Note from BBT: Reaching twenty-five years is always an accomplishment, whether we’re talking about a marriage, some record-breaking sports feat or a business. Twenty-five years means longevity, great planning, the ability to adjust to changes experienced along a path, trust and overcoming of challenges. All of these definitions could likely apply to the magazine Raça Brasil, which recently reached the 25-year plateau.
The appearance of Raça Brasil back in September of 1996 should be seen as the launching pad for today’s growing black Brazilian media presence. Today, because of black media, the demands of Brazil’s black community can no longer be ignored and this is evident in the rise of countless influencial Afro-Brazilians in areas such as advertising, the fashion world, social networks and business.
I can personally attest to the importance and influence of the magazine as its rise and prominence firmly go hand-in-hand with my own entry into the world of black Brazil at the end of the year 1999. I’ve told the story several times, but it’s worth mentioning again within the context of 25 years of Raça. My purchase of the Africana encyclopedia on Christmas Eve of 1999 set me on a path of discovery of Brazil’s hidden black history and the experiences of African descendants in Brazilian society today.
I still remember how I became aware of the publication. With the coming of the year 2000, I had been surfing the internet for only about a year and a half, and some kind of way, I ended up meeting a young lady online who lived in New York. I remember communicating with her through an email address I had with the old Netscape Navigator at the time.
We exchanged a few emails discussing our interest in Brazil and she would eventually tell me that she had already visited Rio de Janeiro and was planning on going back. Our exchanges took place before my own first trip to Salvador, Bahia, in the country’s northeast back in late August of 2000. Over the course of these e-convos, she asked me if I’d ever heard of Raça Brasil magazine, a sort of Brazilian Ebony magazine.
After I told her that I’d never heard of it, she told me that she had picked up a few copies of the magazine while in Rio and would be willing to send them to me through the mail. Having never heard of the magazine, I was filled with anticipation and appreciative that a person who was basically a stranger was doing me this favor. In less than a week, I received an envelope at my home in Detroit, Michigan. Opening the envelope, I found four issues of Raça Brasil. Looking at the beautiful, smiling faces on the covers, I was immediately enamored.
Similar to the sentiment I felt after reading in the Africana encyclopedia that Brazil was home to anywhere from 53-120 million people of African descent, I again thought to myself, ‘How is it that Brazil has so many black people and I never knew this?’.
During my introduction to Brazil, I can say that there were several moments in my mind that told me that I needed to get a passport and visit this country. Coming in first and second place would be the books Africans in Brazil and Brazil: Mixture or Massacre? by legendary Afro-Brazilian activist Abdias do Nascimento. Next, I would say, came the music, starting with the song ‘’Corcovado’’ by João Gilberto, the CDs Brasileiro and Brazil Blue on the Putumayo and Blue Note Records labels respectively and the samba-soul band, Banda Black Rio. The arrival of those Raça Brasil magazines sealed the deal.
One of the covers of the four issues I received in the mail featured the actresses Isabel Fillardis and Taís Araújo, who up to that point, I had never heard of. It wasn’t the idea that they looked in any way different from the African-American women I was familiar with growing up in the United States, but the fact that these were our Afro-Brazilian ‘’cousins’’.
Flipping through the issues of the magazine I received, they immediately struck me as a sort of mixture of Ebony and Essence magazines: attractive, smiling, black Brazilian faces in middle-class settings that promote consumption, fashion, hair and beauty tips, the latest in music, culinary arts, features on Afro-Brazilian historical figures and reports on being black in Brazil.
The success of Raça even reached the pages of the New York Times, which printed a story on the magazine in October of 1996. An immediate hit, the magazine’s first edition sold out, causing its publisher to rush another 100,000 copies to newsstands. For Raça’s first editor-in-chief, Aroldo Macedo, the success debunked three accepted myths in Brazil’s editorial market: One, that blacks had little purchasing power, two, that Afro-Brazilians were ashamed of their race and, three, that a magazine for blacks could achieve success in terms of sales.
The emergence of the new, glossy magazine was the first step of the publishing market recognizing the estimated 60% of Brazilians who were either black or brown. “It’s as if these 90 million people were invisible,” said Macedo said at the time, adding that this applied “Not only for magazines, but also for advertising, fashion, films, all media sectors.
