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Note from BW of Brazil: Ya know, I never intended on touching on this topic of the black American girl who was going to become part of the Royal Family, but then after I thought it, I realized that Meghan Markle’s story so is loaded with racial implications that I needed to discuss it because there are so many issues in it that I deal with here on this blog. One of these issues deals with the fact that there is a shifting racial understanding among African-Americans that show how race in the US is slowly taking on attributes of Brazil. The piece below features my friend, Daniela Gomes, a São Paulo native who is working on her Ph.D at the University of Texas in the United States. I’ll weight in with my opinion of this piece below.
Is Meghan Markle is black?
By becoming the fiancee of Prince Harry, Meghan Markle rekindled the racial identity debate – whose concept is different in the US and Brazil. Understand!
By Júlia Warken
Since Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle officialized their engagement on November 27, the two have been the subject of the moment around the world. This is because the arrival of Meghan to the royal family represents a breakdown of paradigms. In addition to being foreign and divorced, she also brings racial miscegenation to royalty.
While many people celebrate the novelty, others distill racism and there are also those who do not understand how a woman with fine features and fair skin can be considered black. Daughter of a black mother and white father, in fact, Meghan identifies herself as biracial, but could declare herself black if she preferred. Barack Obama, for example, is the son of a white mother and a black father but declares himself black and not biracial.
The issue of racial identity is something that gives cloth to mango and whose concept is different in the United States and Brazil. This happens because these two countries implemented very different policies of structural racism in the post-abolition period of slavery.
While the United States adopted the segregation envisaged by law, here in Brazil a pro-miscegenation policy was created – whose purpose was to “whiten” the country. And that changes everything when it comes to racial self-declaration and also impacts the way mestiços (people of mixed race) are read by society.
To better understand this very rich and meaningful subject, we spoke with the researcher Daniela Gomes, who is an expert on the subject. A journalist, a black movement activist and teacher in Cultural Studies, she has lived in the United States for four years, where she holds a Ph.D in African Studies and the African Diaspora from the University of Texas.
In the US: racial segregation and the “one drop rule”
“In the United States, since the time of slavery there were already non-miscegenation laws, but the rapes of indigenous and African women made it so that there was miscegenation, even if interracial marriages were illegal,” says Daniela. Here in Brazil this prohibition never existed.
In both the United States and Brazil, the volume of slaves was very large and both nations stipulated racist policies after the abolition of slavery. It turns out that these policies were extremely different from each other.
In the US, the government chose to segregate blacks and whites, through a series of laws. In this way, there were well-defined spaces to separate whites from the races considered inferior – especially blacks and Indians.
The “one drop rule” was created which stipulated that only whites without any other kind of ancestry could attend the spaces destined for whites. That is, if your appearance (phenotype) was Caucasian, but some of your ancestors were black, you would be considered black anyway.
“A black person – even if it were socially read as white – if picked up by passing through white could be arrested and killed.” The laws of segregation no longer exist, but this is still very much present in American culture. That’s why Meghan Markle – whose mother is black – is read as black in the United States.
Daniela explains that this concept of a single drop is still strong in the United States, but things are changing. “Here in the United States the idea of cultural melting pot and multiculturalism is not yet as strong as in Brazil, but this has already become a thought in the nation.” With this, more and more Americans have declared themselves multiracial or biracial.
In Brazil: “importation” of Europeans and the politics of whitening of the population
“With the end of slavery, Brazil and the United States have taken very different paths. Here in Brazil, miscegenation was used as a way to try to end blackness in the country. We were the last country to abolish slavery, and the black population was the majority at that time. Then Brazil began to import Europeans and Asians. The government and the intellectuals of the time believed that in 100 years there would be no more blacks in Brazil, because miscegenation would make blackness end,” explains Daniela.
That’s why, here in Brazil, a person like Meghan is not read as black and ends up being called a “morena.” “Oracy Nogueira, in the 1950s, called it ‘preconceito de marca vs. preconceito de origem’” (prejudice of mark vs.prejudice of origin)
Gradually, this notion of racial identity based on the ideal of whitening is changing in Brazil. Daniela explains that in the 1970s the Brazilian census detected about 150 shades of color according to the individuals’ self-declaration. “Caramel, bonbon, chocolate etc. These shades were used because people did not want to affirm themselves as black.”
Nowadays, citizens have to choose between preto, pardo, branco, amarelo e vermelho (black, brown, white, yellow and red). As a result, black-and-brown people are considered blacks, and currently, it is estimated that 54% of the Brazilian population is black. In addition to these new IBGE criteria, many people also felt at ease to declare themselves black because of the strengthening of the black movement, which works for the appreciation of the African race.
Another very significant point of this movement of miscegenation as a tool of whitening is the fact that, with it, the myth of racial democracy was created in Brazil. This is because, as miscegenation became a trademark of the Brazilian people, the notion that there is no racism in Brazil – the fact that we are all fruits of a mixture of races – has spread. This, in fact, is true, but racism remains very present in our society, because it is the phenotype (appearance) that creates privileges and not necessarily the genotype (the set of genes).
The weight of colorism
For Daniela, when a pessoa negra de pele clara (light-skinned black person) assumes his/her blackness, this is a historic victory, for it means that he/she refuses to think that his race has been “purified” in the process of miscegenation. But this also opens another very important discussion: within the black population, those with dark skin still suffer more prejudice than those with fair skin. The name of this is colorism.
