Note from BW of Brazil: This is a topic I never tire of discussing, precisely because there is no clear cut answer. Just how many black folks are there in Brazil anyway? Really. You basically have two camps…well, maybe three trains of thought on this issue. There are those who only accept people who classify themselves in the official census as pretas, as black. According to the last census, or recent estimates, that would mean there are about 18 million Afro-Brazilians in the country.
Then there are those who follow the argument of social scientists and the Movimento Negro who classify all who self-identify as pretas AND pardas, meaning brown or mixed race, as black. Using this manner of classification has led many people to declare there are about 118 million black folks in Brazil.
To me, both sides are problematic. Not only do I believe that including all pardos as black as a little too close to the absurdity of America’s “one-dropism”, but I also believe that there are plenty of pardos who are clearly black, even considering whatever degree of mixed race they may be. But then there are those pardos who are so mixed that it simply makes no sense to try to categorize them into one group. On top of that, we haven’t even considered the indigenous element of pardos, in which the person is more of a mixture between Brazilian Indians and Europeans, with very little genetic contribution from Africa.
But even with all of these factors, there’s still other sides. I mean, what do you with those pardos who simply don’t identify themselves as black? I remember when futebol star Neymar said that he wasn’t black, even though many Brazilians see him as such. Then there’s people like singer Anitta who seems to believe she can turn blackness on and off like a light switch.
Another angle that I’ve always believed was that Brazil’s elites convinced many black people that they were in fact, not preto or negro, both meaning black, but rather pardos, in order to create a lack of unity within the black community. After all, if one doesn’t see him or herself as black, said person will likely not get involved in any calls for equality or protests against racism. When we consider that people who define themselves as pardos make up about half of the population, including some of them who you and I would consider black, this trick was a stroke of genius for those in power. What say you?
Brown peoples problems
By Alan de Sá
Brazil is not only known for its futebol (soccer/football), samba or corruption. There is a myth, as perpetuated like these three, about the identity of the Brazilian: racial democracy. Or, better saying: miscegenation.
In 2015, a survey of more than 6,400 Brazilians, from Salvador, Bahia, Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul, and Bambuí, Minas Gerais, pointed out some information – already expected – about Brazilian “miscegenation”. In the Northeast, indigenous and African ancestry is much more striking than in the South and Southeast, predominantly white and European.
The 1872 census provides further information on the process underway in Brazil. For the study, of almost 10 million Brazilians at the time, only 15% were slaves. Because the data disregarded the continuation of the slavery process in freed black, who were conditioned to remain subservient to their masters, as well as treating slaves brought in from different African nationalities (in the census, Benguelas, Congolese Minas, JeJes and other nationalities are treated simply as “Africans”) not as slaves, but as foreigners. Like Germans, Belgians, French and other nationalities in the census, to represent Europeans. Much of this was due to two laws: the Feijó Law (1831) and the Eusébio de Queiroz Law (1850), which prevented the entry of enslaved blacks into the country. Both sanctioned by the crown in the 19th century, a period in which the slave trade grew most in our territory. These entered as free, but were enslaved. The 1872 census didn’t consider this.
For the imperial government, there were no color divisions, where each individual identified himself as he pleased; the imposition was vertical. Whites, Africans and Indians, these were the races. To replace the mestiço, the term “pardo”, meaning brown or mixed race was adopted. Every crossing (white + black, white + indigenous or black + indigenous) entered this account. But the most important thing in the pardo’s classification was the impression that it was considered a transmission. The pardos were not denied the terminologies of “crioulo”, “mulato”, “caboclo” or “cafuso”. However, because they were less dark, the pardos, in the 1872 census, received characteristics of freedmen. Because whiteness gave them the characteristic of freedom.
All of this had a clear motive: the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804). A small colony, but with the overwhelming majority of enslaved blacks. And it collapsed after the black revolt, marked by the inhumane treatment of white minorities. America, at the time, had not yet given up slavery (just as it has not fully abandoned it). After what happened there (you can find out more on the thread made by Ale Santos, who stopped at Moments Brasil on Twitter), the world realized one thing: blacks united, and mobilized for their freedom, are extremely dangerous to whites.
And what is the best way to break this link? Make sure black people don’t see themselves as black.
Getting pretos e pardos (blacks and browns) to disagree, in relation to their positions in Brazilian society, is the best way to prevent public policies aimed at racial recognition and appreciation from being demanded by a large majority. For this, different levels of discrimination, and a false impression of acceptance and ascension of the pardos, is necessary. And this is what colorism is about.
In the minds of some pardos, they are too light to be black. And, being able to access some mostly white spaces with greater ease, they don’t believe that they suffer racism. Even if they figure in the majority of the Brazilian peripheral population, suffer police abuses in operations, see that people hold their bags a little harder when they’re on the streets or have to undergo horrible aesthetic and hair treatments to feel socially integrated into the branquitude (whiteness) they believe to be part of.
Passability (or greater ease in dealing in certain environments than pretos, dark-skinned blacks) makes pardos a class of “privileged blacks”, but not that much.
There is also the opposite movement: dark-skinned blacks who don’t identify pardos as blacks, because they are not exposed to the same social diseases (racism, police violence, parental abandonment, extreme poverty, loneliness of being single, hypersexualization, among others) in the same proportion. Which makes perfect sense.
Unlike the United States, where there were segregationist laws and the “one-drop rule” defined who was black from a minimum amount of African ancestry, Brazil went through a different process: eugenics. The same thing that happened with Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and other Latin American countries, but that didn’t happen here. Because of this, the process of discrimination against anything that identified a black person as such was directed towards the darker ones.
Thrown into marginality, treated as bandits, forgotten by the State, denied care and basic rights; all these processes happened directly to negros de pele mais escura (darker-skinned blacks), not to the pardos. What places Brazilian racism not as a question of ancestry, but as a phenotype: the more one looks black, the less social access and the more prejudice suffered.
Where, after all, do pardos come into this whole story?
Because they are neither there nor here, there is a distancing of the pardos from black culture. The identification with the lyrics of Jorge Ben Jor and Jorge Aragão is slow to happen; wearing natural hair (or investing in braids or dreads) seems like hostile territory; taking advantage of racial quotas, which also concern them, does not seem fair; identifying yourself as black seems wrong.
The problem with pardos (and here I include myself) is that their existence cannot be erased from the Brazilian racial context. Pardos exist and are not black, even though they are black. But they need to get acculturated, occupy spaces and be present being who they are, using passability in favor of what needs to be done – without making themselves up as white.