Note from BW of Brazil: First things first, this news is actually not new; it’s actually from earlier in year (January 24th). But what happened and the subsequent fallout serve as yet another example of the sensitivity of the issue of hair texture in Brazil. Many previous posts have dealt with discriminatory, disrespectful comments as well as groups, authors (see here) and developing movements (see here) aimed at increasing acceptance of natural black hair within the society as well as among persons of African ancestry who have this type of hair. The wording and intentions of the post are a little tricky but still point to a generally accepted viewpoint about natural black hair that reigns throughout Brazil. More on this discussion after the article…
Blog says that straightening leaves “children more beautiful” and causes outrage on Facebook; Maternity hospital removes text with key to straightening children’s hair
by Janaina Garcia of UOL and A Folha
A post directed at moms who want to straighten the hair of their small children “to make the children more beautiful”, as an alternative to those “born with cabelos crespos (kinky/curly hair)” or hair that is “unmanageable”, caused outrage on Facebook, on Thursday (24) among netizens (web searchers) who considered the publication racist and prejudiced.
The text, entitled “Minha filha tem o cabelo muito crespo. A partir de qual idade posso alisá-lo? (My daughter has very kinky/curly hair. At what age can I straighten it?)”, was published on the Nov. 16 blog of Hospital e Maternidade Santa Joana (Santa Joana Hospital and Maternity), with three paragraphs at the top of which appears the photo of a black child with cabelos crespos (curly/kinky) hair.
Despite being on a blog identified as belonging to the maternity, no medical professional signed the post, that points not only to an alleged pattern of behavior (“with increasing adhesion (of the mothers, in relation to little children] straightening techniques”) as it still warns of the “alternatives” eventually in use: “Formaldehyde cannot be used in any way in accordance with the regulations of ANVISA” [Agência Nacional de Vigilância Sanitária or National Agency for Sanitary Vigilance].
The post is concluded with a request of “taking care at the time of take your daughter to the hair salon” and highlights “options of escovas (brushes) that can done for girls at an early age without causing damage, such as Escova de Colágeno (Collagen brush), based on glyoxylic acid and the escova based on carbocystein.”
On Facebook a fanpage called “O machismo nosso de cada dia (Our sexism of each day)” published the Maternidade blog post and had, by 6:15pm, had more than 120 shares, and a heated discussion about the comments.
For part of the Internet users, the words “makes children more beautiful” related to the adoption of the straightening sounded like prejudice and even “adultization” (sic) of small children. For others, however, the text served as a warning to mothers not to use chemicals in children’s hair.
Hospital apologizes and removes publication
In a note of clarification, a spokesperson for the Saint Joana Hospital and Maternity reported that the text, produced by a third party newspaper company, did not have the “intention of offending anyone,” but rather, “informational purposes only, in order to guide mothers with respect to the use of chemicals on children, according to the rules of ANVISA.”
The institution also pointed out that “most of the subjects published in our communication channels” derive from “doubts and questions received” stressing that “it is not adept to any form of prejudice or racism”, apologized and concluded that “in respect to its patients and readers who felt uncomfortable with this publication”, the publication was removed.
Activists fighting racial prejudice called the published article “absurd”
Because of the controversy, the Santa Joana Hospital, located in the Paraíso neighborhood in the southern region of São Paulo, removed the message in the late afternoon and declared in a statement that “it was not its intention to offend anyone.” The text, with the title, “My daughter has very kinky/curly hair. At what age can I straighten it?” had a picture of a black girl and was in a space for guidelines for parents.
For Douglas Belchior, 34, coordinator of the NGO UNEafro, that combats discrimination against blacks, the publication “helps fuel the demand for a beauty that is not Brazilian.”
“The hospital lost the opportunity to use this question to clarify, and not to reaffirm prejudices,” said Luciete Silva, 40, coordinator of the Movimento Negro (black movement) organization Círculo Palmarino.
In her opinion, the blog could teach mothers how to comb the hair without hurting the child’s head and how to take care of the hair.
According to the activist – who has cabelo crespo, and “very proud of this” – it’s “astonishing and sickening” the preoccupation of a parent in modifying the physical characteristics of her little daughter.
The Santa Joana Group maintains, besides the hospital and maternity of the same name, the Pro Matre Paulista in São Paulo and in Rio de Janeiro, the maternities Perinatal Laranjeiras and Perinatal Barra.
Note from BW of Brazil: OK, so here’s the issue at hand. It is clear that whoever asked the question in regards to when she can begin straightening her daughter’s hair because it is very kinky/curly/nappy herself wants to find a way to avoid the maintenance of her child’s hair. The woman that asked the question never actually said she wanted to make her daughter “more beautiful”. The hospital’s reply immediately implied that straightening a child’s hair would make her “more beautiful” although it attributes this idea to “some mothers (algumas mães)”. While it is indeed true that the idea that straighter hair is more beautiful among many black women/mothers, the hospital could have avoided this whole controversy by simply not using those words.
Could it be possible that the mother who asked the question wrote this along with her question? Is it possible that other mothers have asked advise and also used the words “more beautiful”? Or did the writer of the response simply take it upon himself/herself to use this wording as a personal opinion or a citation of the opinions of others? In reality, there’s no way to know. The bottom line is that the writer of the response used words that were not included in the original question and thus made a reference to an idea that is widespread throughout Brazil. The idea that straighter hair is “more beautiful” than kinky/curly hair. Whether it was done on purpose, as personal opinion, or as representation of the thoughts of society, it was a poor choice of words. In the development of self-esteem of black children in a country and world dominated by European standards of beauty, this type of comment cannot be tolerated.