Women of the organization Pretas Simoa during a recent protest in Cariri
Note from BW of Brazil: Over the past century, Brazilian elites have successfully promoted the country as “racial democracy” while simultaneously maintaining, denying and ignoring blatant forms of racial discrimination and exclusion that happen daily throughout the country. The myth of a “racial democracy” remains so enticing among the general population that this blog still receives occasional comments of the, “we don’t have racial problem”, “we’re not segregated like in the US” and “Brazilians don’t see themselves like Americans see themselves” variety. These types of comments never cease to amaze me for a number of reasons that we’ve actually dealt with in previous posts. If you’re new to this blog let’s briefly discuss a few things about these widespread beliefs.
1. With all of the reports of racist incidents covered on this blog (which only represent a tiny percentage of such complaints not even considering how many cases are never even reported by people), it’s not even really necessary to consider this belief that has been debunked over and over in activist and academic circles. In other words, please remove your rose-colored glasses!
2. The existence or non-existence of segregation doesn’t really prove the existence or non-existence of racism. First of all, race and class are strongly correlated in Brazil, with the rich and middle classes being represented mostly by white Brazilians while the poorer communities have a black majority. Also, whether people know it or not, various authors such as the late Abdias do Nascimento, Carlos Alberto Medeiros, Janaina Amorim da Silva and Ana Cristina Anderson da Silva have documented socially enforced racial segregation between the 1950s and 1970s in cities such as São Paulo, Porto Alegre (state of Rio Grande do Sul), São José and Biguaçú (both in the state of Santa Catarina). With such data, one must ask, how many cities throughout the country have had similar social practices. Another point should also suffice to show how ridiculous it would be to argue that racism can’t exist if segregation doesn’t exist. Women and men have lived side-by-side for thousands of years, based on this logic, could one also argue that sexism doesn’t exist?
3. Why is it that Brazilians must always point the finger at the US when the discussion is racism? If the United States never existed and racism and and racial exclusion is what it continues to be in Brazil, who would they then point the finger at? In regards to this consistent “red herring”, why is it that so many continue to avoid the obvious? I would argue that Brazil’s particular brand of racism is actually MORE efficient than that that occurs in the US. Why?
A) It has convinced many persons of visible African ancestry that “All Brazilians are equal” and/or “racism doesn’t exist” even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. B) The ideology of “embranquecimento” or whitening, continually influences black Brazilians to seek white partners and thus contribute to the disappearance of the black race. Even American president Theodore Roosevelt wrote about this after visiting Brazil in 1913 and later writing that black Brazilians are disappearing. C) Many Brazilians who would be labeled negro or black (including the mulato) don’t define themselves as black either in terms of race nor political leanings thus further weakening the black struggle.
The continual invisibility and negation of blackness is perhaps one of the strongest reasons for the position of Afro-Brazilians today. The article below shows another aspect of this undermining of blackness. While the struggle of Afro-Brazilians in places like Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, São Paulo and Minas Gerais are pretty well documented, less attention has been given to states such as Ceará in the northeast. A few weeks back, we brought you a story about a protest against an act of racism in that state led by a group of black women known as Pretas Simoa (photos above and below). “Pretas” is one of two terms that literally mean “black” in Portuguese and we are excited to discover the existence of these young women in documenting the racial situation in that state. Below, Jarid Arraes breaks down why black identity and struggle is even more difficult in this region of the country.
The Black Woman of Cariri remains forgotten
by Jarid Arraes
Although the black movement and feminism are becoming increasingly comprehensive, several people are still excluded from the spaces of political struggle. It’s what happens to black women, especially those who are poor and from the northeast, suffering enormous prejudice and are still marginalized, even within social movements. The invisibility becomes apparent with the amount of women in the south and southeast of the country who appear to give lectures and seminars about the latest issues, while black women of the Northeast are rarely contemplated to participate in debates, even when the main subject is about themselves.
This problem is not exclusive of the State or of entities that promote consciousness raising actions, but also a prominent failure of social movements themselves. The black and feminist movements end up prioritizing people in the Southeast, which monopolizes the discourse, in a way that the political actions of these groups don’t encompass the reality of all black women. Many of the experiences and political demands of northeastern Black women are buried and forgotten and never end up being contemplated.
Being a black woman in a city like São Paulo is certainly not the same as being a black woman in Cariri. Each state or geographic region has its own set of characteristics and cultural specificities. It’s not possible to construct a universal template for all black Brazilian women: the diversity of Brazil is immense and if the discrimination already suffered by northeastern people – especially those in interior cities or rural areas – were to be considered, it would reveal an extremely disturbing reality.
The interior of the Northeast has a long history of drought and religiosity. The possibility of parity among the women is impossible without considering the reality of black Catholic woman that live with several children in a mud house in the remote backlands. And the urban reality of black women in the Northeast, specifically in Ceará, is much more peculiar than the stereotypical image of the Northeast.
The Cariri is a region where miscegenation is hegemonic and the embranquecimento (whitening) of the population is extremely recurrent. No one talks about negritude (blackness), because it is understood as an external phenomenon: black people living in Cariri and recognize themselves as such are usually seen as coming from other Brazilian states. The people of Cariri fail to recognize themselves as black, such that terms like “moreno”, “dark moreno”, “light moreno” end up popularizing themselves and became a local axiom.
This embraquecedora (whitening) face of Cariri miscegenation is quite evident. During the 2010 Census, whole families of black people who did not recognize themselves as such were interviewed in the city’s downtown. It’s hard to face that reality when there is such a large association between blackness and poverty, since the massive majority of people living on the streets are black. The subjective and cultural black identity is simply forgotten.
The Catholic religiosity and traditional values of patriarchy are extremely rooted in history and culture of Cariri and the reality of black women in Ceará is strongly influenced by these factors. Exposing their own natural cabelo crespo (curly/kinky hair), for example, is an act practiced only by the most daring. The possibility of redemption of African origin religions is remorseful: all the city schools have pictures of Catholic saints, and in many of them, discrimination against children of Candomble families is frequent. Moreover, statistics of violence show that black and poor women are the greatest victims of feminicide in Ceará.
Despite the severity of the situation, capitals and other regions of Brazil bring scant attention to this reality. There are no spaces for debates or speeches to be made, nor is there any academic interest in understanding the cultural nuances of Cariri or so that the interior of Ceará become a field of research. The great mass of discourses of intersectionality of the social movements can’t cover the situation of Cariri’s black woman. Being a woman in this region, or even be black, poor or part of the LGBT acronym, brings a distant reality of academic theories, in a way that no one from the southeast would be capable representing it. The black woman of Cariri is the only one who knows her life context and it is she who must put it in front of the other comrades of struggle.
Even events like the Marcha das Vadias (Slut Walk) – that are held across the country, including those that take place in Cariri – do not give account of representing all nuances: there are countless women who deal with a routine misogyny and simply don’t feel empowered adhering to the “vadias (slut)” label, no matter how liberating this re-framing is for others. Depending on the location and color of the woman called “vadia”, the word functions as a punishment, a social barrier potentiating already acute exclusion and violence.
Northeastern women, from the interior of the Quilombo (maroon society) and sertajena (1) communities also need to be remembered and contemplated. Attention and receptivity is necessary to hear the demands of people from Ceará to promote genuine inclusion that naturalizes its presence instead of counting them as an exception. These women need much more than a text in a blog on the internet, they need recognition, dignity and opportunities for them to be included socially.
Source: Pretas Simoa
1. Sertanejo, a resident of the Sertão (equivalent to a United States cowboy in frontier times) as well as a musical genre in Brazil (known as Sertanejo).