Note from BW of Brazil: You know what? I’m glad someone said this! After decades of black Brazilians coming to grips with the fact of the strong presence of racism throughout the country in nearly every facet of life, after many years of denying the fact, then we get this other knee-jerk response that says “Nós somos todos iguais“, meaning “we are all equal” when an incident of clear racism happens. The phrase isn’t restricted to white Brazilians. Numerous black Brazilians themselves being the victims of racism will also immediately utter this phrase. The most recent example I saw was a few weeks back when the volleyball star Fabiana Claudino was heckled with racist verbal assaults by a spectator at a game.
A few days later in an interview about the incident, I could only shake my head when she uttered this phrase (1). Fabiana had been complimented by many who admired her stance and how she spoke out on the incident publicly and in social networks. After all, millions of Afro-Brazilians have long been deceived into believing that racism was only a thing of the United States or South Africa and the fact that so many are becoming conscious of the realities of racism in Brazil is a positive sign. But as I have written in previous numerous, saying that “we are all equal” in the face of so much blatant inequality and racial discrimination, for me, is tantamount to being a willing participant in the decades long myth of a “racial democracy”. You cannot confront racism and simultaneously participate in the mythology that continuously attempts to mask the problem!
The other issue in today’s post that has been touched upon from time to time is black women’s participation in a feminist movement dominated by white women. As we have seen over and over, white women, often times from the middle classes, don’t always have the same issues on their agendas as black women and as such, often refuse to accept and respect the unique challenges that black women have to face being victims of discrimination due to gender and race and often times class origin. My question would be the following: Why must black women and black people in general always feel the need to join movements with people that don’t have their same thoughts, challenges and agendas and repeatedly show that they have no interest in addressing issues outside of their own?
We are not all equal
by Mara Gomes – Originally posted on the Blogueiras Negras blog
“I don’t want nor need to be accepted by anyone, much less by you. But I want and I’m showing here how different our experiences are different and how much they have left eternal marks inside me that are remembered daily (often by you white feminists) across multiple facets of racism and that I need to deal with every days and you do not. And that leaves sexism extremely heavier than for you, white woman. Understand, I will NEVER have the option to be fit within the social standard, this condition was denied me the day I was born with a black skin color, different from you.” – Kyky Rodrigues
What we have in common makes us part of each other, makes the recognition more fluid and this relationship is part of the development process of our individuality. As amazing as seems see each other in the other and making of the other a model for formation of one’s self contributes to making of us what we are. We cannot put ourselves all in the same bag because we are human, because there are numerous individualities that separate us and with them we realize that we are not all equal, that society, created by ourselves, said roles, puts us in political places and doesn’t permit us, as much as we want, to remain outside of the game of power. Unfortunately what we see within movements and elsewhere is a search for equality that ends up putting everyone on the same side, but when there are different sides and they limit us and silence voices, especially when we refer to blackness.
Carnaval has now passed and it is one of the best opportunities to analyze the dichotomy of roles, in other words, those who exercise privilege upon whom. Street blocos where white cisgender men dress up as women and are praised for this, where white women paint themselves as Indian and black in order have more success in little blocos, an appropriation of black culture everywhere and all this is considered common, an honor, nothing more, a part of the fun. The best example is the picture accompanying the text of a white girl wearing a turban and cigar denominating herself “mother prix” (above photo) appropriating a culture that is not hers, making fun of a religion of black origin which has for centuries been oppressed by whites. The whole being produces something over the other, when it comes to dealing with oppressions many cis white women think they are immune to this, but quite to the contrary, they produce an oppression of race upon black women which is something that has been muffled for a long time for being considered a “not so serious” matter within the bourgeois white feminist movement.
Whenever we refer to black feminism we always put this issue of our differences on the agenda and we are questioned, doubted most of the time and the silenced by the sisterhood: we are all sisters! The phrase is thrown in the air as if it had the power to erase all oppressions, because among women it’s all poetry. But we’re not sisters, because we are not equal. While the largest number of white women occupies universities, better positions in the labor market, the place of “employer” and while black women work abusive and inhumane shifts taking care of children that are not theirs, we are not all equal. I believe that time has passed for the feminist movement to understand that. It seems that play in the same key, but the discussion still continues present only among us black women as white women silenced us with sisterhood, with free love with the fairy tale that if we come together we can end the sexism of men, but racism is always left in the corner as a secondary problem.
