Mestiçagem (racial mixture), harmony and whitening: who is afraid of the black man?

Mestiçagem, harmonia e branqueamento: quem tem medo do homem negro?

Note from BW of Brazil: It is a question that is becoming increasingly important as we analyze the situation of black people in Brazil. Countless black feminists have spoken on the exploitation, abuse and on behalf of mulheres negras, black women, and this is an absolutely critical aspect of the black struggle, but this parcel of the population represents a little more than half of the struggle. Where is her natural partner in this battle, what is her relationship with him and what role has Brazilian society imposed on him, the homem negro, the black man? I’ve said this before; if it is truly in the interest of black feminists to overcome the system of white supremacy, the ONLY manner in which to do this is to repair her relationship with black men. Black women working only in their own interests or black men working only in their interest cannot and will not advance the interest of black people as a whole. In yet another piece representing the black male experience, his subjugation and the necessity for understanding how Brazil has traditionally dealt with him, I present this thought-provoking piece by sociologist Henrique Restier da Costa Souza.

Mestiçagem (racial mixture), harmony and whitening: who is afraid of the black man?

By Henrique Restier da Costa Souza; Photo: Ito Araújo/Flickr

Despite the nuances and interconnections between the two, there are basically two interpretations about the model of race relations in Brazil: the first is related to the harmonious dimension of this model, its proponents claim that despite black slavery in Brazil, deep racial inequalities resulting from this process and the constant discriminatory practices, the Brazilian model would be superior to those implanted in countries like USA and South Africa, paradigmatic for these comparisons.

According to this interpretation, social conflicts in Brazilian society would be diluted by conviviality, intimacy and affection in contacts between blacks and whites, devoid of hatred and explicit racial conflict, generating what we call in the words of the ethnologist Carlos Moore “the mythoideology of racial democracy” ( 2012) [1]. The other perspective (of which this text is linked) postulates that despite the friendly coexistence in certain contexts, usually “in the affective territory of the black” [2] constraints, humiliations and violence of all kinds, there are recurrent experiences of the black population in predominantly white environments and that:

“… racial inequalities could not be overcome because they would be intrinsic and necessary parts of the model itself. Within this point of view, it is the disparities in the socioeconomic conditions that guarantee the quality of the interaction models between whites and blacks in Brazil.” [3].

That is, there would only be fraternization and harmony between these groups, insofar as there are asymmetries between them, that must know their respective positions beforehand and endorse them as truths, not seeking any qualitative change in this dynamic. Thus, it would be indispensable to the very standard of interracial relations in Brazil, the conformism of the subalternates and the prerogatives of the subordinators, and the burden on the blacks to maintain this “friendly system”. That is, racism would not “exist” in Brazil as long as black people knew their place. And we know where that would be. It is no coincidence that prominent black people, especially in the media, are subjected to verbal aggression, intimidation and resentful discourse.

Another aspect is that the narrative of mestiçagem stimulates its romanticization, especially in the slave period, minimizing the structural violence that engendered it. Far from it, “… the sexual submission of all the women in the conquered and subalternized segment was imposed in a vertical and unilateral way, through unrestricted abuse. For this reason, the policy of Latin American miscegenation was, above all, a major crime against African and indigenous women” (MOORE, 2012, p.218). And, therefore, it can not “be evoked in any abstract way” (MOORE, 2012, 219).

Black men and white patriarchy

Contradictory as it may seem, the low social status of the black man occurs precisely because he is a man of another socio-racial group, who rivals white men for the conquest of opportunities for social power, resources and access to women (by heterosexual optics). Because of this, white patriarchy seeks the progressive elimination of all its potential competitors by using all necessary means [4].

Thus, the high homicide rates of black men, their mass incarceration, exorbitant rates of unemployment and street population, poverty, punitive drug policy, high percentages of psychological diseases, prostate cancer, etc. are symptomatic. The onslaught against the economic, political, and social development of black men creates a number of internal problems for their group, including the disintegration of the black family and their role as father.

The black father

The effort to confiscate black fatherhood through the racist and sexist mechanisms of white supremacist masculinity is crucial to its success as a model to be followed and valued. The black family nucleus can be an important “social cell” of transmitting memories, cultural, ethical, and ancestral values of the diasporic African matrix. The fragmentation of this base, with an absent or weakened and bitter father by psychological and economic problems, reaches this important social organization in full. On the other hand, the loving, happy and present father enhances aspects related to security, unity and anti-racism.

From this angle, in black and white families the black father continues to be an important symbol for the composition of a positive imaginary about black masculinity, influencing not only the convictions of his companion, but also of his children, who may relate to his African descent in a healthy and affirmative manner.

