Simone Nascimento, 38, a cultural producer from Rio de Janeiro
“You are not black, you’re morena.
No, but I’m black!
Oh! Don’t say that, you’re so beautiful!”*
Still today I feel a mixture of grace and indignation when I remember that episode. It was some time ago, when I was in a salon getting my nails done. We are in 2011 and even today I hear things like that. Previously, I got into debates, argued, complained, a vein popped and I tried to win the cry that being black was as normal as being white or Asian.
Today, I don’t scream anymore! Also do not argue, get into debates, or get an attitude. I am a happy, fulfilled woman, fulfilled and I face the issue of racial prejudice as more of a struggle that unfortunately will take a long time to overcome. And I fight my way. I always got around and went to several places ever since I can remember.
I’ve seen, heard and experienced many similar situations. When I talk about these moments with friends, many don’t believe me. Some say: “You are exaggerating, you talk too much, this no longer exists.” Others don’t comment at all but respond with a look of disbelief to what I said. But only I know the experiences that I still go through…
The difference is that now I say it with my work, my talent and competence. I’m still very happy when I recognize in other women as beautiful and black who are judges, actors, top executives, dancers, advocates, singers and many other professionals who are proud of their color, and make it the most natural thing in the world, just as they were wear shoes to go to work every day.”
*- This verbal exchange is common in Brazil. It is based on the hegemonic belief that if a woman is of visible African descent and is considered physically attractive, then she cannot be black and shouldn’t refer to herself as such. Calling oneself negra (or black woman) is still considered an insult for many Brazilians of all skin complexions including those who by most accounts are also black although they don’t realize it or accept it. I have had many black Brazilian women relay similar verbal exchanges. This includes black women of all skin tones from the darkest to the lightest hues. The term morena is a term that is popular throughout Latin America. It can mean a light, medium or dark-skinned person of African descent. It can be a person with a more European appearance that has a tan and/or dark hair. It can refer to a person of any racial mixture who doesn’t have blond or red hair. Texture of hair, in fact, can be considered a tie-breaker. If a woman has brown skin, her classification as morena or negra can be determined simply by her hair texture. The woman with the more tightly coiled, kinky textured hair will be classified a negra while her curly, wavy haired counterpart would be classified as morena. Many persons of visible African ancestry use this term as a means of escaping the negative stigma of being considered black. Non-black persons often use the term in order to be nice or not to offend a person to whom they are speaking who is clearly not white.