Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

“The black woman is not a Carnival costume” – Note to Brazil: Blackface is still not funny!


capa capa

Note from BW of Brazil: Needless to say, this beyond annoying! Even more annoying are the tired attempts of defending this behavior! It’s Carnaval time so people have a million and one reasons to hit the streets celebrate, have fun, get drunk and act a complete fool. But at what point does the celebration serve as an excuse to avoid social responsibility under the guise of ‘just having fun’? We already have to deal with constant arguments of the sensuality of Brazilian culture in response to accusations of racism in the fact that Carnaval is about the only time of year that black women attain some sort of media recognition, and this is based upon her samba dancing and near nudity. In order words, the ‘place’ reserved for black women. We’ve dealt with blackface in Brazil, unbelievably, in a number of previous posts so this is not a new topic. Before going any further, we will introduce you to two more participants in this practice. 

Domésticas de Luxo lead hundreds of revelers to the streets

Caricature bloco paraded at the Calçadão da Halfeld (Halfeld Boardwalk), with more than 200 members with painted faces

Courtesy of Tribuna

The Domésticas de Luxo Carnaval bloco in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais

The Domésticas de Luxo Carnaval bloco in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais

Celebrating 55 years of caricature bloco, the Domésticas de Luxo, loosely meaning “luxury domestics”, paraded in the early afternoon on Saturday (2) at the Calçadão da Halfeld, downtown. Only composed of men with blackened faces in maid’s dresses, the bloco was surrounded by hundreds of revelers, many of them children, who received sweets and also had painted faces.

Domésticas de Luxo

Domésticas de Luxo

Kéfera posts photo on her page and causes controversy

Courtesy of the Kéfera Online website

Actress/comedian Kéfera Buchmann in a regular photo and in a 'nega maluca' costume

Actress/comedian Kéfera Buchmann in a regular photo and in a ‘nega maluca’ costume

On the 14th (Wednesday) Kéfera posted an old photo on her official site, a making o video she made in 2013 for Carnival with the title of ”CarnaKéfera”. In the posting the photo Kéfera had no concept of the “brouhaha” it would cause among her page followers.

People calling her terms such as “racist” “disgusting” ”you make me sick”. This was not her intention, and Kéfera in no way wanted make an apology or offend anyone of color. There were comments like:

“I’m very disappointed with this photo. But I really like the Kéfera Buchmann. I just think that she still hasn’t reflected on this yet. About black representation. But I hope you think about it. Let’s help her people.”

“Racist”’, “disgusting”, “Ridiculous as always!” “Whoever likes blackface is stupid or racist by nature.”

Kéfera Buchmann in video “TÁ LIBERADO, É CARNAVAL! (5inco Minutos)”

But there were also positive (responses):

“You have to stop judging the actress for being dressed as nega maluca because of her role in anything and understand who created the character and why. And oh, before they say that whites don’t suffer racism and so they cannot speak, I would like to point out that racism is a form of prejudice. Then, casting the first stone whoever never suffered any kind of prejudice and depending on the case is worse than racism that many here have suffered. And remember that in Brazil there are hardly any people 100% white, I’m mixed and am proud of it.”

“Kéfera doesn’t wish to be racist to anyone! If you don’t like her, get out of the damn page and stop making this discourse that it will not change how many real racists exist in the world… you want to change that? It starts with you … studies, earn money and show racists you have the same right as them..”

 “She dresses in black in order to make a parody and it’s racist? Spare me!”

Kéfera Buchmann 3

Kéfera was never racist, and never intended to be. She did not dress so with malice or intention to offend anyone. For racism to happen, first the ”offender” REALLY has to have the intention of offending, and according to the target REALLY be offended, in case she HAD NO INTENTION to offend anyone.

Note from BW of Brazil: As we’ve shown, blackface, which is often called “rosto pintado de preto” (face painted black) is actually quite common in Brazil even today. Anyone who has spent any amount of time watching TV and film in Brazil knows that, in many ways, the country is a sort of “US colony” as Brazilian channels either directly import American TV programs and films overdubbed or subtitled in Portuguese or they make Brazilian versions of popular US TV shows. As such, it’s not surprising that blackface is yet another copy that seems to be clearly taken from the US playbook. It’s a curious case of cross-cultural imitation/importation.