Even more so if we take into account that the ideology of mestiçagem (race mixing) stimulates images of interracial affective relationships as a genuine sign of harmony in Brazilian society, supposing that the couple and the children of these relationships would be the “ideological proof of our hypothetical tolerance in the plan of racial relations …” (PAIXÃO, 2014, 304), disregarding the possible discrimination present in these relations and/or against them.

In this way, mestiçagem is ideologically instrumented, shifting the responsibility of the Brazilian State to promote racial equity to the private sphere, as if racism and the structural problems arising from it were resolved in bed.

Miscegenation and embranquecimento (whitening): the role of women

According to certain theories circulating in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century, and adapted by Brazilian intellectuals, white men would be responsible for miscegenation, for the embranquecimento (whitening) of the Brazilian people. The fruit of this process would be increasingly lighter filhos mestiços (mixed children), the result of natural selection, which in the end would result in a Brazilian type: the “branco dos trópicos” (“white person of the tropics”).

An individual shaped by the intelligence of whites and by the physical attributes of natives and blacks. This was the dream of the national white elites, but there was an obstacle for this fantasy to be realized: the black man.

The anthropologist Laura Moutinho, when analyzing the interracial relations in Brazilian literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, noted that women would have their feminities linked to the uterus, that is, “to reproduce the species” (MOUTINHO, 2003, pp. 169) [5]. Moreover, by “racializing” this role, it can be seen that black and white women had distinct “missions” within the whitening ideal: the former should fulfill the role of whitening the Brazilian population through sexual contact with the white man (in a general way, through relationships outside marriage), while the latter should maintain the “purity” of her uterus to preserve branquitude (whiteness) (within marriage).

This type of discourse is often found in popular sayings, such as “barriga suja” “dirty belly), in which a woman (usually white) is pregnant with a black man and probably her child will be born darker than she, in this way, the “polluter” of this equation is the black man.

Its opposite is another saying, “limpar a barriga” (“cleaning the belly”) in which a woman (usually black) pregnant with a white man would be “washing” the “mancha negra” (“black stain”) of her blood and contributing to the “melhoramento da raça” (improving of the race). From this perspective, the main opponent of the white man is the black man, the “enegrecedor” (“blackening”) agent of the future Brazilians.

Incidentally, if there is a concern on the part of supremacia branca (white supremacy), about the fertility of the black woman, it is even more fearful that these children are black boys and have a financially accomplished father and aware of his role as a black man in the struggle for the emancipation of his people. Luckily they do exist.

The king of the jungle

You see, there is no pretense of this text in regulating and establishing moral rules in the affective choices of black men and women, nor prescribing supposedly exemplary behaviors of black activism, since racism already fulfills the role of plundering our opportunities, sabotaging our potentialities and restraining our choices.

The proposal was, through a male reading, to elaborate a brief critique of the foundations and objectives of the ideology of mestiçagem (and not of the miscegenation itself), which in general seeks to weaken the image and self-esteem of black men, placing as a universal model masculinity the white man, aiming at among other things, the breaking of ties of solidarity and affection between black men and women.

Understanding the ideological functioning of mestiçagem, grounded in the values of whiteness, we prepare ourselves to use all the necessary means to confront Brazilian racism. In the words of KL Jay (DJ of the Racionais MCs) “the blacks are in enemy territory … the blacks have to walk like a lion in the street, like a lion” [6].

Lions, gentlemen, let us be lions!

Henrique Restier da Costa Souza holds a degree in Social Sciences from the Fluminense Federal University (UFF), a Master’s Degree in Ethnic-Racial Relations from the Celso Suckow Federal Center of Fonseca (CEFET-RJ) and a PhD in Sociology from the Institute of Social and Political Studies (IESP / UERJ).

[1] MOORE, Carlos Wedderburn. Racismo e Sociedade: Novas Bases Epistemológicas para entender o Racismo. Minas Gerais: Nandyala, 2012.

[2] SOVIK, Liv. Aqui ninguém é branco. Rio de Janeiro: Aeroplano, 2009.

[3] PAIXÃO, Marcelo. A Lenda da Modernidade Encantada: por uma crítica ao pensamento social brasileiro sobre relações raciais e projeto de Estado Nação. Curitiba: Editora CRV, 2014.

[4] Expressão recorrente nos discursos de Malcolm X.

[5] MOUTINHO, Laura. Raça, cor e desejo. São Paulo: UNESP, 2003.

[6] Entrevista de KL Jay para a TV Carta.

Source: Justificando Carta Capital

About Marques Travae 2882 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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