Note from BW of Brazil: The question of racial identity and classification are topics dealt with frequently on this blog. Brazil’s history and reputation has long been constructed upon the idea of miscegenation, the myth of a “racial democracy” and being the largest mixed race country in the world. These ideals have long covered up a the huge socio-economic disparities between Brazilians who consider themselves to be white and those who are non-white. While there are those who argue make accusations of militants attempting to “racialize” or “Americanize” race in Brazil, the truth is that the preference for European features and the denigration of blackness has existed for centuries in Latin America’s largest country. In today’s post, Jarid Arraes discusses the “racist face” of century’s of miscegenation that has led the majority of persons of visible African ancestry to deny that they are black people.
by Jarid Arraes
The issue of miscegenation in Brazil is often oversimplified and romanticized. It is not uncommon to hear that Brazil is a mestiço (mixed race) and plural country and, consequently, all its inhabitants had their ethnicity inevitably mixed at some point in their ancestry. But under the axiom of a mixed country hides a violent and racist reality: the generalization of whiteness in a predominantly black country.
If all Brazilians are mixed and have black and Indian blood in their veins, why are many people reluctant to recognize their own ancestry? It turns out that the social identification of black people in Brazil takes place directly because of the skin tone. The understanding of people in regards to blackness is often distorted: even if the parents or immediate family of an individual are black, what weighs for that person to be recognized as black is the color of the skin. Even a dark skin tone is no guarantee that someone will be seen as black; it’s enough to remember how many times euphemisms like “moreno” are adopted to refer to people with dark skin color, as if the word could somehow reduce the negative burden that the term “negro” seems to have.
Although society does not always validate the blackness of others, people often recognize that same blackness in feautures and physical characteristics, which are constantly transformed into justifications for racism and violence. The broad nose, thick lips and cabelo crespo (curly/kinky hair), popularly known as “cabelo ruim (bad hair)”, are targets for degradation and rejection. It is interesting to remember that Africa is a vast continent with a wide variety of ethnic groups, which don’t all fit into the known mold of “black features”. Even so, these are the features interpreted as black and eventually ferment racism in its various forms.
Even with so many stories of racist violence, many people still feel insecure when asked about their blackness. Last week was opened a research form targeted at admixed individuals and the responses were quite similar. Some people say they didn’t feel entitled to assert themselves as black because of the not having such a dark tone of skin. Many of them are direct descendants of blacks, or have close black relatives, but the racial affirmation simply doesn’t happen. On the one hand, this is a show of respect to black people of unquestionably dark skin, suffering daily, impassive racism of debate or speculation, racism against dark skin and against appearance. On the other hand, a serious discussion is necessary and sensible: why do so many people of African descent not recognize their own blackness and cannot assert it in a political and subjective way?
For Brazilians, it is better to be white whenever possible. If the skin is not dark enough, or if one parent has blond hair and blue eyes, then the person is considered white, in a relentless attempt to lighten the descendants, the family and the nation. From the mixture of races, born white by out of consideration and, therefore, dies the African descendant culture, religion and identity. Blackness and African culture, with its symbols and traditions become increasingly something of the past, of an ancestry that is, in the overwhelming majority of the time, completely unknown.
But the topics for discussion do not stop there, because it is not the recognition of the black identity that will make a person be black. Even if their parents or their grandparents are black, a person with white skin and light hair hardly suffers the racism aimed at black people. It is a matter of common sense: there is no empathy in making a political statement against discrimination of which you are not a victim. Redeeming your family roots, to know them, celebrate them and to promote them is desirable and inspiring, but it is important to take care not to trivialize black political affirmation and its struggle. There are white people, those with no black family ties, which are full of bad faith and say that they are also black because of miscegenation in Brazil. But this argument is a sham: in our country, black is who is recognized by others as black and therefore suffer racism and social discrimination.
Racism is a problem rooted since the formation of Brazil. For centuries our country has been struggling to impede the black political affirmation of racial self-recognition. We are part of a country that not so long ago openly had a policy of racial whitening, encouraging the entry of white immigrants to lighten the color of Brazil. Brazilian culture wants to delete blacks in its history, under the mask of pretentious miscegenation. But miscegenation can also be a weapon of struggle and empowerment: it’s enough that we understand ourselves as African descendants, without losing sight of the racism that we suffer. When the racist face of a society is revealed, there are no almost-whites, almost-blacks or morenos, but people in which blackness was recognized.
Finally, this text alone would never be able to address all the nuances and complexity of the issue. It’s necessary to brave Brazilian miscegenation and promote consciousness on the subject. This is only the start for the reflection and the realization of new debates and projects.
Jarid Arraes is a sex educator, specialist in sex toys and writes at Mulher Dialética and Guia Erógeno
Source: Blogueiras Negras