Note from BBT: I want to start today’s post off with a question. When was the last time you had a discussion or debate with someone whose position you couldn’t see, vehemently disagreed with or actually agreed with but couldn’t admit it? I’ve always had to consider this. I remember maybe about 15 years or so ago, I was having this online debate with a Latino who, if I’m not mistaken, was studying Latin American Studies as well as Anthropology in a well known American university. The debate was a common one. He, like many others I had previously debated, argued that you cannot apply American understandings of race to countries such as Brazil because it simply wouldn’t work. In his view, the US population had long been segregated and not as racially mixed as Brazil. As such, studying the racial situation in Brazil is quite different than doing the same in the United States.
At the time, my position didn’t change.
In fact, in my view, applying American one-dropism wasn’t my position. The fact was, even if the infamous ‘one drop rule’ had never existed in the US, in Brazil, one would still find a strong dividing line along lines of color that separated pretos e pardos, meaning black and brown on one side, with brancos, meaning white people, being on the other side. Afro-Brazilian activists had long argued that all pretos e pardos, meaning blacks and browns, in Brazil should be considered one group that represented the country’s black population.
I mean, all of the socioeconomic statistics that compared blacks, browns and whites overwhelmingly showed that pretos and and pardos in Brazil had near identical profiles in terms of quality of life stats, which included areas such as level of education, income, chances of being harassed by police or murdered, invisibility in the media, lack of representation in politics and many other subjects and were at extreme disadvantages when compared with white Brazilians. The legendary Afro-Brazilian activist Abdias do Nascimento once estimated that there were about 120 million Afro-Brazilians, which, at the time, would have made them somewhere between 60-75% of the Brazilian population. And that was some time in the 1980s.
But even with all of these claims, I still had to consder what the other side was saying. The fact is, you cannot truly maintain your position in any debate unless you are willing to fully explore the position of the person with whom you are debating or arguing. Here it is about 15 years after that debate and I have had to back up at least a little on my position. That’s because, after living in São Paulo for a number of years and also noting some contradictions in the stances of Afro-Brazilian activists, I knew I needed to re-consider where I stood.
This same thing also applied when I started to analyze other topics and movements. For years, when people would ask me why I first named the blog I created Black Women of Brazil, I would always say that I noted that it seemed that black Brazilian women had been taking the lead in the Afro-Brazilian struggle. Afro-Brazilian women had organized events, created blogs and organizations specifically devoted to their issues. Nothing wrong with that. But somewhere along the way I started to notice some things that struck me as a bit problematic. I mean, why did it seem that I didn’t see any organizations specifically addressing issues of Afro-Brazilian men? Where were the resources? I mean, we should all know by now, no group, at an advantage or disadvantage can survive without both genders in the group doing well.
Then, some time between 2018 and 2020, I remember getting off of a bus on Paulista Avenue in São Paulo and seeing the title of an article by black feminist-philosopher Djamila Ribeiro which mentioned something about the ‘toxic masculinity’ of black men. I didn’t get a chance to read the material and now, about three years later, I haven’t even been able to find the magazine that featured tat article. By that time, I had become aware of the term ‘toxic masculinity’ coming out of leftist and feminist circles in the United States, and as such, with so many terms, movements, buzzwords and business models having made it to Brazil after having started in the US, I shouldn’t have been surprised when the term in Portuguese, ‘masculinidade tóxica’ began to catch on in Brazil.
‘Masculinidade tóxica’? Hmmm…Just out of curiosity, was there a ‘toxic femininity’, I wondered. What made masculinity toxic in the first place? As I started to look into the definitions of the term, I wondered if the definition defined me. Was my masculinity ‘toxic’ in some way? If so, how? Why? After breaking down this term and then reading what the other side had to say on the topic, I began to wonder if the accusations behind these suddenly popular buzzwords were actually valid. In fact, as I began to question much of the rhetoric coming out of the left for the past several years, I had to pause and wonder if many of the claims made by the left were actually valid.
Do women really earn less money than men simply because they are women?
Are most men potential rapists?
Is it true that there is a femicide going on in Brazil?
Do men really seek to oppress women?
Are women really the more oppressed gender?
