Note from BW of Brazil: Today’s post is a collaborative essay by Mark Wells, a frequent traveler to Brazil who has written on the topic of blacks and racism in Brazil in a comparative analysis from the African-American perspective for a number of years and Daniela Gomes, an Afro-Brazilian Ph.D candidate who has spent time in the US and studied much on black American influence in Brazil. Today, the team takes on a topic that was the source of a lot of controversy between around 2007 and 2010 on African-American-oriented websites: African-American men and sexual tourism in Brazil. The comments and opinions about this subject provoked some very strong opinions and comments about Brazilian women, or at least stereotypes concerning Brazilian women. This debate has recently heated up again with a documentary posted on You Tube about this very topic. These thought-provoking pieces should be a welcome addition to a growing cross-cultural debate on the general exchange of experiences in the African Diaspora.
A message to African-Americans on the stereotype of Brazilian women
by Mark Wells
As an African-American male who has visited Brazil a number of times over a period of 13 years, and becoming familiar with the Afro-Brazilian struggle, I believe I stand in a unique position of being able to critique and make comparative analysis between the two communities. As this incredible blog has exhaustively shown, the experiences of African-Americans and Afro-Brazilians have many similarities but also unique histories that present complex differences. Over the years there has been a small, but growing interest in the African-American community about the experiences of our “cousins” in Brazil. Although some have been on the cultural/historical tip, I hate to admit, the majority of the interest has had to do with aspects that have nothing to do with cultural connections with a common people.
A few examples
First, I remember a period starting in the early 2000’s in which some friends of mine hipped me to the fact that independent, US-based black porn video producers had suddenly developed an interest in Brazil. At that point, along with white American and European smut producers, African-American men were flocking to this new, “exotic” market in droves.
Second, in my own experiences, whenever someone heard that I was a frequent traveler to Brazil, I would always start meeting brothas who suddenly wanted to know me. After the exchange of “wad’dup” (or sometimes not even this), the conversation would ultimately turn to my trips to Brazil. There was rarely a moment when dudes would even hesitate in going straight to their real curiosity about Brazil: the women. Brothas would push up on the topic in a number of ways, from regular questions (“How are the women there?”), to the recognition of the perceived image of Brazilian women (“Man, dem chicks is bangin’!”). Another common way of approaching the topic was when brothas would ask me, “Was’sup on dat Brazil tip?” I, with my background in the social sciences would always touch upon how Bahia, where I would spend many of my first trips, reminded me so much of the US south. Brothas would always gimme dat look, cock their heads, curl their lips, and say, “Come on dawg, wus really up on Brazil?!?!?” Without having to acknowledge it, I always knew that they specifically wanted to know about Brazilian women. Then there were the flat out crude comments like, “Dem Brazilian bitches fine den a muh-fucka!”. In all honesty, the vast majority of comments/questions I’ve heard over the years would fit into some type of the latter category.
I remember vividly in 2002 when I met the first black American man I personally knew who had visited Brazil. After a mutual friend introduced us and we exchanged “wad’dups”, I asked this brotha what he liked about Brazil. The first thing out of his mouth? “A brotha can go to Brazil and find a sista and not have to deal with that nappy-ass hair!” Damn. Of all of the things he could have said about Brazil, the first comment he makes exposes one of the deepest contradictions about black American identity: Yes, we are “black and proud” but don’t be “too black” and have hair that’s “too nappy” or you will get roasted! On the hair topic, I always thought it was ironic how one of the greatest symbols of black pride in the US, in fact, the creator of the anthem “I’m Black and I’m Proud”, James Brown, wore his hair straightened for the vast majority of his career. Jus’ sayin’….
Year after year I would always have countless brothas tell me that they were going to get a passport and VISA and go to Brazil with me on my next trip. In reality, none of them ever actually followed through on this.
Then in 2006 the floodgates on the “Brazilian Experience” were opened when Spelman College professor Jelani Cobb wrote a piece in the leading African-American women’s magazine Essence entitled “Blame It On Rio”, detailing the journeys of African-American men on their sexual and/or amorous adventures in Brazil (interview here). Two years later came a full-length book, Don’t Blame It on Rio: The Real Deal Behind Why Men Go to Brazil for Sex by Jewel Woods and Karen Hunter (interview here). Having become a Brazilianist over the years, I eagerly snatched up both titles wanting to see how my beloved Brazil was being experienced by other African-American males. Although I was appreciative of the titles, I became deeply disappointed. Here’s why…
The article and the book both exposed a growing fissure in the relationships between African-American men and women. The comments of many of the men from both sources exposed a deep disappointment on the part of African-American men in regards to African-American women. Many comments of these travelers voiced the opinion that black American women were either too independent, too verbally aggressive, too unappreciative (of black men), too fat or, if they were very attractive, out of the reach of most black men of average income or social status. Having read studies by scholars such as Adriana Piscitelli on sexual tourism of European men in Brazil, I was taken by the similarity of the comments made by European men as well as African-American men in regards to Brazilian women. In both cases, in comparing Brazilian women to women in their countries of origin (white German or black American), men commented on how Brazilian women were more affectionate, attractive, dependent, submissive and less combative than women in their respective countries of origin. Some of the black men commented on how some of the “dime pieces”, or the Halle Berry, Ciara or Beyonce types, were much more accessible in Brazil than in the US.
