Note from BW of Brazil: Dealing with racism in a country like Brazil can be a challenging daily struggle, particularly as most of the nation’s citizens never admit to be racist. As the issue of what is classified as “good hair” and what is “bad hair” is so deeply ingrained in the nation’s culture, many black women don’t even want to deal with the regular harassment and thus choose to use some sort of chemical treatment to straighten their hair. Decades ago, the situation was even worse. But fortunately today, more and more Afro-Brazilian women are finding pride in their natural hair and are choosing to reject straightening techniques in an increasingly popular demonstration of black pride. In the story below, yet another woman describes her journey and experiences as a black woman with natural hair in Brazil.
A princess with an afro struggles against racism
by Eliane Trindade
“Dear Fausto Silva, our hair is not a broom. It’s not bombril (steel wool). It’s not ruim (bad) nor do we dry it in a windstorm.” At a height of 1.81m (about 5’11) elongated by her black power (afro) hair, event promoter Tati Braga responded as such on her Facebook profile to the Globo TV host.
Before reactions such as social networks, Faustão was forced to explain his comments in which he referred to funk singer Anitta’s black dancer Arielle Macedo’s hairstyle as a “vassoura de bruxa”, meaning “witch’s broom” on the April 20th episode of his popular variety show.
It was the beginning of a controversy that ran parallel to another, also in the media about racism: soccer player Daniel Alves eating a banana in response to an offensive gesture from a fan in the Spanish League match, followed by the controversial campaign #somostodosmacacos (we’re all monkeys).
In the middle of the fray comes a young upper middle class woman and resident of Higienópolis, an upscale São Paulo neighborhood, gives a banana to the chapinha (flat iron) (and all forms of straightening), and wears her naturally crespo (curly/kinky) tresses. A gesture of affirmation of her black identity.
The “joke”, as the host justified his choice of words on national television, is of the same type that Tati has faced throughout her life in environments as disparate as her daughter’s school and sophisticated lounge where she goes with her husband, Italian Diego Tomassini, responsible for Brazilian representation of the Ministry of the Environment of Italy and director of the Department of International Relations and Foreign Trade of Fiesp (Federação das Indústrias de SP or Federation of Industries of São Paulo).
In the first person
Here, the first-person account of a black woman of 27, nine of them walking through life with a “crown that reminds me daily of my roots, as strong as the pride of being black”:
“I’m used to saying I’m that I’m from the pre-chapinha era. Accepting my hair was a very complicated process. Until age 18, I did all those chemical straightenings and spent hours at the hairdresser stretching my tresses out with the brush.”
From childhood, we learn that our hair is ugly. They told to me: ‘You have to bring it down, tame the mane.’ I suffered bullying, which didn’t have that name yet. In school it was always one thing: ‘Seu cabelo é ruim (Your hair is bad)’.
When I looked in the mirror, I saw another person. As in the movie Precious, in which the protagonist imagined herself blond, white and thin; her opposite. I dreamed of being a Paquita (1). As they were all blondes, I wanted to dye my hair yellow. It’s the negation of what you are.
I started to cultivate my curls when I discovered on the internet a collective from Rio de Janeiro called Meninas Black Power (Afro Girls). They do work to empower black girls and go to the schools to pick 10, 11-year old girls that have begun to straighten, to say that they can be beautiful with her curly strands.
If we black women don’t start to like ourselves us and find our hair beautiful, no one will do it. I teach this to my three children. Ana is five years old, and with hair to the middle of her back, all wavy. Another day, at a party school, they told her that there was no princess with cabelo ruim (bad hair) like hers. She came home saying he wanted to cut her curls. I told her that they were beautiful and that who has to like them is her.
The next day, Ana went to school again with her hair down, and when they said it again, she replied: ‘I am an Angolan Princess’. She is quite light (skinned) and her hair is a little blonde, but she accepted herself.
The way I deal with my hair is an example for her. It’s that thing, I’m going to the salon to get my nails done and the hairdresser comes at me in a frenzy, ‘I have a divine brush which will leave you with a beautiful hair’. I say: ‘No, thank you. I like it like this, the more volume the better.’
From another, I heard: ‘Did you see Taís Araújo’s tamed curls? ‘I answer: ‘You mean her weave’. At the time of Cobras e Lagartos (TV novela), the actress used a chemical to look blond and her hair fell out. She wore a turban on almost every novela. In the end, she came out with the short hair with the little curls (2). The same thing happened to Naomi Campbell, who was going bald and wears wigs today.
In a strange land
I’m the only black woman in my building on Avenida Higienópolis. When I first moved, I had to always identify myself at the door. Until one day, I replied: ‘I don’t need to tell anyone to enter my own house. In the elevator, a neighbor offered me a job, ‘I need a girl (to work) in my house’ (3). It’s that thing of I could only enter that kind of building where I live as an employee.”
