Note from BW of Brazil: There are many ways in which a person can suffer from prejudice and singer Ellen Oléria knows as she carries a number of attributes which make her the target of it. Ellen has been a favorite for thousands of music fans who got into her eclectic stew of Samba, Soul, Jazz and Hip Hop on her debut CD. It was the musical diversity and inspiring voice that propelled her into the winner’s circle of the Brazilian edition of the musical reality show The Voice. Ellen is also not shy on sharing her thoughts on various topics, including her experiences of growing up black in the nation’s capital, as you will see in the interview below.
On top of them
For the singer Ellen Oléria, 31, winner of the 2012 edition of The Voice Brazil, assuming differences is the first step to overturning prejudice
by Ellen Oléria in interview with Natacha Cortêz
“I spent my life blacking out from my memory the episodes of racism I suffered, I won’t lie. None of them were subtle. I always suffered discrimination for being black, everything in my face, explicit. The difference is that I learned to be defensive: when verbal violence was strong, I responded with physical aggression. And I beat them a lot, especially the boys. My parents said we couldn’t come back home crying, so I beat them for real. And the fights always started with jokes about my hair, my weight, my color.
I was born and still live in Brasília. I grew up between two satellite cities, Taguatinga and Ceilândia, in a brutal environment. I am the youngest of a family of three children. My father lived with us until I was 9 years old, then I almost didn’t have contact him. For a long time, we considered our mother as not only mom, but mom and dad. Miss Eva is still a great inspirational woman in my life, and was never silent about racism. I remember her spending nights in the enrollment line of the school to guarantee a place for us – she did this when we were passed over.
We talked about everything at home. I remember asking: ‘If I drink lots of milk, will I become white?’ I said that I wanted to be white to be a model, that I had never seen a black model. My mother assured: ‘You will be the first’. Another time, my sister and I were returning from school and some kids started pointing and laughing: ‘As meninas pretas, as meninas pretas (The black girls! The black girls!’ She shouted at them: ‘You should look under your mother’s skirt to see if you find something more colorful’.
I think I am a kind of intersection of discriminatory processes. I’m a woman, a lesbian, fat and black. None is more expressive than the other, each has its specificity. But I can’t say I’m lesbian or pass for a man – this has already happened many times – the economic perspective does not need to be exposed, and I can even lose weight, but I cannot hide my blackness. I’m black, here or anywhere.
Racism never weakened me. In fact, some events have strengthened me. Perhaps the fact of my being in music has guaranteed me an easier path. Other black women came before (me) to ensure my place. My generation is happy because it reaps the fruits of an ancient struggle. Music is a legitimate space.
The problem is not someone disliking me for what I am, but I have my right to come and go curtailed, to have my chances reduced of participating in anything because of someone’s hate. Enough with us pretending that everyone is equal; we are not. Why is it necessary to deny the difference so that we can respect ourselves? Once they told me: ‘I don’t see color.’ I said, ‘Why? Do you have a vision problem? Look at the color! I’m like this, I’m black.’”
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