The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent
Note from BW of Brazil: The talented actor Lázaro Ramos has appeared on the pages of this blog numerous times, particularly over the past few years. And little wonder why. The Bahian actor is arguably the top black male actor in Brazil, having appeared and excelled in a long list of films, novelas and plays over the past decade plus. Add that to the fact that he happens to be married to Brazil’s top black female actress Taís Araújo and you can understand why Ramos and his wife were chosen as two of three black Brazilians chosen to be among the 100 most influential blacks in the world, being in a select group that dined with Barack Obama in New York last September.
Ramos’ top selling autobiography, Na Minha Pele, dropping last year was a feat worthy of praise in itself, as so few Afro-Brazilians have the opportunity to tell their stories in book form. But last year, when Ramos was a featured speaker at a book festival, an elderly black woman stood up and stole the show with her recollection of the racism she experienced in her childhood brought Ramos to tears and reminded many black folks of why telling our stories are so important. I hadn’t had a chance to present the Ramos book here at BW of Brazil, so it’s with great pleasure that I present to you a piece by Mathias Luz about Ramos, his life and the his book that serves as a microcosm of the black experience in Brazil.
The Price of Being a Successful Black Person
By Mathias Luz
Brazil is a country that has a vocation for diversity. However, the process of formation of our nation is marked by the exclusion of the black and indigenous races, which continues to suffer the damage of slavery and the genocide promoted by whites. Through his history of exception, Lázaro Ramos – renowned actor, filmmaker, writer and host – offers a unique and personal way of reflecting how much we have failed to enhance Brazilian talent because of racial prejudice. Drawing on biographical features, this work is mainly about stopping denying, seeking and beginning to value our lost identity
Na Minha Pele (book “In My Skin”)
The author’s story begins on November 1, 1978 on Baía de Todos os Santos island with a little over two hundred inhabitants who work in fishing, scouring or in town hall. The Ilha do Paty (Paty Island) is a district of São Francisco do Conde, a municipality that is 72 km from Salvador that headquarters the first oil refinery in Brazil. Paty’s story is not well known, perhaps because the elders were ashamed to tell of their past bondage and suffering.
The author’s father managed to make a living as a machine operator at the Petrochemical Complex of (the city of) Camaçari for having bet on education. His mother, Maria Célia Ramos, became pregnant after a fling with her father. Their relationship did not go on but they remained friends and present in their son’s life.
At the age of five, Lázaro went to live with (great-aunt) Dindinha through the intense routine of his father and mother, who was a maid. Meetings with them were usually on the weekends.
The author’s family was quite syncretic. There were people of the Candomblecist, Evangelical and Catholic.
During childhood, every child wants to be “someone” and because of that, he chooses a superhero. In this case, his idol was the Jairzinho of the Balão Mágico. This identification probably happened, because Jair was one of the few blacks in the children’s television universe at the time.
Another great moment of identification happened in a Carnival in the company of his father. Even shy, he had tears in his eyes as the Ilê Aiyê bloco passed by singing lyrics of affirmation of identidade negra (black identity) with pride and comfort.
By the fifth year of elementary school, he was studying in private school. In his class the number of blacks and whites was balanced. His difficulty at that moment was different: being the maid’s son. This was because he felt confused by the inconsistent treatment he received from his mother’s boss. Sometimes she was treated well and kept playing with her grandchildren. But at the time of a mess, only he was called to attention.
“You’re doing what here, boy?”
He was embarrassed and lost reference to his place in the world. For a child, such a situation can be very difficult. Generally, he would return to his mother’s maid’s room, a small space that made him reflect because he was not allowed to explore the other places in the house. From time to time he peered through the gap and saw his mother being shouted her orders, a reality he had sought to escape by mounting origami with wings.
This period marked him a lot and impressed him with a will to turn around and break social barriers. No one in his family had ever attended university. When asked about professional intent, his response was “quero ser médico” (I want to be a doctor).
When he moved to his father’s newly built home in the Garcia neighborhood, the writer for the first time arranged a group with which he began to let go. It was then that he realized that he had a way to be an actor.
