Note from BW of Brazil: As you might know from previous posts, this blog is about giving black Brazilian women a little more media space (even if it’s just a little) and discussing racial politics from the Brazilian perspective. Many previous posts have discussed the Brazilian media’s blatant obsession with portraying the country as an extension of Europe in the tropics. The post featured today is just a snapshot of of how racial invisibility and identity play out among black Brazilian children. While television and the media in general play a major roles in how societies see themselves, the effects of the idea of whiteness as the universal standard of representation for all of humanity can be seen in number of ways if people simply stopped and paid attention. One important demographic in which this whiteness as “all that matters” ideology can be measured and where it continuously reproduces its indoctrinating principles for future generations is children. The report below is just a small sample of the reasons why Brazil’s 2003 law implementing the mandatory teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian history and culture in the schools is so important.
School survey shows that students do not affirm their African descendant features
In a study done among students of Centro Educacional Unificado (CEU or Unified Educational Center), in São Paulo, the educator Roseli Figueiredo Martins found that black girls wished to have aesthetic standards of white girls, such as straight, long hair. The finding was made in her master’s study that was performed at the Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia (FCT or Faculty of Sciences and Technology), at the Presidente Prudente campus, under the guidance of faculty professor Gislene Aparecida dos Santos, of the Department of Education.
The girls’ attitudes were evaluated in recreational activities such as fashion shows, theater sessions and children’s stories. “In general, the reactions of the students showed conflicts of racial identity,” said Roseli. According to the author, the focus of the study was to know how black girls were constructing their identity beyond prejudices.
The desire to change the type of hair was manifested during a fashion show, in which long blonde and brunette wigs and afro-textured wigs were offered to 26 10-year old girls, 12 black girls and 14 white. “Only three of the black girls chose the black wig with hair characteristics of the majority of African descendants,” says the researcher.
The session of children’s stories, according to the author of the study also showed the girls’ unconscious racism. After hearing the stories of Cinderella, Branca de Neve e os sete anões (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) and Rapunzel, starring white characters, and O príncipe dos destinos: história da mitologia afro-brasileira (Prince of destinies: History of Afro-Brazilian Mythology) and Bruna e a galinha d’angola (Bruna and the Chicken from Angola), whose main characters are black, the students revealed their preferences, writing and drawing the type of prince that they thought was more attractive.
After having shared the African story of the 16 princes, Roseli asked the girls what they thought of the story, of which they all said it was “cool.” She then asked the girls to tell her how they imagined these princes would look. Even having emphasized throughout the study that the tales were African stories, the girls’ responses were:
“He’s tall, he has blue eyes and very handsome”
“No, he has green eyes and black hair.”
“He looks like (actor) Reynaldo Gianechinni.”
Although this Brazilian actor has dark hair, in general, the girls said that the ideal prince would have blond hair and blue eyes. When asked to draw what this prince looked like in their imagination, only one girl drew a black prince. Below are a few of the drawings…
“The option for whites served to reveal the negative perception of themselves,” says the researcher who found the choice in conversations with children. “This is a fantasy that is grounded in the idea of harmony between the races and takes place through the denial of some features of black identity.”
For Gislene, the supervisor of the master’s project, Brazilian society does not value its own racial diversity. “We observed in this study that black girls embody the standards disseminated through books, magazines, television and schools, which implies the negation of what they are and results in pain and suffering for themselves,” she says.
For Roseli, the society and the schools have done little in order for black girls to build a positive identity. “We need education institutions to disseminate black heroes and resistance to the brutalities they suffered in the era of slavery, because it is through education that can overturn stereotypes,” she concludes.
In Rio de Janeiro, Ângela Maria Parreiras Ramos also studied the question of identity and racial representation in fairy tales. In a piece from study entitled “Espelho, Espelho Meu”, which can be loosely translated as “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall”, Ramos writes:
“Through texts and illustrations are reinforced the stereotype of white ideals. It is as if to deserve a happy ending, the prerequisite was white skin, blue eyes, blond hair. How many children have not dreamed of being one of the princesses, princes, heroes or other characters in the stories they have been told or read? But who for will it be easier to see in place of fascinating characters? For the black child or the white child? It seems that for the child who has similar physical traits to the character, is easier because it would be less or nothing to change. When there are proposals, particularly in schools, to represent these characters in stories, usually, each one takes on the role he or the others think that is fitting. Thus, to the children with lighter skin, straighter hair and preferably light-colored eyes, will be given the roles of princes and princesses. For black children, they will fit into secondary roles or Saci-pererê (1) at most. Fairy? Absolutely not. Witch? Maybe, who knows? If there is no other option …
Stereotypes are created, often, outside of school and invade school space to the point of not allowing to see or be otherwise. Why can’t a black girl, for example, be a princess or fairy and black boy a prince or hero of the story? In situations of choice of characters, I’ve heard a teacher say, “Where have you seen a fairy black? Huh? The fairies that I know are blondes!”
Fairies, princes and princesses are historically represented with European features. With that, the imagination was unable to see or imagine otherwise. And how are our black children in this scenario? What roles are allowed to them to represent or fantasize about? Not only in the classics, but also in other stories, we question how blacks are represented and in which situations they appear, when they appear.
Until when will our schools continue reproducing what we criticize in the media?
Ramos recounts the following incident in a school where she conducted research:
A teacher enters the office, looks at me and says:
‘I had to send two girls back to redo an assignment. I told them to draw themselves and two who are like you, your color, drew themselves as blue-eyed blondes….I asked immediately: Don’t you have mirrors at home? Since when are you (two) blondes? You can do it over.’
It is very common to see black children drawing themselves as blondes with blue eyes. Reasons for this may not be lacking, because the images in both the media and those presented in schools, extol and value people with white skin and often ignore or stereotype blacks.
Source: UNESP, Martins, Roseli Figueiredo. A identidade de meninas negras. O mundo do faz-de-contas. Presidente Prudente, 2006. Dissertação. (Mestrado em Educação), Universidade Estadual Paulista Julio de Mesquita Filho, 2006. Ramos, Ângela Maria Parreiras. “Espelho, espelho meu!”. A Página da Educação. No. 144, Year 14, April 2005, pg.18.
Beauty and Magazine Covers in Brazil: The Overwhelming Dictatorship of Whiteness
Short film explores race, exclusion and the deferred dreams of black children living under Brazil’s “dominance of whiteness”
The benefits of whiteness: blue-eyed white beggar becomes a sensation in a country where black beggars are routinely ignored
Study finds that 99% of Brazilian diplomats and federal university professors are white