Note from BW of Brazil: The past few decades have brought about a number of activists, blogs, collectives and groups that are challenging what we call the “dictatorship of whiteness” in Brazil. For most of the 20th century, whiteness as the standard for beauty, intelligence and humanity itself was pretty much universally accepted. Of course there were organizations such as the Teatro Experimental do Negro and the Frente Negra Brasileira that addressed the question of black exclusion in so many areas of the society, but these organizations didn’t really garner a following such that majority of black Brazilians have even heard of them.
Today, the internet have given various groups the opportunity to question racist standards and allow a wide range of voices to share their experiences and expose the numerous ways that white supremacy functions throughout society. One subject that will always be approached is the issue of hair. As we have seen in previous posts, black women and black children face a certain ostracization when their hair doesn’t measure up to the accepted standard. And as these standards are often adapted by black people themselves, they end up passing these standards on to the children and thus continuing the cycle of self-hatred. In today’s piece, Djamila Ribeiro shares her experiences with the issue of hair and how such standards are perpetuated in Brazil.
Black woman: the other of the other
by Djamila Ribeiro
Since childhood I had trouble accepting myself, especially my hair.
I remember my mother heating the pente de ferro (hot comb) on the stove and passing it through my hair to straighten it and, as much as it sometimes burned me, I wanted to do that. Later I went on to went to chapinha (flat iron) on the stove, which straightened it a little more. For the chemical was an advance, and the escovas (Brazilian Keratine Hair Treatment), and the flattening irons. I would feel my hair texture again only at age 24 when I got pregnant, and as I could not use chemicals anymore, I began to accept my hair and to love it.
And why did I do all this? Well, on TV only there were only women with straight hair doing the shampoo commercials. I am from the Xuxa generation and got tired of seeing all those blonde Paquitas with blue eyes (1). What could that mean? It meant that blonde girls could be Paquitas, that girls with black or red hair could dye their hair blond and be Paquitas, and I, a black girl with cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair), could never be. At school, I got tired of the times when my hair was a joke, considered dirty, and compared to cleaning products. The countless times that the boys did not want to pair with me in the festa junina (June Festival) (2), because they wouldn’t dance with the “neguinha” (little black one). And what hurt most is that all of society agreed with those boys.
Then later, what do many people say? “Ah, blacks themselves don’t accept themselves”, “Why would you straighten your hair, accept it!” We are blamed because we don’t accept it. People always miss the point: instead of criticizing the imposition of a standard of Eurocentric beauty, they blame the girls that learned very early on to hate themselves.
Before you say something, imagine, just imagine how painful it must be to live in a world that denies you. That stigmatizes your beauty. We are laughing stocks simply because of our features, our physical characteristics.
Racism makes us hate ourselves since very early on. It is necessary to deconstruct all that we internalize and build another world. This process is painful, it takes time because we are constantly bombarded with the hegemonic discourse.
Straightening our hair for many of us is not a choice, it is an imposition. Straighten to be accepted, to not be made fun of, many to get or maintain employment. Racism creates a hierarchy of humanity and therefore of beauty.
We need more references of black women, a more positive representation. If I see myself, I feel as if I belong. I always say that it is not necessary to be a great scholar of racial issues in Brazil to realize how racist this country is. Just turn on the TV or flip through a magazine. I am very happy with this movement of groups, collectives, pages and blogs for the appreciation of the black aesthetic; many (of them) on how to take care of cabelo crespo and how to make a transition, things that we generally don’t have in the media. They do a wonderful job, but we still need to demand and fight for more representation.
Grada Kilomba in Plantations Memories, explains very well how the situation of black women is:
“Because they are not white, nor men, black women have a very difficult position in the white supremacist society. We represent a kind of double deficiency, a double otherness, since we are the antithesis of both whiteness and masculinity. In this scheme, the black woman can only be the other and never herself (…). White women ‘have an oscillating status, as themselves and as the other’ of the white man, for they are white, but not men; black men exercise the function of opponents of white men because they are potential competitors in the conquest of white women because they are men, but not white; black women, however, are neither white, nor men, and perform the function of the other “of the other.”
It’s not easy being the other of the other.
Because of this, they have more empathy and solidarity.
Source: Lugar de Mulher
1. A number of women throughout the blog speak of the strong influence of TV host Xuxa and her dance troupe the Paquitas. All blond and very, very white.
2. Festa Junina, also known as festa de São João for their part in celebrating the nativity of St. John the Baptist, are the annual Brazilian celebrations historically related to European Midsummer that take place in the beginning of the Brazilian winter. These festivities, which were introduced by the Portuguese during the colonial period (1500-1822), are celebrated during the month of June nationwide both in Brazil and Portugal, but are particularly associated with Northeastern Brazil. The feast is mainly celebrated on the eves of the Catholic solemnities of Saint Anthony, Saint John the Baptist, and Saint Peter. Source