During a game of cards in which the gift for the loser was to drink liquor, he left a little dizzy. Then they went to a street party, where he confused a colleague of catechism with “Zé Pequeno” of Garcia, when he complimented him in a manner of comradery with the expression “eai viado” (hey there faggot)
When he realized the “bola fora” (inappropriate comment) he pretended to be even more drunk but it was no use; the dealer was annoyed, so Lazarus had to rely on the help of his friends, who helped him avoid getting beat up him by saying that he was too drunk.
With friends from the street it was easy to put aside shyness, but the same did not happen in the new private school, where he was one of the few blacks. At the time of fifteen-year-old dances, for example, he couldn’t feel more rejected. When some girl started chatting with him a little, he could hardly talk for a lack of training. So, the exit was to adopt the role of best friend, which also happened with his wife Taís Araújo.
Full of a desire to lose his shyness, he began to get closer to the theater. However, his father believed that it would be best for him to take a technical course at Cefet and then get a job at the petrochemical complex in Camaçari.
To remove this possibility from time to time, he guessed on the entire Cefet test and went to study at Colégio Anísio Teixeira. The school was also public and offered professional education as well as theater classes. From then on, Lázaro coordinated the work of a pathology technician with his true passion.
His father didn’t accept the theater idea well out of fear that the author couldn’t live off of stage work. Even when the situation tightened, the scene of his taking guesses on the Cefet test always passing through his mind adding to the doubt of whether he really would not have been better to follow the advice of his father.
Some time later, the host joined the Bando de Teatro Olodum (Olodum Theater Band) which was a watershed in his life. The Bando gave him arguments and the courage to question the racial question. The essence of the group is to mix humor, social criticism and forcefulness to speak from the black point of view in the order of the world. What attracted his attention was precisely the union of criticism with humor that made the subject of racism lighter.
Beginning his professional life, the author coordinated the double routine of pathology technician and actor, which ran from 5:00 am to 10:00 p.m. The fatigue was enormous, but the desire to continue in the theater group spoke louder. By the time he was twenty, he had done a bit of everything, from protagonist, costume assistant to producer.
At one point, the author abandoned the laboratory and focused on the theater. This was made possible by a performance in the movie of the dancer Carla Perez Cinderela Baiana (Bahian Cinderella) that was a success. The amount he got was equivalent to about twenty minimum wages.
So he gave himself the 20-month deadline to see if his career in art would work out. If it did not take off, it was fine too, because it would not be a problem to go back to the double shift.
There was no other way.
With the tour of the play A Máquina, which became a national success, he began to have recognition and to travel throughout Brazil.
The peak of this phase was with the character Foguinho of the TV novela Cobras & Lagartos that was an absolute success on Brazilian TV.
Later on, he missed out on creating his own project to defend the dream of other people and created the interview program Espelho on Canal Brasil TV.
With all that trajectory, he has received numerous awards and job opportunities that are easily found on Google.
What is not available, however, is the hidden history of the challenges of ascending socially and inserting oneself into another reality being an exception, something that is invisible to many.
We’re talking about the sideways glances, the subtexts, the fears, the subtleties of prejudice and the reflections on identity that we will address in detail below.
Racism has not yet been overcome
There is a whole discourse that there is no racism in Brazil. After all, we are part of a mixed-race people. But the truth is that the Brazilian people are ashamed to say that it is racist, but not to act like it. Who is on the discriminated side of the situation as well as the author, can prove this with daily facts.
Unfortunately, racism is a crime that borders on perfection, because most of the time only the victim sees it. When the victim demonstrates their dissatisfaction, it automatically becomes complex or accusation of coitadism (playing the victim).
There are countless examples that the author has experienced and accompanied with black friends. There was the case of his friend who went to buy his first car. When he arrived at the dealership, he overheard one salesman commenting to another that he was just looking. The guy who looks and doesn’t buy anything. Contrary to expectations, his friend Chico took a bundle of money and paid for the car in cash.
From his own experience, he was stopped by two policemen as he was returning from the theater group the night after stopping at the bank to withdraw money. Armed police officers asked for his papers and claimed he was a “a little suspicious.” It was only after pouring out the discourse that he learned in the group about racism that the cops were annoyed with his “arrogance”.
Everyone knows someone who has been discriminated against, but in a circle nobody raises their hand to call themselves racist. This is due to the fact that racism has been institutionally promoted by the government, which has become known as the Teoria do Embranquecimento theory of whitening).
