Note from BW of Brazil: As you have no doubt figured out from the details and recollections of so many people on this blog, Brazil can be brutal on the self-esteem on its citizens who display salient features that signal African ancestry. This is the reason that celebrations from last month, November, the Month of Black Consciousness is so important throughout Brazil. Through various workshops, expos, songs, celebrations, etc., the comunidade negra (black community) has been organizing for a number of years to redeem a strong sense of pride and identity that has been so damaging on the ways that Afro-Brazilians see themselves and their ancestry.
In the northeastern state of Pernambuco, one teacher decided to organize a photo project so that her students could come to see themselves and African culture as beautiful. If we were to depend on the mainstream media, government or the school system, this would never happen, so all credit is due to the teacher who thought up this project. Of course, it’s one small step, but every long journey (in this case, the path to black pride) must begin with that first step!
For self-esteem of students, teacher from Ipojuca promotes photographic exhibition
The exhibition began on November 21, 2016 in Ipojuca and involved features of Afro-Brazilian culture, revealing resistance of parents, in general, because of religious reasons
By Tércio Amaral
Their hair is always tied down to preserve them not only from the comments that emerge, but as a form of protection against prejudice. It’s a shield. Amanda, 13, is a student from the municipality of Ipojuca, in the Metropolitan Region of Recife (capital of the state of Pernambuco), who knows well the reality of racism in Brazil, so much so that she collects pejorative names from roommates, neighbors and members of her church when referring to the color of her skin. For the first time, she wore a turban on her head, a common accessory in African countries, and said she intends to continue wearing it with parental consent. “I thought I looked prettier,” she said, after several minutes doing ‘selfies’. She and other girls from the municipality are the protagonists of the Identidade Cultural Negra na Escola (Black Cultural Identity in School) project, whose first exhibition will be held this Monday, November 21, 2016. This is the first step in an initiative that aims to redeem the self-esteem of black girls who have already suffered prejudice within the school environment.
The proposal came from the professor and master in history from the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE), Walmilson Rêgo Barros. The works were carried out by the photographer Izabela Alves in March of 2016. “When I started working on the theme of racism and prejudice, the student asked to speak and said that the day before, in the bus courtyard, a colleague had called her macaca (monkey)“, justifies the professor. “Unable to respond to the racist act, she reported that she began to cry and went home with her head down, unable to speak to anyone else. With such an example, we believe that this is a theme that should be set in school,” he adds. Since then, in the classroom he’s worked with stories of black characters in history, such as Zumbi dos Palmares.
Educator Ana Axé also held a turbine workshop, so that the girls, afterward, could do them at home. During the interaction, she excited the students. With her generous black hair, she released it from a turban and wondered why she would need to tie it down, causing some girls to cry. “We also do this work in communities of the mills of the municipalities through the Women’s Secretariat. My goal is to show that the turban is an accessory to our black culture and not just a religious segment,” she says.
Finally, the girls, between 13 and 15 years of age, were questioned in front of white and black dolls. Which of them suffered the most? The girls, mostly black, pointed to similar dolls. The exhibition will be held at the Educational Complex of Ipojuca, while the teaching unit is open and will receive groups from other schools for viewing and discussion. The plan is to make the exhibition also itinerant and circulate through other educational units interested in receiving the project.
Interview with Liana Lewis, anthropologist and professor at UFPE
Why does racism persist in Brazil?
Because racism is violence, a project of power that benefits the white population, both symbolically and economically. In this sense, both society and the various hegemonic institutions, such as the media, the educational system, the judiciary and the police, operate in such a way as to guarantee representations and actions that ensure the place of privilege of the white and keep the black population in the place of oppression. An example of this is the genocide of the black population, mass incarceration, resistance to affirmative action policies, stereotypes conveyed by the mainstream media, etc.
Talking to some black girls, they did not identify themselves as such. They invented (terms such as) ‘moreninha’, for example, instead of negra (black). Why is there such a variation?
This variation is part of what we call the processo de embranquecimento (whitening process). As in a racist society, ser branco (being white) is the norm, and the qualifiers of discordants are directed to the black population, a considerable part of the black population tries to escape the black denomination, identifying themselves with the white, which is the norm, the positive and honorable pole of this system of racial duality. Moreninha, as well as several other denominations, end up not giving dignity to the black population, since they represent a painful “complicity” with the oppressor, that is, the white.
What is the way to overcome racism in Brazil?
The fight against racism is daily. Such structural violence as racism can only be overcome through collective strategies. In this sense, in Recife, we see several groups emerging, especially among youth and black women to strengthen their identity. Besides these spaces of affirmation, it is necessary the formation of a network that intervenes the hegemonic institutions to observe and to rectify the racist dynamics.
Do you believe that the effects of racism in adolescence and adulthood are different? Can meninas negras (black girls) be traumatized by color in adulthood?
The individual historical line in relation to racism presents itself continuously. Trauma in childhood and youth as aggression in school (both on the part of peer groups and teachers), media representations that put mulheres negras black women in the place of fetish, and dishonest stereotypes leave deep emotional imprints in adult life. A recurring talk among already grown black women is that as children, they wanted the hair of the Paquitas (a representation of whiteness that was extremely harmful to children), who put on a towel to pretend that their hair moved like that of the white woman. This issue of hair, in particular, hair as something negative, that needs to be fixed is something very strong and structuring of black women’s self-esteem. When we see a black woman affirming her cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair), we know that there has been a long path of pain and overcoming.
Do you believe that such workshops like that of Walmilson with the girls can help minimize the effects of racism on these girls?
No doubt. Hair is a fundamental part of the auto estima da mulher negra (black woman’s self-esteem). The exposure of these women without being stereotyped or fetishized, the affirmation of hair as racial identity, constitutes a beautiful, extremely political exercise in the dignity of black women.