Note from BW of Brazil: Yes, the question of identity. When this blog first started back in 2011, we posted an article about the complexities of understanding how race and color-related terminologies work in Brazil. The post was necessary as when discussing the issue of race/color in Brazil, one can become confused if said person isn’t Brazilian, hasn’t lived in Brazil or studied the question of race in Brazil, or any other Latin American country for that matter.
Now before we move into today’s piece, I must once again point out the fact that the self-identification of the author of the post doesn’t necessarily apply to all, or even most Brazilians of African descent. In fact, in his description, he defines quite well the deeply rooted culture of denying one’s blackness in Brazil. Simply put, why be black when the culture gives you so many options to avoid this classification, up to and including the much-desired classification of branco/branca, meaning white. Over the course of this blog’s existence, many readers have insisted that Brazil’s black population should be considered only 8% black, as this is the percentage of people who define themselves as preto/preta, meaning black, while another 43% define themselves as pardo/parda, meaning brown or mixed. The truth of the matter is, we may never come to a clear consensus on just how black Brazil is as so many people disagree on exactly what constitutes blackness.
Many authors who write material about issues of identity on this blog have expressed the obstacles they confronted in coming into an identidade negra or black identity. And in this process they face bouts of confusion, denial and ridicule from friends, family, co-workers, etc., people who continue to express a firm belief in the negativity of blackness. Often times, it is within the home that they internalize these ideas of blackness that come from their own parents who themselves were indoctrinated into accepting anti-black sentiments. The stories and personal essays we present here on this blog clearly don’t represent the experience of the majority of afrodescendentes (African descendants), most of whom will never make the transition into full acceptance of a black identity. But pieces such as the one below speak to the process of those who do.
The photos in this piece were taken from a photo campaign entitled ‘Ah, branco, dá um tempo’, meaning ‘Ah whitey, give me a break’.
Being black (in a country that doesn’t want to be)
by Victor Soares
I am one more example of the Brazilian people: the son of a black immigrant and white mother, less pigmented, cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair)…Anyway, someone like the overwhelming majority of our population. In Brazil, having lighter skin provides some benefits of which I could take advantage of if I were to identify myself as branco (white). We are many pretos “facultativos”, “pardos” (“optional” blacks, browns/mixed) and other classifications with strange names that only exist here.
I have skin light enough to have already been called white in life, ignoring my features, hair and origin. The miscegenation brought an identity conflict in the Brazilian who was brought up with the premise of “branco é bom, preto é ruim” (white is good, black is bad). If you are a mixture of the two you are framed in the bizarre palette of colors such as moreno claro (light brown), jambo (1), mulata (a horrible word), where the darker you are, the more you will suffer.
So why do I declare myself black? I’m lighter, I could just shave my head and go “unnoticed”. I spent my childhood with cropped hair, after all, the menina crespa alisa (kinky/curly haired girl straightens) and the menino crespo raspa (kinky/curly haired boy shaves), only to meet the standards of that society that transforms the majority into the minority.
How can the majority be oppressed? In my view, the reason is that the black majority of this country doesn’t see itself as such. It’s fundamental the struggle of the collective (such as the wonderful MBP – Meninas Black Power), groups and institutions for the rights and empowerment of blacks. I declared myself a homem preto (black man) at work and they told me: – No, you’re moreno! Because in their heads it’s absurd that someone choose to be black when they would have the option of not being.
I call attention because of my cabelo crespo, I hear prejudiced jokes and innuendos because I don’t fit the expected standard for an engineer in a large company, but I move on, I’m on the front line, another black man in a corporation and someone in the suit and tie white world.
We’re getting there, bro, we are reis e rainhas (kings and queens). Oh, if they want me to cut my hair, I have the response on the tip of a sharp tongue. Now that I found out I’m a king, I don’t want to remove my crown. Now that they gave us a voice, we will not be silent.
More on the theme of colorism here.
Source: Meninas Black Power
- Jambo is a fruit that comes in three varieties: jambo-rosa (pink), jambo-branco (white) and jambo-vermelho (red). In reference to skin color, morena jambo or morena de cor jambo (morena of the color jambo) refers to a person who appears to have a year round tanned color