Note from BW of Brazil: This latest post touches on many of the topics that have been previously discussed here at BW of Brazil. Brazilian-styled racism, the image of black Brazilian women, physical attractiveness and sexual connotations connected to racial/color terminology such as “morena” or “mulata”, hair, identity and racist phrases or jokes. Have any of our female readers heard any of the racist comments masquerading as “compliments” as featured in this post? You know the kind where someone says something that was meant to be a compliment but unintentionally (or sometimes, intentionally) comes across as racist due to the historical nature of racism and sexism in multi-racial societies. This is of course written from the perspective of a black Brazilian woman but it applies to the experiences of many women of African descent aroudn the world. If you agree, disagree or have experiences of your own to share, please be sure to express yourself in the comments section. Now, on racist compliments…
“To stop being a racist, my love, is not to fuck a mulata”: Considerations on racist compliments
By Charô Nunes for the Blogueiras Negras blog
A racist compliment is every demonstration of admiration, affection or affectionateness that is concretized through ideas or expressions of racism. With or without the intention, that is quite clear. One of the best known is the famous “negro de alma branca (black with a white soul) (1)” that our ancestors heard so much. But it’s not only are our men who know these racist compliments very well. We black women are also honored with these little doozies, used inadvertently by friends and family. Often even by our partners.
I decided to make a list of 5 racist (and sexist, by the way) compliments that many of us hear almost daily. Some are consensus, I believe; others not so much. I’m waiting anxiously for you, black woman, to leave your comment saying it also happens to you; if you agree, if you disagree. And above all, what you do to make it clear that this kind of comment can be anything but welcomed and appreciated.
01. “Você é uma morena muito bonita (You’re a very pretty morena)”
This is the most racist compliment I’ve heard in my entire life. My first memories are of the time of kindergarten. Even women like (actress) Adriana Alves are still sometimes called morenas, since it is believed that calling someone negra (black) is a racial slur. If you need to express yourself, try a simple “you’re beautiful or attractive.” Or “you are a beautiful negra”, which, depending on the context can be just as bad.
But by no means say that a negra (black woman) is a morena, moreninha or morena escura (2). That is not black. This is crude racism, pure and simple. When it happens to me I say that I am not morena and neither moreninha, I’m n.e.g.r.a. The good thing is that, depending on how this response is given, the person already notes that he/she should not have started this conversation, that I’m simply not available for this type of dialogue. Nor with acquaintances, much less with strangers.
02. “Seu cabelo é muito bonito, posso pegar (Your hair is very beautiful, can I touch it)?”
A few years ago, a lady passed beyond all limits of peaceful coexistence to approach me, all fingers, touching me without permission and saying that I had a “very beautiful wig.” I deliberately didn’t reply, anticipating her embarrassment for never even considering that a black woman could have a long hair, naturally. My revenge, and I’m like this, was looking at that expression of regret for having realized what she did.
I understand that the mere sight of a black woman with natural hair can be intoxicating. What persists is the complete misinformation about our hair. However, this does not justify touching without permission. It doesn’t matter whether the hair is natural or not. Unless you know the person very well, do not touch their hair without consent. I would go further. For me simply good etiquette dictates that you should not even ask to touch the hair of an unknown person.
03. “Você tem os traços delicados (You have delicate features)”
Saying that a black woman has “delicate” features often has to do with the idea that you would be beautiful if you had “fine” features, i.e. like a white person. Like a certain type of nose (or cheeks) were exclusive of this or that ethnic group. One of its variants is also another racist expression – “você é uma mulher negra bonita (you are a beautiful black woman)” – something that in my view is the same thing as saying “você é bonita para uma negra (you’re pretty for a black girl).”
After all, how difficult is it to say that a black woman is simply … A beautiful woman? Why does Alek Wek have to be described as a “mulher negra bonita (beautiful black woman)” while mulheres brancas (white women) are just “beautiful women”? Again, all the subtlety of the racist compliment. It recognizes that you are a wonderful person, but always making sure to put you “no seu lugar (in your place)”, as some boundaries could never be crossed.
04. “Você tem a bunda linda (You have a nice ass)”
This is an opinion that is certainly not unanimous. I must express it as a provocation that represents the thinking of a significant portion of black women. For many of us, this comment expresses the hyper-sexualization that are we are historically subjected to as it exemplifies the sad biography of Saartjie, who was called the Vênus Hotentote (Venus Hottentot), exposed as a circus attraction due to the admiration that her buttocks caused in nineteenth-century Europe.
