On The Lack of Crowns: The difficulty of Recognizing Yourself
Note from BW of Brazil: I swear, I never get tired of this topic/debate. For decades, maybe centuries, many Brazilians of color grew up being taught to avoid defining themselves as negros, or black people, even if their features denoting their African ancestry was undeniable. “NO! You’re not black…you’re escuro (dark)…you’re moreno escuro (brown/dark brown/mixed race with dark skin), you’re marrom bom bom (dark brown)”, many would be black people grew up hearing from people in their own families. Being black was something to be ashamed of and one must avoid this label at all costs. Being called black (in Portuguese, preto or negro), was considered a insult and in many ways, the terms can still be used in a pejorative manner today. (On The Lack of Crowns: The difficulty of Recognizing Yourself)
For decades, the Movimento Negro, Brazil’s modern day black rights movement, has been on a constant campaign to encourage more Brazilians of visible African ancestry to define themselves as black and in the past decade and a half maybe, we’ve been seeing some real gains in this movement. Every few years we see new data revealing that persons that once defined themselves as pardos (brown/mixed), morenos, mestiços or mulatos were coming to define themselves as pretos. Much of this shift in identity has to do with identity campaigns, but much of it also has a lot to do with the university quota system which opened the flood gates for non-white Brazilians to get access to a college education in numbers never seen before in Brazil’s history. Historically, the university was seen as a place for white people and those who weren’t exactly white but were close enough in the Brazilian context.
With access to university courses, many non-whites, whether they defined themselves as black or brown, came to understand that children of white elites didn’t necessarily accept their growing presence in the country’s top universities. In fact, they were learning that their presence wasn’t really accepted in many areas of society that were generally frequented mostly by white or near white Brazilians. This new experience with the way Brazilians really see race versus how people perceive Brazilians see race made many begin to see through the smoke screen called ‘racial democracy’ that the nation’s elites had promoted for so long. For the Movimento Negro, whether you were preto or pardo, you were black, and after dealing with various manifestations of Brazilian racism, many were coming to that conclusion on their own.
Now let me be clear, I no longer believe every pardo is black, but this shift in racial consciousness has led to some very intriguing scenarios. Due to the experiences of being in predominantly white environments, some people were entering the unversities as pardos, morenos and mestiços and coming out as black after four years. But then, the struggle over racial quotas had another effect…that of white and racially ambiguous Brazilians entering college by defining themselves as preto or pardo. The situation of racial fraude got so bad that members of the Movimento Negro felt the necessity of creating panels to judge the physical characteristics of quota applicant in order to define who was or wasn’t black/brown enough (see note one).
On The Lack of Crowns: The difficulty of Recognizing Yourself. This is what happened to he tguy in the photo posted at the top of this article. I’ll have to go into his story at a later date and he’s not the author of the piece below, but I connect his story to the piece below and ask the question: How much does hair texture play into how you define someone racially? I mean, if someone’s hair is considered tightly curled, nappy, kinky or crespo/pixaim as they say in Brazil, generally, people will associate people with this characteristic as black. But what happens when someone has light to dark brown skin but they have straight hair? There are millions of pardos in Brazil who look like Fabrício, the guy in the photo above. If it’s difficult for you to determine if they’re black or not, think about the identity gymnastics people with light to dark brown skin and straight hair go through when they try to define themselves.
On the lack of crowns: The difficulty of recognizing yourself as a black man having straight hair
By Marco Túlio Corraide
I need to confess an attitude that I have been having, on a recurring basis, for some time: the act of searching for photos of black men with straight hair on Google.
Since childhood, anyone of color has had the experience of not seeing themselves in cartoons and TV series. It is almost a rite of passage, to notice that the perceptions of beauty, which must be seen, do not pass through the appearance of their fellow men. I went through this experience and without a doubt I was thrilled to know old productions and to perceive new creations that tensioned the aesthetic standards to which one was accustomed.
But in a way, for me, something was still missing. Coming from both grandmothers and grandfathers, both white and black, with 4b/4c hair, I was born a black man with light skin and straight hair. Looking at all these examples on TV, in the cinema, in music, even though they were much closer to my look than the previous examples, I still felt completely out of place when I realized something that seemed to make us completely disconnected from each other: the hair.
We know how the population still treats black men’s hair. The low cuts and the lack of volumous hair are the result of a racist hegemony that dictates that such appearance is more “presentable”. As much as the black woman’s hair is still surrounded by social taboos, the discussions within our own community seem to be much more advanced in several aspects. Nowadays I could say that I am satisfied with being a viewer of a racial revolution that is taking place, where I can notice a variety of black phenotypes, but that self-identification that didn’t occur in childhood still has its place in my subconscious.
On The Lack of Crowns: The difficulty of Recognizing Yourself. Having straight hair never prevented me from being called “beiçudo” (big lipped), “moreninho” (a little dark/mixed) and the like, but it seems to have prevented, many times, other blacks from seeing in me the African Diaspora that they saw in themselves and in their close friends.
It should be noted that in no way do I come here to defend any kind of campaign for more pretos de pele clara (light-skinned blacks) or something like that. Issues such as colorism and passability studied in droves in our time already demonstrate the various privileges for being a man and having the appearance I have. What I really want is to see more pretos e pretas retintas (dark skinned black men and women) in all environments which are considered inaccessible because I know the political importance that their bodies have in a country that purposely promoted policies to whiten its population. Whitening policies are a genocide assisted by the State.
What I actually report here is a much more personal issue that may be able to contribute to other people in the same situation.
In times of such pulsating socio-political-racial clashes, it is more than necessary to bring out the intrinsic value linked to black power. Countless people in our community have already suffered and still suffer, for having hair that defied the status quo dictated by whiteness. The symbolism of afro hair should and makes all sense, be placed as a symbol of a struggle and of the whole community, but it should not be used as the only element for measuring blackness. By not assessing a particular race just because of someone’s hair, it is developing an imaginary stereotype in which all black people should look the same. It’s denying the power of Pan-Africanism and understanding the African continent as a visual hegemony.
Not having the same hair to which I am automatically assigned has already prevented me from pronouncing myself as black several times. The breaking of this process has been a daily path, a process of self-knowledge until one day fully understanding that I can be king, even if I don’t have a crown.
- This is an interesting dynamic as the movement has gone from trying to convince millions of pardos that they were black to nowadays dismissing certain pardos as not being black or brown enough to be able to claim a university vacancy.
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