When we complain about situations like these they say that we understood it wrong. People do not realize that they are racist not define themselves as such.
My family is a salad. On his father’s side, my grandmother was of Italian descent. My maternal great-grandmother was a slave breeder who had 20 or so children and fled to a quilombo (maroon society). From there, she came to São Paulo, where my grandmother was born and who married a white man, a descendant of the owner of my great-great-grandfather.
Because of this, I have lighter skin and eyes. The daughters of my grandmother are all white, while the sons are all black. When she went out with the girls everyone thought she was the nanny. Recently, I was with my kids in praça Buenos Aires (square), here in the neighborhood, and they thought the same (thing). In responding that I am the mother, I’ve heard nonsense, ‘How lucky your children came out light’. It’s very cruel.
Trading these experiences on the internet will strengthen us. It’s that feeling: ‘I’m not alone’. I found my group. We also have Blogueiras Negras (Black Women Bloggers), Portal Geledés of the Instituto da Mulher Negra (Black Women’s Institute). Today, you can find video tutorials of how to treat our hair at home. Others teach how to use a turban.
Daniel Alves picking up the banana and eating it on the field is an act of resistance. When someone calls you a monkey, either you turn and slap the guy or ignore it. It was as if he had slapped the face of the racist fans.
The problem didn’t have the same uproar when there was a case of racism with a referee in Rio Grande do Sul. Nor when they called Joaquim Barbosa a monkey on Twitter. And look (at the fact that) that the guy is the president of the Supreme Court.
So militancy should be every day. Many black girls still don’t understand that accepting their ‘witch broom’ is also a political act and a symbolic way of saying: ‘I exist and you’ll have to deal with me.’ In my experience, accepting it hurts less.”
Coordinator of the project Media and Racism of Andi (National Agency for Children’s Rights), journalist Maria Carolina Trevisan was also instigated to talk about the campaign #somostodosmacacos. Her comments on Facebook had 120 shares and were republished on websites connected to the Movimento Negro (black movement).
“Racism is complex, it’s rooted in our culture and can’t be resolved on Instagram,” she critiqued, given the flurry of photos of famous people, including TV hosts Luciano Huck and Angélica. The couple was one of the first to support the call of (soccer star) Neymar, who posted a photo on his profile with a banana, next to his son.
It was this way that the wing back, Dani Alves’s teammate on Barcelona, unleashed an advertising campaign commissioned by his father to the Loducca agency to respond to the prejudice of which he became victim on European fields. The same Neymar that, in 2010, declared he had never suffered racism, “really because I’m not preto (black).”
The advertiser Guga Ketzer denied in an interview with Veja website, that the movement had been orchestrated. “Neymar [who is injured] would eat [the banana on the field], but as it was Dani, also wonderful,” he said. And being told that it belittles the movement by having an agency behind it is as prejudiced as the fan throwing the banana he replied, “Why can’t there be professional help?”
In an interview with the Globo TV Altas Horas variety, Daniel Alves stated that one detail of the campaign did not please him: “I don’t really like #somostodosmacacos because we think that we are is the evolution of this. We are all human and all equal. I think that it’s this that we should defend.”
Carolina Trevisan sees differences between the spontaneous gesture and adherence to a campaign without proper engagement. “One thing is Dani Alves eating the banana – for the first time a player manifested during a match. Another thing is we whites, posing with the fruit. If everyone who posted this picture would watch themselves when their own racism emerges, it would be a step.”
The journalist points out that Brazilian soccer took 31 years to accept blacks on their teams. Before that, the players had to wear pó de arroz (rice powder) to whiten the skin and get on the field. And concludes: “..If you are white and want to take a legitimate action, care is needed, gentleness, humility, listening, and especially a lot of respect because racism reproduces enormous pain. Racism kills.” And it hurts, as the princess with the afro in Higienópolis told us.
1. The Paquitas were a popular 80s/90s song and dance group that were part of TV host Xuxa’s popular long-running children’s television program. Like Xuxa herself, the Paquita girls were very white and very blond. A number of popular Afro-Brazilian female entertainers have expressed their adoration of As Paquitas and their dreams of being a part of the group. One filmmaker created a documentary about the subject. In an April 2013 interview popular singer Negra Li also revealed her desire to be a Paquita when she was growing up.
2. Popular actress Taís Araújo turned many heads and was the talk of the entertainment world when she debuted a new short haircut back in January of 2013.
3. Apartments in upper-middle class neighborhoods are also a common place where Afro-Brazilians suffer racism and the idea of “place” as it is assumed that they must be domestic workers if they frequent such areas.