Despite all the respect I have for all that happens between two people, it’s necessary to consider the secular, racist tradition of this kind of comment. It reduces the black woman to a piece of her body, ignoring her humanity, transforming her into a piece of meat on the display at the butcher shop as has happened and happens daily. My advice is to ask before if the woman you intend to compliment has the same interpretation of this kind of compliment.
05. “Você é uma mulata tipo exportação (You’re a mulata of exportation type)!”
This compliment brings back the treatment of black women within the heart of the slave quarters, the casa grande (big house); the thought that reduces us to sexual toys. To say that a black woman is a “mulata of exportation (3) type” is to forget the secular slavery tradition, which turns black woman in a “piece” that will attain a good price on the market where the carne mais barata é a nossa (cheapest meat/flesh is ours). The name of this market is exotification. In some cases, hyper-sexualization (4).
Unfortunately we are also talking about the racist way that samba school mulatas, women that I respect and admire, are shown and consumed; women who have the samba no pé (samba in the foot) (5), in the smile, in the race. That, instead of being a reference to beauty, are sold as exotic fruit in Carnival season; women who have recently been passed over by “personalities in the media” in the name of an alleged “racial democracy” and often with the acquiescence of certain samba school associations.
What is your opinion?
However, I must say that the racist compliment can (and should) be subverted. When it comes to the mulata of whom I spoke here, it is quite evident. Being a mulata of exportation also attests to a standard of excellence and reflects qualities such as perseverance, strength. My dance teacher loves to say that the grace of a ballerina is directly proportional to her strength. Mulatas are the most concrete expression of this statement.
So I made a point of using as the title of this post, an excerpt from the poem by Elisa Lucinda, “Mulata Exportação” (6), which summarizes everything I tried to say here: “deixar de ser racista, meu amor, não é comer uma mulata (to stop being a racist, my love, is not to fuck a mulata)” (7) as many people like to think. And I add (from the same poem), “oppression, barbarity, genocide, none of these are resolved by fucking a dark woman!” Much less weaving racist compliments, one says in passing. So says the mulata exportação of the poem. It is I, it is all of us that have already heard this crap.
I confess that this list has something very personal, whose lines have many dedications fed by irony. Not even for this are they any less relevant. Because of this, I would love to hear from you. Did I forget some racist compliment that bothers you? That made you fuming with hate, roll your eyes and reveal some truths? Do you also believe that this kind of comment, as everything that is racist and prejudiced, says more about the person that makes it than the person to whom it is intended?
Hi, my name is Charô Nunes, I’m on Twitter and Facebook. I also write about art, culture and society in Indigestivos Oneirophanta. I am also responsible for Um Brasil de Cor, a blog of collages and news about the non-representation of black women.
Source: Blogueiras Negras
1. The popular term, “negro de alma branca” or the “negro of a white soul”, which refers to the black individual that whites consider to possess attributes that society associates with white people such as intelligence, education, middle class status and sometimes a distancing from the black community. In some ways, it is similar to the term “oreo cookie” used in black American communities.
2. Moreninha, meaning a little dark or a little brown-skinned or morena escura, meaning dark brown, in reference to persons of visible African ancestry can be meant as a means to avoid calling someone negra, or preta meaning black. While the terms remain very popular among Afro-Brazilians and also whites with dark hair, many who have adapted an identidade negra (black identity) reject these terms. For more discussion of this term see here.
3. Mulata tipo exportação or mulata de exportação refers to the images of nearly nude black women that are often distributed on pamphlets in European countries to attract tourists to Brazil. These images were also cemented in the minds of foreign men in the 1970s and 1980s by promoter Oswaldo Sargentelli (see photos at top of article), the self-proclaimed mulatólogo (mulatalogist), who gained fame with his world tours of up to 40 mulatas under his wing with his show “Sargentelli e as Mulatas Que Não Estão no Mapa (Sargentelli and the Out-of-this-world Mulatas).” In 1985, Sargentelli was accused of racism by the Commission of the Valorization and Political Integration of the Negro of (the southern state of) Rio Grande do Sul. He was accused of exploiting black women. The charges were later archived in court.
