Note from BW of Brazil: “How can we be racist? Our families are so mixed.” This is a typical statement one will hear when having a conversation about how racism isn’t a problem and can’t even possibly exist in Brazilian society in general but especially in families of various phenotypes. To get right to the point, IT’S A LIE! And if you talk to enough people and present examples of racist behavior, people will eventually open up and admit situations of racism that they have experienced or witnessed. I have said this a thousand times: under a system of white supremacy, integration and interracial relationships don’t solve the problem. People will simply uphold and declare their value systems that posits white people, whiteness and European physical features on top of the racial hierarchy.
These beliefs are often also brought into interracial unions in which the white parent feels him/herself superior to their black partners as well as their mixed children. Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman’s 2015 book The Color of Love is literally full of examples of this racial hierarchy. Of the numerous examples in the study, one memorable exchange exemplifies this perfectly. In a dialogue with a 52-year old white woman, Hordge-Freeman recollects how the mother was so anxious for her to meet her fair-skinned, light-eyed teenaged daughter. So proud of her daughter’s apparently straight hair, she encouraged the professor to touch the girl’s mane. The woman’s daughter was so beautiful that she didn’t “even look Brazilian”, according to the mother. As they walked away, the woman was asked about the other girl standing nearby. The woman flipped her wrist and said, “Oh, her, she’s my other daughter.” The “other daughter” had brown skin and wavy hair.
This brief encounter speaks volumes about how Brazilians associate beauty to race. In the woman’s comments we see that the standard of typical Brazilian beauty, that of mixed ancestry, is not sufficient, for it is the European standard that is desired. Since the very beginning of this blog we’ve seen countless examples of this desire for whiteness, but in order to come to terms with this reality, it’s necessary to wade through layers of rhetoric that insists that Brazilians “are all equal”. Whiteness remains the goal and the standard and simply because someone is white and is willing to sleep with, marry and have a family with someone of another race doesn’t mean that that standard will somehow magically disappear.
Social psychologist Lia Vainer Schucman’s latest work reveals yet another crack in the armor of the ‘racial democracy’ myth and and delves into the specifics of how racism functions within interracial families. Take a peek at some of her findings below.
‘Bleach bath’ and clothes pins to thin the nose: when racism is in the home
Study shows how racism manifests in families with members of different races
Courtesy of Jornal Floripa
What happens when there is racism in the home? In what way does it manifest? How can interracial marriages generate children who are segregated in their own home environment because of their color? Why do many white people deny the black race of their spouses – chosen by them – and even their children? Some answers to these questions appear in a study by the doctor in social psychology Lia Schucman, who researches racial relations in Brazil.
For her postdoctoral work at USP (University of São Paulo), entitled Famílias Inter-Raciais: Tensões entre Cor e Amor (Inter-Racial Families: Tensions Between Color and Love), she interviewed 13 families who were willing to talk about the subject – often in conversations punctuated by tension and disagreement in relation to the races. In the end, the psychologist used reports from five families with different manifestations of what Lia called “racism of intimacy”.
Racism in the lullaby
There are extremes, like the case of racist violence present in a lullaby sung by a white mother to her black daughter: “Dance negrinha (little black girl/nigger). I don’t know how to dance. Get the whip and she’s already dancing”. At the other end of the story is a white mother who, instinctively, helped her children build positive black identities.
Below, summaries of the reports recorded and analyzed in the research, which the psychologist intends to turn into a book later this year.
João*, 24, considered himself different from everyone in his house and therefore, has already wanted to take a bath in bleach. Today, he defines himself as black. His mother, white, says “he started with [this racial classification] after going to college, but he’s not black.”
Juliana*, 36, is parda (brown/mixed). Her mother, branca (white), would undo the hairstyles made by her cousins in her childhood – that’s because they made her “mais negra” (blacker). As a girl, she felt physically inadequate. Today, her mother still calls her colorful outfits “roupa de negro” (black clothes).
Amanda, 25, does not know her race. She does not feel white, like her father – on a trip to Europe, she believed she was considered a “non-white.” Neither does she feel black, like her mother. While her mother was often mistaken for her babysitter, Amanda says she has never suffered prejudice.
