Note from BW of Brazil: Sometimes when I’m considering a piece that should be covered for this blog, I stumble across interesting other pieces that coincide or perfectly demonstrate another piece. As I was reading through the piece by Bianca Santana entitled “Our light-skinned blackness will not be negotiated”, I happened to stumble across a news piece in which reality show participant Flayslane Silva discussed how she’s been receiving all sorts of verbal assaults online since she left the ever popular Big Brother Brasil (season 20) reality show.
The reason why what she said is pertinent to today’s piece is because it speaks to the issue of light-skin-ded-ness (is that a word?) and where light-skinned people of African descent fit in in the world of blackness. I’m not an avid watcher of Big Brother Brasil, but as I’ve said before, I’ve featured some participants and incidents that happened on the show and as the 20th edition of BBB started to air, as in previous seasons, it had very few visibly black participants. In the 20th edition, actor Babu Santana and eventual winner Thelma Assis were the two that most blacks were rooting for. I had seen and heard of Flayslane Silva, but as I don’t really pay the show much mind, I didn’t really even pay attention to her…until she had a conversation with Thelma on one episode.
In that episode, sharing episodes of racism that the two had experienced, Flayslane referred to herself as a “preta e nordestina”, meaning a black woman from the northeast. She went on to detail how she had suffered a racist insult online on the part of her ex-boyfriend’s friends. Having betrayed her with a blond, he ex’s friends complimented his new girlfriend, saying that she was a better match for him because his previous girlfriend, Flayslane, looked like a macaca, meaning monkey. Of course we know that macaca/macaco are the preferred terms that Brazilians like to use to insult black people.
Flayslane Silva is very fair-skinned, which is possibly why I didn’t hear anyone making much of fuss about her in black Brazilian online communities. Recently, she detailed more humiliating episodes from those who she says hates her and call her “the ugliest one on the (20th) edition’, dirty black, filthy Paraíba, northeastern”, and other horrific insults. Paraíba is a state in Brazil’s northeast which is considered the part of the country with the most black and brown people. Northeasterners are often ridiculed by people in the south and southeast of country because the region is the poorest, and considered by many Brazilians to be the most backward part of the country.
I’ve discussed this whole thing of who’s black in Brazil at length and I have stated that I no longer consider every pardo (brown/mixed race) in Brazil as black, though, socioeconomically and in terms of exclusion and negative stereotypes, pretos (blacks) and pardos are more alike than not. Sure there are millions of pardos who most would consider black, I’m just saying that, as much of Brazil as I’ve seen, I can’t call all pardos black.
Flayslane’s experience with racism is a sign that, regardless of her fair skin, not being clearly white, there are Brazilians who see her as simply a light-skinned black woman, which seems to contradict the long-held idea that only dark-skinned people with kinky hair are considered black in Brazil. But the light-skinned experience is often times different in varying ways in comparison to darker-skinned black people. They don’t necessarily get a pass from the white community, but they do have certain privileges that darker-skinned black people don’t. Nowadays, we are seeing many light-skinned Brazilians of African ancestry claiming a blackness that just a few decades ago they would have been just as likely to deny. Alan de Sá spoke of this a few days ago. Below, Bianca Santana, who wrote a book on discovering she was black, share her take on the subject.
Our light-skinned blackness will not be negotiated
By Bianca Santana
Not being white or black, in a racialized society like Brazil, allows black people with light skin to negotiate benefits all the time. To take advantage of racial quotas, they grow out their black power (afro hairstyle); to get a job, they straighten their hair. Passability – being more accepted by whites, who really have power – offers more subordinate positions to these people. Privilege that can be seen in the statistics.
According to data released by the IBGE in 2017, while the average real income of a trabalhador branco (white worker) was BRL 2,660 and of pretos (blacks) was BRL 1,461, that of pardos (browns) was BRL 1,480. Do you see the social advantage? Likewise, while unemployment among brancos was 9.5%, among pretos it was 14.4%, among pardos it was 14.1%. I know the data is tiring. Here are just a few more. Among domestic workers, 50% are pardas (who account for 40% of all women), 13% are pretas (when they are 8% of all women), 35% are brancas (47% of women). But not everything is numbers.
Take the example of a mulher negra de pele clara (light-skinned black woman) – with fine features, according to some, hair that’s a bit crespo (kinky/curly), according to others – who published a book called Quando me descobri negra (When I discovered I was black). Despite being a victim of violations of rights common to poor black children, she had the opportunity to spend 20 years of life in the non-place, in the comfort of being constantly informed that she was not white, without having any other racial identity, enjoying the feeling full of inadequacy. Pardo privilege.