With the goal of raising the self-esteem of black Brazilians, the magazine’s first issue featured stories on the music of Bahian percussion groups, interracial marriages and the manifestations of the Afro-Brazilian religion of candomblé. The magazine correctly pointed out that race was a delicate issue in Brazil with cordial relations between races having played a significant role in the construction of the image of the country as a “racial democracy“. The few blacks who occupied important positions in government and in top management posts of successful companies supported the opinion of many that Brazil’s famed “racial democracy” was, in fact, a myth.
A good example of the difficulty in fighting this myth was the way comments by the then Minister of Sports, soccer legend Pelé, were interpreted. Earlier that year, the superstar suggested that blacks vote for black candidates to increase their influence in politics. The comments generated reaction among white politicians, who accused the minister of promoting racial division in the country. This difficulty in facing the issue of race and racism remains today, but clearly on a lower level than previous decades.
Like Ebony and Essence, Raça Brasil was not without its flaws as, in some ways, it presented a more idealistic presentation of black Brazil. Similar to Ebony, Raça seemed to want to present the image of a ‘’new black Brazilian’’ to offset the negative portrayals and invisibility of black Brazilians in the country’s mainstream media. It was a great, but misleading portrayal that didn’t prepare me for the reality of being black in Brazil that I would discover through a brief friendship with two young black Brazilian men I met on that first trip to Salvador as well as my own observations and research.
After that first trip, my yearly return to Brazil would become a sort of ritual. I would land in São Paulo’s Guarulho Airport and ride the bus to the Congonhas Airport to catch a connection to Bahia. For the first five years, the soundtrack for that bus ride included the likes of American Hip Hop artists such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Mobb Deep and Pharoah Monch. Whenever I landed in Guarulhos, I always spent some time at the airport’s book store to pick up the latest issue of Raça.
The magazine always stood out on Brazil’s newsstands as it was usually the only magazine of dozens that featured black faces. Although much of the magazine seemed to focus on material in the megacity of São Paulo, it also featured reports on and from other states, notably Bahia, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro.
Even with its flaws, I was happy to see Raça Brasil. Not only did it bring a black representation that was sorely lacking in Brazil’s print media, it was also able to capture the pulse of black Brazilian life to a certain degree. Again, while it was clearly influenced by magazines such as Essence and Ebony, as it was a Brazilian magazine, there was one difference that struck me as I continued to snatch up copies of the magazine.
Although it’s customary to find ads featuring white people in any magazine, one thing I noted in Raça that one would never find in Ebony or Essence were ads featuring black men and women shown in romantic settings with white women and men. For those first five years, I wasn’t familiar with the topic that black Brazilian women would later define as palmitagem, but mixed-race couples were not rare in the magazine’s pages and, considering the country’s history, it shouldn’t have been surprising. If one were to judge from the magazine’s pages, you wouldn’t have any idea that there was a segment of the population that saw such couples as problematic. Again, I would only learn that years later.
Since at least the 1980s, there have been several attempts to create a magazine targeting Brazil’s black population, including magazines such as Ébano and 100% Negro. Neither of the previous two publications lasted beyond a few issues, which makes Raca’s twenty-five years of success something to celebrate. That’s not to say the magazine hasn’t faced its own challenges.
In the last decade, I got the distinct feeling that Raça was experiencing some problems. Being a monthly magazine, I wondered what was going on maybe 5-6 years ago when the magazine would go two to three months without publishing a new issue. Then, maybe 4-5 years ago, the magazine seemed to have changed its name to Afro Brasil for a short period. I haven’t been able to ascertain the facts for what happened during this period and I’m not absolutely sure if Raça Brasil and Afro Brasil magazine were separate entities or one and the same under different names.
Originally published by Símbolo, and then Escala, the magazine came to be published by Minuano in 2015, which was coincidentally the same publisher of Afro Brasil. The format and style of the two magazines seemed identical so, at least in my eyes, Raça and Afro were the same magazine. I also came to this conclusion because of the fact that during the months in which Afro Brasil was being sold, I didn’t see any new issues of Raça Brasil. Whatever the case was, the magazine either re-emerged under its original title or returned to publishing monthly issues.
