Note from BW of Brazil: Let me be honest here. I don’t care for much Brazilian television. Most of it comes across as mindless entertainment for persons who don’t have an attention span of more than five minutes. Between the scandalous novelas, variety shows and futebol, futebol and more futebol, I can understand why so many Brazilians I know prefer the endless American TV programs dubbed in Portuguese. Not that American shows are any less scandalous (for example, the latest American import in which the root of that very word in the title of the program). But there is a difference in variety that Brazilian TV simply doesn’t offer.
Which brings me to the reason that I even bother to watch any of these TV shows. They often represent a reflection of how everyday Brazilians think and feel. Case in point, the latest controversy involving the most recent installment of the long-running reality show, Big Brother Brasil. As this blog approaches Brazilian history, culture and current events from a racial perspective, this latest exchange fits right in. If you’re not Brazilian, I would suggest you read a few previous articles on the usage of racial terminology so you can grasp what went down.
“If I don’t use deodorant I’ll smell like a neguinha”, says a member of the BBB
During a discussion about skin color, a participant on the Globo TV reality show stated that if she didn’t wear deodorant she’ll “smell like a neguinha”; Franciele was accused of racism by colleagues.
An episode airing on Sunday (23) featured a dialogue between the participants of the Big Brother Brasil program about skin color and who could be identified as negro (black). The participants ended up talking about the test that they had gone through and one of them, Cássio, commented that two Alines had already been on the program and that both were “morenas”.
“What morenas? They were negras (black women),” Valter, another participant, said. “See, he doesn’t understand the difference between morena and negra. I am morena, you are negro. But you’re not black, black! Look at your color compared to mine,” pointed out Franciele.
Following this exchange, Franciele made a controversial comment. “I have a little bit of black. If I don’t use deodorant, I’ll smell like a neguinha (little black girl).”
Valter was shocked by the comment and scolded her. “Then you are being racist. And brancos (whites) don’t have a smell?”, he confronted. “Ah, but that’s what they [whites] say…,” replied the native of Rio Grande do Sul (southern Brazil).
Note from BW of Brazil: Hmm, how do you interpret this dialogue? There’s actually a lot to bring to the fore here. If one were to believe everyday discourse, one could be led to believe that all Brazilians, with the exception of blondes and redheads, could be considered a “morena/moreno”, arguably the most popular term to describe race or color throughout the country. When applied to persons of visible Africa descent, it can be a means continuing the country’s ever-present belief in the “racial democracy” myth. After all, if any dark-haired or dark skinned person can be defined as a “morena/moreno”, it would mean that everyone’s equal, right? Not quite.
This blog has always advocated that regardless of the long list of racial/skin color terms utilized daily in Brazil, if a person has featured that denote African ancestry thus making that person subject to racism, that person is black, or negro, the term used by persons who are conscious of the connection between their phenotype and social position. In true Brazilian fashion, even when persons define themselves as negros/negras, other Brazilians and even the media will define said people as morenos and morenas. This is what can be dangerous about the term. Why? What would happen to a person’s sense of reality if they spent their whole life believing that they are moreno or morena and then one day, in an argument someone hurls the word negro or negra in their direction? It happens.
Black identity/consciousness is still a phase in development in Brazil. In the example above, Valter, although not very dark-skinned, is clearly a black man, even though many Brazilians would define him as a “moreno” or even “pardo” or “mulato”. Valter also defines himself as negro and lest he forget, Franciele was quick to remind him of the difference between he and her. In her definition, one could almost note that she wanted to make him aware that she is part of the dominant group, while he is “the other”. Also keep in mind that, in Brazil, a person is not automatically excluded from whiteness simply because they may have some degree of African ancestry, which is what Franciele seemed to point out. “Morena/morena” can also be one of those “escape hatch” type terms used by persons who define themselves or are seen as brancos/brancas (white men/women) but prefer to use a softer, less oppositional term.
And what are we to make of her apparent acceptance of the stereotype of black people having a certain smell? Not much really. Like the Brazilian proclivity for calling black Brazilians monkeys, it’s really not surprising. Again, this is one thing I appreciate about these type of shows. People reveal their thoughts and beliefs. But always remember, Brazilians aren’t racists!
Extra note: Those who are part of the Movimento Hip Hop know Valter Araújo by his stage name Slim Rimografia, a talented rapper on Brazil’s underground Rap scene. Check out a few of his performances below…
Soon after the airing of the dialogue, numerous internet users accused Franciele of racism.
The episode with Franciele was not the first to involve racial controversy. Jaime Mitropoulos, procurator of the Procuradoria Regional dos Direitos do Cidadão (PRDC or Regional Attorney for Citizens’ Rights (PRDC), sent a letter to the Globo TV network requesting that it send a video showing the aforementioned Cássio, making racist comments. The request was made two weeks ago, but Jaime has not yet received the material.
During the first BBB14 party, Cássio said that he had killed an afrodescendente woman (woman of African descent) during sex. “And I thought like this, an afrodescendente is accustomed to having relations with..? With afrodescendentes. And I thought: hold up, she can handle everything. And I went all the way through her and today I’m accused of murder, you understand?” he said to actress Tatá Werneck, who at the time played the character Valdirene, in the novela (soap opera) Amor à vida.
After the comment, the MPF (Ministério Público Federal) has received a complaint against the participant.
Slim Rimografia – Sol
Slim Rimografia and Thiago Beats in “Só por hoje” at Estúdio Showlivre 2013