Note from BW of Brazil: The recent double victories of actress Lupita Nyong’o were celebrated throughout the African Diaspora and in black Brazilian social media the Oscar winning, 2014 People magazine “Most Beautiful Woman’s” image and significance is still a hot topic and a source of great pride. For decades, women of visible African descent have been consistently invisible as Brazil’s media continues to insist in presenting Brazilian women as if the country were located in the heart of Western Europe. Nyong’o’s victories are even more important considering her phenotype. In Brazil, as in many of countries with African descendant populations, when black women are highlighted in the media they often have lighter skin with other physical characteristics that are not drastically different from the standard European phenotype. Nyong’o’s victories in an American media that is still considered very exclusionary once again begs the question: with so many beautiful black women in Brazil, what is Brazil waiting on?
Inspired by Lupita, young black women talk about prejudice and of the appreciation of beauty itself
by Suzana Velasco
Black women abandoned chemical products fr their tresses and accept their features
The election of black actress Lupita Nyong’o, 31, as the most beautiful woman in the world by People magazine late last month does not have the power to end prejudice neither in Hollywood or elsewhere in the world. It does not change the fact that in Brazil, there are twice as many preta (black) and parda (brown) women in domestic service than white women, according to the Pesquisa Mensal de Emprego do IBGE (Monthly Employment Survey of IBGE) of 2013. Nor does it transform the difference in monthly income of black women – which corresponds to 56% of the income of brancas (white women) and doesn’t equal half that of white men, according to the “Dossiê mulheres negras” (Dossiê black women) prepared last year by the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (Ipea or Institute of Applied Economic Research).
But the choice of Lupita, the winner of the 2014 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the film 12 Years a Slave, of director Steve McQueen, caused, in women around the world, pride in seeing on the podium the beauty of a black woman with natural hair, shiny skin, wide mouth and nose. Also in Brazilian women such as Nina Silva, Vanessa Andrade, Fernanda Ribeiro and Erika Januza, brought together by the Globo Magazine in the Casa Soul in the in Santa Teresa.
Black, young and beautiful women, they know the prejudice, but they abandoned the chemical products for their tresses and accepted their features – like the actress herself of Kenyan origin, who said that she was happy because other girls like her felt “more visible”. In her speech for the Black Women in Hollywood awards in February this year, Lupita spoke of how important it was to see themselves in other women to feel beautiful, like the Anglo-Sudanese model Alek Wek.
“It is very nice to see on the cover a highly pigmented black woman and outside of the standard thin mouth and hair down to the waist. She has the phenotype of a certain region of Africa that was never appreciated as beautiful,” says Nina Silva (1), information technology consultant, writer and producer, 31 years old and with skin as black as the skin of the actress.
Vanessa Andrade agrees. At age 28, with “the higher the better” hair, the psychologist who grew up in Morro Cantagalo says “it took a while to understand that the prejudice that she felt was racism” – since her skin is not as dark.
“I am negra (black), but my aesthetic is still accepted. I abhor this term, but in Brazil I am closer to what is called a mulata. Because of this, Lupita is so important. But, beyond her, I want children to grow up with something tangible, that they can admire someone on the medium itself,” says Vanessa, who is a master in Psychology and works in social projects in Cantagalo and Vicar General.
Even with darker skin, a student of Visual Arts from Uerj (State University of Rio de Janeiro), Fernanda Ribeiro, 26, also took a while to take account of prejudice and just happened to reflect on the theme to enter into a pre-college entrance exam prep course in the famous Mangueira neighborhood.
“I began to realize that it was no coincidence that I went through while still a girl when I was called the negra do cabelo duro (black girl with the hard hair),” says Ribeiro who cut her long and straightened hair in a performance last year.
“This should be normal, because she is beautiful regardless of color. But, as it is not normal, I was overjoyed,” says the actress, the only one of four to support the campaign #somostodosmacacos, meaning “we are all monkeys”. “What happened to Daniel Alves (soccer player who ate a banana thrown at him on the field, in an ironic response to the act committed by a Spanish fan) was absurd, and this movement draws attention that we are all equal.”
“I see everyday children suffering from being called monkey. It is a great symbolic violence. It is very easy to capitalize on the suffering of black people (2). I have friends who believe that this is a strategic move, but I think it’s naivety. We live in a condition of profound racism, we must not lose focus.”
1. Nina Silva has been previously featured her on the blog, is a writer and a part of a well-known black women’s organization in Rio de Janeiro. Most recently she made headlines when her experience in a bank once again provided proof of how black and white women continue to be treated differently in Brazil.
2. This blog has already issued an statement about the so-called “we’re all monkeys” campaign so it is thus not necessary to repeat here. It’s also necessary to stress that we all have the right and freedom to express opinions on whatever topic but Januza’s position of support for the “we are all monkeys” slogan is not something endorsed here on the blog. In a previous piece, this blog provided ample reasoning for why the label of “monkey” toward black and white people is not and will never be equal.