Note from BW of Brazil: Just a few days ago, we posted another example of Brazil’s shameful practice of white actors painting their faces black and imitating and/or making fun of black people. The last post was twice as troublesome as the topic that raised eyebrows about the ‘comedy skit’ was not just the white actors painted in the blackface but the fact that they used the historically racist practice to make fun of another shameful period in Brazil’s history: the 350 plus years of the enslavement of Africans and their descendants. Another puzzling fact of this practice is that it’s gone on for so long unchecked.
Back in 2012 when I asked prominent Afro-Brazilian lawyer Humberto Adami (who has a reputation for fighting cases involving racism/racial discrimination) about the rather commonplace of blackface performances, he wrote me back saying, “In Carnaval time, these ‘jokes’ and others have been tolerated.” Over the years there have been numerous skits, music videos, and comedy routines of this sort to the point that its pretty much considered an acceptable form of entertainment. Although I’m not exactly sure when blackface performances started in Brazil, I can say that there are clips of white actors painted in blackface from the time in which Brazilian television was only in black and white.
In the previous post about the latest usage of blackface, we suggested that the continuous usage of blackface in Brazil seems to be an open challenge to black activists to attempt to shut it down. After all, if one doesn’t express an outrage over a practice, said practice will no doubt continue. Well it seems that there are a number of black women activists who in fact DO want to shut down this disgraceful ‘homage’ to black women! Check out what the ladies are saying below.
Irreverence and quiet weather mark Saturday’s Carnival in Brasilia
By Peter Peduzzi
The Carnival of Brasilia has taken shape in recent years. Only on this Saturday of Carnival, there were 11 events in the city, according to the Military Police (MP). In the two main blocos on Saturday (February 14th) – the Nylon Babydoll and Galinho, that came out of two points of the city – what stood out was the irreverence and the family environment, which according to organizers, are the hallmarks of the Candango carnival.
Dressed as Nêga Maluca, the physiotherapist Terge Vasconcelos, 36, spent hours preparing to maintain for this year the level of the costumes used in the past Carnivals in the Nylon Babydoll. “For two years ago, I have tries to have the most ridiculous costume of Brasilia Carnival,” he said, holding a green drink. “This is mint liqueur with vodka and sparkling water. I invented it,” he said proudly for the irreverence is also when it’s time to choose the drink he would have.
Carnival costumes can reproduce prejudices against blacks and homosexuals
By Peter Peduzzi
The irreverence of Carnival in many cases can bring long rooted prejudices in Brazilian culture. Costumes such as the nêga maluca (crazy black woman) or even men disguised as women end up reinforcing racism and homophobia, explains a member of the black women’s group Pretas Candangas, Daniela Luciana. According to her, this is quite common in blocos de rua (street bloco groups). Yesterday, however, in Rio de Janeiro during the Mangueira samba school parade what ended up also taking place, members of the committee marching with garments that resemble characters known as nêga maluca.
“I know that the Carnivalescos are free to do this and that, often, the community has no decision-making power to prevent things like that. But in this case, the choreographer and board eventually make that mistake [reinforcing prejudices through stereotypes], which overshadowed the brilliance of the school,” said the member of the Pretas Candangas to Agência Brasil. “Even if they say that this is not the Nêga Maluca costume, they used elements that stereotype the body of the black woman, with enlarged breasts and buttocks. It’s not an homage. I didn’t like it it,” she added.
Daniela’s criticism also extends to people who use costumes in street blocos. “In Belo Horizonte, for example, there is a bloco in which all members come out as ‘nêga maluca’. We blacks women are a quarter of the population and we repudiate be represented as crazy. Black hair and skin is not a costume, because we have to wear them all year. It’s not an object of laughter, but someone’s identity. And many people die simply because they are black,” said the member of the collective Pretas Candangas.
In her review, the person might not even know it’s racist and finding it funny. “But whoever says if it’s racism is the black man or black women. And to me, there is no exception. Rather, it’s racism,” she said, citing also, for example, marchinhas (marcha songs) such as “O Teu Cabelo não Nega” (your hair doesn’t deny it) by Lamartine Babo (1).
Another type of fantasy that bothers the member of Pretas Candangas is related to homophobia. “I’m totally against that homophobic (people) dress up as women. When they dress up as women, they are hurting whoever is transsexual. Sometimes it is a person who speaks badly and discriminates against the transvestite all year. But in Carnival dresses up like one, for considering such a costume as something ridiculous,” she said.
What is lacking in Daniela’s evaluation are educational campaigns to show people that, in attitudes of this kind, they may be playing into various forms of prejudice. However, what is conveys in the media, is often the opposite. “We saw a beer campaign telling people that, during the carnival, leave the [term] ‘no’ at home. That’s sexist, because it stimulates men to force kisses on women. It happens a lot in Salvador. There the men have the habit not only of stealing kisses, but putting their hands on women,” argues Daniela.
The physiotherapist Terge Vasconcelos dressed up ‘nêga maluca’ last Saturday, when he was interviewed by the Agência Brasil. He disagrees with the opinion of the representative of Pretas Candangas. “It’s just a costume to play around in during Carnival. I’ve never been branded a racist by anyone in my entire life. I jump around in Carnival surrounded by people of all races who are part of my circle of friends,” he said. This Monday’s Carnival, Terge dressed up as “barbicha”, meaning “goatee”, a mermaid with a beard on his face, in a doll box in the Barbie style. “Each day I play out a different situation. That’s why Carnival exists,” he added.
