“White Americans find it as difficult as white people elsewhere to divest themselves of the notion that they are in possession of some intrinsic value that black people need, or want. And this assumption – which, for example, makes the solution to the Negro problem depend on the speed with which Negros accept and adopt white standards – is revealed in all kinds of striking ways.” – James Baldwin
“It’s no use theoretical reiteration that scientifically there is no superior or inferior race. What counts is the popular and social concept of race, whose touchstone in Brazil bases itself worse than in the declared struggle of races, in a shameful ornamental prejudice, cloaked in aesthetic perversion. So strong and so perverse in our midst, that it instilled in the black himself the poor consciousness of being black.” – Abdias do Nascimento
Note from BW of Brazil: If you were one of the hundreds of millions of viewers who watched Brazil’s last World Cup game, you no doubt know that Brazil’s superstar, Neymar, Jr. took a brutal knee to his lower back which led to an injury that doctors estimated would take about four weeks for recovery. As such, the “blond bomber” will miss the remainder of the World Cup thus dealing a severe blow to the host team’s chances of winning futebol’s most prestigious tournament. Absent from the same game was Neymar’s Barcelona teammate and fellow bleach blond, Daniel Alves, who was benched by coach Felipe because of his disappointing play.
As the scope of this blog is not to critique the sport but rather to analyze topics involving Brazil from a racial perspective, today we will analyze and interpolate an article that was posted the day before Friday’s game entitled, “Sobre Neymar, Daniel Alves e a negação da negritude” (On Neymar, Daniel Alves and denial of blackness). It is an intriguing but short piece that represents another Brazilian writer who chooses to analyze the issue of race in Brazil beyond long held traditional views that “we’re all mixed” and thus “we don’t have racial problems.” The key to understanding how race works in Brazil is often times considering things that are not said, actions and implications between the lines. Photos recently released by a popular singer convincingly add to the argument of the article. In the piece below, analysis by BW of Brazil will be weaved into the original article and written in italics.
On Neymar, Daniel Alves and denial of blackness
By Claudio Tognolli and BW of Brazil
Children of civilizations beneath the tropics, blackness is the indicator of the balance of Brazilian-ness.
Although it is known that racial mixture has been widespread throughout Latin America, the miscegenation of most Latin American countries is generally thought to have been more common between Native Americans and Europeans, but in the case of Brazil, which imported more African slaves than any other nation in the New World, miscegenation between Africans and Europeans (in addition to Native Americans) was so widespread that it is thought that all Brazilians have a bit of African blood running through their veins.
But over the centuries, anti-African/anti-black social ideals weaved themselves into the fabric of the country’s social imagination to the point that blackness is, for millions, a classification that is to be avoided. While Brazil has long proclaimed itself to be proud of its three race mixture, in nearly every realm of society (media, politics, education, finance, business, etc.), persons of a European appearance dominate and are the standard in the country to which non-whites are held to, face exclusion from and are discriminated against in the nation because of a decidedly non-European appearance. As whiteness (particularly blondness), is such an unrealistic standard of beauty in a country where most people have darker hair and skin colors than that of Europeans, how is one to perceive the widespread popularity of white or non-white persons chemically altering their natural hair color in an attempt to imitate Aryan ideals of blond perfection/superiority? Neymar had long been bleaching his hair (and even his facial hair) blond when his teammate Daniel Alves joined in and displayed his ambition of being a blond.
(Fellow Brazilian soccer star) Vagner Love was more original: he didn’t put a hairpiece in his hair: it was an authentic application that always referred to the most solid fundamentals of blackness.
Someone from the circle of studies of tolerance went the opposite way: he testified that Daniel Alves and Neymar were actually making Hannah Arendt’s dream of total miscegenation as the inevitable escape from intolerance…
Although Hannah Arendt was a German Jew and spoke of the situation in the United States, in late 19th century Brazil, elites concocted a plan of massive European immigration to the country with the goal of whitening the nation through the promotion of miscegenation. According to anthropologist João Baptista de Lacerda speaking at the first Universal Races Congress in London in 1911, by the year 2012, the half-breeds and the black race would have disappeared. Apparently, the plan didn’t quite work although it continues a work in process.
In order to make this process work, it was necessary that the country stomp out any possible challenges to white supremacy or the belief in black inferiority, promote the idea that Brazil was a “racial democracy” (even with the simultaneous existence of racism), the outlawing of Afro-Brazilian rights organizations, the demonizing of black pride as “un-Brazilian” and promoting Brazil as superior to the United States in terms of race relations. Of course, no one bothered to note that such “harmonious” race relations were largely dependent upon black acceptance of inferiority. As such, no widespread black rights/black pride movement developed to combat racist ideologies and practices. In 1968, under the military dictatorship, it was even illegal to denounce racism under the guise of “national security”. These measures left the Afro-Brazilian population with a lack of black identity, widespread belief in a “racial democracy”, a lack of black pride and completely exposed to ideals of white supremacy.
It took a while, but funk and rap ostentação (ostentatious rap or ‘bling bling’) finally arrived here. A good sign. Full of himself, proud, the black American used, in Rap, ostentation as a form of self praise (lyrics weaving praises to the fact that the writer has two Ferraris, is more sexually pleasing, etc.). Blacks from our peripheries weave praises to the fact of having been victims of ROTA (Military Police unit in São Paulo) (talk a lot about “collectives”, advocate the use of the roots, when one knows that it’s fitting for the vegetables being the owner …).
