“To be a black women is to be a warrior. It is to accept your blackness, appreciating your history and your roots. It is finding oneself pretty, even though they consider you “exotic”. It is finding yourself to be intelligent even though they consider you to be hardworking. It is having much pride of being a black woman.” – Katia Betmann (photo)*
According to Pesquisa Nacional de Amostra por Domicílio (or PNAD or National Survey by Household Sample), published by the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE or Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), on Friday, September 21st, the number of Brazilians that self-identified themselves as pretas (blacks) increased from 13.1 million in 2009 to 16 million in 2011. In 2009, according to research of 191.8 million Brazilians, besides those declaring themselves preta (black), 92.5 million considered themselves branca or white, 84.7 million declared themselves parda or brown and 1.3 million claimed to be of another ethnicity.
The research also shows that there was a reduction of 0.4% in the white population and 0.9% of the brown population, while the black population grew by 1.4% between 2009 and 2011.
Last year, in addition to 16 million blacks, Brazil also had 93.2 million whites, 84 million brown and 1.8 million people of other ethnicities. In total, the country reached 195.2 million residents.
PNAD – The study considers five categories for which a person may classify themselves according to color or race: branca (white), preta (black), amarela (yellow), parda (brown) or indio (Indian). The amarela/yellow category consists of people who say they are of Japanese, Chinese or Korean origin. Parda/brown people are those who consider themselves mulatto (mixture of preta/black and branca/white), mestiça (black and any other racial combination), cafuza (black-Indian) or mameluca (European-Indian).
“To be black is to have pride of our origins, to be happy an not lower your head for anything nor for anyone.” – Cristina Souza (photo)*, artisan and coordinator of Grupo Ateliê Moda Recife in Recife, Pernambuco (northeastern Brazil).
In speaking of the question of blackness in Brazil, a further explanation is necessary. Many reports in the past few decades have reported Afro-Brazilians to be the largest population of African descendants in the world after Africa in general or, specifically, Nigeria. This is always a topic for discussion. Black activists of MNU (Movimento Negro Unificado) have long argued that similar socioeconomic profiles of the preta and parda population, always at a disadvantage in comparison to Brazil’s branca (white) population, provide ample evidence that regardless how Brazilians of color define themselves on the official census, the Brazilian power structure discriminates against and treats the preta and parda population in similar methods, thus justifying why this group should be recognized as Brazil’s black population.
For purists, Brazil’s black population are only those who define themselves as “preta” on Brazil’s official census which, according to the 2010 census, makes up only 7% of the country’s nearly 200 million citizens. But this figure doesn’t take into account the negative stigma associated with blackness and the terms “preta” and “negra” which is often the reason that persons choose to identify themselves in a lighter color category. It is also true that many persons of visible African ancestry attempt to socially “whiten” themselves with the attainment of social ascension. Over the years, many Brazilian social scientists have also taken this into consideration and spoken about the question of “who is black in Brazil”. Here are a few examples of the opinions of these experts on the topic.
“we consider as blacks all those who are dark-skinned, who possess a pigmentation which is neither white nor Indian. These ‘pardos’, who according to IBGE constitute the majority of non-whites…are considered socially to be blacks.”
— “Que é um negro?” Décio Freitas in Folha de São Paulo, March 1, 1982
“The social category mulato is not to be confused with the racial category mulato. The social place attributed to the mulato, not his place as racial intermediary, is an obstacle to the comprehension of racial difference as a form of submission or oppression. The phenotypic characteristics do not interfere with this understanding…The racial categories, while indicating the diversity of racial traces, are not instruments of analysis….within the boundaries of the class system, the variations of color are socially irrelevant in race relations. The racial origin, not the color, remains as the basis of classification.”
–Território Negro em Espaço Branco, Maria de Lourdes Bandeira, Editora Brasiliense, 1988.
“…when we affirm that these black groups are specific, we don’t mean that they are composed only of “pure” negros, in physical anthropology terms, but, also of pardos, (mulatos, curibocas, caboclos) those which, in consequence of the group of social situations in which they overlap, are marked as negros by the white society and, at the same time, recognizes and accepts a connection, total or partial, with his African roots…”
—Sociologia do Negro Brasileiro, Clovis Moura, Editora Atica, 1988
In 2010, LEI Nº 12.288 or Law Number 12.288 of July 20th, the Estatuto da Igualdade Racial (Statute of Racial Equality), stated that the black population is the “group of persons that self-declare themselves pretas and pardas,conforming to the question of color or race used by the Fundação Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE or Foundation of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics)”.
Although the law, social scientists and activists define the black population as the combination of pretas and pardas, this does NOT signify that all 84.7 million people who defined themselves as parda necessarily recognize themselves as “negro”, a term that doesn’t appear on the official census and that activists use as a term of black consciousness, affirmation of identity and acceptance of one’s African ancestry, either partial or in its majority. If the totals of 84.7 million pardas and 16 million pretas are combined, the figure would total 100 million people, thus giving Brazil the second largest total of African descendants in the world after Nigeria’s 162 million people.
There are also persons within the category of parda who define themselves as negra although they don’t consider their skin tones to be very dark. The idea of Black Consciousness is a concept that continues to grow in Brazil, a country where afrodescendentes (African descendants) have always been taught to have shame in or deny their African ancestry or identify themselves with terms meant emphasize racial mixture (morena, mulata, for example) or to minimize their blackness. Here is a recent example of how black Brazilians are increasingly passing consciousness on to their children.
Vandérig Nagô Pereira Santos lives in
São Paulo. He recently expressed his pride in something that happened at school with his 7-year old daughter:
“(I’m) very happy! My nega (negra) Rebeca, 7 years old, was asked by her teacher about her color. “Rebeca, you’re moreninha, right?” asked the teacher. Rebeca replied, “No teacher, morena doesn’t exist. I am black with a lighter skin tone.”
In the examples above, the women and the girl in the photos recognize themselves as negra but they could also declare themselves parda on a census form as preta is generally regarded as the actual color black or meaning a person of very dark skin. The 1% increase of those defining themselves as preta, although a small increase, still signals an improvement of self-esteem and self-acceptance amongst Brazil’s population of African descent.
* – Statements and photos of Katia and Cristina were taken from the Diário de Pernambuco online journal which asked readers to define what it meant to be black.