White is right? General Mourão, an Indian and candidate for Vice President of Brazil, comments on how handsome his grandson is and that he is an example of the “whitening of the race”
By Marques Travae
So, by now, everyone who follows the news coming out Brazil knows that controversial PSL presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro took 46% of yesterday’s election, 17 percentage points ahead of his nearest competitor, the PT’s Fernando Haddad, who came in second with 28%. Rounding out the top, Ciro Gomes (PDT) came in third with 14%, Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB), in fourth place with 4% and Marina Silva (Rede) coming in at 2%. Although Bolsonaro won 17 of Brazil’s 26 states and took more than half the votes in 12 of them, as he didn’t take 50% in overall votes, the presidential election will now go to a head to head run off with Haddad, who won 9 states, in which he took half the votes in 4 of them. Of course, there’s plenty that could be said about the actual election itself, another little tidbit that is kinda, sorta connected to the election, caught my attention yesterday.
While the election itself surely has racial overtones due to the growing divisions within the country that so many people would prefer to believe are only based on class belonging, Bolsonaro’s running mate, military general Hamilton Mourão, who has already made some controversial statements sharing his views on Brazil’s racial groups, uttered a statement a few days ago that once again reiterates the racial hierarchy that has ruled Brazil since its colonization. It reminds us once again that while most Brazilians will tell us that they “are all equal”, beneath the politically correct rhetoric, people express their beliefs in the superiority of some groups over others both in subtle and obvious manners.
These beliefs come out very clearly when a politician points out that his blue eyes makes him handsome while labeling a black man who didn’t have them as ugly or when a dentist degrades black Brazilians while declaring how beautiful her husband and son are because of their whiteness. Or when a middle-aged woman berates another woman on the beach and tells her to “next time be born white”. There are countless examples of how a belief in white superiority plays out in Brazil. Remember the report that showed a 3,000% increase in Brazilian women seeking artificial insemination and the 95% of them seeking choosing white male donors with 51% choosing men with blue eyes? I could go on and on with many more examples that show, as a whole, Brazilians clearly DO NOT see each other as all equal at all, but you get the point.
There are numerous other examples of this “white as right” ideology sprinkled throughout this blog and it doesn’t come out from the comments of just people who consider themselves white; in a society dominated by Eurocentric thought and standards, a large parcel of Brazil’s population of color also clearly reproduces such ideals. Numerous articles on this very blog as well as a number of books have documented the acceptance of many Afro-Brazilians of the European appearance being a physical standard of which they should aspire for their offspring through the process of miscegenation with whiter partners. Some consciously acknowledge this being a factor in their mate selection, while others, after coming into racial consciousness and a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of racism, only manage to acknowledge this after some soul searching and self-reflection.
I often note how many Afro-Brazilians affirm having pride in their black identity and being of African ancestry, a thing that I won’t question, as one’s convictions, beliefs and self-affirmations are such a personal thing. But, on the other hand, it often perplexes me how so many of these same people will have children with phenotypes that fall much closer to the European standard than their own physical appearances. Is this a contradiction? This is a debate that will rage on forever, but one thing that can’t be debated is that brancura, branquidade or branquitude, all meaning whiteness, are still very much valued in the minds of the Brazilian people. Which brings me back to General Hamilton Mourão.
On Saturday, the vice-presidential candidate went to meet his son and grandson at the Brasilia International Airport. While he waited, he asked, “My grandson is a handsome guy, see him over there? Branqueamento da raça (whitening of the race)”, he mentioned casually after granting a short interview before dashing off to prepare for the elections the following day.
Branqueamento, or embranquecimento, both meaning whitening, has been a lingering practice in Brazilian society for more than a century, passed on from generation to generation, a mechanism embedded into the minds of the people in order to physically whiten the next generations in an attempt to escape the stigma of blackness. In a 2016 short film produced by The Guardian, long-time Afro-Brazilian actress Neusa Borges confirmed hearing a phrase from her mother growing up that is common place in black Brazilian homes: “You should marry a white man to improve the race”, a belief Borges confirms continues today within the black population. Former Globeleza model Nayara Justino’s mother commented on how, in her family, “in a few years, there will be no more black people because they are marrying white people.”
In Brazil today, a large percentage of the pardos (brown/mixed people) that make up about 46% of Brazil’s population, as well as a high proportion of those Brazilians who classify themselves as brancos (whites) have the blood of Africa flowing through their veins even if some of them prefer not to admit it.
General Mourão’s grandson has quite white skin, even if he may or may not “pass” as white in a country like the United States, but in Brazil, he’s probably “white enough” or what some people call “Brazilian white”. General Mourão himself identifies as an Indian, a Brazilian of indigenous ancestry, but what exactly did he mean by mentioning how handsome his grandson was while simultaneously pointing out the whiteness of the young man’s skin? Sure, it’s possible that Mourão could be proud of his indigenous ancestry, but it is also possible that he is happy that his grandson has “advanced” to a race that many consider to be the standard to attain. Remembering Mourão’s previous statements about blacks and Indians, he clearly doesn’t have a problem pointing out “imperfections” of those races, even being a member of one of them himself. If Mourão didn’t connect beauty with whiteness, he could have simply mentioned that his grandson was a handsome young man without mentioning the whiteness of his skin.
It can’t be disputed that parents and grandparents all over the world throughout the centuries have wished for their children and grandchildren to have better lives, more opportunities and more advantages than they themselves had. Could it be that General Mourão, like the black woman in the famous A Redenção de Cam (The redemption of Ham) painting, was also thankful that the stain of the “inferior race” was removed, at least physically, from his family tree? One can never be absolutely sure, but for some reason, I’ll bet he is, even if he never openly admits it.