Blackface, jokes and denial: How racism continues to thrive in Brazil

Blackface "jokes": Former UFC champion Anderson Silva and historical figure Xica (Chica) da Silva were recent targets of "jokes"
Blackface “jokes”: Former UFC champion Anderson Silva and historical figure Xica (Chica) da Silva were recent targets of “jokes”

Note from BW of Brazil: Two recent incidents that occurred within days of each other provide telling examples of how racism can be naturalized and accepted as jokes in Brazil. The first incident had to do with the knockout of Anderson Silva, a black Brazilian UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) champion in a fight with challenger Chris Weidman. Silva’s knockout was lampooned all over the internet in English and Portuguese as Photoshopped images of his KO went viral. Of course, when one is a public figure, public jokes and ridicule come with the territory, but the question here becomes, when does a joke go too far?

Stills of mixed martial artist and former UFC champ Anderson Silva being knocked out by Chris Weidman
Stills of mixed martial artist and former UFC champ Anderson Silva being knocked out by Chris Weidman

In reference to the Silva knockout, the comedy program Pânico na Band on the Bandeirantes TV network featured a skit with humorist Ceará painted in blackface and a dark bodysuit poking fun at Silva’s knockout while singing re-vamped lyrics to one of the biggest hit songs to come out of Brazil in the past year, “Amor de Chocolate” of the singer Naldo (see videos of the actual knockout, the song and the parody at the end of this article). The bit seems to have gone over very well with the audience who seemed to thoroughly enjoy Silva’s roasting. As has been demonstrated on this blog a number of times, “rosto pintado de preto” (blackface) performance has a long history in Brazil and it continues to be popular on various variety shows (see several examples here). 

Humorist Ceará as fighter Anderson Silva on the "Pânico na Band" TV program (right) and as he looks without makeup
Humorist Ceará as fighter Anderson Silva on the “Pânico na Band” TV program (right) and as he looks without makeup

So, again, the question: is blackface ever cool? Is it really “just a joke”? In 2009, the Brazilian news magazine Veja ran a story about an Australian variety show in which five white men imitating the Jackson 5/Jacksons performed in blackface, with a sixth, representing Michael Jackson, having his face painted white. American singer Harry Connick, Jr., who happened to be a judge on the program, called the performance racist. In this piece, Veja clarified that while blackface is a common form of humor in Australia, as it is in Brazil, in the US, it is considered racist. While one should take into account that cultural histories can differ from country to country, can blackface performance be seen as completely harmless in Brazil where racism is said to be less blatant than in the US even though in many ways it is clearly not? Should blackface humor be judged as harmless humor in a country (Brazil) in which persons of African descent are routinely called “monkeys”? While it is clear that there has not been enough public outrage to stop this form of “humor” from being performed on television, there are black Brazilians who don’t find it humorous. 

October 2009 "Veja" magazine article acknowledges that while blackface humor is common in Brazil, it is deemed racist in the US
October 2009 “Veja” magazine article acknowledges that while blackface humor is common in Brazil, it is deemed racist in the US

In an article about Afro-Brazilian singer Alexandre Pires and soccer star Neymar donning gorilla suits for a video, journalist Oswaldo Faustino discusses the history of blackface in the US and Brazil as a means of making black people look ridiculous. In Faustino’s opinion, “Brincadeirinha, não. Racismo mesmo! (A little joke, no. It’s really racism!)” In his article about the blackfaced character Adelaide on the TV comedy program Zorra Total, Marcio André dos Santos calls the image “o racismo camuflado em riso (racismo camouflaged in laughter).”  Referring to the same piece, Maria Sylvia Oliveira refers to it as “O racismo explicito (explicit racism)”. In yet another piece about blackface, blogger Charô Lastra writes, “blackface sempre carrega um componente de preconceito, afinal é uma caricatura, quase sempre indesejável (blackface always carries a component of prejudice, after all it’s a caricature, almost always undesirable).”

In regards to the Anderson Silva parody, was it simply not possible to hire a black humorist to do the same piece? Why is it always necessary to dress a white person in blackface when black representation is already severely lacking on Brazil’s airwaves? Is there really any difference between the Anderson Silva piece and the controversy surrounding Numéro magazine painting a white model with blackface makeup in an editorial piece entitled “African Queen”? Lastly, in Brazil, where black children are indoctrinated daily to appreciate whiteness while devaluing their own blackness, are targets of racism from white schoolmates (and teachers) and where black representation in the media is extremely lacking, does this latest blackface portrayal add to self-esteem or is it yet another example that would persuade children to avoid blackness at all cost? Or is this simply racism masquerading as comedy that allows Brazil to continue disregarding such acts as just “jokes”? Consider this in the context of the second incident that happened a few days later. 

