Photo of dancer Arielle Macedo and TV host Fausto Silva
Note from BW of Brazil: OK, so here we go again! It seems that it’s always open season on black women’s hair and this incident is just the latest in a long line of examples of disrespect in Brazilian society. Check the story below and we will chime in with our verdict at the end of the post.
Faustão, Arielle’s “witch broom hair” and the media silence
Activists demand public retraction from the TV Globo network after popular TV host Faustão’s comment about dancer’s hair and questions media silence
A clumsy comment by Globo TV variety show host Faustão on his program on Sunday (20), reverberated poorly in social networks. The host referred to Arielle Macedo, a black dancer, as one that has “witch broom hair.” The negative comparison of the young woman’s curly hair leads us once more to the cordial racism of Brazilians.
Faustão’s comment is typical of the prevailing racism in Brazil: disguised as a joke and in a well tempered friendly context. It would not have caused any commotion a few decades ago when Luiz Caldas released his song “Fricote” with the verses “black woman with the hard hair, who does not like to comb it”, and blacks on TV only appeared in the clips of the newborn Axé music or in (TV) roles as thieves or slaves.
But the world is changing and so is Brazil, slowly. Between the release of “Fricote” and Faustão’s comments, the United States elected Obama, Lewis Hamilton became a Formula 1 world champion, actress Lupita Nyong’o lent her beauty to promote Lancôme’s products and, right or wrong, Joaquim Barbosa became chief justice.
The comment caused outrage in the black social movements. “Given this unfortunate racist comment by host Faustão, I, like many black women, didn’t see it as a joke and don’t accept a joke of that content, even coming from an elitist and racist network that Globo TV is,” said Lilian Araújo, of the Frente Pretas (meaning Black Women’s Front), of the UNEAfro organization.
Maria Rita Casagrande, of the Blogueiras Negras (Black Women Bloggers) also criticized the Globo host’s joke. “It is unacceptable the masked racism of the joke, in the cute manner, the embarrassment in the name of the easy laugh. The media generally devalues black beauty, it reserves to us the roles that fit in accordance with common sense, the maid, the illiterate, the prostitute, the villain, something that naturalizes prejudice and only brings harm,” lamented the activist.
The Facebook community “Cacheando (getting curly) em Salvador”, which exalts black beauty, made a posting on Sunday protesting Faustão’s words. The message was directed at members of the 2,800 members of the group and ended up winning over the social networks.
“We no longer accept that they impose on us Eurocentric standards of beauty,” wrote the leaders of the community. “We will not tolerate racism being reproduced in any environment and mainstream media. We no longer accept that they ‘educate’ us to be racist!”
The activist Romário Régis also commented on the episode in his Facebook page:
“Yes, he said it. It was in a joking tone, but on a national network. It didn’t come out anywhere except in one or two news websites that are not large. Nothing from UOL, nothing from Jornal O Dia, Terra, TV Fama, Rede Record, nothing. Only vehicles of alternative communication, blogs and Facebook pages.
In a speech completely unnoticed, Faustão let go in that mocking tone (nothing funny) of always the phrase “Aquela de cabelo de vassoura de bruxa (That witch broom hair)”, talking to Arielle Macedo, (singer) Anitta’s dancer and our compatriot, here in São Gonçalo.
“The case is severe (period). Not only because it deals with “black power (afro hairstyle)”, but it goes beyond, the pejorative tone of the joke can offend many people who are making the transition to cabelo black (natural black hair) or people who already have. A good public retraction, made on the Domingão do Faustão, at the least, respect and assume that he spoke BULLSHIT. We cannot have TV hosts, on Sunday (all ages at home) high IBOPE (viewer ratings) talking that way, having in view the aesthetic representation that his comment possesses.
“I won’t even mention the fact of the small number of black women in Faustão’s dance troupe, Dança dos Famosos (meaning Dance of the Famous, featuring actors and dancers) (1) or in the confidential archive of August of last year until now, only having 2 blacks in 18 editions. The dispute goes beyond (this), it goes for the opening of black and popular origin hosts and those, it goes for the opening of TV to black and popular origin narratives and goes for the understanding that a Black Power is not only a hairstyle, but rather a representation of collective and individual identity.
That he apologize on the national network and that one day, all people with “Vassoura de Bruxa (Witch’s Broom)” as Faustão said, further occupy TV, so that cases such as this, are not reasons for laughter but the reorganization of the content of the TV.”
A dancer and choreographer, Arielle is black and wears her hair naturally curly. In an episode of the webseries Faça: dança, produced by Multishow, Arielle said that her hair style was influenced by her mother.
On her Facebook page, the dancer said she was offended and that it’s normal to hear similar comments from Faustão.