Always good to remember that race is not a division of the biological sciences, but a social and political category. If through DNA all of us have characteristics common to humanity, Brazil’s racial inequality, widely registered and denounced, shows that race is a very important analytical and political category for us to end racism. But, in this serious and important conversation, the pardo gets in the way. Because the light skin color allows negotiations, which can be seen in the indicators of violence. Among the young people murdered, between 15 and 29 years old, one every 23 minutes, the majority are pardos. The police have, as can be seen, difficulty in identifying pardos as black. The same is true in the prison system. In female prisons, in 2017, pardas were 48.04%, pretas 15.51% and brancas 35.59%.
During the pandemic, the number of deaths from respiratory diseases, even without the diagnosis of Covid-19, increased between March 16 and June 30, compared to the same period in 2019: 24.5% more among whites; 70.2% more among blacks and 72.8% more among browns. The lack of access to health care throughout life, the absence of testing, discrimination in health centers and hospitals, exposure to contamination: all this confuses browns with whites, is it not possible to understand?
That’s enough now. Stop. Change the tone. I abandon the irony here at the beginning of the text – and apologies for talking about the topic on previous occasions – and I’ll communicate in straight talk: nossa negritude de pele clara (our fair skinned blackness) will not be negotiated.
Really because one of the specificities of the racism experienced by those who call themselves pardo has to do exactly with accusing us of ambivalence. Verônica Toste Daflon, professor at the Department of Sociology at Universidade Federal Fluminense, deals with this phenomenon in the book Tão longe, tão perto: identidades, discriminação e estereótipos de pretos e pardos no Brasil (So far, so close: identities, discrimination and stereotypes of blacks and browns in Brazil), published in 2017 by Mauad X.
Verônica finds that blacks mobilize more the stereotypes of the individual without opportunities, while pardos are perceived as marginal and immoral. There is a class component to consider. There always is. “Criminality, trickery, laziness, escape from work and sexual licentiousness are stereotypes, linked to the pardos, more likely to be rejected by those who break the social barrier to enter the middle classes and elites,” wrote Verônica. “If it is established that the lower class pardos experience discrimination more intensely than those who enter the middle and elite classes, this may support the hypothesis that the stereotypes that fall on them are more manipulable with social ascension than those associated with blacks.” But what is the use of this manipulation of our black identity?
Regardless of perceptions of discrimination, the chasm that separates pretos and pardos from brancos was shown in classic studies produced by Carlos Hasenbalg, Nelson Valle Silva and Lélia Gonzalez in the 1970s; by Sueli Carneiro and Thereza Santos when addressing inequalities between women in the mid-1980s. And by countless other researchers. Kabengele Munanga, currently a senior visiting professor at the Federal University of Recôncavo da Bahia, argues that pretos and pardos are grouped together as blacks both because of socioeconomic similarities and because of a political need.
“(…) Valle e Silva demonstrated that being preto or pardo in Brazil is the same, that is, he demonstrated the thesis of the black movement, when we call them pretos, pardos and mulatos (blacks, browns and mulattos), all of them are blacks. And we can see in the work of these few Brazilian social scientists, who chose their side, that is, our side, our struggle, that they effectively seek to end this ‘conversation’ of dividing Brazil in four colors: the whites, browns, blacks and yellows. In her works, what we see is the combination of preto and pardo as black”, wrote Lélia Gonzalez in 1984, in a speech in honor of Luis Gama and Abdias do Nascimento, published in the collection Primavera para as rosas negra, edited by the União dos Coletivos Panafricanistas in 2018.
The black movement, which has been victorious on so many agendas, set the definition of blacks in the Brazilian Racial Equality Statute, 2010, as the sum of those who call themselves preto or pardo, according to the IBGE’s color or race. Any attempt to shuffle the notion of blacks as the sum of pretos and pardos – recognizing the blackness of the varied skin tones – does a disservice to the formulation of public policies that benefit the entire population, in the search for equality defined in our Constitution. In addition to being a resounding analytical mistake.
The achievements of the black movement will be defended by black women and men – of the most varied skin tones – organized collectively and politically. There is no room for individual adventures of any kind, nor for the deliberate policy of denying racism to deepen black genocide. The few rights won, as well as our light-skinned blackness, will not be negotiated.
Bianca Santana is a journalist. Author of Quando me descobri negra (When I discovered I was black) and organizer of collections on gender and race, she was invited to the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2018 and the Buenos Aires Book Fair in 2019, when she was also curator of the Iguape Literary Festival. Through UNEafro Brasil, she has contributed to the articulation of the Coalizão Negra por Direitos (Black Coalition for Rights). In a doctorate in information science at the University of São Paulo, she researched the writing and memory of black women. She was a professor at Faculdade Cásper Líbero and a graduate student in multimedia journalism at Faap. She is currently writing a biography about Sueli Carneiro.