The blaming of the black man and the racism contained in the expression “Cirilo’s Syndrome” – The debate over black identity and interracial relations rages on

cirilo maria joaquina
cirilo maria joaquina
The characters Cirilo and Maria Joaquina in the SBT TV novela 'Carrossel'
The characters Cirilo and Maria Joaquina in the SBT TV novela ‘Carrossel’

Note from BW of Brazil: It is an ongoing debate that won’t be dying down any time soon! And from the perspective of this blog, it’s about time that this discussion took front and center stage. In the realm of social networks, every week, sometimes more than once or twice a week, a debate within Afro-Brazilian oriented social communities is initiated with the focus on the interracial relationships, the solitude of Afro-Brazilian women and what many see as a contradiction in black identity when there are such high rates of Afro-Brazilians married to or dating non-blacks. To be sure, black female activists and black feminists have taken to lead on the question and the debate has often centered on interracial relationships featuring black men.

Several months ago, the Daniela Gomes piece “Cirilo’s Syndrome” struck a chord with many black women who began using the term to describe Afro-Brazilian men who seemed to do anything necessary to attract the affections of a white woman. Several months later, the title was referenced in the recollections of a black woman, the child of an interracial marriage between a black man and a white woman. For the most part, the debate has been rather one-sided but recently a number of black male activists have been speaking out on the accusations, pointing out what they see as flawed arguments and bringing a balance to the debate. Below, we bring you a piece from the page of Auto Defensa Negra, meaning ‘black self-defense’, which challenges the “Cirilo’s Syndrome” analysis. 

The blaming of the black man and the racism contained in the expression “Cirilo’s Syndrome”

Courtesy of the Auto Defensa Negra page

The characters Cirilo and Maria Joaquina from the SBT TV novela 'Carrossel'
The characters Cirilo and Maria Joaquina from the SBT TV novela ‘Carrossel’

It has become common in manifestations through social networks and also at public events to refer to black men disparagingly as “Cirilo”. A character of the children’s novela (soap opera) Carrossel, Cirilo was the only black boy in an all-white school and suffered racist attacks constantly, mainly by the white character that humiliated him and passed him over for relationships explicitly showing her preference for white boys. As a result of these explicit aggressions transmitted on a station to a wide audience, a generation of boys was attacked in schools being called “Cirilo” in a derogatory way with humiliations that, not rarely, repeat offenses that the station transmitted under the form of a mere “entertainment”. Treating black boys with that name was a way to make them feel as humiliated as the character of the novela and also blames them. A racist perversity practiced by white children under the influence of white TV.

This generation that grew up being humiliated with this adjective-name now see this same term used by feminists in a text with little foundation that launched “Síndrome de Cirilo” (Cyrilo’s Syndrome). This syndrome would be an evil that would reach all black men. All the same, as in the text and also in virtual or in-person events that we have witnessed the term “os homens negros” (the black men) is used repeatedly thus demonstrating the intention of directing the racial offense to all men of the black community.

According to these feminists “Cyrilo’s Syndrome” would be a preference, on the part of black men, of having relationships with white women, which would justify their situation that, in their majority, maintain some kind of stable relationships with white men or white women. In the precipitation of putting on black men the responsibility for all the ills that plague the love lives of the black community, they forget an important “detail” which has a significant weight in this matter: the extermination of black men through genocide (about 83 deaths per day, besides disappearances), degradation of their lives with high rates of black men succumbing to homelessness, the mass incarceration of black people, being a problem that affects more men than women.

The 1895 painting 'Redenção de Cam' which portrays Brazil's aspirations of whitening the population through successive racial mixture
The 1895 painting ‘Redenção de Cam’ which portrays Brazil’s aspirations of whitening the population through successive racial mixture

All this makes it so that most black men are excluded from emotional life and the real possibilities of relationships. In parallel, the small social rise of a part of the black population due to some racial policies implemented in the last 12 years have favored more black women than black men, according to official figures from SEPPIR relative to PROUNI, FIES and quota policies. It’s enough to look at the black community in universities: there are many more women than men. In other words, the account does not close. If on the one hand white men reject black women, blacks are constantly being excluded from the list of those capable of having relationships. So if these women find themselves alone at some point would it be the fault of black men and their supposed “Cyrilo’s Syndrome”?

In response to these types of questions people always appear presenting one or other case involving a black man no mattering if they are taking exception to the rule. Because of this, one must do a more comprehensive and even historical analysis.

The ideal of “Redenção de Cam” (The Redemption of Ham), a thesis consciously taught by whites explicitly to past generations and covertly to current generations, that says that black women should seek to “limpar o ventre” (clean the womb) through relationships with white men in order to lighten their offspring. Taught generation after generation, one cannot deny that this racist argument has influences these days. The entire black community was broken, beaten and hit in full by myths of embranquecimento (whitening) myths. Because of this, it is common to see black people with some social mobility and that go on to have some power of choice choose white people to relate with. And this is true not only for men, such as futebol players or pagodeiros (pagode musicians). It also applies to women lawyers, teachers, judges, actresses … But would it be fair to judge the entire black community because of the choices of its exceptions? IE, because of the choice of the few black people who ascend?

Clockwise from top left: Actress Adriana Alves and husband Olivier Anquier, volleyball player Adenízia da Silva and fiancee, actress Lucy Ramos and Thiago Luciano, actress Sheron Menezes and Miguel Thiré
Clockwise from top left: Actress Adriana Alves and husband Olivier Anquier, volleyball player Adenízia da Silva and fiancee, actress Lucy Ramos and Thiago Luciano, actress Sheron Menezes and Miguel Thiré

Besides this quest to free one’s self of one’s origins it’s not only an act of some black men. It is a disease that affects the black community, including major theoreticals of black feminism and its militants.

In response to this, the Movimento Negro (black movement) has been making an effort to teach our community to value black men and black women, recognize our beauty, liberate our affection, emotionally rebuild in unity through relacionamentos afrocentrados (Afro-centric relationships). We don’t put the blame solely on one gender. We realize the evils that have been imposed by white society and we seek to redeem our people.

We don’t expect black feminism to stop blaming the black man for all emotional ills that plague our people. As an addendum to a Eurocentric ideology of racist origin, obviously it tends to go hand on the heads of white racism by the blaming of the victim of racism, the black man, putting on him the responsibility of this situation to which racism has led our community. So we know that many black feminists will exalt whites as the best to have relationships. It’s easier for the system to play a black woman against a black man than against a white man. As such, there are cases in which black women who make lists of possible aggressions committed by one of other black man, generalizing for the whole group “homens negros” (black men) even if these cases don’t have to do with general statistics. All of this we already expected. It is characteristic of feminism no matter what color it is painted.

However, if we cannot wait that they stop acting with such partiality, it doesn’t surprise us that racial slurs with nicknames created by whites and have a great weight for at least two generations of blacks that grew up humiliated in schools don’t stop. The imposition of aggressive nicknames are attitudes already known by our community, derogatory “syndromes” and lists, as one that circulated through social networks. In this, among 30 names of supposed “aggressors”, many of them “potentially”, only two were white. They are typical attitudes and already known for some time by our community. We know that the oppressor uses its power to lead some persons of our people to try to disentangle themselves from the origins and attack us.

That’s why there are police figures and capitães do mato (captains of the woods) (1).

Source: Auto Defensa Negra page


  1. Capitão do mato, meaning ‘captain of the wood’, was the title given to the black man whose main task was to hunt down, capture and return fugitive slaves to captivity in Brazil’s slavery era. Brazilians use the term to define blacks who collude to disrupt the success of other blacks. The term has popped up numerous times in previous articles.
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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