Note from BBT: When I read the comments made by Meghan Markle a few days ago in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, all I could do was smirk. I don’t know whose reaction was funnier to me: hers or Oprah’s. I was like, “What world are the two of you living in?” In some ways, I was really thinking that Oprah’s “WHAT?!?” reaction to Markle’s statement had to have been fake. Really, Oprah? Whenever I see such things, my reaction is what a friend of mine said in reaction to a third person’s confusion on something in which he should have known better: What’chu thought?
Oprah is a black American woman from the American south and knows plenty about American racism. It was the British that colonized the land that would later come to be known as the United States. So, again, Oprah, “What’chu thought?” I could actually even believe that Markle was taken aback by the Royal Family’s reaction (questioning if the newborn’s skin would be dark) because, well, maybe up tpo that point, she hadn’t had what we like to call a “ni**a moment”. Maybe, due to her very fair skin, she thought she could escape the judgment of race. I sometimes wonder if Meghan really knew what type of family she was marrying into. I’ve already discussed this. Is she aware of the Royal Family’s “dirty little secrets”? Did she do any research to understand that this family was connected to the domination of hundreds of millions of people of color around the world just in the past five centuries?
What trips me about this and that I see as utterly ridiculous is that, only in place like the United States and Britain would someone like Meghan Markle even be considered black. In Brazil, and I would argue, most, if not all of Latin America, she would be accepted as white, no questions asked. As the whitening process has been going on in Brazil for so long, there are literally millions of white Brazilians who have African ancestry, and as most Brazilians see being white as a clearly superior classification, many of them are trying to escape the label of blackness at all cost.
In Meghan’s case, it’s actually kind of funny. As fair as she is and considering Harry’s very pale skin, the odds of the child even having just hint of a tint of color are probably miniscule indeed. The idea is about as funny as TV’s George Jefferson character obsessing over his grandchild coming out white because his black son’s wife (who was also clearly black) had a white father. A friend of mine once told me that I wouldn’t know how white people can really get until I went to London. Between the dreary weather and their European ancestry, the Brits are almost literally the color of flour he told me.
On the other side of the world, this story is having repercussions among Brazilians as you might imagine. As I’ve spoken at length about the promotion of the theory of embranquecimento (whitening), it should come as no surprise that Brazilians too think a lot about the color a newborn baby. In the case of many black families, if whiteness is out of the question, they will hope and pray for babies that are less black, maybe falling into racially ambiguous category. You have to lighten the family, you know.
Past posts have already featured black Brazilian women who have light/near white or white children, so the Meghan Markle story probably hit home with a lot of them as well. The difference again being, one doesn’t have to be paper white to be accepted as white in Brazil. In one of those posts, I shared how I had to my own experience with this Brazilian adoration of lightness when my own children were born. As one of the women in the post below mentioned, my kids all got darker and I’m very happy with this.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for millions of Brazilians. Think I’m exaggerating? Read on…
“Will the baby be born light?”: Like Meghan, black Brazilian mothers have heard this question
By Nathália Geraldo
“It would be much better if she was born with your curly hair than with her father’s crespo (kinky) hair”, “but he’s not even black, he’s moreninho (a little brown)” and even “will he be darker and/or lighter?”. These are some of the questions that interracial or black couples with different skin tones hear when they are expecting a child or in the postpartum period. Doubts and judgments pop up on social media or among family and friends – often with an air of concern – about their children’s skin tone.
Meghan Markle, the former Duchess of Sussex, spoke openly to Oprah Winfrey about how the skin color of Archie, her first child with Prince Harry, was an issue for the British royal family before he even came into the world. “There were several concerns and conversations about how dark his skin would be when he was born,” she said. The interview had repercussions to the point that Queen Elizabeth II spoke on the subject.
Although the racial context is quite different in the United Kingdom than in Brazil, “concern” doesn’t escape Brazilian families in these situations. Universa listened to four black women on how they dealt with these types of comments and situations when having children. Next, they reflect on how much “concern” about babies’ skin color says about racism and the value placed on white skin in a historically racist society like ours.
“They said, in a tone of praise, that I would lighten the family”
“I am black with light skin, what they call pardo (brown), and the father of my three children is African with no miscegenation, with dark skin, thick lips, a wide nose, kinky hair.