But what makes cultural imitation/importation difficult is when the original product loses its cultural significance as it is interpreted in a different social context. For example, in the 1970s, African-Americans Soul/Funk music became very popular in Brazil even leading to the success of a number of Brazilian Soul artists. But in the US, the Soul/Funk era was symbolic as it gave voice to a widespread Civil Rights/Black Power movement that black Americans were leading in their demands for full citizenship. Although many Afro-Brazilians enjoyed the “Black Soul” movement and it did in fact stimulate many of them to embrace a blackness they previously hadn’t due to a widespread belief in Brazil’s social rhetoric of “we’re all equal”/“racial democracy” mythology. But as 95-99% of black Brazilians didn’t understand the English lyrics of the songs, often times the social significance of the themes got lost in the groove and there was no sort of social movement that sprung out of the black dances where this music was played. 

In a similar manner, as due to a lack of blatant racial hostility between whites and blacks as well as a relative lack of racial consciousness among black Brazilians, blackface appears to have simply been introduced into the iconography of Brazil’s media without really causing any sort of stir. A significant rise in racial consciousness has sharpened the sensibility of Afro-Brazilians over the past few decades, leading to challenges against depictions of blackness that probably would not have even caused a fuss just a few decades ago. The outrage over the images of the recent TV series Sexo e as negas was an example of this type of activism and understanding of racist representations of black Brazilians. The fervor over blackface hasn’t quite grown to such a fever pitch at this point, but voices of opposition continue to rise. Take the pieces below for example. 

comment edit

Souza: Don’t come to me asking to be cute, friendly and loving with racists. Black Face (dressing up as a black man/black woman in the Carnival) is racism and it’s past time that it be prohibited in Brazil. I am very in favor of taking some clubs, nail clippers, pocket knives and rip our skin and hair from whites/transvestites. Maybe they’ll feel a bit of the pain of suffering racism? They want to wear our skin? So then they’ll have to feel every little thing which we feel for 4 centuries when we suffered racism. They don’t want that, right? Get another costume to enjoy, you (pieces of) shit!

The black woman is not a Carnival costume

“Blackface” is tool of oppression and not an excuse for revelry. Respect our humanity.

By Djamila Ribeiro

Displays of blackface in Brazil. Message:  "Our hair and our color are not costumes, you filthy racists! Strip yourself of our skin!!"

Displays of blackface in Brazil. Message: “Our hair and our color are not costumes, you filthy racists! Strip yourself of our skin!!”

At Carnival time it’s very common to see people “dressing up” as black, painting their faces black, putting on afro wigs, putting on red lipstick in a bizarre way with the intention of making the lips bigger.

To understand how offensive it is, it is necessary to understand the context and the history of blackface (called rosto pintado de preto in Brazil). According to the site History of Blackface, blackface began when white men characterized themselves as black slaves or free men during the era of minstrel shows (1830-1890) and these caricatures had become fixed in the American imagination strengthening stereotypes. Comedians found success presenting to an audience of white aristocrats, stereotypical characters of black people in order to ridicule them. Besides painting the black face, these comedians overtly painted their mouths red to reach an “ideal representation” of what they judged to be black. Then, this practice  gained ground in cinema in the early twentieth century. As an example, we have the film The Birth of a Nation (O nascimento de uma nação in Brazil) of DW Griffith. The first film speaking of history, The Jazz Singer, 1927, also used this “technique” with actor Al Johnson playing a young black jazz singer painting his face black.

As Charô Nunes teaches us in the text “Blackface, Yes we can”, black face serves as both a racist stereotype and a means of exclusion. If in the first case, it ridicules, in the second, it doesn’t give opportunities to black actors, actresses, models, because if there are black artists, why would a person need to paint themselves black for this? And I would add: what the Brazilian media does, in general, is an “advance” in that. For very specific roles, they even hire black actors, but to reinforce stereotypes and stigmas. The black woman is still the hot samba girl or the maid and the black man is the rogue hustler and thief.

So if painting one’s self black is not at all funny, it’s offensive. These people also forget that just as people of other ethnic groups, are tall, short, fat, thin, with a thick lips, others with thin lips, we are different as any human being. Some time ago, the comedian Kefera Buchman recorded a video called “Tá liberado, é carnaval” (you’re free, it’s Carnival) in which she appears with her face painted black, with a black power wig dancing in a ridiculous and caricatured way. That is, using the Brazilian version of black face, the “nega maluca” (crazy black woman). In this video, the comedian exceeds all bounds of common sense and respect for portraying black women so outrageously. I’ve never seen a black woman behave in the way that she did.

