The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent
Note from BW of Brazil: By way of social media, the issue has been a topic of debate, high emotions, arguments and accusations for some time. But because it has remained, for the most part, a topic that has been restricted to social network pages dedicated to issues within the Afro-Brazilian community, in some ways it remains an ‘underground’ topic. Although not directly approaching this specific issue, this blog first touched on an associated issue (a perceived preference of black men for white women) in a three part series starting in late September of 2012 and those posts were based upon material that was originally published in Raça Brasil magazine back in 1997. Since then, the issue has been endlessly debated in social networks such as the defunct Orkut and now Facebook. With the publications of various dissertations and books on the topic, black women who have felt the brunt reality of the issue have forced the issue into the blog-o-sphere with numerous black women chiming in on the subject in countless posts leading to a September article on the issue in a major Brazilian publication, Revista Fórum (magazine), which featured a six-page article on the topic.
What are we talking about? A solidão da mulher negra, or in English, the solitude/loneliness of the black woman.
Searching the internet under the title one will find numerous articles on the topic and we will continue to present the flavor of the discussion as it is a question that will eventually need to be debated in public forums because, at this point, the debate has been rather one-sided with black women doing nearly all of the research, posting the articles and leading the discussion. Below, we bring you an article that was shared repeatedly in social networks a few months back.
Solitude has a color
The trajectories of black Brazilian women are permeated by solitude, as denounced by activists and intellectuals interviewed by Fórum. This fact is closely related to the process of slavery and its consequences, especially the stereotypes associated with them in the social imaginary
By Anna Beatriz Anjos and Jarid Arraes
In the last Census conducted by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) in 2010, data about the black Brazilian woman caught my eye. The survey indicated that, at the time, more than half of them – 52.52% – did not live in a union, regardless of marital status (see data here).
The picture brushed by statistics has extremely bright colors for black Brazilian women, who, according to numerous reports, directly feel the effects of loneliness and being passed over throughout life. For years the black feminist movement has addressed this issue, but lately, with the power of social networks, the debate has amplified – especially with respect to heterosexual relationships – and caused controversy.
The discussion of affectivity of black women goes beyond the militant circles: over the decades, many intellectuals touched on this issue in their dissertations, theses and articles, principally when they had as an object of study interracial relations in Brazil. Examples are Thales de Azevedo, Florestan Fernandes and Elza Berquó, among others.
More recently, two black intellectuals have excelled in the academic literature on the subject. In 2008, sociologist and professor at the State University of Bahia (UNEB) Ana Cláudia Lemos Pacheco became a Ph.D in Social Sciences from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) with the thesis Branca para casar, mulata para f…., negra para trabalhar: escolhas afetivas e significados de solidão entre mulheres negras em Salvador, Bahia (White women for marriage, mulatto for f …., black women for work: affective choices and meanings of loneliness among black women in Salvador, Bahia), which in 2013, was converted into the book Mulher negra: afetividade e solidão (Black woman: affection and loneliness) (Edufba).
In the same year, Claudete Alves obtained the title of Master in Social Sciences from the Pontifical University of São Paulo (PUC-SP) with a dissertation A solidão da mulher negra – sua subjetividade e seu preterimento pelo homem negro na cidade de São Paulo (The solitude of the black women – their subjectivity and her deferment by the black man in the city of São Paulo), which later became the book turned Virou Regra? (Has It Become the Rule?) (Scortecci, 2010). Both spoke to Fórum about their work, the first to focus on the specific figure of black women and to give voice to her.
Solitude, an historical issue
Before talking about the solitude of black women it’s necessary, according to Claudete Alves, to look at the solitude of her ethnic group, which starts when it was “stolen from their habitat”, Africa, and “deprived of their means of production and of their own bodies while transformed into raw materials, from their feelings and their emotions. This process, which is configured in an imposed black diaspora, denotes that such an occurrence, painful and traumatic, affected the character of social relations of this social group in Brazil and its cultural identity process,” writes the author of Virou Regra?
“To dwell on the historicity of the black woman, I see that her trajectory, from the rupture of the African Diaspora until nowadays, was permeated by solitude,” continues the social scientist in her work. Throughout the text, she establishes an intricate relationship between the framework of solitude to what the protagonists of her study are submitted and the process of slavery in Brazil.