Dulci*, 37, almost had her hair straightened in childhood by her mother, white. But the woman reevaluated (“why is only straight hair considered neat?”) and took her daughter, black, to braid her hair. She always made sure to assure the girl that her nose and hair were beautiful. Her brother Daniel, 35, also remembers his mother calling the black people on television beautiful.
Mariana*, 32, was the daughter that looked most like her father, black, among her brother and his four sisters. She earned the nickname “nega” (black girl) from the family. This was in an affectionate manner. In times of anger, her white mother called her “preta fedida” (stinking black), “stinky armpit”, “macaca” (monkey), and pointed to her “cabelo de Bombril” (scouring pad hair). As a child, she slept with a clothes pin on her nose, because her mother said so that this would make it thinner.
Racism of intimacy
Also author of the doctoral thesis Entre o ‘Encardido’, o ‘Branco’ e o ‘Branquíssimo’: Raça, Hierarquia e Poder na Construção da Branquitude Paulistana (Between Unclean, White and Very White: Race, Hierarchy and Power in the Construction of Whiteness in São Paulo), Lia Schucman explains that racism in Brazil does not necessarily segregate. In some cases, as most of the above reports show, it is part of intimacy. “It is not because there is intimacy, affection and love that racism doesn’t exist: it doesn’t nullify these feelings, but it certainly hierarchizes relationships,” says the researcher. This, in practice, translates into that discourse of “não sou preconceituoso, tenho até um amigo preto” (I’m not prejudiced, I even have a black friend).
When this type of manifestation appears within the family, the consequences may be even more serious. “It is very violent when racism is precisely in the environment where one expects to find love, protection, and acceptance.” If the racial question divides the family, considered a nucleus, the scarring is even greater,” explains the psychologist.
This is clear from Mariana’s account. “Being black, for me, hurts. It is something that is not well resolved because it brings me many painful memories,” she says. But for a few years, she has struggled to change that. The first person who she heard clearly speaking about the racial issue, in a way in which she identified herself, was Brazilian rapper Mano Brown. Since then, she has joined black militancy groups, assumed her natural hair (previously straightened) and is now doing therapy – all this, according to the researcher, allows Mariana to “de-identify” with the negative way that her white mother taught her to be black.
“I’m working on this therapy and I know I’ll someday look in the mirror and not see that child I was. […] I can’t get rid of this yet. It’s very crazy.” – Mariana, 32, on the acceptance of her race
Negação da negritude (Denial of blackness)
When her mother insulted her and Mariana cried, the adult often changed her attitude and comforted her. She would say that her father was a monkey, and not the girl, because she was “mais clara” (lighter). The situation illustrates what the researcher defines as a denial of blackness, existing even between spouses: to love a black man, many “whiten” them.
“What is denied is not the real color of the other, but all the racist meaning that will fall on the other by defining him as black. We, therefore, have the paradox of denial, for what seems to be a solution to racism ends up re-affirming it. In other words, to stay away from the racist meaning about ‘being’ black, these people deny blackness and lose the possibility of deconstructing the negative stereotypes attached to the black ‘sign’”, Lia explains in her study.
“It seems that my mother painted my father white, she never even said the word ‘negro’ (black) to describe it. I don’t understand how, but she seems to have continued (being) racist.” – Juliana, 36, about how her mother denies her father’s race
It is precisely the opposite of what Jussara*, 66, mother of Dulci, Daniel and José* (the only one of the three children considered to be white, because he was born with very light skin). She, white, married Guilherme, a self-declared moreno. From the outset, she realized the existence of racism (something her husband denies) and educated her children to deconstruct it, working with them on racial consciousness and appreciation of their origins. The daughter remembers when she cried because they said at school that her nose was a batata (potato). She heard from her mother, “Você é linda, seu nariz é lindo, seu cabelo é lindo! Não deixe que o outro decida quem você é.” (You are beautiful, your nose is beautiful, your hair is beautiful! Don’t let another decide who you are).
*The names were changed by the researcher to preserve the identities of her interviewees.
Source: Jornal Floripa