I already wrote about the humor here in this space and I repeat: the humor is not exempt, it also carries the racist ideology. This funny to whom, Kefera? Are you lacking creativity to be funny, so you need to put down black women? We don’t need and don’t want this kind of “homage”. Do you want to pay homage to us? Have consciousness of the racism in the country in which we live and fight to combat it. Someone would joke about the horrors of Auschwitz? No, that would be a complete nonsense and disrespect. But they feel free to joke about slavery, racist mechanisms created to oppress us.

A black woman with cabelo crespo (curly/kinky hair) often hear jokes and is discriminated against and, at Carnival, the same person who ridicules our hair wants to dress up as “us” to keep on ridiculing us. Recently I participated in an Al-Jazeera English program on racism in Brazil along with Nênis Vieira, of the Blogueiras Negras blog and Daniel Gomes, of the Afro-Attitude blog. I was delighted to be able to speak openly and frankly about this scourge that afflicts us. Dreaming of the day when the Brazilian media stop treating the subject with contempt and thinking that anything goes for laughter. We are not Carnival costumes in any sense: to be ridiculed or being treated as mere bodies that dance samba and shake our hips. Respect our humanity.

Note from BW of Brazil: So what’s the verdict on the issue of blackface in Brazil? Well, first of all, even if one were to argue that the Brazilian context is different than that of the American, the character known as the ‘nega maluca’, meaning ‘crazy black woman’, is a well-known figure in the Brazilian context. The fact that the group from Minas Gerais takes it a step further and dresses up in maid’s uniforms shows a direct link to the stereotype of black woman as domestic workers. As such, the usage of such an exaggerated, gruesome appearance in imitation of a group of women that is already disrespected and even more so the darker her skin color, this cannot be simply brushed aside as just humor. And further, as Brazil copies so much from the US arsenal of entertainment, there is no excuse for not knowing the historic context of this type of performance. 

The last issue I take with this latest usage of blackface is the nerve of Buchmann to have a photo of herself holding a black child as if to say, “see, I’m not racist.” This sort of display is equal to the undercover racist claiming, “I have black friends” or “I’ve been with black men/women”. It’s no use and utterly disgusting when persons resort to this sort of defense after accusations of racism surface. Due to Brazil’s ultra-Eurocentrism, the black child Buchmann holds in the photo has few black role models or black dolls with which to relate to and see herself as beautiful, but Buchmann wants us to believe that wearing such ridiculous makeup doesn’t belittle this little girl’s humanity. There is almost no black representation on television and she feels it is her right to represent the under-represented in a such a foolish manner? The same group that is already on the receiving end of “all things negative” in the national imagery as it is? As one comment put it above, “spare me”! 

Source: Carta Capital, Tribuna de MinasKéfera Online

7 comments on ““The black woman is not a Carnival costume” – Note to Brazil: Blackface is still not funny!

  1. lewislay19892015
    February 12, 2015

    Whites are the only people who likes to mock and offend blacks! Even in Holland, Dutch people for Christmas had fun to offend black people and paint black face and putting a wig! I do not know what problem this people but definitely are mentally ill or are not satisfied of their existence!
    They always claim that they are superior to us but I think we who are superior to you! We at least have education and respect, and we do not go to other countries to massacre the poor people like you! One thing was right Malcolm X they are by nature depraved and evils!!

  2. SoMoro_Ali
    February 15, 2015

    Quite a disturbing article…Yet I think it’s a good thing that these White folks express their inherent racist attitude in the form mockery directly to our faces. Maybe more of us will begin to wake up. Trying to shame them so they can stop will only make them more slick and cunning and will leave us even more confused.

  3. L. Kern
    March 9, 2015

    “Due to Brazil’s ultra-Eurocentrism, the black child Buchmann holds in the photo has few black role models or black dolls with which to relate to and see herself as beautiful, but Buchmann wants us to believe that wearing such ridiculous makeup doesn’t belittle this little girl’s humanity.”

