Note from BW of Brazil: The question of race, racial identity and racial classification will always be at the root of any question dealing with race-oriented issues in Brazil. Which is one of the reasons why one of the very first posts on this blog dealt with the issue of racial classification. The complexities off the issue are well know for anyone who lives in Brazil or has spent any time studying the racial question in Brazil. For anyone else, confusion is sure to emerge.
A recent case dealing with the boyfriend of a popular YouTuber recently brought the issue to the forefront once again. While many people were caught off at discovering the guy was black, the man himself, Caio, never considered himself as black, or negro, the term used in Brazil. The guy’s candid commentary of his racial identity has recently provoked a number of articles on the issue, one of which we feature today and another that will be featured briefly.
For those who don’t know, according to the method that racial classification is officially recognized in Brazil pretas, meaning blacks, pardas, meaning browns or mixed, combined are considered the população negra or black population. This combination is based on the Movimento Negro’s insistence that pretas and pardas, in terms of quality of life statistics, are almost identical vis-a-vis the white population thus should be considered on group. Others believe this grouping is absurd as they rationalize that people of mixed racial ancestry are a completely different group and belong between preta and branca (white). However one sees it, neither side is completely right or wrong for several reasons. Here I will use a recent example just to provide another example of why the issue can sometimes be problematic.
Last July, we premiered a story that once again brought Brazilian styled racism to the fore: the internet racist attacks on the Globo TV journalist Maria Júlia Coutinho, known affectionately as Maju. After an ongoing investigation, police began to track down people involved with social network attacks on the journalist. One of the men tracked down by investigators was Erico Monteiro dos Santos, 27.
Questioned by prosecutors, dos Santos said that didn’t write any racist comment and that he only managed a group on the Internet with the participation of over a thousand people. Later, at his home, his cell phone and a computer were seized. As no racist message written by him was found, he was released, but prosecutors found another crime. On his cell there were photos of child pornography. Erico said that these images were be used in this virtual war to undermine the rival groups on the Internet.
My point here is not to make a direct accusation against dos Santos as no racist content directly connected to him was found although one could argue that his participation in the group makes him guilty by association, as well as his admitting the usage of child porn to blame another group. My point in discussing dos Santos is that there are millions of Brazilian pardos who look like him who can every bit as racist against pretos as persons who consider themselves white. Consider the racist incident against the black gymnast that made headlines back in May. The father of one of the guilty is a black man but this didn’t matter when the young men decided to make a racist joke against their teammate. These types of stories are what make it difficult when including all pardos as part of the negro group. Every pardo and even some pretos don’t know and/or don’t want to be black. And unless these people somehow come into a certain racial consciousness, they could prove to be liabilities when one speaks of racial solidarity. Just food for thought…
Being black or not: the question of Caio and all of Brazil
By Jarid Arraes
In this Tuesday (05), the boyfriend of Youtuber Jout Jout, Caio, sat in front of the camera to raise some questions about his racial identity and the way Brazilians face this issue. The reflection was prompted by acts of racism from some channel followers after “discovering” that Caio was not white. And all this has become very relevant not only because of the importance of this issue, but also because of Jout Jout’s channel is followed by thousands of people.
In the video, Caio says that the whole discussion took him by surprise, as he hadn’t considered himself negro (black), but pardo (brown/mixed). Caio came to talk to his mother’s husband, who is a black man from Guinea-Bissau, and the same showed himself to be confused because he also didn’t consider Caio black. On the other hand, many other people identified him as negro, with all five letters and even some superlatives.
To understand the relationship between Brazilians and the issue of racial identity, one must also understand a little of our history. Here, beyond the not so distant centuries in which the slavery of black people was considered a good thing, there was a strong eugenicist current who preached the embranquecimento (whitening) of the population as a way to “improve the quality” of the population. According to this current, which was very popular, the ideal would be to mix the races until the population was lightened and thus bring itself closer or become the perfect example of the human being: o branco (the white).
In addition, thousands of enslaved black women were raped by white men who were their masters. Brazilian miscegenation may even have a positive tone today and a belief that it shows our good coexistence, but in reality, especially in the period of slavery, this miscegenation was based on actors of suffering and violence.
It’s worth noting that we are talking about race from a sociological concept and that Brazil has its own history, which, although similar to other colonized countries in many ways, it also has its peculiarities and specific issues. Because of this we so different from the United States – where black people were also enslaved, but in not being 100% white means you already belong to the other racial identification. In the United States, very light-skinned black people are considered black and when these people assert themselves as black, they don’t get not nearly as many questions as fair-skinned black people receive in Brazil.
Here, we have a vast amount of material available to better understand racial identity in Brazil. We have books like Tornar-Se Negro (Becoming Black) by Neuza Santos Sousa and Rediscutindo a Mestiçagem no Brasil (Revisiting racial mixture in Brazil) by Kabengele Munanga. We also have academic articles, master’s and doctoral theses and newspaper articles that may contribute to understanding this complex equation.
The depth of the subject is undeniable. As Caio said in his video, perhaps the factor of suffering racism isn’t the ideal, nor mandatory for people who consider themselves “pardas” to consider themselves negras; today because of the strength and recurrence of racism, the idea that the experience of racism is part of racial identity is very present. And indeed, it is sad that identidade negra (black identity) is so tied to racism. Unfortunately, Brazil is also a country that does not value, does not spread and does not mention the various African cultures as good references. While many people with families of Italian, German, Lebanese or Japanese origin know their roots, traditions, festivals, clothing, customs and foods, the black factor continues long forgotten, only appearing slowly after Law 10.639/03, which requires – in theory – the teaching of Afro-Brazilian history and culture in educational institutions.
Most black people in Brazil continue today without a clue of their origins. They do not know if their ancestors came from Nigeria, Angola, Congo or another among the many countries in Africa. The names and surnames of people who were brought enslaved to Brazil were modified as soon as they stepped foot on the wood of slave ships and the piers of Brazil. Christian and white names came on the scene, erasing much of our references.
So the question of racial identity in Brazil is also a matter of great injustice and disadvantage. With social movements to combat racism, part of that identity began to be constructed and strengthened, but we still have a ways to go.
This does not mean that every parda person is negra, because we also have the indigenous in this framework, which also underwent genocide and faces, still today, terrible racism. However, for me one thing is certain: it is very good for us to know our origins and our history. We need knowledge to understand our place in the world, especially the place that is surrounded by politics, violence and racism.
We can overcome the concepts of racial purity, the idea that black skin only has a very dark tone and the false notion that we live in a country where racism doesn’t exist – or races in the sociological sense – just because we are so miscigenados (miscegenated or mixed). And to begin this journey, we can make quick searches on Google. Some keywords and a whole new world of knowledge can reveal itself.
May Caio and all others interested plunge into this proposal.