On the flip side, the “exposure” of black American men’s visits to Brazil and mingling with local women provoked outrage, disgust and all sorts of vile comments from black American women on forum sites or pages that posted articles about black American men in Brazil. In literally thousands of online comments, Brazilian women were continuously defined as “bitches”, “hoes (whores)”, “prostitutes”, “sluts”, “gold diggers” or women looking for easy access to living in the US. There were also comments about African-American men not being able to “handle” “strong, black women” thus needing to go and pick up submissive Latinas in Brazil. The heated debate and finger pointing can be seen in a variety of You Tube videos as the beef continues today.
The problem with the comments on both sides is the generalization. No one can say with any accuracy where these men were finding these women in Brazil and the context of their situations. I recently can across a You Tube video by popular African-American personality and documentary maker, Tariq Nasheed about his visit to Brazil. While I am in no position to attempt to deny anything he said about his experience, I will say it was very difficult to ascertain the context and background of his trip. According to his recollections, Brazilian women have no problem walking up on a man and kissing him directly in the mouth and making themselves blatantly sexually available. The women he spoke of were very openly “selling themselves”.
Let’s be clear. If one is looking for this in Brazil or is directed to areas where “das wus up”, of course it’s not hard to find. But there are also areas of Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta and Miami and many other American cities where one can find leisure sexual availability if that’s what that person seeks. The point here is not to deny that open sexual availability or sex for money trade doesn’t exist because that would be denial of reality The problem is again the generalization. Having listened to the 31 minute video only once, I don’t remember Nasheed’s comments portraying Brazilian women in any diverse manner as can be found on this blog, for example. While on the topic of popular African-Americans, I also remember back around in 2007-2008, radio personality Michael Baisden basically telling his listeners to just “get naked” and get down to Brazil where he had recently visited. Really?
On the Black Women of Brazil blog, one finds black women in a variety of endeavors. They are actresses, college students, professors, singers, maids, politicians, business women, writers, mothers, activists, religious leaders and act in a plethora of other roles. To be sure, you will also find black women who are funkeiras that sing and dance in sexually suggestive manners. Even if one doesn’t actually say that “all Brazilian women” are “such and such” a way, by only presenting them in one manner, this is the message that one surely gets from the description. After all, let’s be real, when one thinks of the already-established image of Brazilian women, which comes to mind first? The above photo labeled “Young black women in the city of Curitiba” or the photo labeled “Candidates from a Carnaval competition” further up the page? In this sense, there’s no difference between this image of Brazilian from someone watching a few hours of BET Hip Hop music videos and drawing a certain conclusion about African-American women.
On the stereotypical image of the beauty of Brazilian women, let me say this. Yes, there are some very beautiful women in Brazil. No denial there. But having traveled to four Brazilian states and countless cities, I can also say that like any other population of women, there are all sorts of women in Brazil. There are tall, short, slim, overweight women, there’s kinky, curly/kinky, wavy, straight and many other descriptions of hair texture. And while everyone has their own standard of beauty, if one is truly honest and has spent enough time in the country and walked through the streets of any city on a regular day, one will find women that are considered beautiful, women who are considered average and those that society deems not so attractive. Back in May, a male African-American friend recently Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and after spending a few weeks in the two cities, this was his EXACT opinion. It wasn’t like he just got off the plane and there were just hundreds of “dimes” walking around everywhere he went.
Here’s the thing. If you go to Samba School Carnaval rehearsal, for example, and you’re only looking for “passistas” or dancing girls, you will probably see some very beautiful women. But these women are judged and chosen according to certain criteria. If you go to an area famous for prostitution, you will also likely find a certain look that most “customers” prefer. Wouldn’t this also be true of any US strip club? In my own vast experience in Brazil, I can tell you that usually when Brazilian women whistle at you or approach you in an aggressive manner, usually they are involved in some sort of the sex game, be they dancers, prostitutes, or frequent areas where a lot of foreign men will be around. Some black men complain about how fat American women are. Statistically, the US is one of the most (if not THE most) obese countries in the world. No denying that, but statistics also show that obesity is definitely taking affect in Brazil as well.
