Note from BBT: When I first read today’s story, I knew I had to not only share it, but I also had to comment because one section reminded me of something I have experienced here in Brazil. In 2015, my twins, a boy and a girl were born. Many of us who have kids know how the looks of children can change drastically within the first weeks, months and years of life. This was definitely the case with my shorties.
Both of my children were born with extremely fair skin although my skin tone and that of their mother is what I like to refer to as “plain brown”. I’d say my skin complexion is somewhat similar to that of well-known American actor Denzel Washington with my wife’s tone being a tad lighter but still in that “plain brown” category. Even so, knowing that there are fair, brown and dark-skinned black people in both of our families, I knew that the kids could come out with any color within that range. But I admit that I was still surprised to see how fair they actually were for their first few months of life.
Within those first few weeks, of course family and friends all wanted to see the newbies. My wife worked at a hair salon in São Paulo’s east zone. At that time, I would carry the twins together in their individual baby car seats wherever we would go. One particular Saturday, I remember having entered the salon to all of the “ooohhs” and “ahhs” of all the workers and customers (everyone loves newborns) and making my way up to the second floor of the salon to wait for my then girlfriend’s shift to end.
As I sat down and placed the babies on the floor in front on me, one of the hairstylists came and asked if she could see the twins. “Sure”, I responded. As she bent over and started making all of the the little baby sounds that adults like to make when seeing babies, she then started making references to what they looked like.
“Nossa! (Wow) Eles estão muito claro (They’re very light)!”, she started saying. OK, at first it didn’t really bother me as it was just a comment. But for the next minute or so, that was all she kept repeating. She didn’t mention if they were cute, how small they were or that they were twins, but she couldn’t stop focusing on how light their skin tones were and how straight their hair was. Obviously, the contrast between my own “plain brown” skin and the very fair skin of the twins was the reason that this woman was so fascinated with the color of the twins.
But that’s not the whole story. Having studied so much about race and color in Brazil up to that point, I knew that it was a norm of Brazilian families to desire lighter-skinned/white children and that this was one of the first things they look for when a new child is born into their families. For many black families, this was and is a very strong desire. I’ve often made reference to the famous “Redenção de Cam” painting that depicted the whitening of a dark-skinned black woman’s family over the course of three generations and how she was shown giving thanks to God for this “blessing”.
At that very moment, I was experiencing this near obsession with whiteness. Here was a woman I didn’t even know going goo-goo over my children because of their fair skin and straight hair. After about a minute or so, I had to let her know: “Yes, they’re fair now, but my children are gonna look like me!” She kind of paused and looked at me with a startled look and then went on about her business. Damn shame how Brazil has so successfully endoctrinated its people into the adoration of whiteness. When I mentioned this incident to my wife, she told that the woman had only been working there for a week or so and was a “nordestina”, meaning she was from the northeast of the country although my Portuguese wasn’t sharp enough to decipher which state.
In the end, I was right. Although the boy, who was born one minute before his sister, is a few shades lighter than me, my daughter is about my color, but there is no confusion about what they are. Funny, my third child, another boy, today is lighter than both of the twins, but also, clearly a black boy. So, no Brazil, the whitening strategy didn’t stand a chance with me. I wouldn’t have had it any other way although this goal remains enbedded in the minds of millions of black and brown Brazilians to this day.
Below is a story by a black woman whose child clearly continued to the whitening process and how she sees this.
“She’s so white, she doesn’t even seem to be your daughter. How lucky she is!”: Journalist reveals episodes of racism experienced by black mothers and children
In an article, Ana Carolina Diniz tells what it is like to raise a black child in a racist society, and warns: ‘It is the obligation of every mother who has the minimum of social consciousness to recognize racial inequality and fight for a different future’.
I always wanted to be a mother. Always. The years passed, the economic-financial-emotional stability didn’t come, and the right moment didn’t come. But at 34, she arrived: by surprise, without waiting, my daughter arrived. Five years ago, I became a little girl’s mother.
