Note from BW of Brazil: In today’s feature, we bring you a report that both shows three things: the racism in Brazilian society that also reaches into the school system (as has been well-documented in past posts), projects that are being created to help children deal with it (even as most people continue to deny its very existence) and the growing trend of Afro-Brazilians coming to appreciate one physical attribute that has always been a source of much pain and ridicule: their hair. I won’t waste time with the well-worn statement expressing shock that this sentiment still exists in the 21st century, but rather emphasize once again that sometimes when groups are constantly oppressed, maybe it isn’t such a bad idea that they have their own spaces.
What do you think?
“Don’t straighten my hair mom!”: project shows that curly/kinky hair is beautiful and gives children self-esteem
by Mariana Bueno of Bolsa de Mulher with additional information from R7; all photos by Carolina Castro
The Minas Gerais photographer Carolina Castro created a project that aims to make girls who have cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair) increasingly more likely to have self-esteem to assume who they are. It is the “Alisa não, mãe”, meaning ‘don’t straighten my hair mom’. She says the idea came when an acquaintance told her that she didn’t like her daughter’s cabelo crespo.
“She, the mother, had suffered much in childhood and adolescence with prejudice and didn’t want her daughter to go through what she went through. It was easy to see that as soon as that child grew up a little her mother would straighten her hair. Not the judge, she was always moved by the good intention of the mother. But I felt I needed to do something about it, because this was not the only child who would experience it,” she says.
Carolina then began to search the Internet for groups of mulheres crespas e cacheadas (women with curly and kinky hair) that would talk in respect to treatments for hair. It was when she discovered a universe of women who were freeing themselves from the dictatorship of straightening.
“Many, or most, have difficulty accepting and assuming their hair naturally and I believe this is a result of a very distant stereotype of the reality of the Brazilian woman, but that is imposed. Every time I saw a before and after of the women I was enchanted, they were infinitely more beautiful with natural hair. I wanted to show this,” she says.
Appreciation of cabelo crespo
With the help of a friend, she sought in the city where she lives (Araxá, Minas Gerais) girls with cabelo cacheado, crespo, trançado (braided), afro texture in general for a photo shoot. There was no pre-selection, the only restriction was that they did not have their hair straightened. After the photos were ready, she published an album on her Facebook page and had more than four thousand curtidas (liked) and nearly two thousand shares.
“I wanted to do those children well and to present them with the photos, saying they are beautiful as they are and that they need not conform to a standard. I didn’t have the intention that it would viralizasse (go viral) like it happened,” she explains.
She says that after the publication she received numerous accounts of mothers saying that they not only came to value the hair of the daughters, but also decided to abandon chemicals and return to their origins. “Many are empolgadíssimas (very excited), they want to be the example for their children. And many ideas have emerged from the project, many people have come to me asking if they can copy it and the idea is exactly that, that in many parts of the country this flag be raised. I continue to use what I have on hand, which is photography, to strengthen and empower many children wherever I go,” she says.
Testimonials of mothers
Carolina thanked each of the mothers involved in the project and mentioned that only four of each 10 curly-haired girls thought their hair was beautiful and they are seven times more likely to love their curls if the people around them love them too. She also published some testimonies of mothers:
“My daughter always suffers prejudice at school, often from the very classmate who says she has bombril hair, that it’s duro (hard), that she should wash it with orange shampoo because it’s a mess, these childish things…”
“I don’t remember, right, but my mother says that an older cousin speaks with embarrassment of me to her friend, she said I went around like a mendiga (beggar), disheveled. My mother said that I came home and asked what a mendiga was.”
“They also give different names for my hair: tufu hair (tumbleweed), arapia hair. But what is an arapia? It’s a type of spider web, black.”
“My teacher was bothered seeing me and a friend who has the same ‘style’ hair as mine, and was critical in tone of irony: Ty down this hair so we can continue our class!”
“My daughter was chosen to be the Branca de Neve (Snow White) in the school presentation last year, but people said all the time in a joking manner that I was the Preta de Neve (Snow Black).”
“I always had a lot of trouble with my hair. Even today I’m afraid of walking around with it loose, without soaking it (hair) cream and water.”
“My daughter had never been called to be a wedding bride’s maid, I know that is because she’s black and has quite African-textured hair, it wouldn’t be the style for a bridesmaid. We were so sorry, she also felt sorry. Recently the driver of the van that takes her to school invited her to be in his wedding, precisely for being what she is. She cried, and went beautifully in the bride’s wedding and with loose, big hair, black power (afro). At that moment she represented all the meninas negras (black girls) who do not have spaces. And the photos of the project have the same objective, representing children like her, who are often left out because they are how they are.”
“My daughter hasn’t suffered prejudice yet, but I’m noticing that her school classmates look at her a little different. There was a time that she wanted to straighten her hair, because I wore mine straightened. Today she likes to be called (singer) Vanessa da Mata,” said the mother of one of the children photographed.
“Beautiful project! I am the mother of an 8 year old boy who has suffered at school just for being black. Friends started with nicknames, to the point that I have to go there and intervene. Today he thinks he’s ugly and says I am beautiful because I’m white. I cry, talk to him, show him how handsome he is and that he’s special, I’m proud to have given birth to a son, not a color, a race, finally, I show him that we somos iguais (are equal), that he’s handsome and perfect just the way he is,” reported a Facebook user (1).
- It’s necessary to make note of some key comments made by this woman. In the first place, the child is apparently the result of an interracial relationship, but even so, while most would have us believe that these relationships that the children resulting from them are the proof of Brazil’s lack of racism, it can be argued that the racial hierarchy is simply re-enforced in such unions. Not only does the child sometimes still suffer prejudice but society instills within the child that the whiter parent in more beautiful thus creating a desire in the child to be more like the white parent. The other thing here is the typical manner in which Brazilian citizens deal with racism. Confronted with this very real humiliating experience, people (black and white) continue to put their faith in the “I don’t see color” and “we are all equal” ideology.