“EVERYBODY WANNA BE BLACK, BUT DON’T NOBODY WANNA BE BLACK” – PAUL MOONEY
Note from BW of Brazil: In the United States over the course of several weeks, a nasty feud has arisen between black female rapper Azealia Banks and white female rapper Iggy Azalea. One of the main points of contention in the feud has to do with Banks’ anger over Azalea’s appropriation of a black cultural art form that is arguably distant from her Australian roots while Azalea has been apparently silent on the recent string of murders of unarmed black men in the United States. In other words, Iggy is fine with “borrowing” from the people and culture that she earns money from but doesn’t get involved when the people whose culture she borrows from are unfairly and fatally victimized by ongoing racial inequalities.
Cultural appropriation has long been an issue in Brazil as well. From white singers earning more money and media attention from a northeastern musical style, to the creation of expensive clubs constructed around another black-oriented favela style long denigrated by the middle classes, to the use of turbans and practice of capoeira, Afro-Brazilians have taken note on how symbols of their cultural identity appear to be more ‘acceptable’ when the faces are white (or whiter). We saw another example of this last week when a popular clothing store dressed a white female model in clothing inspired by the African deity Iemanjá.
Iemanjá is a celebrated orixá in the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé but Afro-Brazilian practitioners of the religion have been persecuted by Brazilian authorities for hundreds of years. Afro-Brazilian followers of the religion continue to live with threats on their lives and attacks on their property due to persecution of followers of Christian religions, particularly those who are part of the Evangelical movement. So what is the connection between the Iggy Azalea situation and the Farm store’s representation of Iemanjá as a white woman? Well, in my view, I see a clear willingness to “borrow” (steal? appropriate?) representations of black culture with the borrowers not caring much to get involved in the fight against the persecution or even extermination of the people and culture from which these representations originate.
The fashion world needs to stop drawing inspiration in black culture to hire white models
by Marcos Sacramento
The controversy surrounding the Farm clothing name brand photo with a white model dressed as Iemanjá has revived a debate about the negligible presence of blacks in the fashion world. Whatever the season, when it comes to skin tone, the big hit is the color white.
The theme is debated every now and then. In a posting to its blog made on the Day of Black Consciousness, the fashion journalist Lilian Pace criticized the lack of participation of blacks in the São Paulo Fashion Week (SPFW). “Another season of SPFW has gone by this month and, again, the number of black models in fashion shows was very low. Of the 35 showcases presented, 9 brands didn’t present any black models on the runways and the record of blacks parading in the season – although very small – was in the parades of Ellus and Cavalera, each with 7 blacks in the casting of the parade with 46 and 49 looks, respectively,” she wrote.
Despite constant complaints, the only recent steps to ensure greater ethnic diversity on the runways were the TAC’s (Terms of Adjustment and Conduct) signed between organizers of fashion weeks in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and prosecutors of these states in 2008 and 2013, respectively. The two terms requested that at least 10% of the models of each show be black or of Indian origin.
The problem is not unique to Brazil, where more than 50% of the population declares itself preta (black) or parda (brown). The top models Naomi Campbell and Iman (aka Mrs. David Bowie) have spoken out against the predominance of white faces and bodies on the runways and fashion editorials around the world.
Criticism of the image of the girl dressed as Iemanjá wouldn’t make sense if the ethnic composition of the models at the service of Farm reflected the racial reality of the country.
Far from it. A tour of the site and the brand’s Instagram reveal that it follows the same tendency of most Brazilian brands privileging the white phenotype. One can count on the fingers of one hand the number of black men or women at the service of the brand, despite the ethnic motives of its prints, clothes and accessories, many of which have an African inspiration.
Pathetic situation, but consistent with senseless fashions as the nonexistence of black models in the parade of Tufi Duek in honor of Africa or the steel wool wigs worn by Ronaldo Fraga models in a parade inspired by the black culture.
In response to the controversy, Farm issued a statement on Instagram which says it is “has a beautiful and heartfelt collection in honor of black culture, and its achievements” and admiring that it admires “black beauty”, isn’t a cliché and recognizes “that we live in a multiracial country and we are proud of this.” Hiring black models, which is good, only one time or another.
The notion that use elements of black culture is a sign of efforts to end racial discrimination makes the same sense as the phrase “I’m not racist, I even have black friends.” It sounds well-meaning to innocent ears, but in practice it does nothing to combat prejudice.
Note from BW of Brazil: Recently, this debate was also taken up from the perspective of iconography on the Conversa de Preto (Black Talk) page on Facebook. As we all know, Eurocentrism has long used iconography to continue its hegemonic domination of psyches to promote its agenda of white supremacy through its depictions of power, beauty, intelligence and humanity itself as portrayed in the visuals of white people. This is how the people over at Conversa de Preto saw it.
What is Iemanjá’s color?
Many years ago, I attended some seminars in Olodum, one of the most popular blocos afros in Brazil and the world, on the theme: “Qual é a Cor de Deus?” (What is the color of God), opportunities in which I began to bring to the public discussions about Black Theology. In one of these meetings, held in the Casa de Benin (Salvador-BA), I questioned the iconography of Iemanjá, represented at the time as a white woman. Questioned vehemently by a known white writer who claimed being correct the representation of Iemanjá because mermaids are of Mediterranean origin, I was “honored” by boos from the public, many of them belonging to religions of African origin.
Today, waking up and as usual, I went to look at Facebook messages. And I encountered an important organization in Bahia that still conveyed a Caucasian image Iemanjá, even after so many years and achievements of the black population.
On February 2, the city of Salvador becomes more cosmopolitan when thousands of people go to the beach of Rio Vermelho to offer their gifts and offerings, reconnect with friends, and join the secular part of the celebration with samba and beers. Contagious joy of soteropolitanos (natives of Salvador) and tourists, because we are in the tourist period in Salvador, which is the last party before Carnival.
In the past, we knew that our ancestors practiced religious parallelism with Christianity to keep alive the faith brought from Africa. What for many people has become a syncretism – in which we observe the dissemination of misleading statements – the example of the confusion between the Senhor do Bonfim and Oxalá. We know, however, that there are no elements in common in the two religious representations, including their histories within the black Bahian community.
The iconography of forces of nature of African matrix when anthropomorphized should follow the epithelial color of the civilizations that created them and the descendants who keep alive the traditions, a constant reflection of the hard struggle and respectability in a society that treats expressions of faith from Africa as demonic and primitive.
In Brazil, the white woman is symbolized as the representation of beauty, purity and holiness. In reverse, black women, victimized with all forms of violence in society, are represented in the media and literature as the less valued in our society, from the wanton to the idiotic, a fact that still persists in television programs and in the ideology of the colonized minds.
In spite of free artistic expression it’s clear that the standard of beauty is in the minds and brushes of artists in representing the image of power of the salt water in the light of Brazilian racialism. It is therefore a matter of primate strength and respectability of black people that the iconography has common sense and respect for African civilizations. Iemanjá, obviously a black woman, this fact that corroborates her origin and belonging to ancestry. In this path that we are training children and young blacks the image has a very strong power of breaking paradigms created by racism.