“We’re going to have those people who, even if they have a black mother, black father or black grandparents, will not have a black phenotype. They’ll be read in society as a white person and will not face racist assaults. So can that person consider himself black? That’s the question the black movement has asked.”
In this controversy, there is also another determining factor: the right to so-called affirmative action for the benefit of the black population – such as university quotas, for example. “Many people who are not black or have any traces of blackness have declared themselves black to gain access to affirmative action. These people have used the justification that they have a black ancestor. What we have tried to show is that this is a bad use of affirmative action, because if you have Caucasian traits, even if your mother, grandmother or great-grandmother is black, you are read day by day as white and do not will suffer the impacts of racism.”
When it comes to race and miscegenation there are still no easy answers. This is because, unfortunately, the discrimination continues to be very great – even when it is veiled. It is not victimism and is not something invented by social movements. And that’s why revisiting the historical context and seeing how it reverberates these days is very important for us to think about racism and work to fight it.
Note from BW of Brazil: So what’s your take on the black girl joining the Royal Family? Well, for me, the fact that so many African-American women are celebrating this event shows once again how we as black people still have such a love and adoration of white people. This whole thing smacks of the Charming White Prince fairytale remains in the
subconscious of black women in America, Brazil and other countries with black populations. I mean, I don’t remember there being this much hype when African-American woman Ariana Austin married an Ethiopian prince a few months back. And the reason why is pretty easy to see. In the minds of black people, Ethiopian (read black) doesn’t bring the same prestige as the country known for being the pinnacle of whiteness for many centuries now. And it doesn’t matter how these same Brits have dominated and subjugated people with dark skin, often in a brutal fashion, for more than five centuries. But there’s more…
I mean, take a good look at Meghan Markle and ask yourself, if this woman were to win a beauty contest for black women, would these same women celebrating her engagement to Prince Harry be celebrating her victory as the most beautiful black woman? How about in such a black beauty contest, if ALL of the top ten finalists in the competition looked more or less like Markle? Get my point? I made this same argument in a previous post and this discussion goes right the root of the idea that Brazil is a 54% black country. Why? Well because within that 54% that considers both pretos (blacks) and pardos (brown/mixed) as black, there are perhaps millions of Brazilians who look somewhat like Markle. It goes right the issue of who should qualify to enter Brazil’s best public universities through the system of quotas.
The discussion about Markle also shows us that the idea of “one drop” of black blood automatically makes one black is slowly dying out in the US. Of course, this has always been the case in Brazil and as Daniela points out, in Brazil, 95% of the people would probably classify Markle as either a morena or white. The comments I read both on this blog as well the Facebook and Twitter comments make it clear: Many African-Americans don’t see brown/mixed as black. The debate is divided between those who believe that there are many shades of black versus those who believe that including people who look like Markle under the black category undermines the black struggle for acceptance.
The breakdown of the differences between what constitutes blackness in the United States versus Brazilian the above article represents how things were for the most part in the racial history of both countries. But it misses the mark by not acknowledging that there is a shift going on in terms of who African-Americans accept as black. Some of the photos of Afro-Brazilian women that have been posted on this blog have been met by comments such as, “She’s black?”, “she’s not black”, “she looks Indian, not black” and “let me know when you feature a real black woman.” Their comments are on par with those of Elaine Musiwa in her Vogue piece “The Problem With Calling Meghan Markle the ‘First Black Princess‘”.
The fact here is that Markle herself knows she can easily pass for white and her marrying into the Royal Family doesn’t really break the paradigm of whiteness. In some photos of the couple, it is notable that she only appears to have an ever slight darkness of skin only because Prince Harry is literally almost as white as paper. If the couple should ever have children they will almost certainly look completely white. I mean, could it have been any other way? Do you think it’s only by coincidence that Prince Harry is not engaged to a woman who looks like, say, actresses Viola Davis or Adriana Alves?
Although I could probably take this analysis even further, the last thing I want to point out here is the how the media is taking a play right out of the Brazilian playbook of deception in how to present race relations. In the headlines featured in the first photo in this article, we see lines such Folha de S. Paulo’s, “Marriage of Harry and Meghan Markle is a slap against racism but brings it to the surface”. Teen Vogue tells us that “Meghan Markle as Britain’s ‘Black Princess’ Is a Step Toward Upending Global White Supremacy” while El País weights in with “Black, foreigner and free, Meghan Markle is what British Royalty needed for 2017.” Really? The power of propaganda. Let me simply ask, isn’t Brazil’s long history of race mixing and interracial marriage proof enough that racism/white supremacy can still maintain itself even through the crossing of races? Remember, Brazil’s solution to the “black problem” was the wide promotion of interracial unions until black people eventually disappeared through continuous infusions of European DNA. Which is exactly what would most likely happen if Harry and Meghan were to have children.
All this to say that I don’t see any reason that black people should be celebrating this engagement. In the same way that eight years of an Obama presidency were more of a farse that didn’t show any clear victories for African-Americans, Afro-Brazilians or any other group of black people, the marriage of one nearly white-looking woman of African ancestry will have no bearing on the global situation of black people. Suggesting that it is anything more than a media frenzy aiming to promote interracial unions around the world does nothing but once again demonstrate the deception that we as a people continue to fall for.
Source: M de Mulher