Popular Samba musician Dudu Nobre teaches his children about racial identity: “If you can’t pass for white, you are black”

Samba musician Dudu Nobre and his children
Samba musician Dudu Nobre and his children

Note from BW of Brazil: The development of today’s piece is the result of three different incidents. The first is the highly publicized cases of racism involving two black Brazilian soccer players and a black referee. The second have to do with a statement on the issue of racial identity made by a popular Samba musician. And the third was a recent comment by a young Brazilian girl that I know. What do the three incidents have to do with each other?

Well, first, consider the comments musician Dudu Nobre made about how he chooses to raise his children in terms of race. The following piece was taken from a piece from Quem magazine.

Dudu Nobre teaches his children how to deal with racial prejudice: “(Whoever) escaped from (being) white is black”

Musician Dudu Nobre
Musician Dudu Nobre

Dudu Nobre has already been a victim of racial prejudice and told Quem magazine that he has always left racial origins clear with his children, Olívia, Thalita and João Eduardo.

“First, I try to make them understand that they have black roots. I have a daughter who is pretinha (black) and the other two are sarará (1) One day, my sararazinha said that she is blonde and not preta (black). And I said: ‘You’re not preta, but you have the flat nose and the cabelo crespo (curly/kinky hair) so you’re negra (black). (Whoever) escaped from (being) branco (white), is preto (black). That’s what I instituted in my house.”

Nobre with current wife Priscila
Nobre with current wife Priscila

The singer also revealed being very happy and completely in love with present wife, Priscilla. He has three children; two daughters with his first wife, popular dancer Adriana Bombom, and one, a two-year old son, João, with his current wife Priscilla.

Nobre and first wife, dancer/model Adriana Bombom
Nobre and first wife, dancer/model Adriana Bombom

Note from BW of Brazil: The second incident has to do with Nobre recently making a statement on recent examples of racism on the soccer field. His comments are taken SporTV.

A supporter of Flamengo and black, the sambista Dudu Nobre has no doubt that Brazilian society is racist, despite the high rate of miscegenation between people of different colors. In his participation on the program Redação SporTV the musician said he believed the episodes of prejudice seen on soccer fields, as suffered by the Cruzeiro player Tinga, can help draw attention to the problem and encourage the fight against racism.

“Brazil is a racist country. After more than 100 years of the abolition of slavery, what you see now is that it is starting to talk about equality. Thanks to music, I have managed to ascend socially. But there are places where the only pretinho (little black guy) there is me. Brazil still has a lot to evolve and I think what has happened in sports has shown to the whole society that it is time to call for a halt,” said.

Note from BW of Brazil: For the third incident, we must consider a few things. First, one can assume that Nobre wants to educate his children on the issue of race so that they are prepared to understand racism and to be prepared if such incidents should happen to them. The singer also made reference to a popular saying that has existed in Brazil for decades. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a politician who is more recognized as a two-term president of Brazil (1994-2001) than his previous career as a sociologist, cited this saying in his 1960 book (co-authored with Octavio Ianni) about race relations in the southern city of  Florianópolis. He writes:

“…the violent rejection of the branco (white) exercised itself over all who had mixed blood. ‘(Whoever) escaped from branco, is negro”, as the saying that still serves today, more often for socio-racial identification of the mulato in terms of the branco.” (2)

Although it is certainly true that Brazil as a whole soundly rejects the American racial ideology of the infamous “one drop rule”, one could say that according to socioeconomic statistics that continuously place the “mulato” and “negro” at a near identical disadvantage in comparison to whites, the power structure certainly separates whites from non-whites in a manner than Afro-Brazilian activists argue is similar to the binary racial scheme at play in the US. In Brazil, as the official ideology of the myth of “racial democracy” is so widespread, conversations on race are not issues that are widely discussed within households, even within the homes of black families whose members are possible targets of such sentiments. In other homes, black Brazilians clearly know that racism exists as they’ve either heard about it or experienced it themselves yet they still fail to sit their children down to explain what it is and how their appearance might subject them to such treatment. Here’s an example.

Recently, I rode to an event in São Paulo to celebrate a child’s one year birthday. Riding in a van with several people, from children to family elders, we all watched a television screen that showed the latest highlights from a recent soccer match. While the men in the van were all following the highlights and scores, an 11-year old who I shall call “Beatriz” turned to me and began to talk about superstar Neymar. The young woman sitting next to me asked the 11-year old if she thought one of teenagers in the car looked like Neymar. She responded, “No, Neymar is ugly.” As the conversation proceeded, the 11-year old referred to Neymar as “branco”, meaning white. I asked, “Neymar é branco (Neymar’s white)?” She affirmed that he was. I then asked her the color of her 5-year old brother, “Pedro”. As a point of reference, “Pedro’s” skin color is approximately the same as that of singer Dudu Nobre, or perhaps a little lighter. Pedro has a similar haircut as Nobre and has features very similar to that of his father, a very brown-skinned man who bears a striking resemblance to American singer Freddie Jackson. “Beatriz”, who has a skin complexion similar to actress Isabel Fillardis, said that her brother was also “branco”.

Soccer superstar Neymar, actress Isabel Fillardis, singer Freddie Jackson
Soccer superstar Neymar, actress Isabel Fillardis, singer Freddie Jackson

In this situation, it would appear that the topic of race may not be one that was discussed in the home of “Beatriz” and “Pedro”. Of course there will be those who will ask, “what’s wrong with her thinking her brother and Neymar are white?”The answer to this question is simple and has been this blog’s stance on the issue from the beginning. In a world in which beliefs about the concept of “race” didn’t matter, this would not be a problem. But in a country like Brazil, where skin color and “racial” features are regularly discussed in terms of what is “good” and what is “bad”, the avoidance of the racial question in the average household is what often leads Brazilians of visibly perceptible African features to be unaware of how race and racism works in a racist society. No one wishes for a racist incident to happen to anyone, but yet, it happens everyday in Brazil. Although I don’t know how “Pedro” sees himself at such a young age, without an understanding of racial attitudes and discrimination, how might he react to such an incident when he grows up, particularly if he, like his sister, sees himself as white? Will he be reduced to tears because such a humiliating experience never happened to him? Will he be shocked because he never knew how his colleagues or adversaries saw him? Will he not even perceive that someone is making a racial joke/insult about him?

Of course, there’s no way of answering these questions at this time. But with this understanding that many children in Brazil grow up not knowing their racial origins, Dudu Nobre should be commended for preparing his children for a world that is clearly divided into white and non-white. One can only hope for the best for “Pedro”.

Source: R7, SporTV. Black Women of Brazil, Cardoso, Fernando Henrique and Octávio Ianni. Côr e mobilidade social em Florianópolis: aspectos das relações entre negros e brancos numa comunidade do Brasil Meridional. Editora Nacional, 1960


1. “Sarará” is a term used to describe persons with white or light skin, but with characteristics of the black race in their face, hair, mouth, etc. The term is from the Tupi (Brazilian Indian) language. “Sara-ra” meaning he/she “that has red hair.” In Brazil, the word “sarará” would go on to identify mulatos or mestiços (persons of mixed race) with auburn or reddish cabelos crespos (curly/kinky hair). Sarará in the diminutive form would be sararazinha, meaning “little sarará.”  Source. For more on racial classifications in Brazil, see here.

2. The origin text in Portuguese is “a rejeição violenta do branco se exercia sobre todo aquele que tivesse mistura no sangue. “Escapou de branco, é negro”, como diz o ditado que ainda hoje serve, mais frequentemente, para a identificação socioracial do mulato em termos do branco.”

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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