Note from BBT: I try to mix things up on this blog, sometimes writing about very serious topics, sometimes a little history, sometimes frivolous things. If you skim through Black Brazil Today’s archives, you’ll find short articles, articles of medium length as well as those that’ll having you saying, “Ain’t nobody gon’ read all that!”
I don’t sit and write long pieces just because; I include them because they often serve a purpose in unraveling and understanding the situation of black folks in Brazil. And sometimes these stories can’t be told with 1,000 words or less. Of course, some people will look at these articles, see the size and immediately stop reading. That’s not a problem. If one has the time and interest, they’ll be here.
Today’s piece I thought would actually be quite short (this later changed) but very direct and I think it illustrates how blackness has long been perceived in Brazil. For centuries, being black, particularly of the darker hue, was something people were made to feel ashamed of, something black people were taught to not pass on to the next generation.
I have to point out that, when I discuss interracial unions in Brazil, I don’t do it simply to pick on people who happen to be involved in such relationships, but rather to analyze some of the underlying reasons for which relationships across the color line are so common in Brazil. Walk through the streets of any city in Brazil and you’ll notice. Even if you don’t see actual mixed couples, the stunning array of phenotypes of the Brazilian people will demonstrate the nation’s long history of miscegenation.
When I first started studying “coisas do Brasil”, I would consistently hear Brazilians tell me, “Oh, we don’t have racism like you guys in the US. You guys don’t mix (races). Here, almost everyone is mixed.” These statements are always meant to emphasize the idea that it’s not possible for Brazil to be racist with miscegenation being a part of the history of so many families across the country. Interestingly, as I write this text, another book exploring racism within interracial relationships, Todos olhos em mim, meaning ‘All eyes on me’, by journalist Aline de Campos is being released. Needless to say, it sounds like a book I will need to add to my collection.
As I often say, of course I believe love can exist across the color line, but I also say, in many cases, there are many other things at play as to why so many people seek love in people who look different than they in terms of race. Sometimes it could be economic interest but also at play here is Brazil’s disturbing, but effective manner of teaching black people themselves to hate blackness. It’s only been perhaps in the past decade that black and brown Brazilians have taken a closer look at some of the reasons for such high rates of racial mixture beyond the “love has no color” rhetoric and analyzing the effects in their own families.
But, you don’t need to hear that from me. Let Brazilians tell you this themselves. The story below is a perfect illustration of what I’m talking about.
“All my boyfriends are dead except Adolfo”
By Larissa Carvalho
In 1959, Maria had a boyfriend who was named Adolfo. She was 20 years old at the time and told me that she liked him very much. From the way she spoke, it really seemed that she had a great affection for this man who passed through her life. They both lived in Paracuru, a city on the west coast of the northeastern state of Ceará.
She remembers hearing from one of her sisters that she was “wanting to dirty their family’s blood” since Adolfo was a “nêgo” (black). By this time, all or almost all of Maria’s sisters were dating or had married white men in the region. Maria and Adolfo are black. Some of Maria’s brothers and sisters are black, others are white. Maria also told me that Adolfo had already bought the rings, because he wanted to marry her.
It’s worth saying here that at that time of Maria’s youth, around the 1950s, we noticed the disapproval, discrimination and racism within the family when one sister tells another sister about “dirtying the family’s blood”. All this because Maria’s boyfriend (perhaps future husband) was black. And as black as she was. Affection between black people was not allowed, nor approved much less well regarded (emphasis by BBT) (note one)….
That said… Maria then made the decision that she was going to come and live in Fortaleza, the capital of the State of Ceará. To try life here, to look for opportunities to survive, as is the reality of many people who come from the interior to the capital cities. First, she worked as a maid. Later, she saved up some money and took a course in sewing. Her profession then became that of seamstress. She has been a seamstress for 60 years.
When she was already living and constructing her life in the capital, Maria started a relationship with a rich white man. “He owned some land over there where Esmaltec (appliance store) was,” she said. Esmaltec was a company located in the Barra do Ceará neighborhood here in Fortaleza. Her new boyfriend had possessions.
Although she wrote little, as she always reported to me, in a letter, Maria said that she decided to “say some nonsense” by telling Adolfo that she was with another man, that she didn’t want him anymore and that she wouldn’t return to live in Paracuru. So, she broke up with Adolfo, by means of a letter. She made this decision, even though she still liked Adolfo and disliked her current boyfriend. “I said this nonsense” she said.
Adolfo couldn’t read. And, in Maria’s assumption, he probably asked someone to read the letter. She also thinks that the person who read the letter must have “laughed in Adolfo’s face” after the news that Maria told him through the letter. And no, he didn’t reply with any letter to Maria. That was that.
Maria said that Adolfo was bem preto (very black) and that if she had married him, her children would have been born very black. But Adolfo, who had stayed in the interior, married a white woman. He had about 10 children with this woman (who was his friend at the time he lived there). “And can you believe that all of his children were black…”, she said. Maria never saw Adolfo again. Not even when she returned to Paracuru for the New Year’s party did she see Adolfo again. “But he still lives there…my ex-love…,” she finished.