In further exploring this question of the beauty of Brazilian women in the opinions of African-American men, the interchange of black identity intertwined with seemingly contradictory ideals of beauty also comes into play. Anyone that spends any amount of time in any US black community would have to agree that, in general, African-American men have a preference for black women who aren’t “too black”. Take a look at the wives of many professional African-American male athletes, prominent figures and entertainers; listen to any number of Rap songs or comments by black American rappers/singers that glorify light skin, light eyes, long hair, a “mixed” look, etc. With this mind, consider the fact that in Brazil, the mixture between Africans, Europeans and Native Americans was much more intense than in the history of the US. As such, Afro-Brazilian women run the gamut of phenotypes, some presenting phenotypes that are rarer than what one would find in any African-American community. Of course there are dark-skinned black women in Brazil, but there are also far more women who would be considered “mixed” according to African-American standards. So what does this say about any opinion that Brazilian women, or specifically Afro-Brazilian women, are somehow more attractive than American women in general, or specifically African-American women? Simply put, persons of African descent that live in Western societies also judge beauty according to the European standards of beauty. Again, “black is beautiful” as long you aren’t “too black”.
With all of these issues on the table, a black Brazilian woman recently chimed in with her thoughts on these issues basing her analysis not only on her experiences in the US, but also a popular documentary that’s been causing a buzz on the internet regarding this topic. The video is called Frustrated: Black American Men in Brazil. Discussing this video in no ways endorses it as I find it a very simplisticportrayal and ultimately presents Brazilian women in a manner that isn’t much different from the infamous flyers and pamphlets circulated in European travel agencies with scantily-clad Brazilian women plastered on them. In the 1999 film The Best Man, the character portrayed by actor Terrence Howard welcomes his homies to “paradise” at a bachelor party featuring “booty club” dancers. I challenge readers not to view Brazil is such a narrow-minded manner. Countless posts on this blog portray a Brazil in which black women experience many of the same issues that face their American counterparts. The two communities have much more in common than any of the one-sided African-American reflections of sexual tourism over the past 10 years.
Hopefully this is the impression you come away with after reading the piece by Daniela.
On being an Afro Brazilian woman living abroad
By Daniela Gomes
The process of writing this post has taken some time. Several times I thought about starting it, but I feel so sensitive about the subject, and I see how much this can influence the writing so I stop.
The first time that I came to the US, I had the opportunity of living two months in Atlanta-GA. It was such a deep experience that, for me, each step that I took was seen as something magic. Among these experiences there was also something new for me in the fact that here I was considered pretty by Black men, which didn’t happen often in Brazil.
During those two months, I learned that the word beautiful had another connotation when it was followed by the sentence, “oh are you from Brazil?” It was easy to realize that what was on the table wasn’t only the fact of being beautiful of not, but in front of this was the fact that being Brazilian meant something else.
I had always heard about the stigma of the Brazilian women’s hyper sexuality abroad, the fact that she was seen as a promiscuous woman, or even as a prostitute, but I always thought it was a generalization and not a real fact.
Over the years, as a person that always had African-American friends, I never saw it as a possibility, considering that with my friends I always had respectful and equal relationships independent of where they were from.
And these relationships were increasingly responsible for bringing me to the concept of Diaspora and made me start thinking about the black struggle in a collective way where black people around the world need to be united in the fight against racism.
In this period, I started to have more contact with the African-American community (1) because of my work and sometimes I was approached by some African-American men in a malicious way, but I always saw it as isolated incidents, because I believe that a bad character is a thing that isn’t related to nationality.
I need to say that this thought hasn’t changed. I still meet wonderful people on my path and I’m still making amazing friends here.
However, I need to say that since I came to live in this country, I have come to learn some facts which have made things became clearer and this has really made me sad.
The first fact was a comment made by a stranger who told me about African-American men who go to Brazil to find prostitutes, because it would make the relationship easier considering the language barrier. The second fact was the observation of the bad behavior of some African-American men in Brazil, who were treating women as available bodies, as people who were only there just waiting for them. Finally, I had access to a video that is published on You Tube, where African-American men affirm that they are looking for Afro-Brazilian women, because they were supposedly submissive, wouldn’t worry about their status or social position and would not be highly educated.
This video shocked me for several reasons:
First, because all of the women in it were black.
Second was the fact that most of the women in the video were clearly part of a prostitution network and indirectly in the video people were mentioning sexual tourism. Third, the fact that during the video every moment brought out a tension between Afro-Brazilian women and African-American women, as if the latter were being deprecated by the former.
