The fragments of discovering oneself as black

Gabriela Pires
Gabriela Pires

Note from BW of Brazil: The question of racial identity and/or black identity has been covered in a number of posts on this blog. While it may seem strange depending on where in the world one lives, but for many in a nation like Brazil, racial/black identity is not commonly something that is discussed in the home. As such, how does one develop a racial/black identity in Brazil when 1) Your country tells you that everyone is simply Brazilian? 2) The same country doesn’t tell you that there are negative stigmas associated with blackness? 3) Many people around you also deny being part of the stigmatized race? 4) People tell you that you are not black? 5) While everyone is programmed to say “we are all equal”, you notice that people say or do things to you that signal otherwise? 6) When all of the people who are considered beautiful, rich or intelligent are all white?

Although racist incidents are seemingly obvious, if one does not have very dark skin, sometimes the subtleties of racism are not always obvious and moreover hinder the development of black identity. Today in Brazil, this transition into blackness is an identity in development that more and more people are coming to terms with. Below is another poignant piece, this one by Gabriela Pires (photo), that reveals the complexities of this question of identity. 

The fragments of discovering oneself as black

By Gabriela Pires @gabi_pires

Being a black woman is a daily construction of identity. My black identity began to be constructed, unfortunately, a short time ago, about two years ago when I decided to take the vestibular (college entrance exams). I had done a popular course and I competed as a cotista (quota student) for the Graphic Design program. At the time, I still had a bit of reluctance, partly due to having the feeling of taking the opportunity of someone else who needed it more than I, and partly (this one weighing a bit more) because of not seeing myself as black. I remember this doubt came not only to me but also to my parents and brother.

Was I “negra o suficiente (black enough)”? My neuroses shouted at me saying that the university would be the place that they would look at me and point their finger saying: you’re black, you’re not black… next! Upon entering the interview quota candidates started to gradually dilute my doubts. There were blacks with all skin tones and, to my surprise, those with skin even lighter than mine.

And there was Dona Vilma Santos de Oliveira, known as Yá Mukumby, the woman who lit the first fire of my black consciousness. She warned us, quota candidates, about the difficulties that we could encounter in the university, but despite everything she hoped that we wouldn’t embranquecêssemos (whiten ourselves) in front of them.

Although we had seen each other once, I would like to say Yá, wherever you are, that I thank you immensely and forever for starting to change my life completely.

The construction of black identity is not easy. To construct, in this case is, first of all, to deconstruct. Deconstruct prejudices of yourself, deconstruct ideas that have been rooted for a long time, deconstruct your history and even your family. It is mainly taking consciousness of the prejudices that you suffered, and suffer, without trying to justify them.

Going back to some past events, especially from my childhood, I realize how much racism, that often times stemmed from myself or people that I loved, walked beside me. A flood of memories, the answers to the questions that for so long were left to the side were unfolding in front of me, like a movie.

Reminding me that I had been openly called ugly for being black, realizing that in adolescence the reason I had so few relationships with so few boys did not come from the fact that I had girlfriends that were more beautiful than me, it was due to the nicknames they gave to my hair that were not just jokes, I felt a pain I had never felt before.

Photo by Guilherme Vieira
Photo by Guilherme Vieira

My father is black, my mother was born with white skin even having black and indigenous ancestry also. I’m a black woman with lighter skin, but in my childhood I never could understand exactly which side I was on. My blackness was so detruncated by the world around me that I envied and wanted to be like the crianças pretas (black kids) I saw playing by window of my father’s brown Fusca. I saw me in by the half, trying to search for something that I knew was a part of me, but that I believed I had no right to seize for myself. But how do I envy and want to be something that I’ve always been?

At the same time in that I believe it is just not my color that can tell me what I am or escape from being, I still have many moments of doubt. I look almost every day at my face in the mirror, or old photos, looking for features that prove my blackness. I see pictures of black women and compare myself, seeking in them, my own characteristics.

Whenever I see something related to cultura negra (black culture) and even trying to build my blackness it’s still very hard to feel immersed in this world. And again I find myself thinking like a child and asking myself: even if I have the right to seize this, to what to me is the right? If it is my right, to that that impedes me, what force is this that doesn’t let me be free?

Taking consciousness charges us a high and quite painful price. It is the first step on a path of no return. And despite my consciousness being so fragmented and as confusing as this text, I believe that every and any construction is a source of pride. And even without being complete, I’m happy to at least have found the little pieces of my mosaic. With a little glue, and maybe a little bending, one day everything will be in the place that it should be.

Source: Blogueiras Negras

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


    • I don’t quite see it this way. There is a difference between being born of obvious physical characteristics that signal African ancestry and actually taking consciousness of what it means to be black and why this is…

  1. Veey good piece, learning about your black heritage makes you feel whole and complete, because living in countries like Brazil, you only get the white (European) experience which is very biased and unbalanced.

  2. Be encouraged my fellow Black sister. Oh how I wish we had a cultural exchange program for you to experience the rich African American experience. Most African Americans are a rainbow of deep brownie color like my dad to copper brown or tan brown like my mom, and pale white like many of our mixed cousins. All of us though different in skin tone are of the same, African American or Black. In America Black is synonymous with pure African to mixed. Most African Americans have mixed heritage but in the States that isn’t a badge of honor. It’s more of an ugly secret with the rainbow skin colors being the only clue. Nonetheless, all of us are Black though not literally. My mom the least brown of us all is one of the strongest women I know. She was a child during the U.S. civil rights movement. She even minored in black studies at the University my parents graduated from. Despite her skin, she is more in tune with our culture than many American Blacks with far darker skin who have rejected our heritage. She is a tan Black woman and raised me with my dad to be strong. Skin color doesn’t define our race or culture, it is what is in our hearts. You are a tan Black woman like my mom. Embrace what is in your heart sister. <3

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