“About the Faustão episode yesterday … I was very happy with the affection and the way you guys defended me! I was offended … of course, at the time yes! But nicknames are what I most get out on the street. Only that I have my way of expressing myself about it. The hair is mine, it’s my life and I think it’s beautiful and that’s what’s most important! I don’t leave myself oppressed by anything or the opinion of anyone! And if you feel good about it, this is the way you should act. Meanwhile I’m walking around with my “witch broom hair” that I love. And that they pardon normal people oppressed by society. Yes, I’m not normal! Racism will always exist, it’s strengthened when we feel offended. If I’m fine and right (the way) that I am, screw the opinion of others!”
Blogger Ana Eufrázio remembered the case of a school threatening to expel a student for wearing black power hair and published on her blog a text that deals with the stereotyping of feminine beauty.
“A black woman, that already suffers stigmatization because of her color, for her condition as a woman, has her beauty denied because of having cabelo crespo (curly/kinky hair) and ends up becoming a hostage of the beauty market. Curly hair is just one aspect of blacks that “must” be denied or deconstructed. The mechanism of suppression of identity is an ideological strategy that not only aims to oppress, segregate and dominate, but also impedes blacks from competing on equal conditions with whites in opportunities for upward social mobility. The imposition of straight hair as “reference” or as “indicative of zeal/hygiene” helped consolidate the beauty industry as one of the most lucrative segments of today. They are products of the industry of whites that produces for whites to make a profit from the exploitation of black labor which also consumes their products.”
For his part, Faustão (Fausto Silva) responded to criticism that he was racist.
“I joked saying that her hair style was ‘witch’s broom’ because it was big red hair. Some people who want to turn the internet into a urinal start to think that it was racism. Absolutely not. Especially because no one more than me, over these past 30 years, says almost every Sunday that character, competence and talent have nothing to do with skin color, sexual orientation, religious choice, or may not having money or a political party,” he affirmed.
The host also mentioned that he jokes with black dancers on his program and that more than half of his team consists of blacks. “More than half of the people that work with me are of the black race; people with 10, 20 years [at Globo] (2). You think if I had this behavior these people would be with me?” huffed the host.
Note from BW of Brazil: So here’s how we stand on this issue. Anyone who has watched the Domingão do Faustão show knows that Faustão always makes wise cracks or off the cuff types of jokes when talking to guests of the show. That’s the job of a host on a show like Domingão. Keep the crowd entertained and keep the show moving. But here’s the thing. BW of Brazil seeks to always look at issues objectively, fairly and look at every perspective before coming to a judgement and this latest controversy will be treated in the same manner. With that said, it is entirely possible that Faustão made this remark without even thinking and thus just blurted out the first thing that came to his mind. Understandable. But there are other problems here.
1) If referring to a black woman’s hair as a “witch’s broom” was the first thing that came to mind, it speaks to the negative place that black women’s hair holds in the social imagination of Brazilian society. We have too many examples to cite here. A fashion designer having his models wear brillo pads as an “homage” to black hair. A popular hair product using afro wig wearing models to say that their product could “fix” afro textured hair. A brillo pad company using a black woman’s profile in their advertising and making use of widespread negative connotations of black hair. This along with the countless stories of black women who had to learn how to accept their hair after many experiences with insults and racism because of their hair texture.
2) Even if one cannot immediately say that Fausto Silva is a hardcore racist, he surely knows of the negative connotations associated with afro textured hair. Even if someone wanted to deny being racist, they cannot deny that they are familiar with this widespread belief among Brazilians. With this in mind, the right thing to do would have been to simply acknowledge letting something slip out and recognizing that such a comment could offend a large portion of the population. By going directly into the typical “racist? who me?” mode, the TV host joins the statistic of 92% of Brazilians that acknowledge the existence of racism with only 1.3% admitting they are racist. Like the mayor who made a racial gaff, some ideologies are so deeply ingrained in Brazilian society, it’s not surprising that they come out at the top of one’s head. This is not excusing the behavior but simply a piece of advice to admit the mistake and accept the responsibility of the faux pa. It’s the only way such a social disease such as racism can be dealt with. But then again, as insulting Afro-Brazilians is so common, I’m not at all convinced that anyone really wants to address and eliminate the problem.
In the video below denouncing the racist attitude of Brazilian society and media toward black hair, listen at about the 41 second mark where host Fausto Silva can be heard saying “cabelo de vassoura de bruxa”
1. Dança dos Famosos is a feature on the Domingão do Faustão show which imitates the format of the American reality show Dancing With the Stars. See a few of the dancers and videos here.
2. Although it can;t be proven exactly how many black people work on the show behind the scenes, in front of the camera, as mentioned in the post, black women are regularly no more than two of 20-30 female dancers featured on his show weekly.