According to Alves, black women were freed before men, for they “being consider essential to agricultural production.” “This exclusionary condition and marginalization to which the black man was relegated imprint a new contour on the existing family configuration, giving rise to matrifocal families,” explains the book. “Typical of the New World, unlike polygynous families in Africa, its basic feature is being headed by women, which grants the female condition of centrality and authority in the assumption of permanence and guardian of the home, as opposed to definitive absence or fluctuating of a paternal figure.”
Added to this, one observes, according to Alves, “the existence of an intense sexual freedom in male life” occurred, so that black men kept other relationships as well as their marriage without there “loss of privileges or social harm.” “We find, thus free and freed women, in their majority solitary, often single mothers as the centerpiece of their homes and, for not married, either by voluntary choice, or by social difficulties or by deferment of the partner, they didn’t experience a condition of social access or amourous stability,” she adds, in Virou Regra?
Tastes and choices are social constructions
The data obtained by IBGE reveal that the situation of solitude still affects black women, more than a century after abolition. Why, over the years, has the scenario not changed?
According to the anthropologist Laura Moutinho, Professor of the Department of Anthropology of USP (Universidade de São Paulo), in the article “Discursos normativos e desejos eróticos: A Arena das Paixões e dos Conflitos entre ‘Negros’ e ‘Brancos’”(normative discourses and erotic desires: The Arena of passions and conflicts between ‘Blacks’ and ‘Whites’), one notes “the existence of a monogamous marital standard in Brazilian society; a relatively low percentage of ‘interracial’ marriages and in these, the prevalence of the ‘black’ man/’white’ woman couple.”
Analyzing Moutinho’s assertion, one can conclude that in interracial relationships, black women are the most often passed over by black men, which, as the anthropologist demonstrates, subverts the rule of “monogamous marital standard” and has relations outside of their ethnic group, with white women. This is also proven by the latest Census figures, which indicate: “Black men tended to choose black women in a lower percentage (39.9%) than black women in relation to the men in the same group (50.3%)”
Demographics aspects may represent a path to understanding this situation. “When one does research since Elza Berquó, the marriage market, it’s verified that in the white group, there are more women than men. So it can be said that there is a ‘surplus’. In the black group no, one identifies a balance. If this weren’t a sociological fact, you wouldn’t observe this solitude in the black group,” says Claudette Alves. “The white woman, who is in excess in her group, migrates to the other, and by the historical facts ends up competing in very advantageous condition in the group in which there is a balance.”
“There is a tendency, emphasized by Berquó, of the excess of white women surplus joining the surplus of ‘preto’ (black) and ‘pardo’ (brown) men. Such a trend is surprising, since ‘it’s surprising that it’s precisely the black women who have a surplus of black men, precisely in the most favorable age for the unions, that end up having lower chances of finding partners to marry. Our hypothesis is that the surplus of brancas (white women) in the population must lead them to compete successfully with pardas (brown women) and pretas (black women), in the marriage market,” writes Moutinho in her article.
The passing over of black women by black men is common element in the comments of the people interviewed by Ana Cláudia Lemos Pacheco for her Doctoral thesis. The sociologist heard, in all, 25 black women in Salvador, twelve activists and thirteen non-activists, belonging to all sections of the middle and popular classes. To carry out the analysis of their social trajectories, she selected ten – five activists and five non-activists. “I would say that the triangle that emerged and was very recurring in the narratives of the women surveyed was made up of the black woman, the black man and the white woman. About the white man one spoke very little one [time] or another.”
“Rejection is much more painful when it comes from their peers; black women want to be loved, to be happy,” says sociologist Eliane Oliveira, feminist, teacher and researcher at the Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares Afro-Brasileiros (NEIAB or Center of Afro-Brazilian Interdisciplinary Studies), at the State University of Maringá (UEM). “I think the black man must deconstruct racism not only in discourse but also in their practices.”
The situation of advantage in which the white woman is in relation to the black woman in the marriage market, particularly in relation to brown and black men is evident. “This is a sure clue that there is a social and historical interference which ends up also being one of the factors that takes, in addition to all other rights of black women, the right to love,” said Alves.
