“I’m not racist; my father has hair like yours!”: When is a comment racist? Sometimes, it depends on intent as black hair takes center stage on reality show

Adolffo and João of BBB21
Adolffo and João of BBB21

Note from BBT: I swear, if you wanna learn about Brazil, in many ways, all you gotta do is watch or follow the news from the Globo TV reality show, Big Brother Brasil (BBB). There’s been so much poppin’ off on this 21st edition that I can’t keep up with it as fast as it happens. For those who following BBB21 religiously, of course today’s update, a follow-up to a previous post, is old news. But if you don’t watch it, it’s news for you.

Camilla, João and Adolffo, participants on BBB21

In a recent post, I presented yet another controversy on this season’s BBB. One of the contestants, Rodolffo, dressed up in a caveman costume and wig said that the costume’s hair was similar to that of João, a black male participant who wears his hair in an afro. That comment led to an explosion of comments online and re-ignited discussions about how Brazilian society, as a whole, continues to reject the natural hair of its black citizens. For those who aren’t familiar with this topic, the Black Brazil Today archive is full of articles on the challenges of wearing natural afro-textured hair, the shame people have long had and the gradual development of pride in acceptance.

BBB 21 participant Adolffo appeared on a recent episode dressed as a caveman

On BBB21, João confided in one of his best friends on the show about how the comment bothered him and later confronted the Rodolffo on the show in an outburst that was shared repeatedly in social networks. Before João exploded on the topic, his friend, social network influencer and fellow participant, Camilla de Lucas, also let Rodolffo know how he had f*cked up. People have been making racist jokes about natural black hair for decades, in reality, centuries, in Brazil and, for Camilla, there is simply too much information out here for people not to know why these sorts of comments are simply not acceptable:

Camilla explained the issue to Adolffo

“Research it, because we are tired of having to explain about our skin tone, about our hair. I understand that you didn’t mean it in a bad way, but we alo are tired of hearing from the other side that that wasn’t the intention!” – Camilla de Lucas

Camilla’s words represent the thoughts of perhaps millions of black Brazilians who have had to deal with a racist culture in which their features are constantly ridiculed and accepted as normal by the society as a whole, which leads to all sorts of other problems: shame, denial of racial identity, lack of self-esteem, the use of various tactics to change or hide natural hair texture and the desire for one’s children not having to go through this and thus choosing partners with the thought of offspring having less black physical features influencing such choices.

There’s so much to explore here and I’ll approach this one post at a time…

João reacts: “Why, is it not easier for you to recognize that you made a mistake, man?”

João cries in a game of discord and vents about Rodolffo’s racist comment

João Luiz spoke in front of all of BBB21’s participants (TV Globo) about the comparison that Rodolffo made between his hair and the costume wig of the monster’s punishment. Visibly shaken, the professor said he had to have courage to be able to say what happened in the game of discord.

“A lot of people here may not know, but on Saturday there was a situation in the fourth cordel that was me, Caio, Rodolffo and Juliette, and I’m saying this now because for me, it’s a moment of great courage, of being able to be saying this here now. Rodolffo even made a joke comparing a prehistoric monster’s wig with my hair. So, for me, it touched on a very specific point. The game may be things that we experience in here, but it has to be a game of respect.” – João

Rodolffo was surprised and replied:

“If everyone noticed what the monster’s wig looked like … I believe it was a bit similar.”

João ended up crying, was consoled by some participants and continued his outburst:

“There is no point in coming with a speech that it was not your intention, that you didn’t have the intention, that I am tired of hearing this and it’s not just inside, it’s outside too. No one ever intends to hurt, no one ever intends to do things to us. Why, is it not easier for you to recognize that you made a mistake, man? And you tell me that you want to be better and you just reaffirmed, you’re reaffirming the same thing that you said.”

João with boyfriend, IgorJoão’s boyfriend vents about comments with no intention of hurting

Igor Moreira, João boyfriend, spoke on people who make comments without the intention of hurting anyone.

“Some comments need not be intended to hurt in order to hurt. Every time a comment that is loaded with prejudice is said it brings together all the other comments that the person has ever heard. It’s like a bomb turning over the memory of negative comments that the person has heard all of his life.” – Igor (@mmoreira_igor) April 6, 2021

Note from BBT: As BBB is a wildly popular program, it has become a regular part of the Brazilian reality, no pun intended. It seems like everyone, celebrities, everyday people and anybody watches this program at least ocassionally, so everyone seems to have an opinion on the goings on on the show. After everyone brought the pain on Rodolffo, the participant’s father ended up weighing on the subject, of course, defending his son.

Shortly after so many black Brazilians presented their anger with Rodolffo’s comments, a photo of the sertaneja singer’s father starting circulating online. On one social network page, someone wrote soemthing like, “Here we go. Rodolffo was caught being racist and here he comes posting photos of his father who had an afro to ‘prove’ that he’s not racist.”

A young Adolffo with his father, Juarez

If you know things work in Brazil, you know how common it is for people, after being accused of doing/saying something racist will point out that they have a black grandmother, grandfather, barber or whatever to show that that they aren’t racist.

In this case, it was actually Izabella Rios, Rodolffo’s sister, who went to Instagram and posted an old photo of her father, in an attempt to rationalize that her brother’s action/comment wasn’t meant to be racist.

“This is my father at the age of 30! I’m proud of my origins and I’m sure Rodolffo is too. Agendas like these raised are very important! I apologize to everyone who has been hurt by Rodolffo! This was not his intention! We are in constant evolution #FicaRodolffo (stay Rodolffo),” she wrote on the social network.

