In school, a discriminatory institution, being white is to be an example, perpetuating the idea of racial superiority
by Agência USP
In debates about races and racism little does one talk about “whiteness”. And it was from this finding that the educator and kindergarten teacher, Luciana Alves, showed that affirmative action, just like the law on the teaching of African culture, make sense only if made in an environment of reflection and reconstruction about “being white”.
The theme of “miscegenation” is widely discussed in Brazil, but what lies behind this discourse is a culture that updates racism. School presents itself as a discriminatory institution where the subject of “whiteness” is scarcely discussed in debates about race. This situation contributes to whites seeing themselves as superior and in a position of neutrality in respect to the subject, perpetuating the “positivity of whiteness” and to negative stereotypes of “being black”.
To conduct her study Significados de ser branco – a brancura no corpo e para além dele, (Meanings of being white – the white body and beyond), guided by Professor Marília Pinto de Carvalho, Luciana interviewed 10 teachers of elementary education, 4 self-identified whites and 6 blacks, in order to know what they thought about “o que é ser branco no Brasil (what is it to be black in Brazil)”. The study was presented at the Faculty of Education (FE) of the University of São Paulo. The researcher said that the teachers were selected for the study when they participated in a course on Law 10.639/2003, which requires the teaching of African and Afro- Brazilian history and culture in schools.
In Brazil, about 50% of the population declares itself white, exposing that in the country where there is a discourse about the mixture of races there are still reasons that make people declare themselves to be white, even coming from a mestiça (mixed race) family. According to Luciana these reasons are related to the “meanings of being white, in addition to the skin color”. These meanings are a set of characteristics culturally attributed to people who recognize themselves and are recognized in their communities as whites.
“To be white is not being black,” said one respondent. This response shows that the meaning of being black is already generally constructed as being opposite to being white. Because of this mindset, it is very common to realize the day-to-day situations in which “being black” is related to negative characteristics. In return, what is associated with whiteness are positive, socially esteemed values. Intelligence, chastity, beauty, wealth, scholarship and cleanliness, for example, would be characteristics of a “negro de alma branca (black with a white soul or ‘oreo cookie’)”, an expression used by one of the teachers interviewed (1).
In the interviews, what became was clear in the comments of blacks, besides the positivity of whiteness, was the feeling of fear, insecurity, mistrust and oppression. This confirms the picture of the white as potentially oppressive to blacks, constructed and updated over the course of history.
The responses of white teachers about “being black” usually resorted to stereotypes very well fixed in the popular imagination. When they spoke of their childhoods, remembering times when they witnessed situations of discrimination, it was evidenced that since that time, these stereotypes, criticized by them today, were already being constructed.
This construction puts “whiteness” as the standard, as the norm, and this standardization is primarily responsible for the updating of racism in Brazil, according to the survey. “The memories of teachers reveal the neutrality of their racial membership, indicating that being white is not having to think about this information,” the researcher notes.
Racism still exists and permeates the everyday of the Brazilian and in schools it’s no different. According Luciana, the best way to not update discrimination in classrooms is to put the theme of “whiteness” in question. “You have to understand that whites also form a racial group that defends their interests, and end up benefiting, directly or indirectly with racism,” says the researcher. She believes there should be opportunities at school to discuss and question the adhesion to the idea of the superiority of whiteness. “That’s where the proper training of teachers, as a wager that white idealization stops being an object of desire for blacks and whites, because it presupposes hierarchy,” explains the researcher. In classrooms, whiteness is still constructed as a reference to humanity, where “the white is always the best example.”
1. This phrase uttered by one of the teachers is a common phrase that one can hear throughout Brazil in reference to a black person that possesses positive or certain attributes and/or mannerisms that are stereotypically associated with whites somewhat similar to the term “oreo cookie” used in African-American communities.
Source: Portal Ciência & Vida