skin that, even looking mostly white, people know that said person has African ancestry. There’s another saying in Brazil that says, “he that can’t pass for white is black”. This old saying was never written in any sort of legislation, but you have to wonder how it figures into the racial hierarchy and the way people treat each other in a country like Brazil where as there are millions of mixed-race people who looker whiter than they do black.

Whatever the case may be, I’ll say this. If we see more people who look like Demasi declaring themselves black, at its current rate of miscegenation, a Brazil of the future could become an example of a country of “black” people without actual black people.

Source: Notícia Preta

About Marques Travae 3514 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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