Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

Analyzing “palmitagem”: the racist policy of whitening the black population


Note from BW of Brazil: It is an ongoing debate/dialogue/argument among black Brazilians. As more and more people become conscious of the depths of indoctrination in terms of the worship of white skin, the finger-pointing is escalating. With numerous black women writing material addressing a solidão das Mulheres Negras” (the solitude/loneliness of black women), which many believe is due to so black men passing over black women to court white women, the subject won’t be going away any time soon. 

Precisamos reconhecer nossa palmitagem

Since this debate started to heat up a few years ago, a term was coined to describe black men who have a predilection for white skin: palmiteiros. The term is derived from the word palmito (hearts of palm) and the allegiance to this type of phenomenon is referred to as palmitagem. But while the blame has been overwhelmingly directed at black Brazilian men, other writers have been stepping forward and placing the blame where it in fact belongs: racism/white supremacy. The piece below represents more of an overview of the situation. 

Analyzing “palmitagem”: the racist policy of whitening

By Iran Santos via Facebook

“I’ve always been single for two reasons: I didn’t want a black child because he suffers a lot, and also I didn’t like men of my color.” (BERNARDO, Teresinha (1998) Memória em Branco e Negro: olhares sobre São Paulo, São Paulo, Ed. da Unesp)

“Palmitagem” is a phenomenon that has been the object of important studies. Born of the inferiority of the black element, the result of historical processes of exploitation and violence already widely seen in other studies, it is the pathological habit of many black men and women preferring to have relations with white men and women at the expense of their peers under allegations of the alleged inferiority and absurdities involved in the act of having relations with blacks. What follows is a brief analysis of “palmitagem” throughout the history of black people.

Embranquecimento (whitening)

The policy of embranquecimento, or whitening, was based on the assumption of white superiority. According to eugenic ideas, born in the context of capitalist development and consequent growth of European power that ended in a real rape of the world, the Aryan race was superior, in its highest state of human evolution, while the black population would be the lowest, closer to apes; having as a reference the European experience and a profound ignorance about other societies around the world. Thus, blacks were considered animas whose exploitation by means of slavery would be praised by authors such as Marx and Engels, slavery, as said by these thinkers, was necessary, without which it would be impossible for whites to economically develop towards socialism.

The immediate result of white supremacist thinking for which the decimation of inferior races would be a necessary natural process, the theory of embranquecimento is part of a set of ideas that are intended to free several countries of the black presence that was already unnecessary after the end of slavery. The policy of embranquecimento was to encourage the entry of European immigrants in these countries with large numbers of blacks and stimulate thoughts of inferiority on these unwanted populations. In Latin America, one of the most successful countries in this process was Argentina, which in the late nineteenth century had a population that was 30% black and with the massive influx of white Europeans the black population was reduced to about 5%. Thrown to abandonment, poverty and repression, the black population in Argentina has been decimated to the point of Argentines (famous for their racist statements) can be proud of, as it has done, of being a white country, although they have kept as a mark of their culture elements of black culture such as tango and macumbas. There, the black populations resisted, wrote papers, attended their own dances and associations, but today these populations are the fruit of later currents of African immigrants and from elsewhere.

Were it not for the quantitative population of blacks being much higher in Brazil than in Argentina, Brazil would have achieved the same objective, but, although it failed to reach its goal, attempts aren’t lacking. The methods used went from the ban on black immigration, the incentive of white immigration, and the encouragement of miscegenation by crossing black women with white men. It is this third aspect, more of an ideological character, which I will focus the analysis on in order to analyze processes that permeate the black realm until the present day. But before analyzing “palmitagem” in Brazil, I will visit the ideas of two great black thinkers on this subject.