4. Based in more than three hundred years of slavery in Brazil, “black women were seen as over-excited, but also as docile objects satisfying the whims of white men; true sexual animals. The representation of the sensuality of black women originates from a male exposition of their condition in which little space was left to negotiate their integrity. Even today, the figure of the mulata of exportation makes of the sexual attributes shaped in a model formed to the slave era at the same time a mark of race and an emblem of Brazilian sensuality.” Source: Arruda, Angela. (1999). “Reprodução e sexualidade no imaginário brasileiro: da colonização ao surgimento da nação”. Estudos de Sociologia. Araraquara: UNESP, Vol.3, No.6, p.163 – 186.
5. Samba no pé is a solo dance that is most often danced impromptu when samba music is played. The basic movement involves a straight body and a bending of one knee at a time. The feet move very slightly – only a few inches at a time. The rhythm is 2/4, with 3 steps per measure. It can be thought of as a step-ball-change.It can be described calling it and-a-one, and-a-two, then back to one. The basic movement is the same to either side, where one foot moves to the outside lifting up just before the first beat (i.e. the right leg moves slightly to the right) and leg is kept as straight as a pole. The other foot moves slightly towards the front, and closer to the first foot. The second leg bends lightly at the knee so that the left side of the hip lowers and the right side appears to move higher. The weight is shifted to this inside foot briefly for the next “and-a”, then shifted back to the outside foot on the “two”, and the same series of actions is repeated towards the other side. Source: Wiki
6. “Poet and actress Elisa Lucinda depicts a case of sexual and racial harassment in which the victim, a “mulata with green eyes”, is insulted by a “white male intellectual”. The poem “Mulata Exportação”(“Mulata-Exportation”) plays with the stereotypical representation of the hypersexualized mulata, so deeply incorporated and naturalized in the larger Brazilian culture. Ironically and humorously, the poem describes the real nature of the “proposal” made by the “white male intellectual” to the “green-eyed mulata” whom he calls “nega”, a short name for “negra” (black woman) – a word that can be very derogative for black women in Brazil, but that can also be used as a term of endearment. The entire poem is constructed as a dialogue between the mulata and the white man, always playing with the dualities incorporated in the veiled intention of the proposal, the language used to refer to the mulata, and the black and white dichotomy established between the black woman and the white men.
” The poem presents many different layers of meanings and representations. There is the notion that by having a relationship with a white man, black women somehow find a way to uplift their social status and this is the “benefit” underlying this man’s proposal in exchange of his sexual use of the black woman’s body. However, in contrast with this view, the poem goes on describing not only the black woman’s repudiation of the white man’s proposal, but also her decision to take the case to the police who act in total compliance with the male character. She then goes to court, but the judge sentences the man to a short-period imprisonment with special benefits because he is a “white intellectual”. When all the legal resources are exhausted – resources linked to white male-dominated institutions -, the black woman then turns to the white men and confronts him with his attempt to gain from her sexual benefits.” Source: Araújo, Flavia Santos de. “Righting/Writing the Black Female Body in Contemporary Afro-Brazilian Literature” at the 2010 Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, Toronto, Canada October 6-9, 2010
7. It is very common to hear white males in Brazil deflect accusations of racism against them by declaring that they’ve gone out with or had sexual relations with a black/”mulata” woman.
Of those I’ve seen, and a few I have known, many mulatas are the most beautiful of women. I’ve never considered them as ‘black’ or ‘white.’ Simply beautiful. If romance follows, that’s beautiful, too. The F word isn’t an issue — remember, two people have to really like each other, as well.
Black women are gorgeous too.
Interesting article. I am from Lima, Peru and understand the many labels and names that have been created through colonialism and slavery. There are far more labels everywhere else outside of the United States than in that country. Even though the US has a longer more volatile and hypocritical history with Racism towards non-western groups.
There is also a great deal of conditioning when it comes to the “morena” label and the “negra” label or “mulata” depending which country or neighborhood or family you are in. Negra is Black in Lima but so is Morena. Not due to tones but that is also depending how exposed one is to Black people. Same can be said in America. Most people don’t consider Jimi Hendrix to be Black because he played Rock and Roll though Rock and Roll is essentially Black music evolving out of R&B. These assumptions are based on ignorance and their results are racist. My family is Andean and Black and use both Negro and Moreno in describing ourselves but this does not mean that “moreno” is being used properly. I prefer “Negro” but in America some Black people assume calling anyone “negro” in Castilian is the equivalent to saying “nigger” which is incorrect. But its also depends on the tone one says “negro” in Latin America or the Caribbean.
Am curious why all the women of African descent on your site are mostly fair skinned or whose image has been brightened. What about the darker skinned sisters?