Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

Carnaval may be coming, but for expert Eliane Oliveira, racism remains the order of the day at Brazil’s most powerful TV network


Racismo a gente vê na Globo - capa

Note from BW of Brazil: Right around this, depending on where one lives in Brazil, the heavily percussive sounds of rehearsals peculating into the night signal one thing: Carnaval time is right around the corner! Joy, dancing, singing, lights, cameras, music and plenty of negras/mulatas frenetically sambando (dancing samba) to the beat! These are all of the things that are pretty obvious and things that everybody sees. But what many people won’t see or won’t understand is the continued ‘place’ that is reserved for black women in Brazilian society. Sure, these women will very beautiful, very talented showing off their mastery of the ‘samba no pe’ and no doubt their moves will come across as very sensuous for millions of men around the world tuning into the festivities.

But the question, why must the black woman only/always be presented in this manner? In one of our first posts on this topic, Carnaval is perhaps the only time of year that one will see an abundance of black women on television and Brazil’s top network, Rede Globo is perhaps most responsible for the divulging of this ‘place’. In fact, if we look between the lines, we are sure to see that the black woman’s ‘place’ today is similar to the place imagined for her when she was literally still wearing chains less than a century and a half ago!

Racism we see on Globo

Whenever the Globo Carnival vignette appears on television, Brazil reaffirms its racist and misogynist legacy. Even more troublesome is that few seem to be bothered with the explicit racism

By Jarid Arraes

Érika Moura, Globo TV's latest 'Globeleza'

Érika Moura, Globo TV’s latest ‘Globeleza’

In Brazil, dominated by the illusion of a harmonious racial coexistence, according to which people of different colors and racial mixtures coexist in a perfect peace, without their physical characteristics ever becoming the target of discrimination. However, this discourse falls to earth easily: Brazilian racism is alive and, in fact, it’s so well accepted in society that questioning it sounds outrageous. An example of this reality is the existence of Globeleza, a feature of Rede Globo (TV) that displays black women – called by them “mulatas” – in the period of Carnival.

It is not difficult to understand where the racism of Globeleza lies: Globo selects only black women to represent the sexuality of the Carnival, which, as we know, is related to sex considered “promiscuous”; that is, year after year, the black woman is associated with a disposable sex object, that represents compulsive sexuality without having any value outside of this role. This is a racist mentality that has existed since the times of slavery when enslaved black women were raped by white men that maintained their marriages to white women, but used black women in an abusive and violent way.

Whenever the Globo Carnivalesque vignette appears on television, Brazil reaffirms its racist and misogynist legacy. Even more troublesome is that few seem to be bothered with the explicit racism. You can even hear moralistic positions, people who reject the framework for its content of nudity, but will hardly denounce the racial problematic and the harm that Globo causes black women every year.

Criticisms against Globeleza are not recent. Both the Movimento Negro (black movement) and the feminist movement already have already elaborated long-standing theories and protests in a constant effort to eliminate it. Racist and sexist stereotypes, after all, are repeated quite often. The whole controversy surrounding the series Sexo e as negas, of writer Miguel Falabella, is another example of the racist pattern of Brazilian television, so heavily utilized by Rede Globo.

Eliane Oliveira, Master’s in Social Sciences from the State University of Maringá (UEM) and member of the Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares Afro-Brasileiros (NEIAB or Interdisciplinary Afro-Brazilian Studies Center), is categorical in her analysis: the Globeleza and the Sexo e as negas series repeat the same roles destined to black women. “The maintenance of the relationship with the sexual and with the exotic. It’s racism and sexism mixed (together), it seems to me that they fail to realize that we black women beyond the bed, a colonial stigma that does not disappear, that’s not overcome, the sinhôs (slave masters) and  sinhás (slave masters’ mistresses) thinking that the black woman is there to serve their pleasure.”