“All my boyfriends are dead but Adolfo.” These were the words that encouraged me to record this brief story that she decided to tell me before she went home to bed. It was already past midnight on April 27 when I heard it, and I tried to save as much of her words as I could to leave this little piece of writing here.
Maria, in fact, is called Maria do Céu, she is 81 years old and is my maternal grandmother.
*I decided to write this text (and I should have written many others by now) to record one of the many stories my grandmother has told me during the Covid-19 pandemic since I returned from South Africa in April 2020 to the present day, April 2021.
Note from BBT: When I first began visiting Brazil two decades ago, I didn’t really know the extent of interracial unions in the country. In fact, as my first few visits were to Salvador, Bahia, where you’ll see tens of thousands of dark-skinned black people and many black couples in which both partners range the gamut of skin tones, the interracial thing probably won’t even stand out to you at first glance.
In the next few years after that first trip, I began to visit other Bahian cities in the interior of the state and I will never forget one of the families that I met there. I knew that this particular family had dark-skinned roots as the family had shown me old photos of the family from past decades. By that time, the early 2000s, the entire family consisted of light-skinned mestiços. It was amazing. Brother after brother, sister after sister, cousin after cousin, uncles, aunts, etc., that I met all had that light-skinned, racially ambiguous look.
This was definitely noteworthy coming from the US experience. In the US, I had done my fair share of traveling and meeting black families. Of all the black families in which I’d met a large number of family members, I had only known one in which it seemed that light skin was the majority. Even still, even with the light that predominated in that Detroit family, the physical characteristics (facial features, hair textures) still defined them as a clearly black family.
Of the members of the family I met in the interior of Bahia, I don’t remember meeting one family member that kinky or even curly hair. They all that type of straight hair that was common in Brazil. Not as light, thin and feathery as the hair you see on the heads of purely European descendant people, but still straight. This is also the case of many families I’ve met in the city of São Paulo. Brown or dark-skinned grandparents or great-grand parents, light-skinned, white or “Brazilian white” descendants.
Shortly after I arrived in São Paulo in 2012, I began meeting a group of black men who would meet occasionally to discuss “black issues”. This group consisted of myself, a black American, three black Brazilians, two Angolans and two Haitians. As the meetings came to be weekly, as time went on, we all got to know a little about each other; education, families, immigration status, political views. Of the three Brazilians I remember two of them were married to white women. One of them would reveal that he had seven brothers and sisters, all of whom had married white partners.
A second black Brazilian man was also married to a white woman. These two men had something in common. They had both only come into black consciousness in recent years and were beginning to study racial issues. Most of their lives, they had no connection to the conscious understanding of the black experience.
In discussion, they both, in their own way, admitted that they had chosen white partners because of their lack of consciousness and the ideology divulged in Brazil and within black families themselves that they needed to enter relationships with white partners. Like Thiago, another brother I would meet years later on Facebook, both of these men seemed to be saying that, had they been exposed to the discussion of race and black consciousness, they probably would not have married white women.
It’s a story that I often hear from black Brazilians that I meet in São Paulo. Of course, I would say I’ve met far more who continue to believe that “love has no color”, as well as those who are very much a part of the black consciousness movement but still have white partners. Of course, I know there are probably people reading this text who will ask, “Why is this an issue?”. My response would be that, stories like these clearly show us that there is much more to the high rates of miscegenation in Brazil.
People may argue that “love has no color” but I’ve known too many cases of black people, specifically black males, who have never been known to date black women or seemed to only “settle” with black women (often light-skinned) when their pursuits of white women didn’t quite work out. Sure, these black people may love their partners, but I would argue that they may come to claim that “love has no color” only after they have excluded people who look like them when making their romantic choices.
In the story about Maria, you’ll note that both Maria and the dark-skinned black man that she liked ended up pursuing white partners. Of course, I would need to know more details, but it would appear to me that, in both cases, society and probably family pressure most likely influenced their choices for white partners. There is also the possibility that Adolfo found love in the arms of a white woman after having been rejected by a black woman (possibly black women) whose family rejected him. Even today, this still seems to be the norm in Brazil within the black population.
Today, unlike previous decades, there is a huge debate exploring the reasons of interracial marriage and the necessity of what’s being called “amor preto” (black love) or “amor afrocentrado” (Afro-centric love) with sites and apps that seek to facilitate relationships between black men and women that eventually lead to marriage. There are also groups in which the norm is to criticize the latest black male or black female celebrity seen with a white partner.
In fact, many of these groups seem to have adopted my own gauge of black consciousness. One can come across as a black activist, militant or strongly connected to black consciousness all they want, but in a society that promotes the disappearance of the black race through interracial unions, if you sleep white, it almost nullifies everything else one may have to say on black issues. Of course, every case is an individual matter, but with what I’ve seen in many cities in Brazil, one of these days all of this “black stuff” won’t even matter. There won’t be any clearly black people left.
- Numerous articles that discuss interracial unions demonstrate how black Brazilians have long been indoctrinated to reject the blackness of their own bodies as well as that other potential partners. For just a few examples, see here, here and here.