Note from BW of Brazil: The question in the title of today’s piece may seem ridiculous to some: How did you discover ser negra (being black)? But is this really such a simple question? There are so many perspectives to consider here. Are we speaking of only a a skin color? Are we speaking of an acknowledgement of one’s connection to the African continent? Are we speaking of a political identity? Whether we are speaking of persons who live in Brazil, the United States, Australia, the Philippines, Melanesia, Iraq or the African continent itself, we find people who consider themselves or have been classified as black. But do all of these peoples have the same understanding of what that means? When an 8-year child in any of these areas of the world wakes up and looks in a mirror and sees his or her brown or black skin, that child may know that he/she has a particular shade of brown skin, but does that child know what meanings have been associated with this skin color over the past few millennium, particularly over the past five centuries? Or is this something this child must eventually learn? When we consider such issues it becomes obvious that this question is not at all simple, especially in a country like Brazil that teaches young afrodescendentes to avoid blackness at a very early age. With such specifics in mind, these are a few of the reasons we present such explorations into black identity as the one we share below.
Text by Scarlett Rodrigues
How did you discover ser negra (being black)? How did it happen? Out of nothing one sees the color that the skin has and boom, I’m black? Were you born black? So why do many (as) not assume themselves as blacks? Are they black only if the skin is darker? These are questions I asked myself before discovering myself as black. I say discovered because due to the society being racist and colorist, many today are unaware of their race, ethnicity, don’t really know their identity, and this happened to me.
The daughter of a mãe negra (black mother) (family on my mother’s side: black with Indians) and father that is so-called pardo (brown) (family on my father’s side: black with Portuguese and indigenous) I was born and declared by society: parda (brown), that is, neither white enough nor black enough, it was a middle term… the erasing of my racial identity began there … Middle term? Misturada (mixed)? Morena (brown/mixed)?
At 17, I met a person who was very important in my life and that has always been linked to social causes (before I was not as engaged as I am now), and always questioned me about how I saw myself, what I considered myself , always brought questions about racial issues, about hair (for I was a slave of the chapinha – straightening iron – etc …), and that was awakening in me this point of identity that I had into the open … and I thought: “Hey, what’s wrong with pardo?” I thought that this term contemplated me. In my view, I hadn’t erased any of the existing aspects in my family, because there were many blends, but I was wrong, because after being questioned a lot, and because of some saying that I am black and others not (even some blacks) it made me want to go back, and get to know about my identity.
As such, I started searching about the term pardo that comes from pardal (sparrow), a pejorative term used by white colonizers to erase the identity of blacks, so as to cause segregation among blacks who don’t recognize the other as black, as well as being an animalistic term, it hides our identity, dividing us further. I saw that pardos are considered negros by statistics and that this term should be abolished in view (of the fact that) that no one subdivides the group of whites, no one classifies a more pinkish white as rosinha (pinkish), they only call them white, so why have we had this second name?
And after much searching, and then finding black feminism, after searching in myself features as much physical as events that made me see my blackness (as when they followed me and my mother in the stores, as when a girl at the counter of the diner asked if I had money to buy a croissant, things that would not happen to whites, in relationships as when the preference is always for the popular white girl in the class), after seeing examples of black women who most looked like me in color and who self declared themselves black (see how important representation is), was when I saw myself as black at last!
After taking this awareness, I came to understand many things that I experienced, and I went on to take this awareness as truth and affirming that no one would take it from me anymore, I started to assume my hair and abolish the chapinha, and all that, I started wearing turbans, a symbol of struggle and resistance of our people, that helped me a lot in empowering me to secure my identity, to become strong and to recognize my beauty, I started to participate in coletivos negros (black collectives), I started to get more involved in activism, I came to fight for I believe in, I started to get more knowledge about our people, our roots, my roots, and finally, I chose the negra option and no more the parda option.
So it was a research process of deconstruction, acceptance, I had many people on my side contributing to my empowerment and affirmation, and I know that today, at age 20, for as much as society remains racist and colorist, I am empowered and as firm about my identity, and currently I do with other women what they did to me one day, empowerment, I transmit what I have learned one day to them so that they recognize themselves as negras and that they love themselves, adore themselves, so that they have pride in being negras because here among us, we’re great, a chosen race, kings and queens, and I try to transmit this to the other women and show that we’re together, that it’s us for us!
It was not easy to get to where I am, it was slow and painful, but knowing your identity is a political act! And transmitting your ideals, and helping other women, children, to be an example of representation, seeing more and more black women united and loving themselves is priceless, it’s what makes militancy worth it! I am angry, I denounce cultural appropriation, unmask racists, put my finger on the sore, try to deconstruct wishful thinking, I have blood in the eye for many things but I also love. Militancy based in hatred generates emotional, sentimental and physical disorder; militancy has to base itself in love (with your own) and wisdom to deal with others (strategy), but love is the key and I believe in this to continue helping others as I can and reaching people!
As light-skinned negras who still doubt that they are black, they know that our blackness has many colors, many shades, textures, shapes, and that being black is not only a skin color, it’s a set of factors that makes us who we are. And they should not let anyone question their identity! And you also need to know that suffering racism is not a meter of blackness; you are no less black suffering less racism because of your skin being lighter. You suffer less with racism, or enjoy a privilege compared to darker-skinned blacks, but that does not make you less black, black is black, period. Knowing your place of speaking within the movement is the law, and knowing that black women are not alone, although the world segregates us and marginalizes us, we have each other, and we continue fighting side by side!