Note from BW of Brazil: Last week the blog covered the latest racial controversy coming out of Brazil concerning race and representation in a beauty contest in the northeastern state of Bahia. The state of Bahia is considered the center of Brazil’s African-oriented culture and is also recognized for its black majority population. While a black woman ended up taking the crown amidst an over-representation of blondes and European-looking women, this does not end the contradiction of race. Read BW of Brazil’s comments on this near the end of this report. Here is how the news was presented in the press:
After controversy, winner of Miss Bahia 2013 is a black college student from Salvador
22-years old, 5’9” (1.73 m), psychology student Priscilla Cidreira, representing the district of Santa Cruz, in Salvador, Bahia, was crowned Saturday (25) as the most beautiful woman in the state, at an event held at the Sheraton Hotel in Salvador. Elected among 30 candidates, the winner will now compete in the Miss Brazil contest on September 28, in the state of Minas Gerais. The second place went to Miss Luis Eduardo Magalhães with third place going to with Miss Itabuna.
The young woman drew attention for being one of only two black candidates in the contest. The large number of blonde women competing for Miss Bahia sparked controversy on the internet, with protests through social networks and blogs for not representing the profile of the population of Bahia. According to some of the protests that also included online petitions, the state that has a 76.2% black population, should have had more participants of this ethnicity.
The new Miss Bahia declared at the contest that her big dream is to travel the world. The winner also showed herself to be in tune with her origins, emphasizing among the personalities she admires, two black women: former Miss Universe from Angola Leila Lopes and American first lady, Michelle Obama.
Jurors were responsible for the choice were the fashion producer and beauty artist Doda Guedes, Miss Bahia 2011 Gabriella Rocha, the businesswoman Josinha Pacheco, marketing manager of Salvador Shopping Karina Dourado, also from Bahia, Miss Universe 1968 Martha Vasconcellos, plastic surgeon Rômulo Romano and host and state deputy Uziel Bueno.
Note from BW of Brazil: So after the protests over the whiteness of the majority of the candidates in the contest, a clearly brown-skinned woman actually took the crown. This should be the end of story, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that a brown-skinned, clearly black woman won the contest. And while online protests brought the issue of color/racial representation to the fore, there’s no way to know for sure if these protests may have influenced the judges’ decision to choose a clearly black woman to represent a state that is represented by a majority of African descendants. But it DOES speak to the contradictions of race, classification and identity. Why? The discussion of racial classification and identity in Brazil has raged for years and have only intensified with the passing of the Estatuto da Igualdade Racial (Statute of Racial Equality), LEI Nº 12.288 (Law No. 12.288) on July 20, 2010. Article 1, line 4 of this law states the following (translated into English):
“Black population: the group of persons that self-declare themselves pretas (blacks) and pardas (browns), according to the question of color or race used by the Fundação Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics Foundation), or whoever adopts self-definition analog.”
A little background on this. Activists of the Movimento Negro (black rights organizations) have long considered the preta and parda populations combined as constituting the Afro-Brazilian population for a few reasons. One, socioeconomically speaking, the profiles of persons declaring themselves pretas and pardas in the census are almost identical in the vast majority of statistics that show quality of life in Brazil (income, education, health, years of life, illiteracy, etc) and show that both of these groups are at a huge disadvantage compared to Brazilians who classify themselves as brancos, or whites. Another reason is that so many persons of visible African ancestry prefer not to define themselves as black due to a centuries long stigma that attributes negative stereotypes and connotations to black people. From this perspective, activists and specialists are more likely to recognize the discriminatory practices non-whites are likely to experience that label these people as black whether they accept this identity or not.
Although Movimento Negro activists were instrumental in getting this language put into law, it also set off protests from those who believe that pardos are not negros (black) but rather a completely different category. While this blog has always supported the idea that pardos and pretos of visible African ancestry DO belong in the same category socially speaking, it also recognizes the fact that identity is a personal choice. This means that although a person may appear to be black to another person, this does not mean that that person accepts a black identity. There are also contradictions within black consciousness circles in terms of who should and who should not be considered black. The protest over this beauty contest is a good example of this.
When the above group photo of the contestants for the Miss Bahia 2013 contest was released, activists were rightly outraged because of the over-representation of women who were much closer to a European phenotype than the majority of the population in Bahia. This is understandable. What should also be questioned is the perception by activists of how many black/Afro-Brazilian or women of visible African ancestry were featured in the contest. According to some protesters, there was only one negra (black woman) in the contest, while others said there were two while still others said that there were only two mulatas in the contest.The concept and ideology behind the term mulata is a topic in itself that has been covered here, but for many years, the terms parda and mulata were used interchangeably to denote a person of African ancestry with some degree, more or less, of European ancestry. For others, a mulata is simply an attractive black woman. Herein lies the contradiction.
Headline: “Where are the pretty black women from Bahia?”
If one is to count pardos/pardas are part of the black population, then one cannot say that there were only 2 black women in the Miss Bahia 2013 contest. A closer look at the women in the contest reveals at least nine women of visible African descent, some of lighter skin, a few of darker skin. For some, nine be a stretch, depending on what you define as black. In this discussion, we will use say that nine of the women in the photos below have features visible enough to consider them African descendants. Take a look.
Here is the argument. First of all, let’s establish the fact that it is absolutely true that as Bahia is a state that is 76.2% Afro-Brazilian, they are absolutely under-represented among the contestants. In order for Afro-Brazilians to have have representation in the contest equal to their representation in the state population, it would mean that about 24 of the 30 contestants would have had to have been preta or parda. But it is also true that in Bahia, of the 76.2% of persons who defined themselves as negros (preto or pardo), only 16.8% defined themselves as pretos while the other 59.4% defined themselves as pardos. Broken down even further, this would mean a representation in which about 19 of the women would have been pardas and about 5 would have been pretas. Looking at the photos, it would appear that of the nine that we consider to be Afro-Brazilian, only two appear to be pretas with the other seven being pardas.
What is the point here? The point here is that activists cannot include pardos as part of the black population when claiming majority status in Bahia or Brazil as a whole but then turn around and not count them as part of the black group in a beauty contest. Brazil and Bahia are both considered majority black based on the combination of pardos and pretos, 43% and 8% in the country (51% combined) and 59.4% and 16.8% (76.2%combined) in the state of Bahia. This is a contradiction. Brazil cannot claim to have the “largest population of African descendants outside of Nigeria” without the large population of people who define themselves as pardos.
The bottom line here is, regardless of how you slice it, Afro-Brazilian women were clearly under-represented in the contest even though a black woman ended up winning. But if you’re going to claim majority status by combining two categories, don’t exclude this group when it is convenient to make an argument of under-representation. Going down that path would threaten to derail an already fragile argument about majority status in a nation of persons who don’t all clearly identify themselves as simply negros.