Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

Representation matters: A project conceived by Rio-based sociologist and bookseller Luciana Bento lists one hundred books featuring black girls


A representatividade importa - capa

Note from BW of Brazil: The title says it all: Representation matters! It’s one of the major topics of this blog and its great seeing so many Afro-Brazilians taking the initiative to do for self and community what the country as a whole continues to show it won’t do. In living the lie of a multi-racial society in which “we are all equal”, people just can’t seem to be honest enough with themselves to admit that in such societies, generally hierarchies exist and due to such hierarchies, certain people and groups will always feel left out or unrepresented. People have been so programmed to define specific things created for certain groups as segregationist and racist when the fact is the very necessity of such things shows the existence of racism. This is why this writer is not opposed to societies in which particular groups are allowed to have their own existence within certain regions where they can live amongst themselves and feel hostility from other groups that don’t accept them. Seriously. For those who disagree, respond to this question.

We all truly do wish that all specific groups could “just get along” as one big happy family, but we know this is simply not the case. Now there are many who still refuse to acknowledge Brazil as a racist country. Very well. Let’s imagine we’re speaking of an imaginary country in which different types of people all live together, but in said country, one group is ALWAYS overtly represented as the standard for all others. What would be wrong with groups that feel themselves excluded in every realm of society having their own communities, societies and organizations in which they feel included and represented? 

Although most black Brazilians continue to simply accept this invisibility as the way things are (with many not even perceiving the issue), others are speaking out on feeling a lack of representation at certain points in the lives. In response, this exclusion in the mass media has led to the creation of video series on You Tube created to address black invisibility in advertising, black bloggers advising their readers and giving tips on fashion, makeup and hair, video profiles on black professionals, black newspapers, contests in which they can feel proud of their cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair) and the representation of black perspective/aesthetic in theater. Of course there will be those who see this as “reverse racism”, but these same people most likely have never felt invisible in society’s depictions of itself. For those who have, stories such as the one below, which in some ways is an offspring of the publishing company established by Maria Mazarello Rodrigues, represents another step in the right direction (even if this writer doesn’t endorse everything in the story). 

Representation matters

A project conceived by Rio-based sociologist and bookseller Luciana Bento lists one hundred books featuring black girls

By Lucas Buzatti

A representatividade importa

Rio-based couple runs website that features books with black girls as protagonists

“Ele é pretinho igual a mim”, meaning, “he’s black like me”, said the little Matias Melquíades after encountering a doll of the Finn character of Star Wars: O Despertar da Força  (Star Wars: The Force Awakening), at a store in São Paulo. The image of the Brazilian boy with the doll in his hands “viralizou” (went viral) on the Internet, reaching the British actor John Boyega, who posted it on his Instagram account with the words “You are a king, young man.” Finalizing the case, Matias’s mother, Jaciana, commented: “Representation building bridges. That’s it! Matias saw John Boyega, John Boyega saw Matias. May every child see themselves represented.” Jaciana’s comment surely must have echoed often in the minds of Rio-based sociologist and bookseller Luciana Bento. She is responsible for the page 100 Meninas Negras (meaning 100 Black Girls), that lists one hundred children’s books protagonized by black girls.

A representatividade importa (2)

The project, which began in early 2016, is a derivation of the blog A Mãe Preta (The Black Mother), run by Luciana for about a year. “On the blog, I talked about motherhood and started to give tips of animated books and cartoons with black protagonists. At the same time, my husband and I opened a bookstore on racial issues (InaLivros). And, as we have two little girls, we started to have more access to this kind of material,” says the mother of Aisha, 3, and Naíma, 2. “Whenever we went to events they asked us about books with black protagonists, they said they didn’t exist, that they didn’t find any. But in this quest, we saw the opposite, that there is infant material with this slant. So I decided to make a list, to help mothers, parents and schools to find these titles,” she adds. On the page, in addition to the synopsis, it describes the author, illustrator, publisher and reveals where the book can be found.

