Note from BW of Brazil: If you really want to know how perceptions of race affect people, all you really need to do is talk to the children. Or talk to adults who can recall how they felt as children. If you listen for a while, you’ll hear stories of kids wanting to take baths in bleach to remove their black skin (see here or here). You’ll hear children recount how their white parent racially insulted their black parent. You’ll hear a black girl perceiving how her classmates don’t wanna play with her, even if she doesn’t know exactly why. It’s not necessary to physically segregate people according to race for people, even the little ones, to know which side is judged as the winning team and which one you wanna avoid being associated with at all costs. A recent story shared by the white mother of a little black girl she adopted proved that, once again, Brazil is not devoid of differences according to physical characteristics associated with perceptions of racial classification. After reading the piece below, think of how many children growing up in Brazil have felt this same way at one time or another, particularly with its media’s obsession with whiteness.
“Can I take out all my hair and put in blond hair?”, a 3-year old black girl asks her mother
Priscilla Guerra, who is white, adopted Júlia at 24 days old. She vented on Facebook that provoked similar testimonies and took the girl to check out the work of Elis MC, of whom she is now a fan
By Milene Saddi
At the end of last month, the screenwriter Priscilla Guerra, who lives in Porto Alegre (RS), used Facebook to write an eye-opening text in which exposed her pain to follow, as a white mother, the racism experienced by her black daughter, Júlia, 3 years old. The post had more than 2,500 shares, more than 9 thousand reactions and 1,000 comments – many of them containing testimonies as strong and revealing as the original.
Check out the testimony below, and our conversation with the author of the report later. She tells how the experience led her little one to discovering the work of MC Elis, with whom she began to identify herself.
“Júlia completed 3 years in March. I always thought that at some point she would face some suffering for being a black girl in a white family in such a racist society. I just didn’t think it would be so soon.
In the bathroom, while I quietly untangled her hair with my fingers and commented on how much I liked to do that, she asked me:
– Mom, and I’m blond?
– No, my daughter.
– And you?
– I’m also not.
The conversation continued, and it occurred to me that maybe she didn’t know what blond hair meant. I asked. She replied: it’s the shiny hair.
At this point my heart of a mother accelerated. Accelerated in fear – I’m not ready for this. Of guilt – I don’t offer adequate references to her. Anger – what happened to generate this conversation? But it was only the beginning. I took a deep breath and continued.
– Your hair shines, daughter. My hair shines. Mas nós não somos loiras (But we are not blonds). Blonds are the people who have yellow hair.
– Would it work to take out all of my hair and put in blond hair?
Not only did my heart stop beating at that moment, because I needed hours re-passing the conversation in my head to believe it was true. And to join all the pieces of a puzzle formed by several small unconnected conversations and finally understanding that she already has problems of acceptance on behalf of the racism that she suffers.
I am sure that no black person who heard my daughter speaking would take long to understand. Júlia had already asked me a few days ago, if I could straighten her hair and I had thought “No, she didn’t say this.” Or, at most: “she sees my hair and wants hers to be equal”. Because, we, pessoas brancas legais (we cool white people), simply pretend that racism does not exist.
Júlia didn’t know what blond hair was but understood that it was cool. I have always understood that racism was bullshit, but the truth is that I had no idea what it really was.
I had no idea how she would be looked every time she goes to a shopping mall. Not that she would be threatened in so many birthday celebrations. That a foreign tourist would ask to take pictures with her on the beach, as if she were an exotic. I had already thought about it, but not imagined how it would feel to enter in a toy store with my filha negra (black daughter) and find an entire huge wall, full of bonecas brancas (white dolls) – and drag her to the other side of the store, trying to prevent her from seeing it. I had no idea of the anger I feel of children’s programs and its almost all personagens brancos (white characters). And as I desperately seek characters with afro hair – I finally feel (because feeling is much more than understanding) how important representation is. I had no idea that other children – unknown children, in public places – would want to touch her hair all the time, even with her showing discomfort, and that as soon she would learn to impose limits. And it passed the light-years away from me the idea that any child would not want to play with her por ser negra (because of her being black).
I, in my fantasy of mother – and mulher branca (white woman), I know – believed that I would fill the reservoir of love of my daughter until it overflows and with that I would protect her. I thought that she would look in the mirror and see what I see: the more beautiful, intelligent and fun girl that I know. But the world spends the whole time telling her the opposite. What forces do a mother and a father have before all of the rest?
It’s been two days that I’ve been thinking and crying. I embrace Ju tightly, wanting to take away her pain and bring it to me. But it’s not about me. Because I’ll never be the target of that look. I will hardly to be the only person of my color at a party. I’ll never tie down my hair wanting to untie it, and I’ll never be the object of a joke because of the color of my skin. My pain is immense. I feel a rage that I didn’t know, a feeling of powerlessness mixed with an urgent need to change the world. But the pain that Júlia feels I will never know what it is.
I try to teach my children to be kind. But I finally understand that I need to teach my daughter to be strong. Júlia is a woman. She’s black. And the world is nothing gentle to black women.”
Júlia was adopted with 24 days of life by legal means. Priscilla and her husband Kiko Ferraz already had Henrique, today, 6 years old. From the episode, she began to talk more with Júlia and came to the work of Elis MC, a Rio child rapper, a great passinho dancer, who appreciates the autoestima das crianças negras (self-esteem of black children). She noticed that her daughter went on to identify herself more with the black characters in books and videos.
“Before, Júlia thought that, in history, she was blond character,” says her mother by telephone to CRESCER magazine. “There is a question of lack of important representation. Her hair still draws the attention of children; they ask to touch it. I understood from this experience that it is the structural racism, which is naturalized, which makes us think it’s normal for Júlia being the only black girl in many situations, and also what establishes our padrões de beleza (standards of beauty),” she says.
The venting didn’t stop there. In the comment section of the post there were a variety of testimonials that give dimension of the racial question in the childhood of black girls. Priscilla tells that now she feels motivated to try to transform the way pessoas brancas (white people) see racism. “The responsibility to resolve this type of problem cannot be that of black children,” she says. “In various circumstances, when we spoke to friends and relatives of some racist incidents that happened to Júlia, the tendency was to minimize the problem. ‘Wouldn’t this be a question of her age? All children go through this! Isn’t this just in your head?’, they said. The object of the text was to make a reflection on this reaction,” she concludes.
Watch below the clip of Elis MC (see note one), “Vem dançar comigo” (Come dance with me), which has verses like:
“eu já tô incomodada / com essa ideia de racismo / eu não tô de mimimi / fale o que quiser nem ligo / meu cabelo não é duro / ele é crespo e muito lindo”.
“I’m uncomfortable/ with the idea of racism/ I’m not of whining /say what you want I don’t care / my hair isn’t hard / it’s kinky and very beautiful.”
Source: Revista Crescer
- Speaking on the issue of white supremacy in Brazil that will affect children like Júlia, it’s also worth pointing out the fact that Elis MC was the victim of a racist comment on the program of the billionaire owner of one of Brazil’s top TV networks.