Teoria do Embranquecimento
“Let’s ignore race because we are all human beings” is a deceptive discourse. From the biological point of view it makes sense, but in the sociological, it does not. The ideal of the miscegenated nation served largely to deny our African and indigenous origins.
Anthropologist Lilia Schwarcz has extensive reflection on this subject. According to her, if there was a theory in fact created in Brazil, it was the teoria do embranquecimento, which preached that the lighter the skin color of the Brazilian, the more developed the country would be.
I add that this has unfolded in several strategic measures that the Brazilian state has created to oppress blacks in their basic needs. To mention perhaps the subtlest of them, in the constitution of 1824, the black people were indirectly prevented from having access to the school, which contained the formation of a proportionally black middle class.
At present, the “success” of this policy is evident in geographic census data in which black populations are the most illiterate, die early, are less likely to get work and are preferred targets of police and the Courts.
Many people who today oppose the policy of quotas ignore this history and confuse the racial issue with a merely social and educational problem.
In fact, there is no doubt that the improvement of the educational system will help the black population, which is the largest user of basic school and public high school in Brazil. However, this measure serves the Brazilian people as a whole, but not to specifically address the damages generated on the basis of race already mentioned.
At the time of slavery, a black man who had obtained his freedom and was traveling through Brazil could be apprehended at any moment by the police as a “suspect” of being enslaved. Even with manumission papers in his pocket, he was still seen as a “fugitive slave”.
In the present, it is not much different. The menino negro (black boy) who is caught by the police must show humility in order to not to be mistaken for a criminal.
In contrast, self-perception of the raça branca (white race) does not exist, because it is the commonplace. A condição de branco (the white condition) is usually not a subject as this is the “norm”. When we speak of a European, we always specify if it is English, Portuguese, French.
But when we speak of an African, we say an African, and we don’t say the country from which he is from. One way the state managed not to value the past of the African nations was to treat the European past as history with a capital “H” and the African past as ethnography.
In short, there was no interest in integrar os negros à sociedade (integrating blacks into society). To the contrary, the interest was that they would disappear so that the nation could progress according to the eugenic premise of whitening.
Black Protagonism was omitted in the History of Brazil
O povo negro (black people) are an almost invisible subject in the dominant narrative about the history of Brazil, quotes the writer. Although it is a consensus that Brazil was formed by the intervention of the white, Indian and black races, there is a tendency to erase the protagonism that the blacks also had in this process.
For example, in the Farroupilha Revolution black lancers struggled with the promise of freedom, but in the school history books we don’t see this. Nor is it taught that the first strikes of Brazil were not promoted by the Italians, but by slaves in Ilhéus, Bahia, at the end of the eighteenth century. They negotiated with the masters for the conditions of returning to work, including the right to sing and dance.
Another interesting fact is that the greatest engineer in the empire, André Rebouças, was also black. André gained prominence in society by solving the problem of the water supply by which the capital (at the time) of Rio de Janeiro was experiencing at the time. He designed an ingenious water collection system that came from out of town. In addition, he was advisor to Emperor Dom Pedro, designed and executed the Curitiba-Paranaguá railroad that was a reference for the engineering world at the time.
These are some facts that reinforce that the blacks had their history told in third person, endorses the historian Ubiratan de Castro.
The Maid in Brazil is not treated as a Human Being
Historian Giovana Xavier tells of a fight between mother and daughter in which she heard the following expression: “Are you screaming at me like that, why? Are you thinking I’m your maid?” Why, then, is it natural to yell at someone when the person in question has the profession of a maid, as if it were a possession? This is one of several ways that reflect the slave mentality that still shapes the boss/employee relationship.
Many maids in Brazil, 70% of whom are black women, work in abusive situations. Abuses include poor pay, sexual harassment and bullying. Many feel divided because, at the same time that they suffer, they continue to be subject to the same working conditions, because they have to support their families.
Former maid and history teacher Joyce Fernandes has gone through all of that and created the Facebook page “Eu Empregada Doméstica” (Me, a maid) in which these abuses are reported daily.
One often hears that the maid is an “almost family” figure.
However, what happens is that she abandons her family and never fully enters the family of her bosses.