In the three pregnancies, the greatest pressure was in relation to their color. My mother’s family, who are white people, said: ‘You going to lighten the family’, as if that were a compliment, and ‘will it be born light?’, with the hope that this would happen … But there was no way, because I am mixed, my father is black, and the father of my children is African.
With the boys, Pierre and Thierry, they brought the desire for them to pull my nose, which is thinner. When I got pregnant with Sophie, they said it would be nice if she was born with my hair, which is curly.
It was too much to worry about, because their dad has kinky hair. And what they believe is that a boy has the possibility to shave it… In her case, it wasn’t even that the curly was someone’s dream, but it has more acceptance than the kinky.
Since then, as they grew up, there has been a lot of change. Really because I work as a racial diversity consultant, and the same family members today ask me about cases of racism, for example. In addition, I insist on reinforcing this issue. On her two-year birthday, the theme was an African doll – that looked just like Sophie! We also did the Black Panther.”
Dayse Rodrigues is a racial diversity consultant at Ubuntu Consultoria. Mother of Sophie, 4, Pierre, 12, and Thierry, 6.
“They said he wasn’t going to be negro (black), he was going to be moreninho (a little brown)”
“I had racial literacy [understanding racial tensions] with my motherhood. At that moment I realized that my son José couldn’t take that long to understand what it is to be a black person. My husband is from the interior of São Paulo, from a white family, traditionally Italian. Before our son was born, there was a denial of racism. People commented things like: ‘Your son will not be black, he will be moreninho (a little brown)’, as if it were a compliment. Only that delegitimized his blackness and mine as well.
When he turned one, I decided to send a message for the birthday party. I did it with the theme O Pequeno Príncipe Negro (The Little Black Prince) in the kingdom of Wakanda. At the party, there were a lot of whites, something that happens when you ascend socially.
After singing congratulations, I told everyone that my son’s blackness would no longer be neglected in that place, that his ancestry was black. The chat of ‘moreninho’ was not going to happen anymore.
After that episode, I even created the profile Criando Crianças Pretas (Raising Black Children). In Brazil, we don’t have a deep and serious conversation about colorism, and we still have a false racial democracy, which says that we aren’t white or black … The slant is totally different from the UK, where Meghan and Harry’s baby was born. Here, we have racismo de marca (racism of mark).
After the party, things changed. Because I work with this. The family is aware that the racial issue is part of our son’s life, and ended up giving books, drawings and showing representative music because that’s what we do. Since when I decided on the theme of the party, my husband embarked 100% on the theme and is my ally in that.”
Deh Bastos is a publicist and creator of the profile Criando Crianças Pretas (Raising Black Children). José’s mother, 2 years and 10 months old. Married to engineer Anderson Prado.
“I wanted to see myself in those babies”
“Meghan’s story really moved me, because she is black and in a relationship with a white man.
But our coincidences stop there, because I was extremely well received by the family of my husband, Joerg, who is German.
We dated in 2003, and in 2004 I traveled to his country, but I wasn’t afraid. Especially because I already knew they had pictures of me on the wall, they were already in the whole house. My in-laws wouldn’t open the door and would be impressed that I was black.
I didn’t hear that kind of ‘I’m glad they were born lighter’ comment, and I wasn’t even the victim of a crooked look. Perhaps because I am a negra retinta (dark-skinned black woman). People who have a little lighter skin may hear this horrible comment more.
What happened to me, in a particular process, was that all three were born with very light skin. And, for me, receiving a child with a skin so different from mine in my arms caused me a lot of strangeness.
One side of me said that I wanted to see myself in those babies and worried that they would be so light that they wouldn’t be seen as my children. At the same time, I understood that if they were lighter than me, they would have a less difficult life.
It was complicated. Not to mention that, in the hospital, they are always in doubt as to whether the child is mine. So white, with such a black mother.
I looked at them with much lighter skin, in an ethnic limbo, and thought that when they had children, I would be that reference of “my grandmother was black“, and people wouldn’t understand.
Today, I see that this was due to guilt because I was in a relationship with a white man, from that speech that interracial relationships are “dormir com o inimigo” (“sleeping with the enemy”), as I have already received from comments on the internet. From those who try to devalue my speech because I am with a white man. But they never questioned anything about my children.
My German father-in-law is reluctant to say that our children have curly hair because of him, who had his hair like that when he was a child. And I think this is a kind affection, a very valid form of inclusion.”
