Note from BW of Brazil: In Brazil today and for many years, women of African ancestry have long had to endure disparaging comments about having cabelo crespo (meaning kinky/curly hair). In a society that has imposed a European standard of beauty in all of its mass media outlets, Afro-Brazilian women and girls often have no defense against subtle or blatant racist insults involving their hair. As many black Brazilian parents don’t know how to confront the racism their children encounter or simply advise them to ignore such taunts, these experiences often permanently damage the self-esteem of non-white girls who simply want to be seen as pretty as any other girl would.
Whether black hair is braided, associated negatively with cleaning products, promoted as something that needs to be “fixed”, straightened or changed in order to maintain employment or even attend school, Brazilian society as a whole has yet to address the racist standard that affects the lives of a large parcel of its population, the majority depending on how you look at it. Yes, the classic “good hair/bad hair” (cabelo bom/cabelo ruim) discussion rages on in Brazil! One educator decided to do something about this.
Specialists who have studied the racial situation in Brazil have long argued that school is where black children first feel a sense of rejection and fragmentation of their identity due to stigmatization and invisibility. With this being the case, there needs to be more works focused on the self-esteem of black children in Brazil. In reality, with the recent horrific remarks about black hair by a famous African-American comedian, more books of this nature are needed throughout the African Diaspora.
I love my hair: book speaks to little ones about self-esteem, respect and beauty
by Ana Cristina Pereira and Kiusam de Oliveira
Written by art educator Kiusam de Oliveira, 48, of São Paulo, the work speaks on the topic from the perspective of a beautiful little girl who feels very proud of her cabelo black (afro textured hair)
The story of a black girl who is proud of her black power (afro) penteado cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hairstyle). The author presents a character full of self-esteem, able to face the attacks of classmates, who say that her “cabelo é ‘ruim’ (hair is ‘bad’).”But how can hair that is so “cute, beautiful and fragrant” be bad? Tayó’s hair becomes a metaphor for the cultural richness of a people and the imagination of a healthy girl.
by Ana Cristina Pereira and Kiusam de Oliveira
Hair is a subject that touches any black woman. From the time they are little. That’s why the book O Mundo no Black Power de Tayó (The World of Black Power of Tayó) (Peirópolis /R$34/44 pages) should be viewed with affection by parents and educators, especially those who live with black children.
Written by art educator Kiusam Paulo de Oliveira, 48, the work speaks on the topic from the perspective of a beautiful little girl who feels most proud of her cabelo black (afro textured hair). She loves to dress it up and show it off, but suffers from the prejudice of school classmates.
The situation, narrated in a playful manner, can be very traumatic in real life. “The idea came from my own experiences as a black girl, and then as a teacher. These children suffer too much from insults that have to do with skin color and physical characteristics,” says Kiusam, one of the scholars who worked on the implementation of the law 10.639 – which regulates the teaching of Afro-Brazilian History and Culture in schools.
She even recalls, going through difficult times. She heard jokes and nicknames, experienced her moments of crisis and desires of a having head full of swinging hair, but she learned to deal with her cabelo black. And she decided to discuss the topic. “These are things that I heard back in the’ 70s and are still very much alive in the 21st century,” she points out.
One of the motivations for talking about hair, Kiusam says, is the fact of noting that, at an increasingly early age, children are subjected to processes like straightening and flat irons to adapt to standards. And it’s in the school environment, she emphasizes, where they are initially confronted with racism. Then seeing the criticism and lack of preparation of educators… Kiussam highlights that it is not uncommon cases of teachers changing the hairstyles that mothers do at home with their children, because of considering the natural hair a mess.
“It’s a book for children, parents and teachers. Unfortunately, we are still at the mercy of an extremely racist education. We need to tell children how beautiful and intelligent they are. That’s how they develop self-esteem. And the hair in this context is very important,” says Kiusam.
With a master’s in psychology and a doctorate in education, she is also the author of Omo-Oba – História de Princesas (Omo-Oba – Story of Princesses (2009), which discusses six African princesses and received an award from the Fundação Nacional (National Foundation).
To illustrate a story that speaks mainly about beauty, plastic artist Thaisa Borges (Frankenstein em Quadrinhos or Frankenstein in Comics) used and abused bold colors and a fanciful atmosphere in gauche on paper drawings. “I did a lot of images until coming to what the author wanted. Every work I do I see it as a learning experience. With this I learned about respect, exchange, self-esteem, color, imprints, people, animals and plants,” the artist said.
With her long afro, Tayó (a Yoruba word which means “joy”) plays and decorates it with flowers, butterflies, and colorful wool yarn… After all, according to the author, the girl’s hair is the size of her imagination. In it, she could carry the world. The author also uses cabelo crespo (curly/kinky hair) to speak of history and tradition, and reinforce it is one of the strongest marks of black heritage.