Note from BW of Brazil: I’ve been wanting to post this piece as soon as I read it. It is a very important piece in the ongoing debate over the issue of palmitagem, the preference of some black Brazilians to only have relationships with white partners. For those of you not familiar with this issue, I’ve explored it in a number of past posts and, as the narrative in the beginning became mostly black Brazilian women accusing black Brazilian men of abandoning them for white women and enforcing upon them a life of loneliness, I always knew that there was another side of this story. I mean, let’s be honest about this. Both black men AND black women grow up in a culture that teaches both to idolize and desire whiteness with the ultimate goal of black Brazilians annihilating themselves by means of a continuous process of whitening through miscegenation.
Over the years, I’ve heard numerous young and sometimes older black men discuss a preference for white women, but while the finger pointing has always been at black men, the fact is, studies also show us that many black women have a similar desire. And the development of this desire may come about more or less in the same manner but with slightly different nuances depending on the individual. A few weeks back, I shared a conversation I had with “Luciana”, who while seemingly stopping short of admitting a preference for white-skinned men, in fact did just that in a round about way. In the self-analysis below, Mia (or is it Lena?) shares her own revelation of how she attempted to not be black (or least be seen as less black) while adopting the same tastes as her white colleagues all the while being exploited perhaps precisely because she didn’t possess the whiteness of her friends. Mandatory reading for all of the black Brazilian women out there who insist that palmitagem is simply a thing that affects black men.
About Female Palmitagem
By Mia (or Lena)
Well, I as a black woman have already palmitei, you palmitaste, and we palmitarás (see note one). But what is the reason for this compulsive palmitagem?
I am adopted by a white family and EXTREMELY more privileged than most black Brazilians for this simple fact. I always carried myself as a menina branca (white girl) because my parents raised me as if “raça não importasse” (race does not matter) within the “somos todos iguais” (we’re all equal) discourse so I never understood exactly why they didn’t like me, I just knew that they didn’t like me.
I like any other menina negra (black girl) in childhood was seen as not feminine enough or not good enough. The meninos negros (black boys) had the privilege of being men, seen socially as “strong,” and the meninos brancos (white boys) loved walking around them to raise the level of fear in the targets of jokes. I was not the only negra (black girl) in the class but the others had no maneirismos brancos (white mannerisms) like I had, nor my educação de família branca (white family education), so there was a chasm between us.
I was not the subject of jokes during primary school in Minas Gerais because I had the status of Carioca Filha De Rico (daughter from Rio with rich parents), and I was the smartest in the room, everyone liked me (from the queues I passed to avoid being targeted).
So, they made fun of others who were like me. I got to hear “tudo macaca, menos a Milen” (all monkeys, except Milena), and I never did anything to stop it because I was “SPARED”, I pretended that it was not about me.
When I arrived in Rio de Janeiro, I no longer had the carioca title, I was once again black (privilegiada, porém preta/privileged but black) and my white mother had straightened my hair since I was six because she “didn’t know how to deal with it.”
This phase was DESTRUCTIVE for my self-esteem, I didn’t fit in! Being a prodigy, at 9 years old in a class with 14-year old boys and God only knows how bad they can be.
And I continued in this vicious circle of not having someone equal to me in color and sharing the same intellect as myself, someone who would “understand” my cabelo “ruim” (“bad” hair). Who would I date? Who would love me?
The point is that my body was not seen as beautiful for 10/12-year-old boys (my age at the time) and it did awaken the desire of (non-black) men older than my own father. They asked to see me dance, they said that I would be a mulata linda (beautiful mulatto girl). And for a long time to becoming a mulata gostosa (hot mulatto girl) was my only hope of being loved.
I understood that in my childhood it was about race, but I thought that when I became a mulata gostosa, that would happen. And it passed.
I stopped being seen as the strange skinny girl with cabelo ruim to the next Globeleza, the hot girl, that “should show more this beautiful body” that would “drive everyone crazy” at the age of 13. And at 13 I felt LOVED (which I did not understand was hyper-sexualization of the feminine black body). I had relationships mainly with homens brancos mais velhos (older white men) because I was afraid of blackness and what it represented to me in pre-adolescence.
After I became a “preta de elite” (elite black girl) at the same time that I was a “mulata gostosa”, I was surrounded by white girls who were not sexualized the same way as I was and who called it “getting less attention from the boys” because they did not understand the real situation.
So, I started to hang out with my first amigas brancas (white friends) that were, in my head, the same as me and I started to like the same things as them. Crepúsculo (Twilight), 50 tons de cinza (50 Shades of Grey), Leonardo DiCaprio, white boys in general.
I saw myself as white, behaved as white and related to whites to stay away from the blackness and intellectual poverty it represented.
I understood what it was to be black at age 17, before this I lived in the fantasy of “we are all equal” with white friends that whenever they saw me hanging out with black groups insisted that “I was not like them because I thought the same as they did.”
Now that I FINALLY opened up to the amor afrocentrado (Afro-centered love) and made a small note to my troubled love past, seven of the boys who got with me for just one night now date the white girls “who didn’t receive so much attention” and all the others who still call me looking for easy sex also only date white girls.
I palmitava because my whole life experience transformed the act of having sex with white boys into “being loved as an elite black girl” but now I don’t want this anymore, I want to be loved as the black and intelligent woman that I am, understood as a complete human being and not as a buraco de sexo para brancos (sex-hole for whites).
I am sincerely deeply hurt by white boys, my mind has generalized them like a great white monster. The racial question has been hidden in my life for so long that it’s now alarming and desperate, I can no longer get with white boys unless it is a very specific situation, they are no longer my princes since I have never been the princess. And yet, I’m still alone. The solidão da mulher negra (solitude of the black woman) is real and now I can feel it and understand it in every part of my black feminine body.
- Here the author converts the term palmitagem into a verb, assumedly “palmitar” in explaining in past and present tenses how she and other black women have in the past and still do have a preference for white men.