For Pacheco, a number of factors contribute to that black women beig passed over by the black man. They are mostly connected to historical and cultural aspects that inhabit our society. “In our cultural imaginary, racial and phenotypic characteristics of black women – considering skin color, hair characteristics and aesthetics – are all the time associated with negative stereotypes,” says the sociologist. “These representations are linked not only to the more general social imaginary, but also the academic and literary imagination. In music, in the socially produced images, what always stands out [in relation to black women] are these characteristics related to a sexualized behavior, almost servile – and this is the reproduction of very much colonial design, almost that the image reproduced of the enslaved woman, that would be, therefore for serving another, the master. And the other representation is work, as the black woman would be ‘jack of all trades’, she would be good for servile and domestic work, and would not be a woman with desires, with the possibility of constructing an affectiveness, of having personal and family projects, of a woman who has the ability to think.”
Historian Karla Alves, black activist of the group Mulheres Negras do Cariri – Pretas Simoa (Black Women of Cariri – Black Simoa), says the emotional loneliness only worsened the effects of racism on their self-esteem, something that they have felt since childhood, when she was discriminated against by colleagues from school and didn’t find, in traditional means of culture, nor in school content, positive and legitimate black references. “This caused an even worse stigma: the existential loneliness that at that moment would not even let me rely on myself,” she says. “Loneliness of black women is therefore an integral part of the formation of our identity that racism imposes on us. During youth and adulthood this loneliness is fueled by contempt of those with whom we aim to establish a loving relationship, as we come to be seen only by our expropriated and hypersexualized sex, mainly through the media.”
In contrast, the image of the white woman, according to Pacheco, is linked to “a more consistent behavior with an expectation of a more traditional genre, one that would be ideal for marrying, to maintain a relationship, to be a mother, while the black woman did wouldn’t fit into this representation.” Such a privilege has clear links with the standard of beauty widespread as ideal in our society, and that not only doesn’t address how it marginalizes black women’s aesthetic features. In this light, it can be said that black women suffer an added oppression: sexism and racism.
Studies of interracial relations in Brazil since the 1930s also discuss marriage between black men and white women as a strategy for social mobility. “(…) The woman, besides providing social access to a black man, would function as a possibility of escamoteamento from his phenotypic standard, granting invisibility to their color,” Alves considers in Virou Regra? According to the author, one of the main merits of her work is having proven that this practice doesn’t only occur only with black men who have asecended socially as a result of this movement – the example of black futebol players, the famous and wealthy, often constitute families with white women – but it occurs in practically all social strata. To prove this thesis, the researcher visited several areas of the city of São Paulo, in the suburbs and downtown- theaters, concert halls, supermarkets, hospitals, among others – and observed the proportion of inter and intraraciais couples in these places.
Given that these symbols are so strong and widespread in our society, it’s impossible to say that the affective and sexual choices fields are merely a matter of personal taste, fully disconnected from the social universe in which the individual is inserted. “In relation to the other, the desire for emotional involvement in the pursuit of pleasure is permeated by values and ideals established by the social context. The manifestation of the desire and the establishment or not of amourous bonds are also determined by concepts stemming from sexist and racist views,” attests the professor at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) Elisabete Aperecida Pinto, in her doctoral thesis Sexualidade na identidade da mulher negra a partir da diáspora africana: o caso do Brasil (Sexuality in the identity of the black woman from the African diaspora: the case of Brazil).
“It’s what Sueli Carneiro already said, we, black feminists, we’re not trying to control anyone’s relationship. We want to problematize it, because it is something that has affected us,” argues Pacheco. “Racism is an ideology, a belief which excludes. And it excludes not only from the labor market, from education, from the field of political power; these exclusions greatly influence when it’s time to choose [affective].”
“I feel an enormous shortage of famous blacks who have a defense of the black cause in the spaces that they occupy in the media. Even in the case of those who make of their work a way to raising our flag, I perceive that in practice things still return to the predictable, that is, they cherish their social standard to have a blonde at their side,” notes Eliane Oiveira. “Many may say that it is a matter of taste, but we are socially molded, therefore, our taste is not isolated from manipulation or imposition of what is beautiful, good, secure and desirable. Now, if we suffer today with the slave heritage that the black woman is for bed and not for marriage, how do we think that the black man also doesn’t reproduce that kind of thinking about her when what we see are them marrying white women?” she questions.