In a story carried on the blog back in March, a group of Law students at the federal university of the state of Minas Gerais found it funny to dress someone up in blackface, tied in chains (led by a white student) representing a black Brazilian historical figure and also giving Nazi salutes while surrounding another student painted in blackface tied to a pillar (see the story here). While the practical joke caused outrage on blogs as the photos circulated in social network sites, a decision on the “joke” by the university basically disregarded the possibility of any racist intent even including references to slavery and Nazis. Here’s how it was reported:

UFMG indicts 198 students but doesn’t see racism in practical joke

Practical joke on the campus of UFMG in March in which someone appeared in blackface and wearing chains as Chica da Silva
Practical joke on the campus of UFMG in March in which someone appeared in blackface and wearing chains as historical figure Chica da Silva

Law students will only respond to charges of distribution and commercialization of alcoholic beverages

The UFMG (Federal University of Minas Gerais) filed an administrative proceeding against 198 students of the Law School who participated on March 15th this year, in a practical joke that was considered racist, sexist and prejudiced with references to Nazism and slavery. The decision released on Tuesday (9), however, states that no items will be investigated by the university.

On campus of UFMG, students appear giving Nazi salute wearing fake Hitler mustaches surrounding another student wearing blackface and tied to a pillar
On campus of UFMG, students appear giving Nazi salute wearing fake Hitler mustaches surrounding another student wearing blackface and tied to a pillar

There are no references in the ordinance to the words “racism”, “prejudice”, “Nazis”, and “slavery.” The 198 students will be processed only for engaging in the distribution and marketing of alcoholic beverages during the joke. The UFMG didn’t explain in the text, why the terms were excluded from the process.

Students could be punished with a warning, suspension and expulsion.

In April, the Conselho Nacional de Promoção da Igualdade Racial (National Council for the Promotion of Racial Equality) published a motion of repudiation of the act in the Diário Oficial da União and requested measures be taken by the UFMG.

Soon after the creation of the inquiry in mid-March, UFMG issued a statement of condemnation of joke/hazing. “They represent an act of violence that is not part of academic life.”

Note from BW of Brazil: Below are blogger Larissa Santiago’s thoughts on the decision.

Racism: it’s also when you don’t see it

by Larissa Santiago

The news today (7/10/2013) from the Jornal Tribuna Hoje reports that the UFMG (Federal University of Minas Gerais) initiated an administrative proceeding against 198 students of the Law School program who participated in a practical joke on March 15th earlier this year on the campus.

Interestingly, no mention of racism, prejudice, or Nazism was used in the process. The 198 students will be processed for the marketing and distribution of alcoholic beverages.

That’s right, gentlemen! The commission of the inquiry formed by three professors of the Faculty of Law program and analyzed by the Attorney General’s Office prepared a document in which NOTHING of what happened is mentioned/related to racism or a hate crime.

Deletion is also racism: when society tries in response to a racist attitude, to forget, erase or dilute the discussion without giving voice to the people who were and are victims and recognize the bias, it is also being racist. Denying and forgetting the fact that what happened is part of a history of colonial rule, separating the practical joke from its socio-cultural context is also racism. It does not retract, not admit error or acknowledge that there exists in the structure of any and every institution or person remnants of a slave past is also racism.

What the community of black women wants to know is: until when will protectionism, denial and the false myth of racial democracy reign over justice and equity?

Until when will masking racist attitudes rooted in the everyday of universities and public institutions make the wounds left by the oppression close?

Where are we going while the petty corporatism between public institutions are keen to sweep under the carpet the toxic waste of prejudice and racial hatred that is more than apparent in that joke/hazing incident?

We won’t shut up until the response is fair. We will not stop talking until UFMG treats the case from last March 15 with seriousness and justice.

Note from BW of Brazil: So in essence, both of these incidents are simply shrugged off and protected from accusations of racist intent. In some ways, the incident at the university and the subsequent judgement that failed to recognize any racist intent reminds me of what was perhaps the biggest racist incident to gain international attention because of Brazil’s court system not seeing racism where it was clearly visible (see that story here). In reality, this case shouldn’t be surprising as for several decades Brazil was able to convince the rest of the world that it was a “racial democracy” even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. So in this latest chapter of Brazil not being able to come to terms with racist practices disguised as “jokes” and demeaning representations of black people, it should be understood that while it seems funny, everybody’s not laughing. 

Anderson Silva knocked out by Chris Weidman

Naldo – Amor de Chocolate

Humorist imitates Anderson Silva wearing blackface

Source: Yahoo TV, Afrodelia, Tribuna Hoje

About Marques Travae 3225 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

4 Comments

  1. There is no such thing is Brasil as melting pot, that is a B.S they told to condition the african descents over there; do not full them selves; white people there are racist, because they know they keep the African descents under psychological control doing that. The African descents there are passive and feel embarrassed but do not do anything, they even let the other whites talk for them in situations like that. They have not been prepared in family to defense them selves against racism; I know because I am an African descent Brazilian and we was only tough to be the best in class and in the street and even though that might not be good enough. I am glad I got out of there through legal ways but I do not dare take my son there until he is an adult to see with his own eye how backwards that country is in reference to the country he leaves in now. I advise any one if they can to adopt African descents kids in Brasil and give them proper education else where, so they can have a real chance to be a citizens. I would never have a child in Brasil.

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