And I begin giving the word to Frantz Fanon, Martinican psychiatrist and essayist, a thinker of the twentieth century that influenced thinking on decolonization and the psychopathology of colonization, which in his classic Pele Negra, Máscaras Brancas (Black Skin, White Masks) devoted two chapters, “The woman of color and the white man” and “The man of color and the white woman” to show, through a psychological analysis, how pathological interracial relationships, which here we call “palmitagem” are the result of a process of psychological massacre that, from the inferiority of the being, makes many blacks prefer to relate to white people and do everything to justify their pathological desires for white people with huge lists of excuses that intend to disqualify blacks partners, whereas they automatically elect white partners as their ideal and attribute to them piles and piles of almost innate qualities.

And now, to enter and remain on the Brazilian case, it’s in Neusa Santos Souza, Bahian psychoanalyst, a militant since the 1980s, which in her classic Tornar-se Negro: ou As vicissitudes da identidade do negro brasileiro em ascensão social, (Becoming black: or The vicissitudes of the identity of the b upwardly mobile black Brazilian) speaks of the disadvantageous psychological structure under which it operates on the black Brazilian population and the processes of denial which often constitutes strategies of social mobility, as well as the process of the negation of other blacks as the negation of themselves in the rejection that they practice against their peers passing them over in affective relations under the perspective of fantasies, fetishes and sexual and social stereotypes. The study of this important black intellectual black us to try to understand how we can observe “palmitagem” in the history of the black Brazilian and how this practice is an internalized instrument of destruction the black community.

Negros de almas brancas (Blacks with white souls)

The study of the black population in the immediate post-abolition of the early twentieth century shows us that blacks, despite the exclusion and social hardship, tried by many means to organize themselves in order to rise up socially and morally, but it was not only that. During this period blacks also preached their own extinction by means of a process of mestiçagem (racial mixture) that, as conceived and accepted at the time, should tend to the embranquecimento, or whitening, of the nation.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the preoccupation of many white Brazilian politicians and thinkers was the need to eliminate the black element of Brazil. They tried it through immigration, but also by means of racial propaganda internalized by the black population. José do Patrocínio, an important abolitionist was one of those people who internalized that the solution to the problem of blacks was whitening. The image that follows the text is called “A redenção de Cam” (the Redemption of Ham), from 1895 of the Spanish painter Modesto Brocos and is found in the National Museum of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro, and is one of the works that illustrates the ideal of the time. In it three generations are found in the present in the following situation: a black woman, who thanks heaven for the grace of having been able to whiten her lineage through her lighter-skinned daughter who marries a white man and brings forth a grandson with a European phenotype. In the work of Gilberto Freyre we note in his praise of miscegenation the fact that the Portuguese whites would have slept with black women and thus created the Brazilian race. Note that the propaganda of embranquecimento is always directed to the need for black women to have children with white men. It would be naïve to think that whites would want to encourage that black men lie down with their white daughters, seeing that black women are the ones who should clean their wombs with the superior semen of the white man.

White women bearing the children of black men would not be positive for a simple fact. The process of domination of a people is through the death of its men and (mostly sexual) subjugation of their women. No wonder it has always been common that in a war, seize the children and women to rape and distribute them as booty. The Brazilian process of embranquecimento, after the reality of rape from slavery, was followed by the killing of the men, if not by poverty, by violence. And in an even more sophisticated way, by the conviction of inferiority, which made parents not want their daughters to marry black men but with white men, and that were also were all so convinced of white superiority that black men also desired the white woman, although they were less accessible.

Considerable portion of the black Brazilian movement early last century embraced the ideological and social embranquecimento by preaching that in order for black people to succeed in their proposal of integration (which implied a dilution of the black population in the white mass, a process of suicide) it was necessary to imitate the whites. Aesthetically, the black newspapers were full of advertisements of products to straighten the hair and whiten the skin, always addressed to black women, the identification of products as Germans were attesters of its quality. Biologically, the ideal was the white partner.

The chronicles published in these vehicles of information always told stories of black men, with no identity, who fell in love with the white woman in an impossible love and ended up redeeming himself from his blackness through tragic death after humiliations. An insistent recipe that most shows the idealization of the white woman, speaks still of her impossibility.

