“My mother is white, my daughter is white, I can’t support black unity”: Mixed race rappers comments evidence a dilemna in Brazil’s black struggle
By Marques Travae
The comments, arguments, debates and attitudes that have come out of the 21st season of Big Brother Brasil is enough to keep me writing for another few months if I really wanted to flesh everything out, but I wouldn’t consider such a thing as there are so many things to discuss from the perspective of race in Brazil.
But there are nuggets that have come out that I will need to touch on here and there because I think they reveal so much about how race and blackness plays out in a country that has so long denied that such divisions actually exist. Even as I’ve discussed a few issues and personalities on the program, it was never my intention to try to keep up with everything going on on the top-rated reality show.
Several weeks ago, two of the black participants on the program were eliminated with two of the highest negative ratings in the 21 seasons of the program’s existence. I will need to explore what that means on a later date, for now I want to focus on a dialogue that actually took place either at the end of January or the beginning of February. The discussion was between two black men, the activist, actor, poet Lucas Penteado, whose exit from the show was one of the most talk about events since the new season debuted, and the rapper Projota.
At that time, Lucas was struggling. He had had a few disputes on the program, people had turned against him with one of the more controversial contestants convincing the participants on the show to leave the table in a particular episode and force him to eat all alone. As another participant expressed, Lucas wasn’t doing well mentally and psychologically and the numerous times he was seen crying evidenced this.
Feeling very isolated at one particular moment, rapper Projota stepped to Lucas and had a heart to heart.
“I have been very disappointed in you. For various reasons of the things that happened here, but I feel responsible, in the obligation to come and talk to you. Because I know the contribution that my work has had in your personal formation. I believe in this. From the moment I walked through that door, saw you, dedicated my love to you. For free,” he said.
The rapper referred to the fact that, at one point, Lucas told him how the lyrics to his songs had saved his life. Projota went on to say that he didn’t agree with the manipulation game that many saw Lucas developing.
“I’m still trying to understand the things that happened here yesterday. I don’t know what happened to you. Whoever is outside is seeing everything, I’m not. Now, the reports from people about the way you acted with them are strong, they are acts of manipulation. I abhor the attitudes that you are taking. The way you spoke to me, putting your finger in my face… There is no such thing, bro. I can control my attitudes, something you can’t do,” he added.
“To come in like that, saying that we had to do this, saying that you were the revolution? My revolution is to put my face in this mess and smile, and be happy. My revolution comes from this way… You were stupid yesterday, bro. There is a lot of light inside of you, but I don’t know why yesterday you went that way. You really hurt people, you know what I mean?
After his comments, Projota went on to offer to help Lucas after the 21st season of the reality show ended: “You went to see the psychologist. Did it help you in any way? Because if it helped you, I’ll pay for a psychologist outside, in case you don’t have that kind of money,” he said. Lucas couldn’t hold back his tears and thanked him for the offer. “It’ll help a lot. Just what you’re talking about, it’s not even just the fact that you say ‘I’ll pay’. It’s the fact that you are going after the help,” he tearfully explained.
In more than a few previous posts, I’ve explored how black Brazilians have endured a lot of trauma that has been passed on after 350 years of enslavement and then more 132 years of a racist society that continues to see them as something less than full human beings and then denies that this is a regular part of the black experience in Brazil. The conflict of knowing that something is terribly wrong but regularly having white psychologists tell them that racism is a just a figment of their imaginations is driving more and more black Brazilians to seek psychological help from black therapists.
Considering the issues with conflicts in racial identity, lack of self-esteem, racism, poverty and an overall lack of love, it was a highly emotional scene to see one black man extending a hand of help and support to another young black man who needed it. Projota demonstrated that while he didn’t like the positions and attitudes that Lucas was taking on the program, he didn’t need to belittle him or express any sentiments of hate.
These are steps that need to be taken on massive level to restore a sense of wholeness that it seems black Brazilians have lacked for decades, if not centuries. A wound that has never fully healed because it was never properly treated.
But Projota’s words, again to Lucas, demonstrated yet another issue that needs to be addressed within Brazil’s black community, specifically because so many millions of Brazilians of visible African descent have this in common: mixed racial ancestry against the backdrop of a racist society.
As mentioned in a previous post, Lucas expressed ideas of revolution and devising a plan in which all of the black participants would unite and eliminate the white participants one by one, a plan that people frowned upon. On this idea, Projota said:
“You come to me with some twisted chats, partner!? You came to tell you that we had to make everybody get out, with just black people against white people. I never believed in that! I never believed in that! At what time in my raps did you understand that? When did I write something in my raps that said that?
