Note from BW of Brazil: As you may have already noted from previous, this blog appreciates personal stories of self-discovery and identity. For readers who are not familiar with the Brazilian dynamic and the foundations of the country’s culture and racial hierarchy which was designed to massacre the self-esteem and racial identity of persons whose physical features would classify them as negros/negras or afrodescendentes (African descendants). Today’s personal journey touches upon many of the common experiences of others who eventually came to adapt a black identity: the denial of blackness, the avoidance of the racial discussion in the home, the desire for whiteness, the media’s role in this and the rejection and eventual acceptance of cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair). Enjoy the story below as Joceline Gomes shares her journey.
The day in which I discovered myself as a black woman…and beautiful
By Joceline Gomes
After watching the play Pentes (meaning ‘combs’) and participating in the Marcha das Mulheres Negras (March of Black Women), I couldn’t talk about anything else on that Day of Black Consciousness than my experience as a black woman. Many memories came to my mind and I think it’s important to share them because I know that many other black women went through (and still go through) the same things I write here.
I was six. My mother had given me shower and was drying my hair. Seeing her difficulty of drying that cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair), I blurted out: when I grow up, I’ll have plastic (surgery) to be like ranger rosa (pink ranger). In my childish mind I could get plastic surgery and change everything about me: my hair, nose, mouth, stomach, everything that bothered me. Even the color of my skin. I didn’t see myself as black and my family didn’t talk about it either. My parents are from (the state of) Maranhão, a state with the highest number of quilombo communities in Brazil, however, the family didn’t recognize itself as a black, and consequently, I also didn’t. For me, it was a matter of plastic surgery for me to turn into that wonderful ranger rosa. It was easy thing to “solve”, in spite of not knowing why this had to be “solved”.
I was eleven. He had two black teachers in sixth grade: Luzia and Stella. Stella was tall with short and straightened hair. Luzia was short, chubby and had freckles on her face. Luzia must have been about 40 years old. Stella was younger, appearing to be 30. Stella told me I was going to have a great future. She told me to take the vestibular (college entrance exam), and that the University of Brasília (UnB) was waiting for me and I agreed with everything, even without knowing what the vestibular was. In my family, “finishing school” meant complete high school. But the day that most struck me was a June day, the school was all decked out for junina parties, and I got the only elegant mail I ever received in my life. It said: “Joceline, you’re beautiful. You have a bright future. God bless you and stay like that.” Signed: Prof. Luzia. Everyone made fun of me but I didn’t care. Someone thought I was beautiful beyond my mother. At the time I didn’t realize, but today I understand it, as a black woman, I needed to empower myself in that space that discriminated against me and n which we were few. Women’s magazines don’t find us beautiful (see here and here). The TV doesn’t think we’re beautiful. The little boys in school didn’t think I was beautiful. But my teacher does. She knew the weight of those words that comforted me and that echo in my mind to this day.
I was 20 years old. I went to São Paulo for the first time. I went to a dance in a long coat, combat boots, jeans, black T-shirt, sunglasses and hat. Inside, without the coat, a guy came up to me and said, you are so beautiful, why do you hide yourself so much? The first reaction was to defend myself: it’s my style. But that got me thinking. Actually I did hide myself. I’m not speaking so much of the body, because the style I kind of maintained but added some colors and nuances, but my hair was always inside of something: a hat, cap, straightened…in the last semester of college I decided to stop straightening. And the transition was difficult. But all that I heard was: it’s better like this. My hair. That public enemy that already had three people combing at the same time was better the way it was and was born to be: Crespo (kinky/curly). I stopped straightening and started to relax. For curls to become “looser” and “tamed”, you know how it is? You know how it is? After all, my natural hair can be better. And there’s nothing better than having “perfect curls.”
I’m 28 years old today. I don’t straighten or relax my hair anymore. I am no longer ashamed of my body. I wear more colors, more necklines, more turbans, more tights, and I know that my skin, my hair is part of who I am. And I love every aspect of who I am. I’ve never heard so many compliments in my life. Accepting one’s self and recognizing one’s self from a historic struggle within a stigmatized and discriminated social group and having the black consciousness of your potential makes us more capable of even recognizing the sabotage that we do to our own self-esteem. In 2015, I discovered myself as beautiful. Not exotic, not different, beautiful. And this no one take from me anymore. So many years hiding myself, embarrassing myself, sneaking myself into the corners, today makes me a person conscious of the symbolic violence to which I was submitted. Now I no longer defend myself. Now, when they say I’m beautiful, I just thank them. And those who think I’m arrogant or something because of this, I only say one thing: you do not know how far I walked to get here.
* Joceline Gomes is a journalist, a black woman, with cabelo crespo, that learned to do turbans and not relax her hair in Latinidades, and today enjoys talking to other women about these issues.
Source: Favela Potente