According to the member of the black women’s group, Brazilian law, that prohibits, for example, the use of Nazi symbols, should do the same in situations like costumes that incite racism or homophobia. “These prejudices are in the everyday life of the Brazilian, not only at Carnival. Therefore, Carnival would be no different. Even if used as a form of irony, with an objective of drawing attention to racism, it’s best not to use these costumes because it runs the risk of having the opposite effect, making it offensive to someone. If there’s the risk of being offensive, it’s best not to use (it),” says Daniela.
‘Nega Maluca, no’ – Women call for end of ‘black women costumes’ in Carnival
According to them, traditional costumes in revelry ridicules the female figure
Courtesy of Camaçari Notícias
Only men can wear the official costume of the bloco Doméstica de Luxo (meaning Domestics of Luxury), that last weekend brought together more than 6,000 people in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais.
The characterization has been repeated since 1958, when the group was created by six friends: an apron, “black power” hair, red lipstick to thicken the lips and black ink covering their faces. Exactly the opposite of what black women like Stephanie, Jarid and Dandara, who spoke to the BBC about racism in Brazilian Carnival would like to see.
Besides the example from Minas, they cite as reasons of discomfort marchinha songs such as “O Teu Cabelo Não Nega” (your hair doesn’t deny it) (with lyrics such as “Mas como a cor não pega, mulata/Mulata, eu quero o teu amor” meaning “but as color doesn’t stick, mulata/Mulata I want your love), costumes like those of “nega maluca” and clichés like the “mulata tipo exportação” (mulata for exportation type).
For the women interviewed, under confetti and streamers circulate sexist (with men dressing up as “easy woman”), racist (by mocking representation of black women) jokes and social prejudice (in the case of jokes about the daily lives of maids).
According to director of the Domésticas de Luxo bloco, the objective is to “honor the maids in a simple way”
“I’m sure that most of these men don’t have the slightest notion about the racial question and, worse, they make no effort to understand,” says Stephanie Ribeiro a 21-year old architecture student, 21, voted one of the 25 most influential black women on the Brazilian Internet.
“The origin that I perceive in the majority of ‘bullies’ is this: a difficulty of putting oneself in the place of the other,” says the young woman.
The report spoke with one of the directors of the Doméstica de Luxo bloco, business administrator Odério Filho, who said he was surprised by the criticism.
“We have no prejudice,” he says.
– The bloco was created in 1958 by six friends who decided to paint their faces black and wear a simple outfit to honor maids in a simple way.
Asked about the association of black women to housework, says Odério defends freedom of expression.
“We deal with (it) in an affectionate and caricatured way. Freedom of speech is there. We want to add any type of person – the only restriction is that only men can do it, as it’s in the statute.”
“Today I am a little afraid to go into the street in a a bloco because I fit exactly in the standard of a woman that they construct. The constraint is not only in the field of word, expression, and costume. Aggression is also physical: they put their hands (on women) and treat (them) as an object of enjoyment.”
“We do not criticize or speak badly (of women),” refutes Odair.
“The domestic came about in Brazil as the simple person who worked for the Madame on the farms. Today, with the PEC of Domestics (law), it’s an established profession. And we celebrate that.”
‘Color of sin’
The writer and activist Jarid Arraes, 24, was “offended” by the “hyper-sexualization” of black women during the party. “We are portrayed as women ‘da cor do pecado’ (of the color of sin), mulatas tipo exportação’ is the old stereotype that black women would be more sexual than white women – who in turn would be for marrying,” she says.
The “nega maluca” fantasy would be an example “unfortunately very common even in social movement events,” according to Jarid. “That’s not the image created by the black woman. It is created by the white elite, with exaggerations in the shapes and curves. You can’t say it’s harmless, that it’s fun. It’s debauchery,” she says.
The actress Dandara de Moraes, 24, says that she’s lived in her own life the cliché of nega maluca.“I’ve done ballet since I was a child. At 16, we had a presentation about dolls – clearly, for me they reserved the ‘nega maluca’”, she says. “Today I see how this kind of representation of black women limits and ridicules her.”
They’re representations that Jarid vows to fight until the “stereotypes are defeated.”
“Carnival is only a symptom of a much larger problem: sexual repression, moralism, inequality of opportunity,” she says.
“The internet puts us in a more prominent position than previously. People listen to us, see us questioning (this) and with this we could cause discomfort.”
On the other hand, the respondents recognize that it’s not only stereotypes that are made in Carnival. Each year, gaining momentum throughout the country are carnival blocos leaping into the party carrying social flags such as female empowerment and the defense of equal opportunities between the sexes.
This is the case of Rolezinho da Crioula that paraded on Sunday, in Vila Madalena, in São Paulo, with the mission of promoting black culture and respect for Afro-Brazilian traditions.
Stephanie has called on social networks for recommendations of blocos that don’t accept stereotypical representations among its members.
1. Refers to the popular Carnaval song “O teu cabelo não nega” in which the lyrics say: Porque és mulata na cor. Mas como a cor não pega mulata. Mulata eu quero o teu amor (Because you are mulata in color. But since I can’t catch your color. Mulata I want your love). The lyrics of the song have long been deemed racist for two reasons. One, it contributes to long time stereotype of ‘mulatas’ only being worth sexual pleasure. Since the woman’s color won’t rub off and stick to the singer, he doesn’t mind engaging in sex with the woman. And two, hair texture being a prominent marker of racial origin, if a mulata’s skin is light enough, she may be able to ‘pass’ for a white woman. That is if the curl of her hair doesn’t ‘give away’ her African ancestry. As such, the song title, “O teu cabelo não nega”, meaning “your hair doesn’t deny it” refers to the fact that the texture of her hair won’t allow her to deny her origins.