Palmitagem: The Discomfort in thinking about race and relationships
Note from BW of Brazil: It’s been a long time coming, but now the topic is no longer bubbling up on the underground. I’m talking about a topic that I’ve been intrigued with for many years, first in the United States and then, when I started learning about the complexities of race in Brazil. Because the subject became such a hot topic, I’d say, maybe 5 or 6 years ago, there had to be to go along with the topic. The name that was chosen was palmitagem. It’s a term that a lot of people don’t like. But often times I notice, the people who don’t like it are usually partaking in relationships for which the term emerged in the first place.
Palmitagem, if you still know from the many articles discussing the topic on this blog, defines a black person, male or female, who seems to have a proclivity for dating people outside of their racial group. The discussion and accusation originally sprang out thousands of black Brazilian women who felt passed over or abandoned by black Brazilian men who they said were running over them in hot pursuit of the ‘prized’ white woman.
For a while, this did seem to be the case. In my investigation into black Brazilian pop culture, I noted that almost ALL of the prominent Afro-Brazilian men I knew by name were booed up with white women. It seemed like I could count on one hand the number of top paid black Brazilian male singers, athletes, actors, lawyers, etc. that chose black women to date, marry and procreate with. The first time I became aware that this was an issue in Brazil was when I read the comments on the now defunct website Mundo Negro dot com website back in 2005, around the time singer/musician/songwriter Jair ”Jairzinho” Oliveiragot married. (Palmitagem: The Discomfort in thinking about race and relationships)
The comments I read on that site that day reminded me of the what I saw in a scene from Spike Lee’s 1991 film Jungle Fever. You know that scene where a group of sistas were sitting in a room dropping verbal bombs on black men and the white women they were dating and marrying? Well, that was what I was reading on that MundoNegro website on that day. But I never imagined it could be as bad as these black women were describing. But soon when I started investigating, I discovered, much to my disappointment, they were exaggerating. WTF is going on with this, I wondered. And after years of counting the successful black Brazilian male with his white woman partner, the more I discovered that it indeed seemed to be the rule.
By around 2014 or 2015, I started noticing article after article and post after post from black women who were expressing their sadness, anger and loneliness watching as black teen and black male, one after another, were gettin’ down with the swirl. The stats proved that these women weren’t lying as black women went the longest in the category of singleand many faced the very real possibility of never securing a long-term relationship.
As I read, translated and posted a number of articles and essays on this topic, a few of which made it into mainstream magazines, I started to look at the other side, and guess what I discovered. Among prominent Afro-Brazilian women athletes, feminists, lawyers, actresses, singers, etc., I also saw a vast majority of them married to white males. Hmmm, well how about that. How was it that the black women were pointing this finger at black men when it seemed that they were guilty of the same thing they were accusing black men of? To hear black women tell it, they don’t ‘palmitar’ (verb meaning being down with the swirl) because, as they have been abandoned by black men, they had to open up their options to finally be able to find love.
But is that all that’s really going on here? Was it possible that only black men were palmiteiros while black women palmiteiras didn’t exist? I didn’t really think that to be the case and if you’d visited one of Rio’s gorgeous beaches and seen some of the most beautiful black women strolling arm in arm with often times basic looking white men, you’d question this response as well. So, who’s right here? Is this phenomenon of palmitagem the fault of black men or alone or are both black Brazilian males AND females BOTH victims of a particularly potent brand of white supremacy? Nowadays, the topic is everywhere and it’s a much needed discussion if black Brazilians are really serious about improving their social situation. I’ve said it before: There is no such thing as black power, black money or black community without black families. The choice is theirs.
In the coming weeks and months, I will bringing more discussions on the topic because there have been a number of great articles, videos and essays coming out about this topic. If you’re into this topic, this is the place for you. Let’s get into this…
“We’re used to thinking white is prettier, cleaner” – Palmitagem: A term that has caused a necessary discomfort in thinking about race and relationships
Criticism, irony, reverse racism.
The fact is that the term palmitagem has caused a necessary discomfort to think about race and relationships.
By Dandara Fonseca
Even being outside of discussions about blackness, it is very likely that in recent months you have come across comments on social networks where black people with white companions are called “palmiteiras” or “palmiteiros”. The expression was created within the black Brazilian feminist movement and was used, initially to talk about black men who had relationships with white women. “The term palmiteiro emerged from a need to name this social behavior, a discussion that is more longstanding in the American context, for example,” says law graduate and activist Winnie Bueno. But why do these relationships generate so many questions?
When we think about interracial relations in Brazil, they are the result of a historical process of embranquecimento (whitening) and erasure of the black population,” says Roger Cipó, a photographer and educator who produces content about black affection in his social networks. In the 19th century, this union was stimulated by the government as a pretext for the whitening of the population.
“The term “palmiteiro” arises from a need to name this social behavior, a discussion that is more long-lived in the American context” – Winnie Bueno, law graduate and activist
A scholar of the black movement, writer, architect and urbanist, Joice Berth believes that today these relationships are used as an example to prove that there is no longer racism in Brazil, and that all races are treated equally. “People wager on interracial relationships as proof that the racial democracy, the cordial coexistence between races, in fact not only existed, but still exists.”
Because of the structural racism in the country, the standard of beauty is based on European characteristics. Thus, it is common for the black population to develop a rejection of its appearance. “If you hate yourself, it is impossible to see beauty in someone who looks like you. And then you’ll design and build your affections on what is established as beauty,” says Roger. This is one of the main factors that make the usual phrase ‘amor não tem cor‘ (love has no color) much more complex.
