Note from BW of Brazil: In Brazil, the national mythology tells us that “we are all equal”. What the mythology doesn’t reveal is that in a country dominated by Eurocentric standards of beauty, those citizens (more than half of the population) whose physical features don’t allow them to hide their African ancestry are often ridiculed, insulted, made fun of and psychologically assaulted in ways that belie the mythology that everyone wants to believe to be true. One of the main focuses of these assaults is hair texture. For centuries Brazilian society has instilled in the population the idea of cabelo bom (“good hair”, meaning straight hair) and cabelo ruim (“bad hair” meaning kinky/curly hair) and the experiences of perhaps millions of people throughout the country can attest to an ongoing anti-African sentiment hidden behind the “we are all equal/racial democracy” facade.
For many years after the abolition of slavery in 1888, Afro-Brazilians didn’t know how to deal with this fact. Children and adults of visible African ancestry were often taught to ignore such humiliating experiences with racism, told that insults weren’t in fact because of physical features or were encouraged to have relationships with persons of a more European appearance in order that their children don’t have to go these assaults as well. Fortunately, over the past few decades, a number of Afro-Brazilian organizations have sprung up with the objective of not only fighting Brazil’s particularly potent brand of “racist non-racism” ideologies, but instilling pride in persons who have been or will be victimized by such discourse.
One such group that has had a great impact on the issue of self-esteem and black pride is the collective known as the Meninas Black Power, which can be loosely translated as the “Afro Girls”. Meninas Black Power have been featured here in a number of posts highlighting their activism and objectives and below we present yet another positive change that this group brought to the life of another black girl who was accustomed to asking herself why she was born with the physical features that she has.
“I’m not ashamed to be who I am: a black”
Courtesy of Brasil 247
Encouraged by the work of the collective Meninas Black Power (Afro Girls), a 14-year old student decided to assume her cabelos crespos (kinky/curly hair) and says that she will not only not straighten it but will assume in its true form. “Today I can beat my chest and say that I am of a descendant of Africans and I’m very proud of that. (…) From now on, I will not be influenced by people: I will influence them,” says Nathane
Nathane always received nicknames at school because of her cabelo crespo and her black color. “I kept asking myself: ‘why was I born like this?’, ‘why don’t I have normal, straight or curly hair?’. Every time I looked in the mirror, I felt ugly, I thought people would laugh at me. And each time it happened, I got more frustrated.” Until one day, skipping class to straighten her hair, she learned about the Meninas Black Power (Afro Girls) that had visited the school where she studied, in the Tinguá neighborhood of Nova Iguaçu, in the Baixada Fluminense region of Rio de Janeiro. After learning more about the work of the group – which encourages “the consciousness of the value of this natural cabelo crespo and other naturally black characteristics”, “through educational activities directed to the infant, juvenile and black women public” – she saw that she needed not to be ashamed of assuming her natural characteristics.
“When I talk about leaving my hair natural, I don’t speak of only not straightening my hair, but to assume it my true form. I’m ready for this. And when people see my natural hair, they will know that I’m not ashamed to be who I am: black. Today I can beat my chest and say that I am a descendant of Africans descent and I’m very proud of that,” she says in an article published in the Meninas Black Power site. Currently, at age 14, Nathane cut all of her hair straightened by chemicals (a technique known as the big chop) and sports her cabelo crespo. “I had doubts, but decided that I will face my fears and that, from now on, I will not be influenced by people: I will influence them. (…) I want that the teacher Jaciana and the Meninas Black Power to know that they are very important in my life because they are helping me overcome my fears.”
Jaciana by Melquiades, for Meninas Black Power
Who is the menina black power?
Nathane is already an acquaintance of ours. She is 14 years old, studying in the school in which we operate in Tinguá has been gradually constructing her identity as a mulher preta e crespa (black woman with kinky/curly hair). She went through the transition. She braided, braided it again, did the big chop … and braided her hair again immediately. But the desire to see her hair free spoke louder! A month after the big chop she took the braids out and sported a beautiful crespa. Her father gave her her first pick: he did this himself and recalled the times when he also wore cabelos Black Power (an afro) in the 1970s. We thought then that would be pretty cool that we follow this process closely. Before that, let’s learn a little more about it. We have two accounts written by her and an interview I did so that she could speak of issues that are interesting to us! Let’s see?
December 9, 2013
At school they always gave me nicknames because of my hair or my color. At first I didn’t care, but it started to be frequent. And I kept asking myself: ‘why was I born like this?’, ‘why don’t I have normal, straight or curly hair?’
Every time I looked in the mirror, I felt ugly, I thought people would laugh at me. And every time it happened I got more frustrated. I wanted to spend the day sleeping. When they called me to go out, I wouldn’t gp, because I thought I was not worthy of being seen by these people.
Today I’m over this, I’m learning that it doesn’t matter what they think of you, but rather the concept you have of yourself. But sometimes this complex comes back as a nightmare and I don’t even have the will to get out of bed.
February 15, 2014
When I started to think about not relaxing my hair, I was full of doubts. In my heart I felt it would be good, but my head said I would not like it. I was afraid of what people would say, but at the same time I wanted to know how my life would be if I did that.
I had doubts, but decided that I will face my fears and that from now on I will not be influenced by the people: I will influence them. I am very happy because the people I love are supporting me in this new phase of my life. One of the reasons that led me to make this decision was the people who believe in me and in my potential and I want these people to feel more proud of me and I will not disappoint them. I want the teacher Jaciana and the Meninas Black Power know that they are very important in my life because they are helping me overcome my fears. I thank God for putting you (all) in my life.
With you I am learning more about my ancestors, I am learning that being different isn’t bad. Now I think every time I straightened my hair, I rejected all that my ancestors suffered for me to be free, in order for me to have rights in society today.
When I talk about leaving the natural hair, do not speak not only straighten your hair, but to assume my true form. I’m ready for it. And when people see my natural hair, will know that I’m not ashamed to be who I am: black. Today I can beat his chest and say that I am of African descent and I’m very proud of that.
This interview is from August 1, 2014. It was done a little before the Big Chop.
MBP – How did you realize you needed to change the way they dealt with your hair?
Nathane – I always straightened it but I wasn’t satisfied. One day I skipped class to go to the salon to straighten my hair and knew through my friends that you (Meninas Black Power) had gone to the school. I was sorry not to have met you but I was curious to know what you were talking about.
MBP – What was your feeling when you saw so many mulheres crespas together?
N – I felt deceived. I always heard that my hair was ugly and I saw in you that it was a lie. I saw that I need not be ashamed of my hair.
MBP – How was your conversation with your parents about the transition and your willingness to wear cabelos crespos?
N – My mom took it well, but my father was very afraid because I’ve been very sad because of my hair. I had a “complex”, I didn’t want to leave the house and he was worried that this “complex” would return.
MBP – How are the comments that you’ve started to hear?
N – My friends support me, but the negative comments from other people who I don’t even know they still make me sad.
MBP – Do you think of relaxing your hair?
N – No. No way..
MBP – What challenges do you think you’ll face wearing your natural hair?
N – Criticism, prejudices, I have to face the people who think I have to have curls. I have cousins who have curls, this is frowned upon, and people fail to understand that what I want is to leave my natural hair as it is. They think that I’ve gone into a transition to relax (it). I think that they prefer not to hear me. I don’t want to relax (it), nor get curls done in the salon, I want my natural hair as it is.
Source: Brasil 247