“I found out I was black at age 67”: A chronicle about identity 

67 years after having came to the world in that hard semi-arid region of little Angelin, a small town in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, Edileuza Gomes Costa found out she was black.
Me descobri negra aos 67 anos
67 years after having came to the world in that hard semi-arid region of little Angelin, a small town in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, Edileuza Gomes Costa found out she was black.

Note from BW of Brazil: When I first got into the issues of race, racism and racial identity in Brazil, I came across wild estimations of the black population. According to some sources that considered only the population that declared itself “preta”, meaning ‘black’, in the year 2000, there were about 10 million black people in Brazil. For those who considered the black population as the combination of the preto and “pardo” (brown/mixed) category, there were 76 million black Brazilians (10 million pretos and 66 million pardos). For well-known activist Abdias do Nascimento, due to the shame and confusion so many people had in dealing with the issue and thus denying their black identity, Brazil’s population stood at 120 million. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience estimated that Afro-Brazilians made up anywhere between 68-120 million of Brazil’s 170 million people in the year 2000.

So what’s the truth? How many black people actually reside in Brazil?

Well, this is not an easy question to answer, for a number of reasons. Do you mean black people or are you asking about persons of African descent? It makes a huge difference. If you are a person who accepts as black any person who has at least 10% African ancestry, as high as 86% of all Brazilians could be considered black, but in this scenario, it would probably better to say African descendants, because millions of people within that 86% would clearly not be considered black by most people. My favorite example of this these days would be Michelle Bolsonaro, the wife of president-elect Jair Bolsonaro. She is an example of a parda. Would you consider her black? Now, to be sure, there are millions of pardos who are darker-skinned and more obviously black, for example, Deise Nunes, the first black woman to be crowned Miss Brasil in 1986. The simple question to consider here is, are here more pardos that look like Michelle Bolsonaro or more that look like Deise Nunes, Ronaldinho Gaúcho or Fabiana Cozza?

Today, of Brazil’s 210 million or so people, about 55% are pretos or pardos, which would be mean there are about 115.5 million black people residing in Brazil. But at this point, I am making  a break with this manner of estimating Brazil’s black population. I will simply say that it will be difficult to know how many Brazilians are black, but I will also say that 115.5 million black is a wild exaggeration. I will explain my reasons for this statement in future posts, but from this point on, when I translate material that includes the idea that Brazil is 55% black, it will be strictly a translation of a source and not my own personal opinion. 

But issues of black identity are real and this is one of several reasons as to why we may never know how black folks live in Brazil. The story of Edileuza Gomes Costa presented below could represent the story of millions of Brazilians. Keep this in mind when you think of wanting an accurate estimate of Brazil’s black population. 

Me descobri negra aos 67 anos
67 years after having came to the world in that hard semi-arid region of little Angelin, a small town in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, Edileuza Gomes Costa found out she was black.

“I found out I was black at age 67”: A chronicle about identity 

By Rafaella Martinez

It was an exercise in looking. Of these very time-consuming, typical of those who seek something beyond what the mirror itself has become accustomed in reflecting over the years. And exactly 67 years after she came to the world in that hard semi-arid little Angelin, a small town in Pernambuco, Edileuza Gomes Costa found out she was black.

It was simple and quite strong: just a longer look in the mirror after a conversation about identity with her son, actor Zecarlos Gomes. It was up to him, ‘in a conversation with love and listening, because love transforms and educates’ to make his mother notice the features of her face, the tone of her skin and her type of hair. Signs of an ancestry that has been hidden for more than six decades.

“It was as if all this time I was in a fog in front of me and now everything is clear. I jumped from one place to another, because now I know who I am and it excites me, it makes me very happy,” says the easy-smiling lady, who went on to investigate her own history after the discovery.

She talked to his mother, who at the age of 94 still remembers the familiares retintos (very-darked skinned relatives), whose ‘jabuticaba’ (see note one) color of skin is very distant from the children that Ms. Edileuza had. Now she tries to understand more broadly the meaning of the word ‘colorism‘, which for so many years put her in a position of ‘parda’ (mixed/brown) and ‘morena‘ (mixed/brown)’, although veiled prejudice has always struck her throughout her life.

“At the fair, a man from another bank called me a macaca (monkey). I was angry, I fought with him and I didn’t understand why he said that because eu era branca (I was white). Another colleague sang that song ‘Preta, fala pra mim/Fala o que você sente por mim (black woman, speak to me/say what you feel for me’), when I passed by. I also heard that I ‘escureci a família’ (darkened the family) when I had my first child, but I never quite understood everything they said to me. I never quite understood the reason people judged others by skin color. Now I understand that there are people who suffer a lot more because the skin is darker,” she says.

The colorism consists in the fact that, even if a person is recognized as afrodescendente (African descendant), the tone of his skin will be decisive in the treatment that society will give to him. In other words, the darker the skin tone a person has, the more racism he or she will suffer and the lighter, the more privileges they will have. The thesis, however, does not dislocate light-skinned blacks from their blackness, as is the case with Ms. Edileuza.

The subject was at the center of the debate this year when internet users questioned the choice of singer Fabiana Cozza to play the role of famed samba singer Dona Ivone Lara in a theater piece, on the grounds that she was ‘branca demais’ (too white), even though she was black.

Although he helped his mother, Zecarlos went through precisely this process of discovering his own identity. “It was a process of mine that reverberated in her. A few years ago I did a play where one of my lines was ‘preto não pode’ (a black can’t’). Today, if I did the same piece, that line would have more force. Because at that time this text did not pass through me and today it does. And it is an apprenticeship to realize that even being black I always had privileges of whites and I did not go through what negros retintos went through. I faced prejudices that did not hurt right away, only later, when I started to think about the situation and understand that it had been racism,” he says.

In times when hate speech and prejudice are in the news, Ms. Edileuza is emphatic: she tem orgulho de ser negra (is proud to be black) and believes that only love can break down barriers, such as the one her family is slowly breaking down. “I read that one candidate said he preferred a dead son to a gay son. I read that he has prejudice because of skin color. I think love is the most important and, within what I believe, God did not make a meaning of people. I’m very proud and accept myself as black. If everyone sought their own origin, they would not have so much prejudice, because somos todos iguais (we are all equal).”

SourceDiário do Litoral 

  1. Fruit found in Brazil that is nearly black in color.
  2. No need to delve further into the issue, but once again we see the popularity of this phrase among Brazilians.
About Marques Travae 2876 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

3 Comments

  1. Finally. But its a little to late now to identity as something you clearly look like in the mirror. However, I still see a bright side coming out through this because now this women can help others who(m) are young identity.

  2. This lady has just found out she is not White but she is black instead. LoL I think she needs a new pair of glasses. The pair she is wearing is not that good, a trip to the optician is needed.

    • cet article ne nous apprend rien de nouveau: au niveau des ameriques noir veut dire afrodescendant et non forcement la couleur de peau

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