In the photos, some with Rodolffo as a child, we can see that their father was black and had cabelo crespo.

Adolffo’s father, Juarez , in an old photo

When discussing the subject with Camilla de Lucas, Rodolffo also brought up his father. “My father had the same hair, including a little similarity in physiognomy with João. So, do you think I would disrespect my father to contradict him?” he asked.

Camilla still didn’t buy the singer’s justification. “I don’t know, I haven’t seen your father’s hair, ask João, but even if it’s the same, it was a joke and in bad taste,” she warned.

In reference to Adolffo’s father, you’ll note that I wrote his father “was” black, which would mean that he IS black, right? Sometimes I wonder if it’s not possible to switch races. Why? First, let me share what Adolffo’s father had to say in his son’s defense.

Adolffo and his father Juarez in a more recent photo

BBB 21 Rodolffo’s father publishes photos of his hair to defend his son

“Rodolffo has a stupid, countryside style, without malice, in which he speaks what comes to mind”, declared the businessman on Instagram

The businessman Juarez Dias, father of the singer Rodolffo, came out in defense of his son after João Luiz revealed a joke about his hair made by the artist. The professor said in the game of discord, during a live program, that the sertanejo singer compared the caveman wig – used to punish the dynamics of the monster of the week – to the style of his hair.

“My parents were black, I come from a humble family. I raised my children in the simplicity that I was raised, looking at everyone as equals, no one better than anyone. I’m not here to give a lecture, to defend any theory or to create confusion. But I am a father who is seeing his son being attacked disproportionately,” wrote Juarez Dias.

Still in the publication, Juarez Dias says that Rodolffo is being attacked on social networks. “It’s very sad to see the attempt of some profiles to execrate my son, to make him a monster before the public, but they won’t succeed. Rodolffo has a stupid, countryside way, without malice, in which he speaks what comes to mind … My son grew up free, started to work very early, in a reality very different from the one we live. He’s honest, true. And I fail like all of us.”

Note from BBT: Comparing Juarez’s photos from a few decades ago to what he looks like now you might do a double take. When I first saw the photos of Juarez on the beach with a little Adolffo, I saw a man who was clearly black, a little on the lighter-skinned side, but still black and with afro textured hair. Looking at him now, I swear I see a man who looks, well….white. For me, it’s hard to believe that this is the same man. Looking at his current hair texture, it looks pretty straight, a huge difference from the photo with his son on the beach years before.

What I’ve seen is that, with people of mixed backgrounds, the hair texture can appear one way or another depending on the length. In the case of Juarez, if his hair were to grow longer, it would probably still develop into an afro texture. Talking to a friend of mine back in the US, he confirmed that his oldest son’s hair is like this as well. With shorter length, it appears straighter, but when it grows out, it looks like an afro with a looser curl. Also note that Juarez says that his parents were black but doesn’t define himself as such, although several websites reporting on the incident defined him as such. 

“Izabella Rios, Adolffo’s sister, went to Instagram tried to reenforce the singer’s comment. She published some photos of their father, who has kinky/curly hair and is a black man.”

It’s something I’ve heard many Brazilians say over my years visiting and living in the country. It’s like, yes, my parents, mother or father were/was black, as if the person is distancing him/herself from that classification. It’s like, you look at the person and think, “Your father/mother/grandfather? And what about you?” Among numerous other cases, this is what came to mind when I saw a guy that insulted singer Ludmilla some years back.

Now before I move on, let me just weigh in on this whole controversy. When I first heard about this story, I was just happy to see it being discussed on a national platform. I’ve heard some horrific jokes uttered by Brazilians about black hair for years, and like people standing up and calling for the end of the use of blackface, it’s long been time that jokes about natural black hair also come to a stop.

But on this particular incident, I gotta be honest and say, putting myself in João’s shoes, I wouldn’t have been offended by Adolffo’s comment. In the US, among work white work and school colleagues, I often heard comments they made that were similar to Adolffo’s. They were always kind of a light joke to me. For example, I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen white colleagues spend time in the sun over a weekend, come back, see me and be like, “Wow, if I stay out in the sun a little longer I can be like Marques.” In a small group of people, we would all laugh and I’d say something like, “Yeah, you wish; but don’t die trying.”

Some years ago, I remember reading numerous comments by black Brazilian women remembering how hurt they were when white friends and colleagues would compare their hair to beehives and how painful it was to hear that comparison. It’s funny, but several months ago, my wife did my daughter’s hair in a manner in which I could see how it kinda looked like a beehive and I thought, “Damn! THAT is creative!” I’m often impressed with the endless possibilities that black hair has. I saw that beehive and thought it was beautiful.

I guess it IS all about the intent and in the end, both João and Camilla accepted that Adolffo didn’t mean his comment in a hurtful way. It’s often hard to tell what someone’s intent is with a comment. In a scenario in which a black girl is surrounded by five friends, all white, if one of those girls were to say her hair looks like beehive and the other four girls all laugh at her, I can see how could hurt. On the other hand, if those same girls looked at her hair, with their mouths open, in awe, like, “How did you do that?”, she would probably be beaming with pride.

I can’t speak for João or Camilla, I’m just saying that I wouldn’t have been offended by the comment. But I also cannot dismiss what someone else’s feelings were. Again, I’m just glad the discussion is at least happening…even if this contributed to Rodolffo being eliminated.

Source: Diário do Nordeste, TV e Famosos,

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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