Our blacks, our negroides, the salt of the earth of said Brazilian-ness, were trained for submissiveness. Daniel Alves and Neymar bleach their heads blonde for pure idolatry with heads of hair so blond that they look snowy.
What must be stressed here is that Brazil’s black consciousness movement has been in many ways operating underground and never reached the widespread participation as what happened with Civil Rights/Black Power movements in 1960s/70s United States. In Brazil, among the general population, it is widely accepted that the closer one can be to whiteness, the better. This general ideal can be noted in the overall population from those with darker black skin to dark or nearly white mestiços (persons of mixed race). The blond ambition, or would-be proximity to whiteness perceived in the bleach blond looks of Neymar and Daniel Alves for a time was very popular with many poor, young, Afro-Brazilian males and blond highlights remain very popular among all women.
This writer has witnessed throughout the years how cosmetic manipulation can be used to hide or make racial origins less obvious. For example, a light-skinned person with blond, straightened hair enters a room, a subway train or a bus. Due to the light skin and blond straight hair, a quick glance might lead one to believe that this person is white, but upon closer inspection, one realizes that the person in question simply straightens and colors their hair thus masking the darker, curlier textures of their hair. Earlier in the decade, it was also very common to see very brown-skinned women applying hydrogen peroxide to their arms to give their arm hairs a blond appearance!
Last year, people noted the physical change in the appearance of popular singer Anitta, who before her fame appeared to be a light-skinned mestiça, but later appeared to go through a process of cosmetic embranquecimento (whitening) as her appearance seemed significantly whiter than before. Coincidentally, earlier this week, I had seen one of those articles online showing how celebrities looked before their fame. In that one, the article asked, “do you recognize this popular singer?” and featured a photo of a young girl. I didn’t even bother to click on the article. Later, a friend posted the photo side by side with a current photo of the celebrity on a social network along with the phrase, “As afro-brasileiras e a dura missão que envolve ascensão x embranquecimento”, meaning, “Afro-Brazilians and the difficult mission that involves ascension and whitening.”
Seeing the photos side-by-side, I realized the celebrity was sexually provocative funk singer Valesca Popozuda. On the photo to the left, taken when she was 8 years old, the singer’s hair and facial features clearly denote a more obvious mixed-race background while her current photo shows her in her manufactured, whitened re-incarnation. One can also note differences in the appearances of actress Camila Pitanga (1) and model Adriana Lima.
Such are the examples of Neymar, Daniel Alves, Anitta and Valesca in a Brazil in which the aesthetic supremacy of whiteness has very little challenge. This is one of the most important differences between the US and Brazil. As I wrote above, one of the main reasons Brazilians have the idea that Brazil’s racial relations are so much more harmonious than those in the United States is because Afro-Brazilians have never been allowed to develop a widespread movement to combat the hegemony of white supremacy. Behind the façade of “we are all equal” rhetoric lurks a deeply ingrained black inferiority complex that equates whiteness with all that is good and desirable. Although white supremacy is equally strong in the United States, the 1960s and 1970s movements laid the groundwork for a collective identity and pride in black communities that, while also being influenced by the contradictory acceptance of European aesthetics, still forms a collective of resistance.
The black pride of the US has well-founded bases. One is W.E.B. Du Bois. He spoke German better than (first black Supreme Court President) Joaquim Barbosa. He advocated the superiority of blacks (which he called the “talented tenth”). In 1911 he wrote things like “people of color have a distinct artistic and cultural creativity from that of their white antagonists and oppressors, a deeper inner vitality and humanity” (That Du Bois called “life soul” or “seeleleben”).
In his work Dark Princess, Du Bois noted: “the darker peoples are the best – the natural aristocracy, the makers of art, religion, philosophy, life, everything except brazen machines.”
Here is the poem “Ghana Calls” that that Du Bois wrote in Ghana (which Neymar and Daniel should sing, to the furtive tears, instead of our national anthem “Ouviram do Ipiranga as margens plácidas/They hear from Ipiranga the placid banks…”):
I lifted my last voice and cried
I cried to heaven as I died:
O turn me to the Golden Horde
Summon all western nations
Toward the Rising Sun.
From reeking West whose day is done,
Who stink and stagger in their dung
Toward Africa, China, India’s strand
Where Kenya and Himalaya stand
And Nile and Yang-tze roll:
Turn every yearning face of man.
Come with us, dark America:
The scum of Europe battened here
And drowned a dream
Made fetid swamp a refuge seem:
Enslaved the Black and killed the Red
And armed the Rich to loot the Dead;
Worshipped the whores of Hollywood
Where once the Virgin Mary stood
And lynched the Christ.
Awake, awake, O sleeping world
Honor the sun;
Worship the stars, those vaster suns
Who rule the night
Where black is bright
And all unselfish work is right
And Greed is Sin.
And Africa leads on:
Source: Yahoo Notícias, Black Women of Brazil
1. One could argue that we must consider issues such as camera lighting in photos, tanning and in the case of Camila Pitanga, the look she used in one of her photos was due to a role she took in a popular novela, but the changes in her appearances are noteworthy as to how persons of mixed race can appear and how their images can be manipulated according their career demands. As in an ongoing debate about the lighter skinned appearance of American singer Beyoncé on certain albums covers and publicity photos, the question of lightening or whitening of black/mixed race persons during stages of their career remains an ongoing debate. Pitanga herself in a 1997 interview with Leyde Morais revealed that “as an actress I need to have various faces.” Camila has also never denied being a black woman even as many white and black Brazilians alike have always asked why she defines herself as black.