Between 1994 and 2014, only 4% of the protagonists of Rede Globo (Brazil’s most powerful TV network) novelas (soap operas) were interpreted by non-white women. If you have watched novelas, you will be able to identify at least 1 of the objectified stereotypes that according to author Laura Vascouto are perpetuated in scripts:
The mãe preta (black mother) who does everything for the bosses
The servile, gossipy, seductive, comedic or submissive maid
The faithful friend of the jagunco, that is, the male version of the maid
The negra fogosa e sensual (fiery and sensual black woman)
The malandro (trickster/hustler)
The “perfect” black, a term invented by Joel Zito Araújo to designate the black that departs from its origin and becomes more acceptable in the eyes of whites
The “negro perfeito” (the perfect black), which serves to show how the white character is good or more important than he
In Lázaro’s career, even playing a role that does not fit into any of these stereotypes was an experience of rejection by the audience.
In the novel Insensato Coração of 2011, the actor portrayed André Gurgel who was a very rich man, successful professionally, arrogant and who treated women with some coldness.
As a result, he was attacked on social networks as “feio” (ugly), “macaco” (monkey), and “inadequado para o papel” (unsuitable for the role). Could it be that if the actor did not have a rosto negroide (negroid face), mouth, big eyes and wide nose, he would be in the same situation?
An example on the internet that also highlights our prejudice is the YouTube video “Black Doll White Doll Experiment”. In the social experiment, two dolls, one black and one white, are placed, on a table. An interviewer, before several children of different origins, begins to ask the same questions to all of them individually.
The questions were:
“Which doll is the black doll and which is the white doll?”
“Which doll is the most beautiful?”
“Which doll is the coolest?”
“Which doll is bad?”
“Which doll looks more like you”?
The result you should already imagine.
The amazing thing is that even the black children saying that they looked more like the black dolls, they still answered that the black doll was the bad one and the ugly one. When asked why, they simply replied “because white is cooler”.
When we see a novela, whether Mexican, Venezuelan or Brazilian, os belos são brancos (the beautiful ones) are white. Subalternity is represented by blacks and mestiços (people of mixed race), who are never cast as models of beauty and nation.
The reality is that the image of blacks is still very much linked to poverty. So, in part, there is some resistance from the marketing point of view to putting blacks in the media in general. Advertising simply reflects the hierarchical relationships present in society.
Relations are also influenced by Racism
There is a belief that the black person seeks the white person in the affectivity to improve his self-esteem, since sustaining blackness is hard. This attitude is present in the lives of most black futebol players and this is almost always frowned upon by movements against racism.
For the author Claudete Alves who has a book on the solidão da mulher negra (loneliness of the black woman), this phenomenon is a protection of the black man. By a historical and cultural process, he tends to deny his identity. If the black woman, in the same proportion, looked down on the black man, we would have a balance. However, it is the opposite that happens.
Claudete’s field research has shown that the black woman has her affective-sexual preference within her own ethnic group. This demonstrates an attitude of resistance that made her preserve black identities more than the black man.
In the survey, most women said that after the “Pelé era” the relationships between black men and white women increased dramatically. One of the reasons would be the role of the media, which created a frame of reference for what would be sexually desirable for black men and boys.
When the boy begins to consume pornography, what he finds are blond women. This indirectly has a negative impact on the self-esteem of the black woman, whose value was implicitly diminished by the black man.
In terms of violence, research indicates that aggression against black women has grown by more than 190% between 2003 and 2013 and that they represent 60% of women beaten by people they know.
Moreover, it is still very difficult to see representations in which amor negro (black love) is praised and expressed as something beautiful. One does not see this expression of love on television, in magazines, in advertising, in book stories.
As a consequence, all this is imprinted in our unconscious, which influences the way one behaves and shows him or herself to the world. With this, the influence of the racial question is also negatively clear in relationships.
The Price of Being a Black Person of Success
The rapper Emicida said in an interview with the author that when a black person reaches a position in which he/she it is not the norm, he/she has to adapt to a certain behavior to remain there. Apparently, the price of occupying certain places is not being able to mention how difficult it is to get there in that condition.
Contrary to this rule, the Lázaro included some conducts in his role of actor. One of them was to refuse invitations to make novelas de época (sopa operas based in the slave era). He was not willing to wear cotton pants, be whipped and then be saved by a mulher branca (white woman) in the role of enslaved person. This is because this whole context only reinforces the ideal of branquitude (whiteness). His friends even started to make jokes by asking when he was going to play in novelas de época.