Choices (or not so much)
The results of the lack of affection among black people can be analyzed in different behaviors. One of the most discussed nowadays – and the one that popularized the expression palmitagem – is the fact that the black man, especially when ascending socially, ends up choosing white women to have relationships with, seeing in them a symbol of social ascension and greater social acceptance. “We ended up preferring these relationships because we’re used to thinking white is prettier, cleaner,” says rapper Djonga (see note one).
“My whole family’s base is female and I have three aunts who didn”t married” – Aline Wirley, actress and singer
The data show that, because of this neglect, there is a greater probability of black women ending up alone, a phenomenon called the “solidão da mulher negra” (loneliness of the black woman). In the last Census conducted by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) in 2010, more than half of them (52.52%) didn’t live in any kind of union, regardless of marital status. This is why many people believe that black women cannot be considered “palmiteiras”, since having relationships with white people is not just a choice for them. “You have to see where the white person is in the interracial relationship, because the issue will also be crossed by gender issues,” says Winnie.
The loneliness of the black women is closer to us than it seems, you just have to perceive it. Actress and singer Aline Wirley says that because of the experience of black women in her family, she had doubts about getting married. “The basis of my whole family is female and I have three aunts who didn’t marry,” she says. It was the discussions on the subject that made her see this problem that has always been present in her daily life.
Today she is married to the actor Higor Rickli, with whom she has a son, Antônio. “As a black woman, I know how difficult it is, in this case, to be the base of the pyramid and have the one at the at her side”, explains Aline. But she stresses the importance of the relationship in her life: “I have learned that I can be loved.” (see note two)
Because of all these factors, some black people have chosen to maintain only relacionamentos afrocentrados (Afro-centric relationships). That’s the case with Roger. The photographer believes that this decision is based, above all, on a political issue, seeing in this type of affection a way to build humanity for people who, for almost 400 years, were seen as objects. “Love is a social construct and, in Brazil, it was elaborated in an extremely violent way for black people”, he says.
“It’s easy to see a light-skinned black woman in a relationship with both black and white people, much more than a mulher retinta (dark-skinned black woman)”. – Joice Berth, writer, architect and planner
Joice, however, points out that this may not be an absolute solution, because, according to her, even raising the flag that black people share the same problems, the same prejudices, black men may end up repeating within these relationships the same excluding logic that whiteness practices.
“Black men can prioritize black women who have lighter skin and Europeanized characteristics, thus preserving the problem of the loneliness of black women with pele retinta (dark skin).
Another important point in the discussions on blackness is colorism. The concept, created in 1980 in the US, is used to show the different forms of prejudice suffered by the black population. The darker the color of the skin and the more black traits a person possesses, the less accepted by society. “It’s easy to see a light-skinned black woman in a relationship with both black and white people, much more than a mulher retinta (dark-skinned black woman)”, says Joice.
The solution to not maintaining this logic, according to Roger, comes from the exchange of the Western vision that we have of what relationships are to the one inherited from African traditions. “I believe that with all this ancient philosophy that we inherited from Africa, we can even teach the world how to love in a humanized way,” he says.
Palmitagem: The Discomfort in thinking about race and relationships
Both within and outside interracial relationships, the absence of a consistent debate is one of the main causes of the problem. Joice observes that when questions about the issue arise on social networks, white people often turn away, mainly because of a feeling of guilt. “It’s not exactly guilt that has to be the product of this conversation,” she explains. “It’s not your fault, you didn’t create it, but it’s your responsibility to work to minimize it until it’s eradicated.”
“What precedes the transformation is the discomfort. We need to make ourselves uncomfortable and move from places, break these absolute truths” – Roger Cipó, photographer
The lack of initiative in participating in the discussion is connected to the delicacy of the subject, which arouses concern in those who also militate because of the shallow way things are discussed on the Internet, for example. In this scenario, what is debated ends up placing black men, who also suffer from the racism present in society, often as the great villains. “In fact, the behavior of these men is the result of racism. And then you provoke a reaction that doesn’t help at all,” says Joice. The architect’s opinion is in line with Winnie’s thoughts, who also believes that the use of the term on the Internet may end up emptying its political content.
“You don’t have to think deeply about the problem behind this term anymore and it’s just the term with a purely warlike use.”
For photographer Roger Cipó, these people who see the expression “palmiteiro” as an offense, in fact, don’t understand that the discussion is not part of individualization, but of the social phenomenon.
“The system produces the individual and the individual reproduces the system,” he says. “It is a movement that aims to rethink how affections are established and how racism runs through their construction in Brazil.” For the photographer, the discomfort and provocation that comes from the term are important parts of the movement. “What precedes the transformation is the discomfort. We need to make ourselves uncomfortable and move from places, break these absolute truths and present other narratives for people”.
Source: Revista Trip
- Rapper Djongo has also been accused of ‘talking black and sleeping white’ by palmitagem ‘watch groups’. Although I don’t consider Djongo’s wife to be white, looking his child with her, you can still say he definitely whitened his offspring.
- Wirley’s story about her family is what makes this whole discussion so difficult. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of black women have this same story. In my view, white supremacy has made black people loving each other difficult, and seeking love outside of the boundaries of blackness is often times a way to avoid permanent loneliness.