    This quote was the most poignant of the post for me. I find it insulting that the picture of Buchmann was trotted out as the old “Look at me! I’m not racist because I’m holding a Black baby” card because it shrouds the issue. Whether Buchmann herself is racist itself, in my opinion, isn’t important. What is important to understand is that there is a society in place where she and many others feel comfortable putting on Black face and performing caricatures “all in the name of good fun.” Good fun for who? When that little girl sees Buchmann and others attempt to darken their skin to look like her, while shaking their butts and adorning maid uniforms, is she supposed to be in on the joke? I do not think that it should be the responsibility of those in the marginalized group to constantly be told to “lighten up” (pun not intended) by the dominant society who consistently reminds them of what their role should be. There is a wealth of research that illustrates how harmful these images can be on the self-image of Black men, women and children (not to mention how these pervasive images alter the perceptions of Whites), it shouldn’t be a matter of contention that Black face is an outdated and racist practice. I think that people know that this is horrible and just do not care to change their ways.

  4. mentalironenv
    March 10, 2015

    I’m hoping that the Domêsticas de Luxo are exceptional in their blatantness, but I’m sure there are equally grotesque examples of this kind of racist caricaturing in Brazil today. The article raises an important note on the use of humor and mockery: that the source matters as much as the target audience. It’s one thing for black comedians to use self-deprecating racial humor to a black audience, and quite another when white leaders of Sigma Alpha Epsilon frat boys whoop and holler “there’ll never be a nigger in SAE!” to a cackling busload of their peers. So the conversation changes when self-identified whites (or mulattos) don black face and maid costumes and go parading about the square in Minas Gerais during Carnaval to onlooking tourists and townsfolk. Ostensibly, black Brazilians walking those same streets are not in on that joke, are not that audience – another way in which humor can serve as “both racist stereotype and a means of exclusion.” The casual, fun-loving and celebratory veneer of the Domêsticas disguises the depths of their racism and arguably makes it much worse than its more overt and virulent forms, insofar as it speaks to the intransigent nature of racial prejudice and the “ah, cmon, forget about it” shrugs encouraged by the convenient myth of racial harmony. The name itself, “Maids of Luxury,” openly flaunts the ugliness of the portrait, but that they’re willing to engage in this light-hearted, black-faced festivity year in year out, amidst growing charges of racism, speaks to the inability and/or unwillingness of some whites to fully stare down the racial reality that grants them this particular form of entertainment while knowing full well that reverse is impossible.

  5. Ruby DeLeon
    March 10, 2015

    I never knew that blackface was so popular in Brazil, and the point that Brazil is a very Eurocentric nation makes it now obvious that using blackface would be the case. The thing about using blackface in Brazil that i noted that is different from the use of blackface in the U.S is the cultural connection it holds in Brazil. In Brazil men dress up in blackface as domestic workers as part of Carnaval. There is a cultural nuance that Brazilians all connect to which is the ‘domestic black female worker’ that for some reason everyone finds funny. In the U.S there is no cultural connection to blackface except its depiction in film to either reinforce black stereotypes or to not hire black actors. Using a race to make a mockery out of it is not funny or acceptable. It dehumanizes people and objectifies their humanity as not important. Racism is very much alive and prevalent all over the world, and Brazil is no exemption to that. The point that was made that the comedian dressed in blackface shows ‘lack of creativity’ as the article mentioned. There are so many things that could be used to be funny but using blackface to reinforce stereotypes that have oppressed people for centuries is unacceptable.

  6. Taylor Smith
    March 11, 2015

    This article was disturbing and upsetting to read. I did not know that black face was such a big thing in Brazil. I feel as though if it was not for the Carnival that blackface would be such an issue. The photo of the girl is disturbing to me because it comes off as her trying to prove that she was not racists. Like the article states, “This sort of display is equal to the undercover racist claiming, “I have black friends” or “I’ve been with black men/women”. It’s no use and utterly disgusting when persons resort to this sort of defense after accusations of racism surface.” I think its sad that people have to resort to doing things such as that but racial discrimination is still very much alive. I think that either way it is wrong and rude for white people to paint there faces blacks. For African Americans, they have been through unspeakable things such as slavery that white people never had to deal with. It’s not their place. Like I said before, I did not know that black face was so popular in Brazil culture, but I hope that people will soon realize that is extremely rude, and almost a slap in the face to black people.

  7. sarahmae cruz
    March 11, 2015

    Just looking at the picture and video on this article. It was very disturbing. And after reading this article I feel mixed emotion because there so many points in both side of argument that can be considered. But for me it was disturbing because even if Kefera was actress, comedian and etc. I think we should know our limitation and be aware of because you never know who might offended or not offended on it. And I agreed that it’s “lack of creativity” because there’s a lot of way to be funny and even if you don’t have any intention to be racist, stereotyping and etc. I think you have to think about it before you say it or do something funny about black people or other race, because it’s not good.

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