Monique dos Anjos is a digital content creator, journalist, mother of Victoria, 8 years old, Nicholas Patrick, 5 years old, Alessandra Carolina, 1 year old. Married to CFO Joerg Dreisewerd.
“People’s anxiety is to know what color Martin is going to be”
“In the case of Martin, there is an expectation of when he will get dark. That he would be lighter than his father, that was already expected, because of my color. Babies in general are born white or light-skinned – and he was born pink, in fact – and they get darker. This melanin production is irregular until the age of two, after which they start to arrive to the color that they will become.
Many people were surprised that he was born very white, pink. Now, he’s already getting my color. On the internet, I have already received a comment asking if I was scared that he was born white.
A girl commented on a text I wrote during my pregnancy, saying that she was afraid of having a black child in Brazil, and asked: ‘but, what now that he was born white?’
More recently, with him getting a little darker, I started receiving messages on Instagram, saying: ‘Ah, it’s getting darker, the melanin is reaching him’. People were relieved and anxious for him to get blacker.
We know that the darker the skin, the more violent racism is. But, he will be a black boy regardless of his skin color. And you will suffer racism in life. I didn’t think that he could have a lighter skin to suffer less racism. Because this is irrelevant in the way we live. Because of our family’s financial condition, he will probably be one of the few black children in some places, as I was, and as his father is, as a doctor. I hope I’m wrong and that he doesn’t go through any of that, but that fear exists.
In our case, people’s anxiety is to know the color that Martin will be. How is it possible for Raphael, a black man with a reddish complexion, with a son with a much lighter complexion than his? It’s as if the genetic mixture cannot produce all the shades in a spectrum between me and him.
The curious thing in this case is how this is irrelevant for parents, and for outsiders (both those who want the child to be as light as possible and those who want the child to be darker) it’s a reason for harassment and stupid comments.
And it shows how difficult it is for people to deal with the racial issue.”
Isabela Reis is a journalist and content creator. Newborn Martin’s mother, partner of the doctor Raphael Oliveira.
Note from BBT: What is clear to me is that, these days, after decades of racial consciousness-raising on the part of black social movements in Brazil, more pretos/blacks and pardos/browns are becoming concerned with their children looking like them, well, at least to some degree. For decades, for millions of black Brazilians, this question wasn’t even an issue. If you marry or procreate with a white partner, you expected, even prayed, to have white children with straight hair and light-colored eyes. It’s a fact.
But it’s still intriguing because, even as more pretos and pardos may not consciousness desire white children, this desire of seeing themselves isn’t so strong that they would rule out a relationship with a white partner. I’ve thoroughly explored this issue of why so many black Brazilians enter into relationships with white partners, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they prefer white partners. As we’ve seen, there is a certain attitude among some black Brazilians that it’s just not a good move to marry and procreate with people of their own race. If this is the case, who are those who would like to have long-term relationships with people of their own color to do when they don’t meet like-minded potential partners? As one woman above stated, it’s complicated.
What I’m seeing is that many black Brazilians of a certain consciousness come to the conclusion that if they cannot meet a partner of their own race, they must seek love in whatever color it comes in and maybe just hope that their offspring will look somewhat like them, as we saw in the comments of one woman above.
As we noted in two cases above, two of the light-skinned women chose dark-skinned men, one of which was an African. It’s not common, but I’ve known a number of light-skinned black women in São Paulo who have chosen to have long-term relationships with clearly black men. I can’t say for sure because I’ve never asked, but I get the feeling that at least some of these women actually consciously decided to partner with dark-skinned men in order to actually reverse the whitening process. It’s like, even though I’ve never asked, this seems to be the case and that these women seem to have a deeper level of understanding and commitment to not letting their families help fulfill the Brazilian dream of whitening black families.
From what I’ve seen in certain parts of Brazil, once dark skin and kinky hair of a family starts the process of whitening, that phenotype is basically gone as clearly many people don’t want their families to revert to blackness and, as one woman suggsted above, dark-skinned people are relegated to the status of that grandmother or grandfather that was black.
Sometimes within these families, it is the parents themselves who question why their adult children would choose to possibly darken their children when they (the parents) set them on the “right path” by choosing their own whiter partners. Whatever the case may be in each individual situation, the future phenotype of black Brazil is totally up to black Brazilians, because, as intellectuals have written for years, the tendency of darker Brazilians is to whiten their family trees and not the other way around.