Note from BW of Brazil: In my years of following “coisas do Brasil” (things of Brazil), I’ve come to the conclusion that a large percentage of the country’s citizens either live in denial, ignore important issues, use convenient phrases to gloss over facts and allow their silence to link them to complicity. The examples of each are abundant. As I use this platform to speak about Brazil from a perspective of race, I will use examples connected to this topic.
What first attracted me to studies of Brazil was the realization that the country was the fact that country received more African bodies during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade than any other country in the Americas. To be honest, it’s really difficult to say with any certainty exactly how many descendants of the 4-5 million Africans enslaved in Brazil should be considered black, but suffice it to say, it’s much larger than the 18 million people who define themselves as pretos (black) but also less than the 116 million total that Afro-Brazilian activists claim by combining the figures of pretos and pardos (brown/mixed race). After promoting and accepting this figure for a number of years, I can no longer accept it as legitimate for a number of reasons.
If you’ve ever heard the well-known “largest black population outside of Africa” slogan, understand, it sounds great on paper for anyone interested in the history and condition of the African Diaspora, but the reality is that this may be true, depending on your belief in what constitutes black, but it could also be an gross exaggeration. With the promotion of ideas that Brazil is 54% black based on figures that combine pretos and pardos as one group, this idea that there are more than 100 million black people in Brazil is one that many people wholeheartedly believe and is one of the beliefs whose possible invalidity is one of the denials I speak of. If we were to say that Brazil has the largest population of African descendants outside of Africa or that there are more than 100 million non-whites in Brazil, that would be easily to argue and support, but just how many people should be classified as black is infinitely more complicated.
Another fact that many still have a problem admitting is that 1) racism is a serious problem in Brazil or 2) that it does in fact exist, which leads people to proclaim that 3) all Brazilians are equal. These ideas simply make no sense based on 1) socioeconomic statistics that measure the quality of life of those who classify themselves as white versus those who define themselves as black, brown or Indian and 2) everyday experiences of differential treatment depending on whether one is seen as white or non-white. To put it bluntly, Brazil’s famed ‘racial democracy’ simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
Then there are those who can look at Brazilian society from a more realistic viewpoint, see the inequalities but remain silent when they see that the nation is not and has never been a country in which all of its citizens are treated equally. We see this in the vast differences of life of Brazilians who live in favela slums versus those who live in homes valued at hundreds of thousands or even millions of Brazilian reais. Citizens who live these types of homes can go to bed and sleep peacefully at night knowing that the state’s violent Military Police units won’t be aggressively entering their neighborhoods and homes with the latest in military weaponry and possibly killing members of their families during these actions. Residents of middle- and upper-class neighborhoods will apply their own explanatory justifications as to why this difference of treatment is applied to different races and classes of people. For example, the idea that people that live in victimized communities are most likely criminals anyway provides support for the violent tactics of state security agents, who justify their actions based on the perceived threat poorer communities pose to wealthy communities.
Often, due to highly manufactured propaganda, poor residents and people of color often accept the mythologies divulged through the mainstream media and people in positions of authority that tell them that those living in poor communities are all criminals and that racism is not a problem in Brazilian society. But when doses of reality continue to challenge this discourse and these populations began to ask questions, the mythology is then re-enforced by psychology professionals who simply downplay the idea that the society may in fact be based on a race/class structure that separates the haves from the have nots. As black Brazilians are often conditioned from early on in their lives to believe Brazilians “are all equal” simultaneously and contradictorily with the idea that white is not only right, but also that white people are more beautiful, more intelligent and overall just better, more deserving people, it often takes a lot of work to remove these ideas from minds that have been socially engineered to believe them in the first place.
Nowadays, black Brazilians are more “woke” than ever and to help them on their journeys to seeing Brazil as it really is rather than how they’ve been made to believe it is, they are increasingly turning to therapists that look like them to deal with the transition into reality. This is where the Afrotherapist comes into the picture. Because in a society such as Brazil, in which racism is treated as if it were simply a figment of the victim’s imagination, only a black psychologist can provide the special treatment that is often times necessary.
“Afrotherapists”: because they prefer therapy with black psychologists
Being in an office for mental health care can mean messing with thorns that have been put one’s entire life into subjectivity. Black women sometimes go to the couch to relive and work out situations of racism and the battles they face for being part of two minority groups, due to gender and due to color.
We talked to some women who are looking for shelter for issues that go through their skin color and that end up preferring to be seen by black psychologists and therapists for one main issue: identification. Racism, loneliness in their love lives, prejudice in spaces such as the workplace, the difficulty of self-esteem are among the themes. Reasons for treatment abound in a country where rapper Stella Yeshua was mistaken for a cleaning worker because of her being black, for example.
“She understands my experiences and knows what it is to be a black woman in society. I think it’s very important to have this racial and gender perspective,” explains fashion designer Thalita Ramos de Oliveira Ignácio da Silva, who has been seen by a black psychologist for three years in São Paulo (SP). “She won’t think I’m victimizing myself.”