Luciana Bento says that, when she began the list, there were already 80 works in her hand. “There are many titles. On the page, I ask for tips on books and every day, they send me new suggestions. It is a list that will easily pass one hundred books,” she points out. “What motivated me, too, it was deconstructing this excuse that there is little infant material that deals with the racial question. There isn’t a lack of material, but of interest and knowledge. Teachers are not learning to deal with this kind of question, they don’t know how to work with this. They end up reproducing half a dozen activities that are restricted to Black Consciousness Day instead of sewing in the racial issue all year long, in a continuous and transversal manner, in all subjects,” she critiques.

A representatividade importa (5)

According to the creator of the 100 Meninas Negras, in all of Brazil there are authors of books that give prominence to the black child, seeking to discuss various issues surrounding the racial debate. “There are many things talking about hair, which is a recurring theme for black girls. The appreciation of cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair), how to deal with prejudice. There are also several books about princesses.  There is a great search for princesses beyond Disney. Another that repeats itself are books with young girls discovering and exploring the world,” affirms Luciana Bento, revealing that she plans, at the end of the project, to make an index of books by theme. “The themes revolve more around self-esteem, appreciation. What we don’t have much of are books that explicitly speak of racism, addressing the racial struggle,” she says.

A representatividade importa (4)

Luciana Bento highlights some titles that caught her attention. “One that I really liked was A Princesa e a Costureira (The Princess and the Seamstress). In addition to bringing the black princess, it also brings the issue of a homosexual union, since, in the end, the princess gives up marrying the prince and marries the dressmaker, who is white. A story that deconstructs various stereotypes,” she says. “Another that also makes this point is Olívia Tem Dois Papais (Olivia Has Two Daddies), which speaks of a black girl raised by a couple of men. There’s also the Jacimba Gaba – A Princesa Guerreira (Jacomba Gaba: The Warrior Princess), which tells the story of an African princess who came to Brazil enslaved and helps lead a slave revolt, showing the power of the black woman,” she adds.

A representatividade importa (3)

For Luciana Bento, representativeness is crucial for the black child to see himself/herself in the society as a person as capable as any other. “It is essential that the child is seen in prominent positions, such as a doctor, an engineer. We have to remove blacks from these stereotypical positions, the servant, the maid, hyper-sexualized characters. The child has to realize that he or she can be whatever he/she wants,” she says, noting that there is an audience hungry for this deconstruction – see the increasing number of page views and book requests (as much by individuals as by schools and libraries wanting to compose collection).

“Education is key to fighting racism. After all, the child is not born racist, he or she becomes this by what he/she sees in society,” reflects Luciana Bento. “If the school is a space that deconstructs prejudice, showing the diversity and appreciating ​​all ethnic groups, then yes it is possible to form citizens who can live with differences and not find themselves inferior or superior than anyone,” she concludes.

Where to find

100 Meninas Negras – 100meninasnegras.tumblr.com

A Mãe Preta – amaepreta.com.br

InaLivros – inalivros.com.br

Mazza Edições – www.mazzaedicoes.com.br

Source: O Tempo

3 comments on “Representation matters: A project conceived by Rio-based sociologist and bookseller Luciana Bento lists one hundred books featuring black girls

  1. PTR
    March 23, 2016

    Great initiative. But nothing for the boys? They also don’t want to grow up stereotyped as drivers and kitchen help. They also want to be doctors.

  2. Dr. Y.
    March 23, 2016

    Love the initiative… Love the idea! I also agree with the previous commenter that they should be given role models who are lawyers, doctors, scientists… etc.

  3. bamabrasileira
    March 24, 2016

    I LOVE seeing things like this! Perhaps she focused on girls because she has 2 Black girls. Maybe she doesn’t need to be single-handedly responsible for generating a list for Black boys too. Maybe one of the other 150 million Black people living in Brazil could take the same type of initiative and generate a list for Black boys too, since at least one of them is bound to have access to the same resources as this woman. Great story!

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This entry was posted on March 23, 2016 by in Afro Brazilians, Uncategorized and tagged , , , .
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