Note from BW of Brazil: Growing up black in Brazil can be challenging. Let’s re-word that. Growing in Brazil with saliently visible African features can be challenging. Yes, Brazil is a multi-racial nation that has freely mixed its three original races (African, European and Native American) for five centuries, but the persons who tend who represent what is considered beautiful, intelligent and powerful usually approximate the European side of the numerous phenotypes that can be found throughout the country.
Besides the clear preference for whiteness, Brazilian society is a constant psychological assault on those who fall short of the European standard because the nation’s mythology continuously proclaims that “we all are equal” while simultaneously degrading and belittling the existence of visible non-European ancestry, which according to the last census, represents 51% of the country’s 200 million citizens. In the 19th century, elites clearly gave preference to the more than four million European immigrants who would pour into the country between 1870 and 1940 and promoted an ideology of racial mixture with the goal of completely erasing visible African ancestry from the face of the population within one century.
So with a policy basically saying it wanted no black people in the country’s borders, how has this affected the population? Psychologically, it has been devastating. Since the end of the slavery era on May 13, 1888, Brazilians of visible African ancestry have been the constant target of verbal and physical harassment and assault. If Afro-Brazilians aren’t being called “monkeys” or approached by the police, people regularly takes the liberty to compare their hair to steel wool scouring pads. These experiences have led to a number of emotional and psychological scars with millions of persons of visible African ancestry experiencing identity crisis in which they deny being negro/negra, try to distance themselves from this group or seek to lighten/whiten their offspring by marrying persons of a more European appearance.
To address these issues, a number of books, organizations and institutions have sprung up to address a need to raise the consciousness of a population that was chosen for racial extinction over a century ago. One of these organizations is Perólas Negras working in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais. The simple goal of this organization is to promote the idea that being black and appreciating one’s beauty as such is a possibility. Check out the group’s work in the article below.
Project encourages children to appreciate black beauty in Viçosa
Courtesy of Zona da Mata
Transforming suffering into a life lesson and using it to combat prejudice. This was how 23 year-old student Raissa Rosa created the Perólas Negras (Black Pearls) project of the Non Governmental Organization (NGO) Casa Cultural do Morro (meaning Cultural House on the Hill), in Viçosa (1), in the Zona da Mata. The main objective of the initiative is the promotion of black beauty, working with the self-esteem of children and adolescents. “I studied in a private school. I was the only black girl in the place and I had cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair). I was on a scholarship, poor, and the daughter of a cleaning woman. I suffered prejudice throughout my childhood. I suffered a lot and even cut my hair because I didn’t accept using the chapinha (flattening iron). So, my intention is to make the girls accept themselves as they are,” said the young woman.
The project began in June 2013 and currently serves 15 girls ages seven to fifteen in the Sagrado Coração de Jesus neighborhood known as the periphery of Rebenta Rabicho. Every week they have treatments to maintain natural cabelo crespo. “We’re working with the beauty and making girls accept themselves the way they are. We want them to be proud of her features and think they are beautiful,” she said.
The project is a partnership of a cosmetics company in the city which provides products such as shampoos and creams. “We also teach how to moisturize their hair naturally, with mayonnaise and carrots, among other things,” she said. Moreover, every two months photo sessions are conducted, seeking to break the idea that only the thin white woman with straight hair is beautiful.
To participate, girls have to abandon chemical processes in their hair. They cannot do any kind of straightening. They also need to be enrolled in a school. “All the girls now participating in the project had already applied some kind of chemical to their hair, including the little ones. One nine-year old, for example, came here almost bald,” said Raissa.
The initiative also proposes activities that assist in the development of the girls, such as workshops for making turbans, makeup and conversation circles, in an attempt to redeem the values of black culture. “We discussed black women in Brazilian society. We talk about class struggle and who black women were. All within a didactic ways of speaking, in a language that children understand,” said Raissa. Furthermore, psychological and pedagogical accompaniments with re-enforcement classes for children are offered.
“We work with beauty and make the girls to accept themselves the way they are. We want them to be proud of their traits and think they’re beautiful” – Raissa Rosa, creator of the project
According to Raissa, Pérolas Negras is also beginning to attract boys and the mothers. “From the moment that girls begin to assert themselves, to see that are really beautiful, they make the environment contagious. Now we have three boys with us. And we are also seeking to attract mothers. A lot of them are single, work and have no time to care for themselves. We want them to join in, she said.
Among the positive results, the girls themselves have already founded a council with the goal of helping more women. “They are organizing themselves. I only guided them. Girls hold events and started getting involved in public activity. They are children who want to show that, regardless of age, they have already experienced difficulties and want to change their reality”, the creator of the project celebrated. The student Gabrielly Moura, eight, is one of these girls and is happy with the result. “I like it a lot. There I learn to respect others and various ways to do my hair. I wear a headband, braids and (learned) hydration,” she said.
Casa Cultural do Morro
Founded in September 2012, the Casa Cultural do Morro aims to promote cultural inclusion through artistic activities. The NGO offers various options such as hip hop classes and capoeira. The organization has no partnership with the government and survives on donations.
Source: Black Women of Brazil, CBN Foz
1. Viçosa is a Brazilian city in the state of Minas Gerais, located in the Zona da Mata, 228 km southeast of the state capital of Belo Horizonte. As of 2004 its population is estimated to be 73,121 and the area of the municipality is 279 km². Source: Wikipedia