Raça Brasil represented the emergence of a black voice in Brazil’s media. The magazine opened the door for the development of black communities in the defunct Orkut social network in 2004 and later, the rise of Afro-Brazilian blogs and websites.
Raça never did and still doesn’t represent any sort of black revolution as its outlook presents more of a better positioning of black Brazilians within a system of white supremacy rather than any sort of black nationalist thought.
In many ways, I would argue that other Afro-Brazilian media outlets online such as Geledés, Mundo Negro and Alma Preta have surpassed the influence of Raça Brasil, but I would say that the success of these sites probably wouldn’t have been possible without the trailblazing path opened by Raça. As such, I congratulate the makers of the magazine for giving a face and voice to an Afro-Brazilian population that simply didn’t exist on Brazil’s newsstands before 1996.
In the piece below, the magazine’s content creators celebrated 25 years with the piece below.
The cover number 1 is back: Isabel Fillardis is on the cover of 25 years of Raça Magazine
Courtesy of the Raça Brasil newsroom
In its first issue, published in 1996, Raça sold 270,000 copies and became a phenomenon for black Brazilians
The longest running black communication vehicle in Brazil has reached its 25th anniversary! In this issue, Raça Brasil enters a restricted club of organizations of written press with such longevity. It’s been 25 years of struggle, stamina, empowerment, having to prove to a market that has always distrusted the potential of Obama’s famous phrase “yes, we can. On Wednesday evening, (15), Raça Magazine celebrated its 25th anniversary with a cocktail party for guests and a video interview with actress and singer Isabel Fillardis, which will be published on Raça’s social networks and website.
The moment also marks the beginning of the partnership between the magazine, Vivo and the Terra website, which will integrate the content published on Raça’s website to the spaces on the portal. The exclusive interview with Fillardis, who appeared on very first cover of the magazine in September 1996, also marks her return to the world of music after suffering from tongue cancer. The actress is on the cover of the printed edition that celebrates a quarter of a century of the magazine. In the interview, she talks details about her professional trajectory in the last 25 years, the challenges in her career, about motherhood, shares her world vision and even leaves a message for young black people who want to enter the world of art.
Raça magazine contributed to black aesthetic empowerment by launching a nationally prominent print vehicle that put black people in the spotlight. The history of Raça is mixed up with the history of black men and women in the last 25 years in Brazil and in the world, and all of this is registered in our pages, from the struggle for quotas in universities to the denialism of Brazil’s false racial democracy. From the joy of seeing the first black man in the Brazilian Supreme Court, Joaquim Barbosa, to the rise and fall of Celso Pitta, the first black mayor of the largest metropolis in the country, São Paulo.
We are outraged by the still unsolved murder of Rio city councilwoman Marielle Franco, the massacres and murders of young black people in the Brazilian suburbs, but we are also thrilled with Dr. Jaqueline Góes, a black woman, from Bahia, the scientist who was the first to decode the DNA of the new Coronavirus in record time in the world. Also registered in our pages is the girl Daiane dos Santos, the first Brazilian world champion in gymnastics when she won the gold medal in the floor gymnastics in Anaheim, California, in 2003. With Raça also emerged a legion of new black artists who appeared for the first time on the cover of a national magazine because of Raça.
The sounds of pagode that won over the streets and bars of our city was enhanced on our covers that had singers Netinho de Paula, Thiaguinho, Alexandre Pires, among others. The phenomenon Raça Brasil was the object of studies in masters and doctorate degrees in Brazil and abroad. And speaking of abroad, also registered on our covers was the most powerful black couple in the world, Michelle and Barack Obama. Finally, it would be difficult to talk about everything, including the black empowerment in these last ten years, so we decided to present on this cover the woman who represents the change in these 25 years.
The 25th anniversary of Raça Magazine is the starting point for a new phase. Strong in the print segment, the magazine will now reinforce its digital content with investments in its portal and streaming platforms, bringing diversified content and maintaining its commitment to show the diversity of the black population on a national and global scale.
Isabel Fillardis, the cover girl on the first issue of our Raça magazine, is the living example in her speeches that today we are more secure, more confident, more mature and ready to occupy the place that has always been rightfully ours.