Eliane Oliveira, Master of Social Sciences, defends the end of the “Globeleza” post: “It's racism and sexism mixed together” (Photo: Personal Archive)

Eliane Oliveira, Master of Social Sciences, defends the end of the “Globeleza” post: “It’s racism and sexism mixed together” (Photo: Personal Archive)

Chosen for rejection

It’s profoundly misleading whoever thinks the position of Globeleza only position only brings positive fruits for the chosen woman. The case of Nayara Justino, chosen as Globeleza by popular vote Globo TV programming, breaks the perversity behind this framework wide open: Nayara was voted by viewers and was crowned the Carnival muse, but soon began to receive racist attacks and abuse, mainly on the internet. The discourse repeatedly discriminated against Nayara for having very dark skin and not having facial features considered delicate.

Because of the public’s racism, Rede Globo pushed Nayara into the fridge and did everything to hide her, which caused her to fall into depression. For 2015, Globo elected a new “mulata”: the São Paulo native Erika Moura, who has lighter skin and the physical appearance closer to the black pattern that the station allows to be shown on the small screen. “Erika is beautiful and from what I know, the selection was made within the samba schools. Nayara is also beautiful and was chosen by popular vote. In my view, the problem lies in standardization or stereotyping of black women acceptable for the TV screen. That is, there are blacks that can and blacks that cannot. Someone with markedly black features, darker skin tone, thick lips and a round nose doesn’t pass through the racist scrutiny of the Brazilian public,” said Oliveira.

Érika Moura, Nayara Justino and Valéria Valenssa: “It’s profoundly misleading whoever thinks the position of Globeleza only position only brings positive fruits for the chosen woman”

Érika Moura, Nayara Justino and Valéria Valenssa: “It’s profoundly misleading whoever thinks the position of Globeleza only position only brings positive fruits for the chosen woman”

According to Oliveira, both Erika and Nayara are black and beautiful women, without one being more or less beautiful than the other – the problem is the station’s attempt to embranquecer (whiten) the black beauty to be closer to the European standard. “It’s enough to see how they are announcing the new choice, ‘uma morena linda’ (a beautiful morena, meaning ‘brown/mixed girl’)’” (1) she explains. She further explains that the racial standard of Globo is the racial standard of Brazilians who do not seem to understand that 50% of the population is black. “The impression I have is that we don’t exist as viewers or as consumers, we don’t need to see ourselves represented, as only the desire, the taste, the money of whites is what counts. We have lived in this fallacy of embranquecimento (whitening) for centuries and we cannot get rid of this staleness, colorism is the legacy that seems to have no end,” she laments.

The situation is complex and difficult, especially when put the psychological health of women such as Nayara Justino in the spotlight. Within months, the woman who was acclaimed and applauded by the public can become the laughing stock of the country, but in the end still have to be thankful for the opportunity conceded. This is a cruel logic, but naturalized. However, it is essential to not be mislead because there is no positive side to racism and sexual objectification. The conceded space when built on racial prejudice, can fall apart very quickly. But how do you solve the problem? How do you fight the media giant and the dependency relationship that the network imposes upon black artists?

“I think the relationship of ‘Black Woman and Carnival’ needs to be made problematic because in addition to being a cultural celebration in Brazil, Carnival is also a commercial party and the ‘mulata tipo exportação’ (mulata for exportation) is another item to be commercialized,” says Oliveira. The mulata in this context would be the embodiment of exotification and objectification of black women. “I love the passistas (Carnaval dancers), the samba no pé (samba in the foot dance), body care and dedication to the community, but I question why these women do not have the same media highlight that the Globo women that occupy prominent positions in the parades, for example,” she contests.

And the white women?

Some people point out that, despite the harsh criticism of the Globeleza, contests with white women like Miss Universe, don’t suffer the same protests. But this is nothing more than a deception, based on pure ignorance. The feminist movement points out that, yes, sexism exists in beauty contests aimed at white women. In fact, Globeleza seems the only dispute among black women that receives some prominence, since in all other women’s competitions white women are the absolute majority. Even in Bahia, the Brazilian state with the largest black population, there has been controversial because of the lack of black candidates in the selection for the Miss Brasil contest.

