Note from BW of Brazil: With Carnaval celebrations and associated festivities heating up, the image of the voluptuous, sexy and (many believe) sexually available black woman will again take center stage, as always, supplying one of the few images of representation that is offered to her all year long. Even though the issue of “black woman as sex object” has been covered here, the evidence also being clear, and how the stereotype continues to live on, this topic can never be covered enough, particularly with Carnaval season arriving and Brazil being such a willing participant in the dissemination of such an image. It is with such a background that makes today proclamation all the more relevant.
My carne (flesh/meat) is of Carnival, not your sexual object!
Courtesy of Coletivo Negração; Photos: Gênova Wisniewski
“… Now, we extend our gaze to observe the following: At least since the early nineteenth century, the participation of black people in Brazilian carnival revelry was always marked by an attitude of resistance, passive or active, to the oppression of the ruling classes. Prohibited by law from retaliating on attacks of whites, Africans and crioulos (Brazilian born blacks) sought other ways to play in the entrudo (Shrove Tuesday). So much so that Debret, between 1816 and 1831, a period in which he lived in Brazil, caught interesting scenes during Carnaval, such as a group of blacks who, disguised as old Europeans and characterizing them in gestures, mocked the oppressors, creating, unknowingly, the cordões de velhos (1), hugely successful in the early twentieth century…” (Nei Lopes)
Brazilian Carnival is essentially synonymous with black culture. Carnival carries a very strong symbolic meaning for us blacks…it is evidence of a moment where all eyes are directed to us. Perhaps it is also the time where we have the greatest social consciousness, where we have an indisputable legitimacy…A recognition that we have at no other moment.
Wisely, Nei Lopes points out that the Brazilian Carnival as we know it arises also as a form of resistance of blacks in relation to whites. The first Escola de Samba (Samba School) is the Deixa Falar (Let Them Speak), having as one of the most notorious founders Ismael Silva. Subsequently other Samba Schools emerge as Estação Mangueira and Vai Como Pode, that would later come to be called Portela and Mangueira. At first, these schools didn’t have the large structures as we see today. Simple and allegoric floats and a few members set the tone of the party, where more important than the competition was the fun. Gradually, it was realized that the party could become profitable…And that party that was popular, went on to become exclusionary. Today, the community watches from the grandstand their costumes on the commercial walkway. With this appropriation, there was a transformation of a culture that had strong popular markers and of resistance to commerce.
At the core of the issue involving the commercialization of Carnival, which advances every year, the subject that touches us most as black women is the objectification of our bodies – which for us is nothing new – that receives a certain offensive in the months before Carnival. The example of this recently that we had was the choice of “Globeleza”, a contest to choose the best “mulata”. The term already says, mulatto is a word that has root in word mule, from the Latin mulus designated directly from the four-legged mestiço (mixed race) animal. A mule is the product resulting from the crossing of the horse with the donkey, ie, it passed on to apply to the son of the white man with a black woman. Did you ever wonder why black women only appear on television only in two instances: either it is a slave/domestic or she is the mulata in Carnival and in these two visions she is being placed at the service of the white man.
Almost directly our representation, as black women, in the media is done through the cancellation of our capacities as agents of transformation in our history, being reduced to bodies to be seen, this when our characteristics are not used in a form to belittle us as what happens frequently in the “humor” programs. This certainly has a historical root, these papers presented in the media are reflections of an inherited treatment from the time of slavery, in this time black women were repeatedly raped by their white masters and carried the role of that that should serve sexually without opposing, only accepting the “destiny” of which to her was conceded. Today we, black women, continue tied to that racist vision of the past that said that we served just for sex and nothing more.
The cheapest meat/flesh is still ours, the flesh of debauchery, illegal trade, the meat that is the target of the “lost” bullets, which coincidentally always has a certain destination, still it’s the black meat. Carnival is not only a party because we still live in a system which commercializes our lives, our bodies and our sexuality. Therefore, and understanding that this same system whether it’s from racism, sexism and many other existing forms of oppression in our society, we celebrate not even one bit in seeing the bodies of other black women being exposed in a “competition” on national television.
Globeleza represents our exploitation, it represents how much it still treats us as if we were just made for sex and to demonstrate, within society, the wild, the folkloric. It represents the control that the white and sexist media obtains on our bodies, but do not be fooled, “do not let them make you think that our role in the country is attracting gringo (foreign) tourist interpreting mulata.” Therefore we seek to darken/enlighten here this issue that strikes us so much, Globeleza does not represent us! We do not accept this image, we are not what this racist media says, we are no longer slaves and we do not accept that role.
1. Cordões de velhos was the name given to those who wore large and often bizarre papier-mache masks and walked with the gait of an old mans as if they are unable to dance or sing.