Note from BW of Brazil: Everyday Brazil is a society based upon an understood social structure and hierarchy in which everyone is expected to play their role and “know their place”. And when people who are traditionally believed to belong to a lower status in the hierarchy, Brazil lets these people know that they are out of place, often subtly but sometimes blatantly. If you are a black man, you are imagined to be security guard, a doorman, a street sweeper or a petty criminal. If you are a black woman, you are imagined to be a maid, cook or cleaning woman. If you are considered attractive, some might mistake you for a Carnaval dancer. But as more and more Afro-Brazilians get access to higher education, more and more are pushing for changes in the perceptions of what black people can be and do and thus challenging the existing social order. Many believe that this idea of “place” is part of the reason for the push for the impeachment of the nation’s first female president. Today’s piece by Bianca Santana explains part of the reason why the struggle must continue.
Gender, race and class: Categories of analysis for understanding (not only) black women
By Bianca Santana
“(…) You should want to know not only the details of my personal biography, but also how race, class and gender as categories of analysis created the institutional and symbolic backdrop of my personal biography.”
Patricia Hill Collins, Towards a New Vision
The base of the social pyramid. Lower wages, less access to college, less access to justice, more exposure to violence, and even less time in the doctor’s office. The Dossiê Mulheres Negras (black women dossier), published by IPEA in 2013, exposed in the form of data what, unfortunately, we feel in everyday life.
There have been positive changes in recent years, it is evident. If in 2008, 22 per hundred black workers were maids; in 1998, it was 48. Although not touching on the racial issue, the Anna Muylaert film Que horas ela volta, presented on the big screen a powerful illustration of the daughter of the maid that won’t be a maid. Myself, black and university professor, granddaughter and daughter of a maid (1), I grew up hearing that my mother’s life changed when she had access to higher education and stopped working “in the house of others.” Her life. And consequently, mine.
We stopped being poor. But, contrary to what one might think, the change of social class didn’t erase racism or gender oppression from our daily lives. To share a few more obvious examples, they always ask me if I’m in the right line at the bank when I go to the “special” (line), they check my name and my photo several times when I arrive at an event as a speaker. Because in Brazil, black women occupy subordinate positions and only those. But that’s just near so much other violence. Like many black women I didn’t have the opportunity to live long with the men in my family: they died early or went to jail.
Black women live in a more vulnerable condition than white women and, in some respects, than black men. The intersection of gender and race manifests itself in a specific way in our lives. In my case, in a situation of greater privilege than poor black women, which intersect gender oppressions, race and class.
Studies of black feminism have, since the 1970s, dedicated itself to understanding the specificities of black women as a subject. In addition to analyzing the roles we occupy in social relationships, critically, it wages struggles in order to disseminate our historically silenced voices.
By choosing to fight, our first challenge: realizing and affirming ourselves as negras (black women). As Lélia Gonzalez wrote in 1988, paraphrasing Simone de Beauvoir:
“(…) We are born preta (black), mulata, parda (brown), marrom (brown), roxinha (a little purple) etc. But becoming a mulher negra (black woman) is an achievement.”
An achievement that often goes through ceasing to straighten our hair, accepting the crespo (kinky/curly) considered bad; through us connecting to our religious ancestry; through educational processes that respect Law 10.639, mandating the teaching of Afro-Brazilian history and culture.
We perceive it’s a victory, because almost everything around us makes us invisible. Jurema Werneck even wrote that we don’t exist:
“Black women don’t exist or, saying it another way: black women, as identity and political subjects, are a result of articulation of homogeneities, resulting from historical, political, cultural demands, facing the adverse conditions established by Eurocentric Western domination over centuries of slavery, colonial expropriation and the racialized and racist modernity in which we live.”
This means that the historical, political and cultural demands in which we live – and perpetuate in our daily actions and choices – make black women invisible and perpetuates racism.
Several authors start from “tornar-se negra” (becoming black) to construct consistent analysis of social dynamics. Researchers like Patricia Hill Collins, Angela Davis, Bell Hooks, Audre Lorde, Sueli Carneiro and Djamila Ribeiro help us, from looking from the base of the pyramid, to expanding the way we view the whole society.
Returning to the quotation from the beginning, I propose a reflection: how do race, class and gender create the institutional and symbolic background for your individual biography?
Source: Brasil Post
- For a discussion on the idea of maids and the children of maids having access to a college education and the resentment of middle and upper classes, see here.
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