Another decision was that the writer refused many jobs in which he would have to use firearms. The reason was to stop reinforcing the negative stigma that is socially associated.
In recent times black people from popular strata have entered to universities, to command posts in the labor market and deserve recognition for this.
At the same time, their stories still remain the exception.
It is quite valid to be commended for the personal history of the “came from the favela and made it” type, but also not to think that all the “black people of the favela” should get there as well.
The writer Conceição Evaristo summarizes this with the following phrase: the exception simply confirms the rule.
How do you fight racism?
From the birth of his children, the author began to wonder how he could combat racial prejudice. The solution to this problem is not straightforward. In fact, it involves quite a few variables, though we can highlight 3 pillars in this process in the following paragraphs.
Family is essential in building self-esteem
In his TV program, the author had experiences that reinforced how much the family element is essential for building self-esteem. This is because, their interviewees, without exception, gained new vigor and confidence when talking about their loved ones.
The população branca (white population) has the opportunity to know its European origins well and to maintain with affection the Italian surname or the cookbook of the Portuguese great-grandmother.
In contrast, African descendants lost this referral through the process of enslavement. Slave trafficking eliminated the records of the places from which they left, redefining them into invented ethnic groups like the “Mina”, which means those who embarked on the coast of the Mina.
In addition, the traffickers imposed on them even mystical rituals of memory erasure.
Blacks were forced to make several rounds around large baobabs under whips, after which they were baptized with the nova identidade cristã (new Christian identity). Then they were mixed in batches with people of different ethnicities so they would not understand each other. Finally, they passed through the Portal do Não Retorno (Port of Non-Return), which was a monument built so that they would never feel like returning to their native land.
All this process has generated wounds of self-confidence and a primordial search for freedom of the black families that comes until the present day.
For example, journalist Gloria Maria shared that her grandmother was emphatically repeating that “she must be free, that she could not be a slave again.” Being free was above marriage or anything else.
In the author’s family, the injection of self-esteem and affection happened and was very important for his formation.
However, this is not the case for many black families, where fathers and mothers adopt a tougher stance. They take a less affectionate stance, with the argument of preparing their children for a world that will not treat them well.
Unfortunately, this approach hurts rather than helps. It is in fact one of many defense mechanisms that generate needy human beings.
On the other hand, touch, love and affection truly enhance the well-being and self-confidence of our children.
If they have no shelter in the home, where will they find it then? What society is this that forms people who have to create within themselves a kind of brutalized love to avoid suffering?
For these reasons, family space is very important to generate self-esteem that black people need to address the racial issue. Without self-esteem and self-love, it is difficult to recognize one’s worth, without which black people tend to stray from their identity and yield to the unconscious mechanisms of racism.
Cultivate Positive Symbols of Negritude
Everything is symbolic, says the author. Symbols have the power to transform people.
Besides Jairzinho, who was the hero of the writer in childhood, there was another that was much closer that influenced positively the way he saw the world.
Even during childhood, a black man in a suit went to Dindinha’s house. He was treated with much respect and reverence for all. When he arrived, everyone went to the other place of the house for the sake of confidentiality. This man was deputy Carlos Alberto de Oliveira (Caó) (see note one) who is responsible for the law that criminalizes racism, the Caó law. When he needed a political refuge, he hid in a hole behind the stove, where Lazarus had played so many times. For the author, Caó was the symbol that it is possible to leave a hole to speak to the world about our pains, injustices and virtues.
It’s not natural for people with a darker complexion to be the majority in prisons, slums, and asylums. It’s not natural that 77% of young people killed in Brazil are black. This is where the importance of affirmative policies lies in Brazil. Denaturalize symbols that have become “natural” in respect to black identity.
It’s not about generating more segregation and racism, as some people say, but about removing racial symbols by giving access to the economic, educational, cultural and social rights denied by the state to black people throughout the state for hundreds of years.
At the individual level, we can do our part by cultivating positive symbols of blackness. In his circle of friends, when there was talk of beauty at the time of the theater, the author used to praise mulher negras bonitas (beautiful black women) for example. If the conversation was about theater, he would cite a talented, black actor. His tone was always tranquil.
