Note from BW of Brazil: Today’s piece once again reflects upon Brazil’s method of assaulting the development of black identity. Numerous articles on this blog deal with the fact of Brazil’s elites wanting to encourage the slow disappearance of the black race by means of interracial mixture and as such, anti-black sentiments are endemic within the population. Questioning of why people would wear natural cabelo crespo (curly/kinky hair) or why someone would define him/herself as negro/negra when everyone knows the negative connotations associated with these practices is quite endemic. As such, the attainment of an identidade negra, or black identity, is often a struggle for a population of negro-mestiças (mixed race blacks) who are often taught from a very early age to escape/avoid blackness at all costs. Below, Lia Siqueira shares her struggle with this issue.
We resist! Negra Soy (I am a black woman)!
By Lia Siqueira*
“Yes, it takes work. Prejudice beats us, but we resist.” That’s what I said when a lady on the bus asked: “Does it take work leave your hair like that?” I understood what she wanted to know. But what suffocated me at that moment needed to be said. I didn’t want to exchange secrets to give freshness and volume to the hair. I didn’t want to speak of aloe, bepantol (1) or the potential for a good hydration schedule. Until then, I had been giving the aesthetic responses to that type of question. Those responses were expected by those who had their curiosity aroused by my “petulant” hair. However, there comes a time that all we need to transcend the aesthetic question of resistance – to communicate the subversion of our blackness and assume responsibly, our place – to show what is most valuable was born from the roots on our heads. The intimacy of looking at our roots without relaxing, which infests them, and celebrating our heads, our ideas.
Cultivating a relationship of love with our black hair and taking from ourselves the most powerful us. I don’t mean some natural mix ups provoked by the texture of the curls. I speak of what makes it difficult for us, the looks, the ridicule, judgments, the racism. This needed to be communicated! How many times I transcended in front of the mirror… My hands and looks pursued the spirals on my head – the charm, pleasure, love and self-awareness that from that act was born made any pain and disapproval worth it. The bittersweet discovery of my roots was simply the best flavor that passed through my senses. This needed to be communicated! In the brief time between the question and my answer, I took my mind from my moments of denial/frustration to the daily struggle for empowerment in blackness.
I am the daughter of a white woman and a black man. I was born of the mixture so hypocritically celebrated by the gringos in this our pseudo-racial democracy. I came into the world like this: mixed up in this being-not being black. With “morena” (brown/light brown) skin, in this Brazil where todas as gatas são “pardas” (all the cats are “brown”) (2), “toasted ones”, “mulatas”, “brown colored”, but not “negras”. In my home, I learned not to reject blackness or to whiten myself. I was loved with my curly hair, by my white mother – there I was me and I was secure. But socialization comes, it is inevitable. With it, we are run over by filters of prejudices. The incomprehension of classmates at school quickly became racism. As in the beginning of the poem by Victoria Eugenia Santa Cruz Gamarra, “Me gritaron negra” (they screamed negra at me), I retreated before the laughter because of my cabelo crespo (curly/kinky hair). Before the age of thirteen I was using straighteners and relaxers.
“¿Soy acaso negra?” – me dije ¡SÍ! “¿Qué cosa es ser negra?” ¡Negra! Y yo no sabía la triste verdad que aquello escondía. Negra! Y me sentí negra, ¡Negra! Como ellos decían ¡Negra! Y retrocedí ¡Negra! Como ellos querían ¡Negra! Y odié mis cabellos y mis labios gruesos y miré apenada mi carne tostada Y retrocedí ¡Negra! Y retrocedí…”
“Me gritaron negra” – Victoria Eugenia Santa Cruz
“Am I black?”—I said to myself. Yes! “What does it mean to be black?” Black! And I did not know the sad truth behind it.Black! And I felt black. Black! Like they said. Black! And I stepped back. Black! Like they wanted me to. Black! And I hated my hair and my thick lips And I felt sad as I stared at my toasted skin And I stepped back. Black! And I stepped back…
– Victoria Eugenia Santa Cruz Gamarra, “Me gritaron negra” (3)
In time, I suffocated all the real reasons that led me to straighten my hair. I would say that straightening it for a supposed matter of practicality. I reproduced in an empty way “cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair) doesn’t go well with my style and so straight is easier to take care of.” Periodic doses of guanidine made me postpone the conflict – then it got obfuscated. I dwelt in my prison for 10 years. I abandoned it gradually, I had the love of my mother and sister, the support of friends and companions and my boyfriend’s admiration for breaking the chains, prejudices that I interjected. My roots grew (out) and the questions too. And I, who was born mixed up in appearance (skin here, hips and nose there). I started the path of self-awareness, first deconstructing questioning.