When a fetus is the fruit of an interracial couple, besides gender, another speculation present in the conversations is about the child’s color. “Will she take after you? Or is it going to be white?”, “You’re gonna be able to lighten the family, right!”, phrases that I heard during the whole pregnancy, in a supposedly playful tone. After pregnancy, the standard question changed: “Is she your daughter? It doesn’t even look like you, she’s light”, “How lucky she is”.
The latter is so ingrained in racism that it even hurts. Because it reminds me of episodes in childhood that seem to have happened yesterday. I was always one of the few black people in Rio’s suburbs in private school. In ballet, the first bitter taste of racism: white schoolgirls didn’t speak to me. In the pool of a club, the aggression of a group of boys echoes until today, more than 30 years later, in my head: “Look at the neguinha (little black girl)! She can’t swim”. On television, in the movies, in advertisements, there was no one like me. I didn’t share the same dream of being a Xuxa paquita. I never saw myself represented there.
Probably my little girl won’t go through traumas like that. In her case, the impact will be because of being the daughter of a black woman. My daily job is to raise a citizen who knows that life can be more difficult depending on her skin tone.
If you touch the subject only on the supposedly commemorative date (May 13) in your homework, you are privileged, indeed. A black mother – independent of social class – doesn’t have this option. Because she knows that the color of her child can be a death sentence, just for running in the street or using an umbrella. Because she knows they will look suspiciously when he gets on the bus and will cross the street when he comes from the other direction. He knows they will doubt his intellectual capacity.
The subject is inherent to his everyday life. Besides the basic concerns – food, housing, health, study – she has the weight of making her child strong enough to survive this society. She has to strengthen her self-esteem, create defense mechanisms, fight against a white supremacy in education and unprepared teachers, rehearse ready sentences to react to those who criticize the nose and how to act with a tough cop. It’s painful, it’s exhausting.
Do you think it “doesn’t stick much” anymore? Then know that, in the same suburb of Rio, nowadays, children learn at school and come home saying that the beige colored pencil is that of “skin color” (flesh toned). If it weren’t for the work of attentive black mothers, the perpetuation of white as something standardized would be transmitted to another generation. Know that young children of 3, 4, 5 years old, go after the cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair) of their black colleague, destroying the self-esteem of an individual who has just been born. And there is the attentive mother and lioness, who puts the discussion on the table and doesn’t leave it be. For some, she’s a troublemaker. For us, it’s a matter of survival.
If you romanticize motherhood, you’ve got it all wrong. It is the obligation of every mother who has the minimum social conscience to recognize racial inequality and fight for a different future. You don’t know how? Take your son to watch movies and plays with black protagonists (Bituca and Pequeno príncipe preto (Little Black Prince), for example). Read books with the theme, do research, make it matter. And, above all, set an example. How many black friends do you have? How many of them frequent your home? Racism does exist and – contrary to what some people say – it’s not rare in Brazil.
Note from BBT: When I read stories like this, it strikes me how perfect Brazilian racism really is. Today, it is somewhat common to find black Brazilians working in various areas of the job market and many of them have shown a new black consciousness that was clearly not as common at the end of the 1990s. But even with this rise of black consciousness, it is often unbelievable how deep this swirling culture is among black Brazilians, particularly those of the middle classes.
The journalist in the article seems as if she has a strong commitment to the black struggle, but yet and still, her apparent commitment to the struggle didn’t lead to the reproduction of a black child. Of course, I don’t know her situation so I can’t make any judgments as everyone’s particular story has to be considered individually rather than as a collectively. Is she another black woman who was continuously passed over by black and brown men seeking white women? Or is she a black woman with a desire for a shining white prince? Impossible to say. But the bottom line remains the same.
With so many black Brazilians, “woke” or not, showing a willingness (desire?) to swirl, in future generations, this whole black struggle won’t even matter because there won’t be any more black people to struggle for.
Source: Agência Patrícia Galvão
- This photo is not of the author of the text. The woman is Ella Gayle of Nottingham, England, who was often asked if her baby had been swapped when he was born due to his pale skin and red hair.