It’s important to remember that many black feminists such as Eliane Oliveira, don’t see the inclusion of black women as a permanent solution to the problem. “I don’t see Miss contests positively in any context,” she says. “I find this kind of thing an aberration. What is the rational explanation for women competing amongst themselves who is more beautiful? My feminism will not let me see logic in a situation where women battle among themselves for a post that is completely illusory; beauty is subjective, taste is socially constructed.”

But the exclusion of black women from contests like Miss Brazil has ramifications and consequences; they are results that explain Globeleza, since this is one of the only opportunities for black women to be assessed as beautiful, albeit in a sexist and distorted form. “Globeleza, in my opinion, is something that should have disappeared from television for a long time. But, instead of this, because we have in Brazil a selective media and a racist society, this is one of the few prominent spaces that black women can still compete for on TV. I understand that many women crave such a post; after all, what other possibilities do they have on TV, to be an actress and play menial roles?” she says. The fact is that there is a lack of representation for black women on television and even when they appear, they’re placed in inferiorized positions, with no parity or position of protagonist.

The road to parity is long, but some simple strategies, however incisive, are suggested by the intellectual who believes Globeleza must end. “For what reason does Globo have to have a Carnival muse? I think that who should have a muse are the associations that work all year for this, and that probably should have selection criteria that are not only physical beauty,” she considers. “The role of the station would come down to placing emphasis on the girls, but why is it not like this? They can tell me the choice for such a post ends up benefitting, but I think if there are no other areas where she can grow, from stardom to anonymity is a precipitous drop. Just look at what happened to the beautiful Valéria Valenssa: after more than ten years as the Globeleza, she disappeared from the media and, from what I read, was depressed over having lost her post so abruptly. She wasn’t an actress, she lived off of the title, (and) when she lost the post she had to deal with the distance from the spotlight. I honestly don’t see anything beneficial in this situation.”

Carnival is coming; the Globeleza dances samba on Brazilian television and once again those who fight against racism receive the hostility of those who refuse to question the standards. In Brazil, unfortunately sexist racism is still considered entertainment. On the TV screen, in the midst of these people, it’s racism that we see on Globo.

Source: Revista Fórum

Note

1. A number of articles on the blog deal with this labeling of black women as ‘morenas’. In these articles a number of women explain who they came to develop a identidade negra (black identity) and rejecting the more ambiguous, more socially acceptable term ‘morena’. See here.

3 comments on “Carnaval may be coming, but for expert Eliane Oliveira, racism remains the order of the day at Brazil’s most powerful TV network

  1. L. Kern
    February 5, 2015

    This was a very informative blog post, especially for someone who knows about Brazil’s history with branqueamento policies but is not the most well-versed on the topic at hand of Globeleza. Even though I did not know of the stories of these specific women, sadly, it is not at all surprising. There are many.parallels between the standards of beauty in Brazil and those in the United States, where white women and white feaures are exalted at the expense of more “ethnic” women, particularly those with African features. One thing I thought that was particularly telling was when one of the women spoke of how there are so few positions for darker Black Brazilian women on Brazilian television, save for under-explored, subservient and menial roles. The double-edged sword being that even though the image of the Black Brazilian woman in popular media is that of an overly sexualized object, it is (in some ways) preferable to Black women not being represented at all.

  2. Jules
    February 5, 2015

    I haven’t read the article in its entirety, just half of the first paragraph and will have to come back to it. But a though jumped out at me and I had to share it before its forgotten. Could the nakedness of black women for entertainment be tied into the nakedness of black women when they were on the slave trade platforms? There seems to be a connection there. Black woman on the podium stark naked dancing for the entertainment of the masses, black woman on the podium available for purchase, you can touch her, poke her wherever and decide if you will pay the price for ownership. I’ll read the entire article and come back another time.

  3. Pingback: Inside Brazil’s Samba carnival school of black women dancers | udumakalu

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This entry was posted on February 4, 2015 by in Carnaval, Carnaval dancer, Globo TV and tagged , , , , , , , .
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