In the ingenious Brazilian racism standards of beauty are constructed from skin tones, the lighter the woman the more beautiful woman and acceptable she is. This is the white elephant within the relationships around here, that many pretend not to see, primarily the white woman, mainly for not wanting to recognize their privilege. I followed in Carnival a report of a newspaper in Bahia (a land which houses a 70% black population) a picture with a group of white gaúcha (2) women with the words: “musas do Carnaval” (Carnival Muses). Tourists, white women, beautiful. Seeing this kind of image I cannot ignore what she tries to hide: where are the black women? This void, this silence tells us that they do not exist there, or that none of the women that could be found in this Carnival would be as beautiful as these white women, or rather, no Bahian and black woman would be as beautiful as a blonde and gaúcha woman. Don’t they say the South is the state with the most beautiful women in Brazil? (3) Why is that? In Brazil, this standard of beauty is far from being reversed. Because this relation of power is not only present in newspaper articles, but also in protagonists roles in novelas (soap operas) and in the white rainhas de bateria (queens of the drumbeat) where we can see this lack of black representation that points out we are not good enough and that a white woman will always be better in all aspects. These issues bourgeois white feminism never think to address because this does not hurt and oppress white women as much as us.
These everyday racist relations show us a lot, it show us that only sisterhood is not enough, only being a “sister” does not help when one enjoys many privileges and doesn’t realize that it is not only the man who produces the oppressions that we struggle with daily.
It happened to a black friend recently, of which I quoted the text first, she was enjoying a street carnival group when a white girl Simone Beauvoir reader and, “understood in academic white feminism”, approached her and asked, “why do shave yourself!? Stop torturing yourself, don’t do that. You don’t need to.” As if for black women to stop shaving had the same weight as for a white woman. While they stop waxing we try to go outside and not be labeled as ridiculous because of our hair, the color of our skin and the exotification of our bodies. I particularly heard once from a white feminist that to stop shaving and wearing a bra had the same weight to them as accepting natural hair for us, it’s so stupid that it’s not even worth arguing. Empowerment and the process that a black woman faces to stop straighten her hair, doing a “big chop”, accepting her roots have nothing to do with the white woman stopping shaving and abandoning her bra, they are completely different issues, which are inter-sectional between racism and sexism a double oppression that affect us particularly.
What white feminists don’t understand is that they cannot criticize black women with the same effect that they criticize white women. In fact when a white woman criticizes a black woman this attitude is strongly similar to any man criticizing a woman. It comes from a completely different place of speaking, that has no idea or knowledge of what it is to be a black woman and what is faced by this woman every day. In hurts us having to keep fighting against women to show how much we face, because they should welcome us instead of ignoring and oppress us. This black friend was immensely sad because the white feminist’s inquiry caused her to remember the oppressions she suffered in childhood and still faces in the day-to-day “why don’t you wear your hair like this?” “Why not try to be this way and not that way?” As if the black woman always have to conform to what society requests, even within said feminist places.
I have previously written about the need for black feminism, so I will close this text extolling the necessity of the exclusion of bourgeois white feminism. We have gone through the first feminist wave long ago and on top of that we live in a country where the negra (black) and pardo (brown) population is the majority, where whites don’t suffer oppression (because reverse racism doesn’t exist and whites don’t suffer oppression anywhere in the world) so why is feminism still white in Brazil? What is the necessity of helping bourgeois white women individually, why not all women? Feminism is not only about white women, so when you cis middle class white woman raise a question about feminism consider black women, trans women, consider Indians, consider the other women who were not born with the lucky of being beneath the white, cis and middle-class wing of society. It’s no use condemning patriarchy and having a black maid cleaning your kitchen and looking after your children or silencing the black woman who talks about her experiences, there is no change in the feminist movement without self-criticism and it’s past time to start a strong self-criticism on this issue. Considering the place of privilege is the most important in this fight so nothing would be better at the moment than the exclusion of bourgeois academy white feminism because it serves not for nothing, to the contrary, it only excludes and silences.
Source: Blogueiras Negras
1. Fabiana made use of the phrase in not only in her written response to the incident in her social network profile, but also in a televised interview.
2. The term gaúcha (feminine) or gaúcho (masculine) refers to a man or woman who is a native of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. While it refers to anyone of the state regardless of race, as 81% of the population of the state defines itself as branco/branca, meaning white, the term is often associated with white Brazilians in same manner that the terms baiana/baiano, meaning a native of the northeastern state of Bahia, is associated with Afro-Brazilians.
3. The three most southern states make up the region of Brazil with the largest percentage of persons who consider themselves to be white. As such, many international modeling agencies go directly to those states when seeking for a new “top model” with a look similar to Gisele Bündchen, who hails from one of those states, Rio Grande do Sul.