“Eu sou neguinha?” – Vanessa Mata
Era uma mensagem/It was a message
Lia uma mensagem/I read a message
Parece bobagem mas não era não/It seemed to be a joke, but it wasn’t.
Eu não decifrava, eu não conseguia/I couldn’t decipher it, I couldn’t get it
Mas aquilo ia, e eu ia, e eu ia, e eu ia, e eu ia/
But that’s what I was, and I was, and I was, and I was, and I was
Eu me perguntava/I asked myself
– “Eu sou neguinha?” (Am I a black girl?), Vanessa Mata
We are born preta (black), mulata, parda (brown), morena (brown/light brown), roxinha (a little purple) among others, but becoming negra is an achievement,” said Lélia González – the consciousness of being black is an achievement in an environment that preaches embranquecimento (whitening). Advancing against a “racial normativity”, where before I had a foot in, I fastened them both and constructed my identity. “I was born” a black woman at age 23, I found myself beautiful in the fight, my place! And today I think that, in fact, it’s this fear of avoiding them calling us (and calling ourselves) NEGRAS. After all, once knowing the place from which we speak, we will know how and when to resist.
I share this place – I see compadres freeing themselves and empowering themselves by their strands, by their skin, by their noses, by their hips, by their smiles. I know that the struggle of so many of them is even harder for them to find resistance, including, among those that they love. But we smile at each other, mutually admiring our “black’s” (afros/natural hair) – our purposes shall start being cultivated in our body, our hair, OUR territories, but it overflow us and overflows the aesthetics – it’s resistance in the form of black consciousness. This, I needed to communicate to that lady. Therefore, we need to communicate it every day! What do we do to get our hair like that? We resist! Negras somos (We are black women)!
“¡Black! ¡Sí Black! Soy ¡Black! Black ¡Black! Black soy De hoy en adelante no quiero mi Laciar cabello No quiero […] ¡Black soy!”
* Lia Manso is a lawyer, graduate student in human right s and innovation. She is part of the MNU (Movimento Negro Unificado or Unified Black Movement) and is an alternate of the Coordenação Nacional de Mulheres (National Coordination of Women) in the movement. She is a militant for and studies for the rights of minorities. She loves 30 Seconds to Mars and Johnny Depp, the movie Matrix and the series How I Met Your Mother and Friends.
Source: Biscate Social Club
1. Bepantol is a hair product to make hair shiny and softer. It contains dexpanthenol (pro vitamin B5), which is marketed in the form of cream, ointment and solution suitable for regeneration of skin and hair.
2. This phrase is very common in Brazil and here means two things. 1) It basically says that at all, we’re all equal in the dark. With little light, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish one person from another. 2) Brazil is known as a “mestiço” (mixed race) country, where everyone is more or less mixed. “Pardo/parda” is a term that is often translated as “brown” but signifies a person of “mixed race” while for others the term refers more or less to a negro/black person with some degree of racial mixture.
3. A classic poem by Afro-Peruvian choreographer/songwriter Victoria Eugenia Santa Cruz Gamarra. As Peru is a Spanish-speaking country, the lyrics are in Spanish. In recent years, many Afro-Brazilian women have discovered the song, translated in into Portuguese and refer to it as a source of inspiration in the acceptance of black identity. The original title of this article is “Nós Resistimos! Negra Soy!”, (meaning “We resist! I am a black woman!”), a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish. “Negra Soy” in Spanish would be “Sou Negra” in Portuguese.