For black women, despite the desire of “whiteness”, the reality of rejection was not so different, in the way that we cannot overestimate interracial marriages, in São Paulo, for example, in the 1920s. As stated by Sylvio Floreal, eyewitness to the process: “But the sad truth is that the number of mulatinhas (little mulatas) who manage to marry according to their dream of whiteness is so brief, that it was better that they, punished by the harsh experiences and taken as it has been, by way of bitterness of destruction, abandon this disastrous obsession! However, such as obsession implanted in the cravings and whims of these little creatures, constitutes the reason of being in their lives.” (Memória da Escravidão em Famílias Negras no Estado de São Paulo – MEFNESP, São Paulo, 1987)

We then observed, a reality of mutual rejection, dissatisfaction with their peers, loneliness, all this in a context of scarcity in which the expectation was that the black population would disappear in a period of 50 to 200 years. With each counting of the census that demonstrated that the black population had declined the fact was celebrated as a sign of the salvation of the nation, many blacks were against the immigration of blacks from the United States to here under the argument that it would delay the solution process in the course of the solution of the black problem in the country. And since very little has been done in order to reverse this mental picture, to this day we realize that in many black families the desire is for brancura (whiteness), the “cleaning” of the womb of their daughters, the whitening of the lineage with the marriage of their children with white women.

“Palmitagem” is, and always has been, the greatest thing responsible for the so-called “solidão do homem/mulher negro(a)” (loneliness of the black man/woman). Not that most men and black women are madly getting around with their white peers (many really are, when they’re the “mulata exportação” – mulata of the exportation type – or “alpha-male”), the fact is that the same propaganda that preaches the white as ideal for the black, it preaches whites as ideal for themselves, in a way that whites have in themselves their own ideals. So, except a few white exceptions seeking venture to satisfy their fetishes lying with blacks (some even really fall in love), the general reality is that they are all socially directed to seek whiteness as ideal when already white, the whiteness ideal and the maintenance of this. Only an afro-centered perspective of black beauty and an affirmed self-consciousness in the carriage of time, will free the enslaved mind of black men and women who deny themselves and theirs under various pretexts, but for one reason: we are all fruit of a gradual process of psychological destruction headed towards inferiority and antagonism with ours, only a few free themselves from this process and gradually.

And in this context of schizophrenia in discussions of social issues, an ideology raises itself against the black population and serves as legitimizing the status quo contributing to the trajectory of whitening that Brazil has not ceased to follow. When feminism appropriates a number of stereotypes about black men, representing him always as the aggressor, the rapist, that that one should “crack” because he is that one that will always do this the black woman’s face, etc. etc., because they are always irretrievable animals, different from white men, “palmitos” (palm hearts), loving, kind and gentle with whoever he can be, and it is desirable to maintain a dialogue. When we note the amount of black women that step into feminism come to exhibit a position of declared hatred of black men and defend with bases, supposedly scientific, because they prefer white men rather than black men (supposedly guilty of her loneliness), this movement isn’t doing anything more than updating the theory of embranquecimento, following an old history, justifying in new bases a process initiated by racist theorists of the nineteenth century, and using an old tactic to destroy the black population, namely, putting the black man against the black women and the black women against the black man.

African womanism proposed by Clenora Hudson-Weems, as an idea that proposes the analysis of us for ourselves, according to an African-centered standpoint, decries the divisions in the black realm as something that never solved our problems, never met our demands, to the contrary, only hinders and prevents the advance in trying to find the solution of our problems. Look at your history and see that black men and black women are together in this boat. The two sides have historically been humiliated, slaughtered and divided. There are a number of black and non-blacks scholars who have studied the problems of black people and gave rise from the ashes of our destruction, small reconstructions that allow us to look at the past, vehemently deny that white history is not universal, the experience of white women and white men does not represent us, that their ideologies such as Marxism and feminism may even be useful for them, but they are for us black women and men. That these ideas besides not helping us, hurt us. We walk together!

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