Although the word “solitude” is usually associated with negative connotations, the UNEB professor accounts that in the testimonials gathered, the term was being reframed – black women as protagonists of their own history, trasnforming their pain into strength. “The feeling of loneliness has resulted in suffering, tears, heartbreak and disappointment. But despite these processes of social exclusion, ethnic and social discrimination, these women empower themselves, many of them have overcoming fundamental inequalities – the question of survival, for example, social and economic – and becoming heads of household, raising children alone and without partners,” she says. “There are women who became great leaders of the black social movement and attained prestige tothe point of becoming of great national and international leaders and expression and occupying major political positions within Brazilian society. And there are women who, on the other hand, empower themselves through work, social ascension and a perception with respect to these inequalities.”
Deferment and affective solitude that affect black women can cause them great psychological distress and, being based on racist values, can generate even physical illness. This is what psychologist Maitê Lourenço explains. She is also a neuropsychologist for the Centro de Diagnóstico Neuropsicológico da Universidade Federal de São Paulo (Unifesp or Center for Neuropsychological Diagnosis at the Federal University of São Paulo) and collaborator of Psychology and Race Relations of the Regional
Psychology Council São Paulo Working Group. “Within the cognitive process, words, gestures and actions are captured and processed by the brain, in this way forming the conception of that woman about herself in a distorted way,” she says. She stresses that the framework is not limited to heterosexual women – lesbians and bisexuals also face this social phenomenon as well as transgenders.
According to the neuropsychologist, derogatory adjectives such as “ugly”, “monkey” or phrases said by family, colleagues and others as “no one will want you like that” are part of the daily context of black women, generating feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem and introspection. With this, through the violence of racism, it is possible that depression, anxiety and other chronic diseases such as asthma and fibromyalgia, affect these women.
“Social humiliation is also one of the mental sufferings caused by the solitude of black women,” points out Lourenço. “This woman feels humiliated at realizing that she doesn’t match what is expected for their age, social class, education and family environment. Excessive shyness, irritability, severe anxiety, hypertension, depression, obesity, abuse of alcohol and other drugs are also consequences, among many others, of the process experienced by these women,” said.
Clélia Prestes, a master and Ph.D in Social Psychology from USP and psychologist from the Instituto AMMA Psiquê e Negritude (AMMA Psyche and Negritude Institute) also discusses the implications of emotional loneliness can lead to low self-esteem of black women. “From birth and throughout the process of identity, self-esteem is influenced by the collective reference of beauty, in which black women are almost not represented, although most of the population is black. As a result, the social imaginary and personal ideas, thoughts and feelings that deal with diversity within a hierarchy of values, drastically undermining the way black women are seen and consequently their self-esteem and personal relationships.”
In their professional practice, Maitê Lourenço tends to women who report how difficult the state of solitude is, because many live their entire lives in a solitary way. “In the not too distant past for many families, just like mine, these women continued raising families of other women – white – that had in their homes husbands and children. And because of sexism, patriarchy and capitalism, these women had to stay away from their families because they live in the homes where they worked, thus depriving them of also building their homes and maintaining greater contact with other people, since they could not study , travel and etc.” she says.
According to the psychologist, the need to escape this social context and avoid a solitary life also makes black women vulnerable to abusive relationships. “Domestic violence can also be a part of the statistics to punctuate what happens to black women because many end up submitting to abusive relationships in order to not remain alone.”
In the understanding Clelia Prestes, although many people suffer from the consequences of racism, the “psychology has been silent and conniving,” in relation to it, “to the extent that it doesn’t confront it.” “By disregarding the social markers of difference such as race, gender, sexual orientation, generation, class and among others, it treats as universal beings that are diverse, disregarding their specific conditions and imposing in a hegemonic way particular characteristics of dominant groups.”
For Lourenço, the media has a great responsibility in the perpetuation of stigma arising from racist conceptions. “I’ve been watching a few commercials, novelas (soap operas) and Brazilian series and what one most sees are black women in subordinate roles and when there is a family nucleus for her, there are at most children, the mother of this woman or a brother. The fact of black women being represented in this way also affects the identification of girls, women and others that black women have only this place to occupy, generating psychological distress and more obstacles that black women have been arduously trying to overcome.”
Although the affective loneliness often has devastating consequences for the lives of black Brazilian women, Prestes points out that they “are not only passively exposed to frames of vulnerability and loneliness, but as they react to adversity and resist oppression, they end up strengthening individually and collectively.” “In my practice, in the actions by the AMMA Psyche and Negritude Institute, in activism (black movement and black feminism) and in research, I observed the importance of positive identification and the black women’s networks for reducing the effect and change this frame of loneliness, enhancing processes of resistance, overcoming and resilience,” she says.