Black woman and racism: ways to understand pain
Marketing and Events consultant Nathalia Alves, from São Paulo (SP), is a black woman who sought a black therapist after experiencing a situation of racism in the professional environment, where she received “aggressive audios” from a person involved in a job.
“I understood that only a woman like me would understand this pain. And she could help in the ‘healing’ process. For me, that’s it: what helps most being a black professional is that I don’t need to justify situations of racism in order to explain what I feel. So we can be more objective.”
Audiovisual producer Ana Cristina Pinho, from São Paulo (SP), has been in therapy for 15 years, but it was the need to “deal with racism more deeply” that made her look for a terapeuta negra (black therapist).
“I wanted to perceive my analyst as a mirror, which, according to Freud, is essential in the therapeutic process. It’s very different for me to talk about it with someone who has suffered or is still suffering from racism.”
After going through several therapeutic lines, such as “15-minute group therapy through the health plan, Freudian and Lacanian analysts,” Ana Cristina realized that her issues related to structural racism – one that is reflected in habits, behaviors that they are part of the formation of society – were treated very superficially.
“Since to solve some things you have to redeem others, I felt that something was missing. White therapists were not prepared to deal with racism and prejudice, for example. Now I know that these issues approached very superficially, but not because of me, it was much more due to the lack of knowledge of professionals in the field.”
“This is not my fault”
Three years ago being analyzed by a black therapist, Ana Cristina began to see her experiences, as her professional life, without the guilt that fell on her shoulders for being a black woman in different spaces.
“Moving to an Afro-therapist has made me understand and improve many personal issues. One of them was that structural racism is part of our society,” she says.
“It’s no use being the best student in college or a professional of excellence. It’s my color that will determine which spaces I can go to”
She realized that it was not her fault for not achieving the same salaries as white colleagues and men, who do the same job as her. “This is transformative. It takes a weight off your shoulders, at the same time as it brings a certain anger”, she points out.
The therapist Mariana da Costa Pedro Nogueira da Luz, from São Paulo (SP), also talks about guilt: “Black women need to take care of their mental health, but we cannot transfer the guilt to those who suffer the effects of racism; it is the guilt of racism,” she says.
Mariana, a black woman who cares for black and non-black patients, believes that “everyone should go through a therapeutic process” regardless of racial issues. However, she ponders that for many black women lying on the couch of a black professional may make more sense than being heard and analyzed by a white, Asian or indigenous therapist.
“It is important to address race, because it’s not only a social marker, it goes beyond our existence. And it is a fact that the black woman can suffer violence from early childhood (up to 7 years), which makes her grow up discrediting her potential. Then that is reflected when she goes to the job market, in her affective, loving relationships.”
Worrying mental health
The mental health of black women, in fact, has troublesome data. According to a study on the suicide rate among black youths in Brazil, published by the Ministry of Health with the University of Brasília in 2018, young black and adolescent had a 20% higher risk of suicide than white women in 2016, when institutions concluded the investigation.
“Therapy isn’t the only way to take care of yourself, but it’s one of the ways. We are looking at our country, of a black majority, where we are at the worst rates of all: violence, unemployment, who kills the most and who dies the most. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot resist in the midst of this society that is not made for us,” explains the therapist.
It’s worth remembering that in the same year, among young black men and adolescents, the risk of suicide was 50% higher than among whites.
Therapy with a social plan
Faced with the search of black patients for black psychologists, psychoanalyst Tatiane Alves Santos decided to share information about her care in a closed Facebook group, created precisely for this purpose: “Afroterapeutas” (Afrotherapists).
One of its differentials is health insurance – “to cover the population who sometimes have no money but have a workplace plan” – and studies that try to unravel the treatment of ethnic-racial relations within the consultation office. “During my training, I realized that there was a need to turn attention to an identity issue, not only of the black community, but of LGBTQI + people.”
Having a therapeutic approach in which she considers each patient as an individual, Tatiane explains that she deals with various subjectivity issues related to blackness and gender. In common, solidão da mulher negra (the loneliness of black woman) and racism experienced in everyday situations.
Psychology professionals and conduct on racism
It is worth saying that the search for black professionals is part of a preference defined by these people, without expressive guidance from any agency of the category. “People can consult with anyone, the patient can also meet with a non-black professional,” explains Mariana.
The Federal Council of Psychology (CFP) has guidance material that highlights the need for professionals to understand that “there is a peculiar, subtle and explicit psychic suffering present in the daily life of pessoas negras (black people).” There is also a 2002 Resolution that establishes “norms of action for psychologists regarding prejudice and racial discrimination.”
Universa asked the Council for information on the number of black professionals in the country, among other issues, but didn’t receive feedback by the time of the publication of this article.
Information via UOL