The perspective highlighted by the video made me feel really bad. I started to remember several isolated facts that have happened not only with me, but also stories of people that I know that had exactly this perspective: Afro-Brazilian women being treated as second class people here.
I started to remember that usually the comments about Afro-Brazilian women being beautiful were followed by comments about how these men would like to go to Brazil and have a lot fun, but never was a comment followed by the thought that they could go to Brazil and find a woman to have real relationship, because these are reserved for good American women.
My sadness only deepens when I think that this is the reflex of our bodies being sold as a product since slavery, because in Brazil, the white woman always was for marrying, the ‘mulatta’ for fucking and the black woman for work.
As Afro-Brazilian women, regardless of whether we are light or dark skinned, over the years we have become the “mulatta” for exportation, a symbol of the sexuality of a country, a walking ass that is available, the one that deserves to be enjoyed, but who never will become a Mrs. So, Brazil which has been able to hide its racism over the years, was also smart enough to sell us as its best product, which can attract millions of “clients”.
However, if Brazil is selling a product, there is on the other hand a country that is buying this image, that is believing that the Afro-Brazilian woman is really the great whore that everybody says. And this really saddens me. It saddens because I know and have been learning more and more each day about the struggle of African-American women to escape from stereotypes like these. So why believe it when this image is related with sisters from other countries?
There isn’t a way to talk about Diaspora without think about union, about shared pain and experiences in the struggle against racism and to think that I can be viewed as someone that isn’t good enough really makes me think about if we are in a collective struggle.
Of course I can’t generalize; as I mentioned before, my personal relationships inside the black community here were always wonderful and I believe that as my friends there are other people who are also open-minded and are available to learn and respect the culture of their neighbor and to follow in a collective struggle.
I prefer to think that in the majority of cases what happens is a lack of knowledge about Brazilian culture or about what really happens in Brazil.
For this reason I decided to respond in few words to some of the questions which were brought up in the video Frustrated: Black American Men In Brazil.
About the sexuality of the Afro-Brazilian Woman: There isn’t a way to generalize it, in a country with more than 50 million Black women, each one of them is going to deal with their sexuality in a personal way. I know Black women in my country who are more sexually open in the same way that I know others who are virgins; there isn’t a standard for the sexuality of the Black woman in my country. I also don’t believe that we are hyper sexual or are more sensitive towards sex than other women in the world. I really believe it is more a sold concept than the truth. The only certainty that I have is: WE AREN’T AN AVAILABLE BODY and to go to our country doesn’t mean easy sex just because we are Brazilians.
About Afro-Brazilian women being submissive: understanding machismo/sexism in my country, I believe that several women in Brazil are still subjugated by men, but in the same way that sexism is everywhere, the struggle of Black feminism also exist everywhere and we have been standing against all kinds of oppression of gender and race. We have a history of protagonism in our country, Black women who have always have been responsible for supporting their families, as matriarchs and also through political pioneering in different situations. WE NEVER WERE BACK STAGE.
About prostitution in Brazil: There is prostitution in Brazil as there is prostitution everywhere. Actually Brazil is still a conservative country in this sense, because it is one of the few countries in the world, where prostitution is illegal and considered a crime. AND NO, NOT ALL BLACK BRAZILIAN WOMEN ARE PROSTITUTES OR ARE GOING TO CHANGE SEX FOR FAVORS.
About Afro-Brazilian women being better than African-American women: I don’t believe this comparison can even exist. In a political sense, black women in both countries have been sharing a history of struggle and activism and learning a lot from each other. Physically, I believe that actually we are really similar to each other, because here I see several people who look like myself, my friends, my sisters.
Emotionally, we have a different history, although we both suffer with the oppression of racism, but I really believe that none of us have time or wish to be a doormat for a man. Sexually, I believe that this question needs to be treated as it is, something personal, that which only the people who are involved in it are responsible. It’s more than time to break the stereotypes which were created about us.
Well, the post was long, but I hope it is clear and can help us to continue constructing friendly relationships in the fight against racism. Everybody is welcome in Brazil, but it is necessary to knock down some images that aren’t true.
I post here the link for the video Frustrated: Black American Men In Brazil. And I call all Afro-Brazilian and African-American women to unite and give a correct response to something so sexist and full of prejudice.
Daniela Gomes is a Ph.D Candidate in the African and African Diaspora program at the University of Texas, a Master in Cultural Studies from the University of São Paulo, a Specialist in Media, Information and Culture, also from the University of São Paulo and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from Umesp. She blogs at http://afroatitudes.blogspot.com.br
1. See here another piece by an Afro-Brazilian woman and her discovery of the issue of hair among African-American women