Note from BW of Brazil: Brazil’s apparent obsession with blackface. We’ve touched on the topic in various posts over the past few years. But since our first discussion on the practice three years ago, it seems that its usage has become somewhat of a phenomenon. In the past this writer has looked at this topic as simply more evidence of Brazil’s racial insensitivity, but also in the back of my mind there always lurked another possibility: maybe the average person really didn’t know what this meant. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine a few months back. The manager at a prominent advertising firm in São Paulo, this friend often shares his opinions on a number of topics. In one conversation we discussed the absurdity of the frequent fights we see at Brazilian futebol matches. After a few minutes explaining my view on the connection between sports and social control, this friend looked at me and said, “now you know the average Brazilian will never be capable of seeing that!” Hmmm…Could be…
Which brings me to this, the latest update on blackface sightings in Brazil. Although the topic is frequent on this blog, I don’t always catch every incident involving Brazilians painting their faces for whatever reason. For example, this one happened back in April…
Students characterized as blacks stirs up controversy
Courtesy of Diário Online
What was supposed to be just a play at a traditional school in Belém, eventually turned into a debate about racism on social networks. After the images of the students characterized as black – including pele pintada de preto (skin painted black) – circulated on the Internet, many people criticized the work.
For the fanpage “Geek não é só para o seu namorado” (Geek is not just for your boyfriend) the characterization well illustrates “blackface”, which is the act of characterizing black phenotypes to represent them theatrically, usually as a caricature. “This practice is severely condemned and combated by the Movimento Negro (Black Movement) around the world,” he says. “It is absurd that, in the 2015, a school accepts that students do blackface and cultural appropriation to represent blacks in plays or any other situations! It is even more absurd that the school has encouraged something like this.”
The original post has had more than 120 shares, until the evening of Thursday (30), and much discussion. “It’s a way of maintaining prejudice. Black girls suffer bullying at school and have to hide because she has certain mannerisms, because for society these gestures are a fantasy, it’s funny and exotic. They even drew my mouth on the board, wanting de-legitimize me,” read one comment.
“If you do not have black students enrolled to represent, which is already an expression of racism in the school itself, the whites that would represent the history unpainted, even as whites, huh. What is the necessity of painting?” read another comment.
Note from BW of Brazil: Now we could say that this usage of blackface in schools, Carnaval groups, television, etc. could be simply an imitation of things Brazilians have seen from the United States and even in other countries. But, as we’ve seen, blackface has its own long history in Brazil. So while I can buy the possibility that some Brazilians truly don’t know the origins of this practice, in other cases, promoted by mainstream media outlets as a form of comedy, I believe this to be another case. For example, the owners of the number one TV network in Brazil, Rede Globo TV, as well as the number two TV network, Rede Record, have connections to financial dynasties in the United States. So, when these networks promote blackface performances I can’t buy the idea of ignorance. But among the masses, well, it is a possibility. I mean, researching and knowing history is probably not something the average TV spectator devotes any time to. Which brings us to this latest incident…The artist featured in the following article, Michel Teló, a phenomenally popular singer of the Sertanejo music genre, doesn’t really matter in terms of the scope of this piece. This writer is not a fan of the style but obviously millions of Brazilians are…With that said, this was a controversy that perhaps the “Ai Se Te Pego” singer didn’t see coming…Hopefully, now he knows a little better…
Teló’s usage of ‘blackface’ is the result of our ignorance of racism
By Marcos Sacramento
Singer Michel Teló could have prevented the ignorance in posing on Instagram with rosto pintado de preto (black face) if the subject “racism” were more present in his conversations everyday. Teló and many of his fans didn’t know that the act of painting the face black, called blackface, appeared in the nineteenth century in the United States as a way of ridiculing blacks in humor shows.
In the country with the largest number of blacks outside Africa, the myth of mestiçagem (racial mixture) was introduced in the national mind so competently that still today people believe that episodes of racial discrimination are just misunderstandings and accuse (people) of victimhood because of demands for affirmative action.
Teló apparently isn’t part of this group. In a posting on Facebook where he apologizes for using blackface, he acknowledges that there is discrimination here. “In the desire to express myself against racism, an issue unfortunately still so present in our lives, I got involved in a chain (message) on Instagram, taking a photo that, to me, was synonymous with equality.”
The good intention crumbled because of the criticism, forcing Teló to delete the post from Instagram hours later. “I believe that some know about “black face”, but I also believe that most, like me, didn’t know,” he wrote later in the mea culpa.
One of the web users who criticized the singer summed up the controversy with precision: “Michel Teló represents the average Brazilian who doesn’t even know what blackface is.”
The comment reminded me of the executive Mellody Hobson’s talk on TED, quoted in other articles I wrote for DCM. She takes the view that one way to combat racism is to discuss the topic in various spaces of coexistence, a posture she calls “color brave” as opposed to the tendency not to notice the racial differences, which she calls “color blindness”.
“I think it’s time to feel comfortable with the uncomfortable conversation about race: white, black, Asian, Hispanic, man, woman, we all, if we really believe in equal rights and equal opportunities in America, I think we should have real conversations about this subject. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of being color blind. We have to be color brave. We must be willing, as teachers and parents, entrepreneurs and scientists, we have to be open to proactive conversations about race, with honesty, understanding and courage, not because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the smart thing to do,” Hobson said.
Being “color brave” is simply a change of heart. It means coming of common sense, questioning the status quo and facing diversity from the front. Color brave would not make Teló and other average Brazilians average search Google on racial stereotypes, but it could let them watch the news of how the play A Mulher do Trem was suspended because of the use of blackface in representing a black character.
Similarly, color brave doesn’t free the futebol player Daniel Alves from having a banana thrown at him by racists, but it would save us from the misguided “Somos Todos Macacos” (We are all monkeys) campaign created in the wake of the offense.
At least Teló’s stupidity had a pedagogical function and served to disseminate the concept of blackface. From now on people will think better before putting black paint on their faces and posing in solidarity with the black cause. But for this it will be necessary be color brave.