I am the son of a white woman, and the son of a black man. Husband of a white woman, father of a white child. I never preached that, bro! That was never what I preached. What I preach is the search for respect for us, for equality. All I found in this house when I entered was smiles, all you found in this house were smiles, when you came in here.(…)”
In essence, what Projota is saying here is that he could never united himself with other black people because so many of the people most to him in hism life are white. In these thoughts we see one of Brazil’s most potent weapons in breaking down black unity and black identity: miscegenation. It is a classic example of divided loyalties among mixed persons of African descent. How can they be fully down with the black cause when they divided loyalties?
For Projota and perhaps millions of other Brazilians of mixed African ancestry, it is often difficult to be able to separate the love they may have for individual white people when dealing with white supremacy on an institutional level. Projota cannot seem to see that he doesn’t have to hate white people to battle against a system that supports the privilege of whites as a collective group. This helps to maintain the structure of white supremacy.
Several years ago, I remember watching the film Milk about the state of California’s first openly gay elected city supervisor, Harvey Milk. During a pivotal scene in Milk and other gay activists were fighting against a bill that could destroy their public lives, to gain the support of non-gays, Milk urged closeted gays to come out of the closet because would be less likely to be against them if they personally knew one of them.
I see similarities with this theory in terms of race.
In 1914 article, US President Theodore Roosevelt described his encounter with a Brazilian official who said that, while Brazil and the US both had problems with black people, the US dealt with the problem in a mistaken manner. By keeping blacks totally separated from whites, they would remain a “menacing element” that would continue to grow in the country. In Brazil, where there is no such legalized segregation, blacks tended to disappear because they ended getting absorbed (whitened) through miscegenation.
Some years ago, I remember having a conversation with an older black gentlemen in a Michigan supermarket where I worked. Shortly after the chat had started, a black co-worker of mine passed by after having gotten into an argument with another worker who was white. The colleague shot out a number of racial epithets about the white colleague. “That white &#@%$* trying to tell me….”, I remember him saying. In a joking manner, I turned to the customer and stated the famous Rodney King line, “Why can’t we all just get along?”. The customer looked at me and remarked, “I could never feel like that (referring to the colleague’s comments). I got white people in my family!”
In Projota’s case, his rejection of Lucas’s idea that black people needed to unite to neutralized by Brazil’s mythical racial paradise ideology that uses race mixing as a pillar to to “prove” that all Brazilians are equal regardless of skin color. The theory would have us believe that if blacks and white mix and co-exist on a massive level, Brazil couldn’t possibly be a racist country. The “proof” of this is the racial antogonisms of the United States.
‘How can a country be racist when so many of its citizens are of mixed race?’ is a class argument used in Brazil while convieniently ignoring the fact that, in most socioeconomic indicators, pardos (browns/mixed race people) are basically in the same boat as pretos (blacks). “We are all equal” because of miscegenation is an idea that has been promoted in Brazil since at least the release of Gilberto Freyre’s classic 1933 book, Casa Grande & Senzala (The Masters and the Slaves)
Projota’s views support this concept as his personal and intimate connection to various white people is one that has been used to mask the vast inequalities between white and non-white in Brazil for decades. By extension, if interracial unions make racial issues magically vanish, then there is no necessity of black people to unite against something that doesn’t exist.
In front of a national audience, Projota reproduced and promoted what seemed to be a promise that many Brazilians of mixed African ancestry seem to believe in. I can’t support any sort of black nationalism because I am surrounded by a whiteness that I accept and that has accepted me. And if this individual perspective is in fact widespread, it becomes a collective ideology and thus neutralizes black rage or the necessity of unity among black and brown Brazilians, which is the scenario that that Brazilian explained to Roosevelt back in 1914.
The question is, how many black and brown Brazilians see things the way that Projota sees them? How many cannot see the collective struggle due to their individual connections to whiteness and in fact see a collective black struggle as somehow hurting those white individuals that they have binds with?
This is where the question that many African-Americans will pose comes into play. Can a person be pro-black and married to a white person? While the debate rages on, I’ll say this. Fighting the privileges of whiteness as a collective has nothing to do with hating white people on an individual level. And black people who struggle against this system AS WELL AS white people who claim to be against racism need to understand this.
The question for Brazil’s black struggle is, how many black and brown people see the struggle in the same manner as Projota?