I don’t plan to answer or even approach these questions in today’s post, but in the piece below, Paulo Gonzaga takes on the question of what many women and feminists have defined as ‘male privilege’. Similar to the idea of ‘toxic masculinity’, I have to ask, does ‘male privilege’ really exist? Does it apply to every facet of life when comparing men and women? In some ways, in fact, many ways, the answer may not be as simple as one might think. I will further explore in the future, but for now, let’s check out what Gonzaga has to say on the subject.
The black man and the myth of male privilege
By Paulo Gonzaga
When we hear about male privilege, it is common to put all men in the same package. In this way, it seems that being a man automatically guarantees a condition of power and humanity. Do all men, in fact, exercise this power?
For many years, black people have shown the need to racialize the discussions around public policies, social, economic, environmental and political issues. When it comes to any analysis of society, we need to point out which racial group is being addressed, understanding its plurality and intersectionalities.
In Brazil, it’s not enough to say that we live in a violent country; for example, we need to think, Brazil is violent for whom? From there, we can point out in a racialized way that black men and women, indigenous, quilombolas, native peoples, and riverside dwellers of this country are the most violated and killed. If this point is not made, we end up invisibilizing racism as a fundamental structure that explains the violence and inequalities in society.
In this sense, racialization also needs to be applied when we talk about male privilege. Which man are we talking about when we think about privilege? Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) presents, in his book Black Skin, White Masks (1952), the idea that “… the black man is not a man”. This brings us the understanding that before we are men, we are black, and therefore stripped of the humanity and privileges of the cis-hetero, Christian white man.
When we stop to analyze where black men are in society, we run into them in the ditches, in the trunks of police cars, in jail, on the streets, between the hands and knees of security agents, and on the streets. There is no privilege for the black man, only frustrated attempts to exercise white male power, which we will never have.
According to data from the Map of Violence, published in 2014, every 23 minutes a young black man is murdered in Brazil, when we think about the number of suicides among young people, we observe that black adolescents (10 to 19 years old) had a higher risk (67%) of suicide than white youth in 2016, according to the booklet Óbitos por Suicídio entre Adolescentes e Jovens Negros, meaning Deaths by Suicide among Black Adolescents and Youth (put together by the Ministry of Health in conjunction with the Federal University of Brasília – UNB and released in 2018). The Brazilian Yearbook of Public Security also points out that for every three inmates in Brazil, two are black men and women, and the prison population is composed mostly of men.
Due to the standard of the colonizing white man that we have learned to follow, we construct a masculinity based on practices of violence, domination, competitiveness, and physical virility. These practices, learned by us black men through the educational institutions (school, religion, justice, family, and media), violate our body and that of our community.
According to Henrique Restier, during the colonization period, it was common for white colonizing men to phallicly introduce themselves to women (black and indigenous) after the conquest of territory. With this act, these men demonstrated the power of male virility, the objectification of women, and the inability of the men of the conquered community to protect women.
Based on this logic of power and virility of hegemonic masculinity, patriarchy is organized to produce violence against black men and black women. In a certain way, we reproduce this logic that has been introjected into us. And from a feeling of pseudo-virility and privilege, we continue to produce violence to ourselves, our companions, our fellow men, and our community.
We must not forget that privilege takes place within the social structure, which is not the case for black men! Although there are some advantages within some contexts, and this advantage has nothing to do with the production of violence, because being an aggressor is not an advantage, much less a privilege.
Anuário Brasileiro de Segurança Pública 2020 – https://forumseguranca.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/anuario-14-2020-v1-interativo.pdf
FANON, Frantz. Pele negra, máscaras brancas. Salvador: Ed. UFBA, 2008.
Mapa da violência 2014 os jovens no Brasil – https://assets-compromissoeatitude-ipg.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/2014/07/Mapa-Violencia-2014_JovensBrasil.pdf
Óbitos por suicídio entre adolescentes e jovens negros 2012 a 2016 -https://bvsms.saude.gov.br/bvs/publicacoes/obitos_suicidio_adolescentes_negros_2012_2016.pdf
RESTIER, Henrique; SOUZA, Rolf Malungo de (orgs.). Diálogos contemporâneos sobre homens negros e masculinidades. São Paulo: Editora Ciclo Contínuo, 2019.