Note from BBT: I like to post stories like the one below from time to time to remind readers of what racial identity is like in a country like Brazil. As the country has convinced generations of its citizens to accept that being black is such a terrible thing and should be avoided at all cost, it is one of the main reasons we can never really know how many black people there are in Brazil.
My own view has changed on this issue and I can no longer support the idea that there are more than 100 million black people in Brazil. As I’ve pointed out in numerous posts, for years I supported the criteria of the Movimento Negro that argued that Brazil’s population is the total of pretos e pardos (blacks and browns) together. But after having visited several states and seeing various cities in these states, as well as living nearly a decade in São Paulo, I can honestly say that all pardos are not black.
There is a percentage of the pardo population that could be considered black, but probably not the majority. And since pardos make up about 85% of pretos (16.96 million) and pardos (97.5 million), and as we are pretty sure all pretos are black and that an undefined percentage of pardos could be reasonably considered black, the true number of black Brazilians would depend more on how many pardos would be judged as black.
Based on a number of studies, I tend to believe that perhaps 25% of pardos could be considered black. I know that many black Brazilians would scoff at my assessment but I would argue that they know this is true. We see this every time black activists judge this or that pardo as “not being black enough” (or in fact, white) to enter a university through the affirmative action. And there have been a LOT of pardos that black Brazilian activists have had disqualified from the quota system for precisely this reason. This proves my point.
Anyway, another reason that it is so diffucult to determine just how black Brazil really is, is the fact that perhaps millions of people who some may see as black may actually define themselves as pardo or even branco (white). In recent years, the numbers and percentages of pretos have been steadily rising and this not simply due to an increased birth rate but rather hundreds of thousands of people, after going through a self-examination of racial identity, have come to see themselves as blacks after years of defining themselves in other color categories.
The story of Dayse Rodrigues is one such example.
“I’m 32 years old, but I’ve only been black for five.”
Dayse Rodrigues in testimony to Nathália Geraldo
“I am 32 years old and the mother of three black children. Their father is from the African continent, from Guinea-Bissau, I am from Recife. From five years ago I started to build an identity linked to my blackness. I, who am part of the so-called pardos, recognize myself as a lighter-skinned black, as the fruit of a miscegenation that is not positive.
It happened first because of the rape of black and indigenous women; then there was a policy of the state of whitening of the Brazilian population, in which the idea was to make it completely white. This would be the solution to the underdevelopment of the country. I am the result of this process that didn’t work out, which goes through my family tree, of black grandparents.
I began to talk about the racial issue with motherhood. Before, I was the woman of the color of jambo, morena, but I didn’t recognize myself as a black woman.
When my eldest son was 7, he began to suffer racial discrimination at school. They said, ‘Your hair is hard, your nose is ugly. The first offense the black child suffers is about aesthetics. Pierre brought this demand home and I couldn’t explain why we Brazilians are not prepared to talk about it with our families at school. And I was part of that ignorance. That’s when I started to revisit myself.
When we claim this place of the light-skinned black, we are not claiming the pain that dark-skinned blacks suffer. It’s easier for an offense like ‘monkey’ to be directed at a negro de pele retinta (dark-skinned black) man than at me, a light-skinned black woman.
We hear that we have privileges. But we don’t; we have social advantages, because only whiteness has privileges. We suffer racial discrimination in a much less violent way, in some situations, but in the statistics, pretos (blacks) and pardos (browns) are (both) in the numbers of underemployment and police violence.
I saw the blackness of my children in me. They were my trigger. And it’s hard not to start this process with aesthetics, because it’s what makes light-skinned blacks try to follow the imposed social standard, and try to pass themselves off as white.
I did a progressiva (see note one) in my hair since I was 13 years old. Before, I used to relax it. It was a product that left a strong smell, to the point of getting on the bus and being embarassed, because nobody wanted to sit next to me. Not to mention that it would hurt my scalp. As the hair didn’t straighten totally, I had to brush it (see note one). And if I was in the rain, it would curl up.
We straighten out of a question of security, to feel accepted, but it has an effect of a violent mental health. You spend your whole life trying to deny your identity.
With the birth of my daughter, Sophie, now three years old, I still had to understand that I’m not her aesthetic reference; and that was very strong. She grabs my hair and it falls, because it’s curly. Hers, no. So I say it’s a queen’s crown, and I look for more references for her.
Besides, there’s the question of lipstick. I didn’t wear a dark color in my mouth, red, because it left my lip in evidence, bigger. And I always loved red. One day I thought, ‘You know what? And I started wearing red lipstick. Today, I’m recognized for it.
When I was in the office of a college, I created the Ubuntu course, through an edict, to talk to the students about racial issues, present documentaries and make conversation circles. In 2018, I submitted this project to a social project incubator. And at the end of 2019, I opened Ubuntu Consultoria, to work within companies on this issue. Besides consulting, we give racial re-education courses.
For this, I have a construction of knowledge. I can’t talk about racism as a dark-skinned black person suffers, but I talk about my process. Besides, I am the mother of black children, I occupy this space and nobody can take it away from me.
Anyone who is going through recognizing themselves as black needs to understand first that being black is not tied to pain – it doesn’t mean that they need to go through discrimination for being black. And people don’t necessarily have the same path.
So, I also recommend trying to read black authors, Djamila Ribeiro, Abdias Nascimento, Adilson Moreira, Silvio Almeida, Joyce Berth, they have accessible readings that talk about it.
It’s necessary to recognize how miscegenation was done in Brazil and revisit the family tree. Of course, in Brazil you are not black just because you have a black grandfather or great grandfather, but it is important that you recognize the ancestry. This helps to construct your identity. And understand how you are seen in society today.
Today I call myself a black woman, but I mean that I wouldn’t enter a competition for racial quotas, for example. Because I think it is made for those who suffer discrimination in a more violent way. And I had a different economic and social access, I had the opportunity that most don’t have.
- The progressiva, or Brazilian Keratin treatment, is a popular chemical treatment for straightening hair in Brazil (see here). The author here explains three different processes of attaining straight hair. The progressiva, the relaxer and then the process of blow drying her hair while using a brush to straighten it out.