Note from BW of Brazil: Today’s features touches upon a number of issues that are common here on the blog. But as the question and development of identidade negra (black identity) is a regular feature, one must ask, what is black? Or what is it to be black? From time to time, we receive comments from one or another person who question the blackness of someone featured on this blog. But is blackness strictly what one looks like? Does blackness only include a certain phenotype of people with dark skin and kinky hair? If so, how dark and how curly of a hair texture counts as black? Can a person with lighter skin be “blacker” than a darker person based on their attitudes and affinities for established facets of black culture? Can a person be deemed “not black enough” if they happen to prefer Classical Music simply because this style is most commonly associated with persons of European ancestry/appearance? Can one be labeled as “not black enough” because of how they dress or the way they talk?
It’s surely not as simple as an either/or issue.
Surely there are millions of black folks who have enjoyed music by Bon Jovi (1) or Legião Urbana (2) at one time or another or watched television shows like Beverly Hills 90210 (3) or Malhação (4) that are generally associated with middle-upper class white lifestyles. But then one must ask, is there a cut off point where one must guard their own cultural associations and pledge allegiances to their culture that is often connected to issues of race, class and region? It’s not a simple question to approach in just one post. But even in a place like Brazil that is thought to not have such sharp divisions of culture and racial identity, there is a current of racial stereotypes and racially-coded cultural associations that are at play when one is placed into one racial/class category or another. In the post below, Tracy Ellen explores how these divisions and expectations have played out in her life.
What is your black identity?
by Tracy Ellen
I was always in the middle ground – I was always in conflict in regards to my color, my history, always in those questions, if I should only like Black music, rap, pagode (5), if I should even know how to samba like the passistas (Carnaval dancers) samba, for that is what people always demand of who is black, samba no pé (samba in the foot) (6) because for many it’s what defines our color.
Sometimes I lacked the courage to say that I liked Brazilian rock, Bossa Nova, it seemed as if I was denying my “origins” – it seemed that I stopped being black when I preferred CPM22 (7) instead of Exaltassamba (8), and it lasted until I was 16 years old, these absences are tied to my story, these searches in trying to please, these searches of living right in the middle.
But it’s no use to live in the middle – life at one time or another requests a stance, it will request an attitude, and then which side you will be on?! It took me a while to manage my wants, desires and tastes with what people understood be the color of my skin, for as much as I like samba, I am not given to be a passista, I samba in my way, and if that is not enough then the problem is not mine.
White people – I don’t want to sound like I’m prejudice: they expect of gente negra (black people) that we respond to a stereotype that they have created over the years that sincerely isn’t even worth discussing: blacks must have samba in the foot, that blacks have to be strong, good at cooking and so doesn’t have (financial) conditions, it’s a lack of respect, it’s racism…
That talk that the cabelo de negro é ruim (hair of blacks is bad) has already exhausted me, when I decided to stop tying my hair up people shocked, and I don’t know why, in the end, some people asked if my hair was real, if they could run their hand through it, I felt like an animal on display, ridiculous – they questioned how many hours it took me to make it like that, moreover, even today they ask me this, and I all polite reply with only a fake smile.
They expect that everything that comes from us will be rough, tough – that our skin cannot be soft, that our hair cannot be soft, well-treated, shiny, that we cannot not only not like to samba, that we cannot be lawyers, doctors, lawyers, but rather domestic servants – nothing against this, but do you perceive how white people underestimate us!
And there is the black girl loves this underestimation – who loves straightening her hair, that only goes to a pagode show of a pop singer, who loves to laugh at another black girl who has more personality than her, that thinks she’s the top of the top because she hangs out with racist white people…
When I let my hair down – I decided that I was only going to read Raça (9) magazine, (as) there came a time that Capricho (magazine) no longer made sense; it had no girls with my body type, had no black girls on the cover, it lacked references and in Raça magazine I saw myself as black, I had there a beginning of my black identity.