Amor Afrocentrado (Afro-centered Love)
Luh Souza is known in social networks for her work against racism and for being the founder and moderator of the group Amor Afrocentrado (Afro Centered Live) on Facebook, where black men and women meet to discuss issues related to racism, affective relationships and if there is an opportunity finding peers with whom they can build romantic relationships.
The term “Amor Afrocentrado,” which is about the relationships between black people, has been used for many years when Souza began to discuss the issue of the solitude of black woman with friends and comrades in militancy – and their discussions found continuity on another social network, Orkut, in 2009.
The Facebook group started as a facilitator of meetings, as Luh Souza heard friends complaining that they could not find other black people with whom they could relate. “So I thought, I need to make a point where singles can meet and together discuss our problems,” she says. According to the number that she counted, the group resulted in the amount of 60 couples, among them three were married and some children were born of these unions.
The group’s intention was to discuss the matter solely among black people, as an internal debate; for Luh Souza, a measure in part to avoid controversy and accusations of “reverse racism” but also as a result of the indifference of white people. According to Souza, the debate, which has over a decade of proposal, always tried to get black men to reflect on the fellowship and presence of black women in their lives, whether as mothers, sisters and grandmothers, or as companions that always faced racism and the consequences of racial discrimination side by side against black men. “If they went to jail, were hospitalized or at school and even in the coffin, the one who suffers and sheds tears are the women there. And when growing up, why did they refuse to love a black woman? Why could they not be romantic with her? When we can put these issues all together in their minds, there is a transformation,” says Souza.
But despite the good will and entirely voluntary work, discussing the loneliness of black women and trying to promote relacionamentos afrocentrados (afro centered relationships) was not an easy practice. “Of course the rogue men appeared to deceive the sisters, married, but whenever I learned about it, I removed them from the group and blocked them,” he says. After a few misunderstandings and concerns, Souza decided not to moderate the group anymore, was satisfied with the achieved goals and went on to orient members so that they took care and responsibility to know new people.
But the challenges that have emerged are not just those involving any human relationship: the controversies around the subject began to grow as the issue gained visibility on the internet.
Luh Souza interprets this growing controversy board as a strategic mistake. For her, the theme of black women’s solitude should be a debate restricted to groups that militate against racism. “It’s exhausting having to discuss racism with ‘non blacks’ and equally exhausting debating the loneliness of black woman openly. Seeing that they are taking this to attack us, defame the network, being that they know that they marry whites for the most part, only that for them, it’s normal. Now, if we raise the issue, then they accuse us of reverse racism. An example: how many white futebol players or artists are married to black women? If love has no color …,” she provokes.
However, Souza is keen to emphasize that the criticism is not against interracial relationships themselves. “Interracial love will always exist,” she points out. “What we discussed is the racism embedded in the form of romantic relationships. If there is love between people, why there is a racial perspective within that supposed to love? What causes white women to have two options? Note that the racial dimension exists even within homo-affective relationships where a white person is more likely to find love than black people,” she asks.
“So the discussion is not, and should never be against miscegenation, but against the rule imposed by by the theory of embranquecimento (whitening) that black women don’t deserve to be loved, since she is passed over by all ethnic groups,” she says. According to Luh Souza, even black women considered beautiful and intelligent complain that they are passed over. “There is something very wrong, very much so. Basically, the phrase ‘amor não tem cor’ (love has no color) equals’ somos todos iguais’ (we are all equal). The right word would be ‘love’ only. If society needed to supplement the word ‘love’ with the phrase ‘no color’ it’s because they have to be justified and, if it needs be justified, it is because there is a problem there that nobody cares to review and discuss. They invent a poetic phrase to conform to it and didn’t resolve what’s necessary, equal to the ‘we are all are equal’. Ready, possession of poetry contained in sentences, to hell with the rest. We live in a standard without respecting the cry of those who are being excluded in society for being different,” protests Souza.
For her, the issue needs to be debated and the imbalance shown by the statistics should be questioned. “But since men have already made their choices, are married to white women and even have children, we cannot interfere,” she said.
Source: Revista Fórum