Through this behavior, the actor also influenced his family. His mother and cousins, for example, stopped straightening their hair and adhered to Afro hairstyles after he started using braids and dreadlocks. Dindinha abandoned pó de arroz (rice powder), changing her makeup to a base for black skin. Finally, through the cultivation of symbols that value the diversity of identities, the ideal is to arrive at a place where there is no right or wrong standard. Filmmaker Joel Zito says that the way is to understand that we are a nation formed by different identities and value the contributions that each of them brought us, without imposing a standard to be pursued.
The so-called “geração tombamento” have shown that they are entitled to a place in the world and they know it. It is made up of young black people who use aesthetics, self-esteem and freedom to empower themselves. Cabelos crespos ou cacheados (kinky/curly or curly hair) became symbols of pride, comfort, and identification. As rapper MC Soffia says, the greatest weapon against racism is knowledge. With this premise, it is important that each one carry out his or her expansion of consciousness to realize our unconscious biases. To help along this path, here is a list of references and content on the topic of the racial question recommended by the author:
O perigo da história única da Chimamanda Adichie
O perigo do silêncio do Clint Smith
O olho mais azul (The Bluest Eye) by Toni Morrison
A negação do Brasil by Joel Zito Araújo
Um defeito de cor by Ana Maria Gonçalves
“Afrofuturismo” by Fábio Kabral
“É o Poder” by Karol Conka
“Menina Pretinha” by MC Soffia
“Zero” by Liniker Barros
“Procure” by Rico Dalasam
“Afrontamento” by Tássia Reis
Muro Pequeno of Murilo Araújo
Regardless of whether we are black or not, this is an invitation that the author leaves us as a way of exercising citizenship and valuing our Brazilianness. Racism tends to continue in us one way or another if we don’t bring that theme to the rational side of things. As long as Brazil is not good for everyone, the problems will continue to exist for both aggressors and victims. We need to give a new meaning to all these stories that the legacy of little plurality had left us until then. How many talents are our country failing to empower simply because we don’t have an environment that values us the way we are?
“If we are neutral in a situation of oppression, we automatically choosing the side of oppression.” -Desmond Tutu.
Despite having a cultural potential unique and different from anywhere in the world, our country as a whole has not yet appropriated its black and Indian identities, which manifests itself through racial prejudice. Despite Lázaro Ramos’ success story, it only confirms the rule of exclusion that happens invisibly in the eyes of many. The biggest disadvantage of all this is our society which, at the very least, lowers the self-esteem of excluded talents. How long will we postpone, on an individual and collective level, the process of self-knowledge and appreciation of our African origins, dealing with differences without inequality? And you? What did you think of Lázaro Ramos’s ideas in Na Minha Pele? Did something in particular catch your attention? I’d love to talk to you in the comments. In any case, what about plunging into the author’s references and getting more into the subject?
At age 76, Carlos Alberto Caó de Oliveira passes away
Courtesy of Jornal do Brasil
Former deputy who worked in the fight against racism was editor of Economy of the Jornal do Brasil
On Sunday (4), in Rio de Janeiro, former congressman Carlos Alberto Cao de Oliveira (PDT) died at age 76. One of the great militants of the movimento negro brasileiro (black Brazilian movement), Caó was a lawyer and a journalist, and worked at the Jornal do Brasil’s Economics Department in the 1970s, having been editor between December 1973 and November 1974. Caó was the author of the law that made racial discrimination a crime in 1989.
Caó was Bahian and was president of the Union of Journalists of the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro in the 1970s. He also served as Secretary of Housing of the first government of Leonel Brizola, when he facilitated the occupation of the favelas with the program “Cada família, um lote” (Every family, one lot).
Carlos Alberto Caó de Oliveira died at age 76
Caó was an author of Law 7.437/1985, which changed the text of the Afonso Arinos Law, 1951, making the prejudice of race, color, sex and marital status a criminal contravention. The text became known as Lei Caó (Caó Law).
A deputy constituent of the PDT, he was responsible for the inclusion of clause to Article 5 in the Constitution of 1988 that made racism a crime that is unapproachable and imprescriptible. Later, he was the author of Law 7.716/1989, which regulated the constitutional text determining the arrest for the crime of prejudice and discrimination of race or color.