I do see straightening my hair as a form of slavery, as a way to be accepted, to have something equal with my friends – it’s self canceling, because if you straighten your hair for believing in the superstition that blacks have cabelo ruim (bad hair), what more you will kill of your culture, of your skin?!
Then they speak of the big nose – then they speak of the huge lips, and I how nice it is that I big, full lips, and how nice that my nose has all those traits – I breathe well, my lips are more salient when I put on red lipstick, nothing affects me in (terms of) my color and in my heritage.
What affects me is people insisting on calling me morena, DAMMIT I’m NEGRA! My skin tone is black, the guys I knew were ashamed of introducing me because I am black, they said it had nothing to do with it, but it did, and this for a long time left me outside of myself, of my blackness, for you see that racism is very much alive, whoever says that it doesn’t exist is the one who commits it…
The truth is that after I assumed my black identity, my blackness completely, no guy ever called me morena again, even in the streets of that construction worker harassment, if I hear morena, I go back and say, I’m negra my dear.
I know how to samba – not like a passista, but I samba, I dance the Samba-Rock very well, I like Bossa Nova, Brazilian rock, old pagodes, rap, black music and I am getting to know African music and I’m going to tell you it’s great, and all of this doesn’t make me be more or less black.
It’s not samba in the feet, the big butt and big breasts that makes me belongs to the history of blacks, what makes me black is the pride I have of my race, my skin tone, and how happy I am being what I am.
Source: Try Rosa
1.Bon Jovi is an American rock band from Sayreville, New Jersey. Formed in 1983, Bon Jovi consists of lead singer and namesake Jon Bon Jovi, guitarist Richie Sambora, David Bryan, and drummer Tico Torres. Source
2. Legião Urbana were a Brazilian rock band formed in 1982 in Brasília, Distrito Federal. The band primarily consisted of Renato Russo, Dado Villa-Lobos and Marcelo Bonfá. Source
3. Beverly Hills, 90210 is an American drama series that originally aired from October 4, 1990 to May 17, 2000 on Fox and was produced by Spelling Television in the United States, and subsequently on numerous networks around the world. Source
4. Malhação is a Brazilian television series for the teenage audience. The soap started in 1995, and was set in a fictional Gym Club called Malhação on Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro. Source
5. Pagode is a Brazilian style of music which originated in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as a subgenre of Samba. Pagode originally meant a celebration with lots of food, music, dance and party. In 1978, singer Beth Carvalho was introduced to this music, liked it from the beginning and recorded tracks by Zeca Pagodinho and others. Apparently, as time has gone by, the term “Pagode” has been degraded by many commercial groups who have played a version of the music full of clichés, and there is now a sense in which the term Pagode means very commercial pop, a negative term (see Pagode Romântico). Original Pagode developed in the start of the 1980s, with the advent of the band Fundo de Quintal and the introduction of new instruments in the classical samba formation. Pagode lyricism also represented a kind of evolution towards the tradition of malicious and ironic samba lyrics, with a much heavier use of slang and underground terms. Source
6. Samba no pé is a solo dance that is most often danced impromptu when samba music is played. The dance simply follows the beat of the music and can go from average pace to very fast. Men dance with the whole foot on the ground while women, often wearing heels, dance just on the balls of the foot. This is the type of Samba one sees in the Brazilian Carnival parades and in other Samba carnivals over the world. Source
7. CPM 22 is a Brazilian rock band from São Paulo formed in 1995. Band members are Fernando Estefano, Ricardo Di Roberto, Heitor Gomes and Luciano Garcia. Source
With influences from the Ramones, the Misfits, Buzzcocks, Pennywise, Green Day, and other old school punk and hardcore legends, CPM 22 recorded their first demo tape in 1998. Source
8. Exaltasamba was a Brazilian pagode music group, formed in 1985 in São Bernardo do Campo, São Paulo. The group was active until 2012. Source
9. Raça Brasil magazine debuted in September of 1996 and is the only national magazine in Brazil targeted at the Afro-Brazilian community.
10. Atrevida and Capricho are magazines targeted at Brazil’s teen market.