Note from BW of Brazil: One of the principal objectives of this blog is a critical analysis of Brazilian society from the perspective of race. When looking at Brazil from the outside or even the inside, one would be led to believe that the country simply doesn’t have the same issues of race as other nations deemed as having more racial antagonism. But once one understands Brazil’s historical legacy of the treatment of its African descendant population, it is quite clear that the country had and continues to have every bit as much disregard for this population as other nations. Today’s piece reveals yet another piece to a long history of attempts to erase the black Brazilian from the nation’s history.
Today’s post comes from a woman from Salvador, Bahia, the northeastern city and state that are known as the center of the country’s African culture. In her piece, the blogger clearly recognizes what appears to be another covert attempt to slowly phase out blackness from Brazil’s records, a particularly troublesome attempt again as Bahia is considered the heart of “black Brazil.” Today’s post cannot be fully understood without considering it from an historical perspective. As has been detailed in previous posts (here, here and here), Brazil has long desired to make itself a white nation through massive European immigration and promotion of widespread racial mixture. But there are several steps to be taken in an attempt to erase an entire people as the following findings of researcher Carlos Augusto de Miranda e Martins (2012) demonstrate:
“Immigration was judged by national elites as a priority for the development of Brazil, after all, it would bring to the country a great contingent of individuals considered to be of a pure and superior race. However, ‘importation’ of European workers was not the only initiative of the State to make Brazil a white country. The physical elimination of the negro would not be sufficient to deny the slavery past, nor erase the “stain” of the mixed-race origin. Besides a future perspective of embranquecimento (whitening), it was deemed necessary to make the participation of the negro in national History ‘invisible’.
“One of the first measures in this sense was taken by the then Ministro da Fazenda (Finance Minister), Rui Barbosa, that in 1890 ordered the burning of all papers, books and public documents relating to slavery. Another important measure was the exclusion of the item ‘race’ in the censuses of 1900 and 1920, a fact that received welcome from intellectuals like João Ribeiro, that in his article “Brancos de toda cor (white people of every color)”, from 1923, he said: “Our government, has known since many years ago, it crossed out (and did well in crossing out) from the census lists the stigma of color. No one is preto (black) nor pardo (brown) anymore: all are brancos (whites).” (Riberio, 1923, cited by Domingues, 2003, p. 262).
Note from BW of Brazil: As we can see, there is a long history of manipulating, altering and/or erasing data that point out the large population of the nation’s gente de cor (people of color). In reality, it doesn’t really matter all of the squabbling about who is negro, mulato, preto (black), pardo (brown) or mestiço (mixed race) as all Brazilians within these classifications are known to be offsprings of racial mixture. The bottom line is that Brazilian elites saw it necessary that ALL persons of color eventually disappear into the desirable ideal of branquidade (whiteness). A fact that the Cabaret das Letras noted.
The complexion is mine, but who it defines isn’t me…..
Courtesy of Cabaret das Letras
This week I went to take the second copy of my identity card and there is nothing in the world that identifies us more than this precious document. Basically everyone I know has traumas about the 3X4 photo, it never seems to be in agreement with what we are or dream of being, but it is what everyone sees when they want to identify us when we need to go somewhere.
I arrived at the SAC (Serviço de Atendimento ao Cidadão or Citizen Service Center) of Salvador Shopping (mall) at 1:20pm as had been scheduled, logically I went to the restroom to do my makeup, because now they have a system that takes the photo at the time, and I wanted to come out minimally presentable in photo, because it comes from traumas but it’s not what transpired…I directed myself to the clerk that was in a bad mood, and paid me no attention. He requested my documents, filled out the data, checked everything, took the photo, there were at least three attempts, in the end I used and abused their cameras; I really wanted a nice face. After all this, she asked me procedure, now in a nicer tone, to check my data to see if there were any corrections to be made:
“Check there to see if everything’s okay!”
I read everything, my name, my parents’ names, address, school, until I came across the word complexion, and my skin was identified as parda (brown), I stopped reading …I didn’t see anything else and I questioned:
“Why here does it say I’m parda?”
“Because you’re parda, you’re not branca (white).”
“No, this I know, branca I’m really. But why parda? What criteria do you use?”
“Ma’am, here there’s just parda and branca, branca you are not, so you’re parda.”
“But who does SAC think it is to say that I am parda or branca?”
“Ma’am, for me, you are parda.”
“I don’t care if you or whoever says I’m parda or anything else, who defines this is me, right?”
“No. Sign there. If you want to know more talk to the coordinator. Here there’s only parda and branca complexion. A commission was taken and it was decided to remove amarelo (yellow/Asian) and preto (black), and now that’s all it has.”
“We’re in Salvador, where the population majority has a cútis preta (black complexion), if a person comes here with a color almost as black color as your (computer) mouse around will you also put down that the person is parda?”
“I don’t know what to tell you anymore, if you want you can talk to the coordinator. Is everything ok?”
“I don’t know, until the parda (thing) it was, after that I couldn’t read and understand anything else…”
The coordinator came out, very friendly, and called me to talk in another area. I questioned her why there was only identification parda and branca complexion, and she explained to me that in fact there are still references to branca, preta, parda and amarela, that only pardo claro (light brown) and pardo escuro (dark brown), which now would no longer enter as parda clara but as branca. The fact is that she told me her life story, the daughter of a pai negro (black father), which gave her great pride and she needed to keep hold back her tears a couple of times. She explained that when he lived in Rio de Janeiro she didn’t see all this racism, that she was only seeing it here in Salvador. I explained to her that it could occur more frequently as a matter of exposure, that our city was composed of a black majority, so the discussion and perception of racism was more evident, to what she told me she didn’t see a reason for discussing it, that I was young and beautiful, and need not be worried about this, when I said:
“One day I want to have children, and if they were negros, indeed having cútis preta (black complexion), I am not going to want that they them to go through five percent of what I have gone through in these 25 years of life.”
I think she got worried, felt it and suffered…
I feel there is political pressure of an insistent and incessant racial hygienization, though silent, it exists. They want to turn our city into a place of mestiços (persons of mixed race) and document this, because there are no arguments against statistics. If a federal agency certifies that the majority of our population is parda, then racism cannot exist. This has always been a maneuver used by the ruling classes to disguise a fact, and thereby deny that it exists, then you don’t need a public policy for something that doesn’t exist.
That’s what I understood! Ah and I’m parda, according to the girl at the SAC.
Source: Cabaret das Letras, Domingues, Petrônio. Uma História Não Contada – negro, racismo e branqueamento em São Paulo no pós-abolição. São Paulo: Ed. Senac, 2003. Martins, Carlos Augusto de Miranda e. “Racismo científico e os projetos políticos de nação brasileira” in As veias negras do Brasil: conexões brasileiras com a África. Lourdes Conde Feitosa, Pedro Paulo Funari e Terezinha S. Zanlochi (editors). Syllabus, 2012.