Note from BW of Brazil: When I read about this story I knew that it would be necessary to discuss it on the blog as it speaks to very popular issues that are frequently discussed here. All in this one piece, the issues of racial classification, racial identity, the process of embranquecimento, or whitening, and cultural appropriation come into play in a incident that is so typical when the issue is race in Brazil. People who are into Brazilian music may not know the name Larissa de Macedo Machado, but they surely know this woman by her stage name, Anitta. Since debuting in 2013, Anitta has been one of Brazil’s hottest artists, performing in packed venues, appearing in TV commercials and being featured on a number of popular magazine covers.
Anitta is a bona fide star in music circles, but when she has been featured in articles o this blog, it was generally not specifically due to her musical accomplishments, but rather her place in the debate about race. Like many women that one could seeing walking the streets of any Brazilian city, Anitta may be seen differently in terms of race according to the person who sees her. For some, she is simply typical of the Brazilian people, a mestiça (woman of mixed race) of various racial mixtures. For some people, she may even be considered a species of a branca brasileira (Brazilian white), meaning someone who probably wouldn’t be considered white in the United States or Europe, but “passes” as such in Brazil. Still 0thers see her as simply a negra de pele clara (light-skinned black woman) using the privileges of her closer proximity to European features to her advantage.
Anitta is very typical of the chameleon like nature of light-skinned mestiças in that, depending on the angle of which someone sees her, the lighting of photograph or any exposure to the sun that she might have had, she may sometimes appear to be closer to white and in other times closer to black. But as we saw in one of the first articles on this blog that featured her, when she debuted it clearly appeared that she had gone through a process of embranquecimento, or whitening, to apparently diminish her more obvious African physical attributes, which we’ve seen on numerous occasions among famous Brazilians of African descent.
When one looked at Anitta’s photos before she became famous, it was obvious that she was another light-skinned woman of African descent. But after signing a contract with Warner Music Brasil, it seemed that she had made a physical transformation right before our very eyes. Gone were her curly tresses and her fans/critics also believed that certain aspects of her facial features may have been altered to further distance herself from or hide her African ancestry. Some even hinted at the idea that she had lightened her skin in some way. Of course, at the time, this was just speculation. But then in 2014, that speculation was confirmed when it was discovered that Anitta had undergone at least eight cosmetic procedures up to that point, spending an estimated R$100,000 reais on the surgeries, leading her fans to begin comparisons with late American pop superstar Michael Jackson. As the Correio 24 Horas website pointed out, Anitta’s look had changed drastically over the years.
And as always when the subject is persons of African descent undergoing plastic surgery, the result always takes them to a more European appearance than African. Curiously, in Anitta’s case, besides her nose jobs, she also enhanced her lips to give them a fuller appearance. As full lips are associated with African descendants, how should one interpret this? Was Anitta trying to pass as a European but similar to many white women still wanted to attain a more sensuous look by adapting more “pouty” looking lips? Was she attempting to look like an “exotic” Latina? By enhancing her lips, was she actually entitling herself to an African ancestry that she already had? There’s so many ways one could look at this situation. But let’s first take a look at this latest controversy involving the singer formerly known as Larissa de Macedo Machado.
‘In Brazil, no one is white’: Anitta’s response to criticism of her new look
“Everyone should dress in the way that they feel good,” she said.
By Ana Beatriz Rosa
“No Brasil, ninguém é branco”, meaning, “In Brazil, nobody is white.”
This was the response of the singer Anitta to criticisms regarding her new look. The singer posted a photo on her Instagram on Friday, February 24th, in which she appears with a different look: braids and tanned skin. And got into a controversy.
Translation of above caption: “Already in Bahia lands. Renewing the energies to start our Carnival with everything! I await everyone in my delicious crowd coming out at 9:30 pm at the Barra/Ondina circuit.”
After the publication, the singer was criticized on social networks and accused of having appropriated elements of black culture.
Translation of above comments
Sil Zsous: She only wants to be black at carnival, afterward don’t even think about it right? Geez!
Amanda Gonçalves: She’s already tried to be blonde, she couldn’t do it, now she’s wanting to be black (laughs). I think she has difficulty accepting her natural beauty.
Ruby Winchester: People, wasn’t Anita white?
On Instagram, users also commented on the change. In support of the new look, one fan wrote that Anitta was “breaking prejudices.”
“I use box braids (and) most people look at me like I’m an extra-terrestrial!!” I feel good about my style and I’m always changing just like you. Thank you for this.”
She says she went through the transformation to get into the rhythm of Salvador, where she performed on Friday (24), during the Carnival parades.
The singer’s new look divided opinions. In an interview with Folha newspaper, Anitta said she hadn’t been influenced by criticism.
“In Brazil, nobody is white. And everyone should dress in the way that they feel good,” she said.
This is not the first time the public has commented on Anitta’s look. Early in her career, she was accused of having “clareado a pele” (lightened her skin).
The artist, however, denied any such aesthetic procedure. She said in an interview with Glamor magazine that her skin color tends to vary in hue due to more or less sun exposure.
“Of course I did not do any of this, people! My father and his family are black people from BH (Belo Horizonte, capital city of Minas Gerais), and my mother is white, from Paraíba. It’s that I have no time to go to the beach. When I go, you’ll see: I come back neguinha (a little black girl).”
Translation of above caption: “It’s todayyyyy … and I could hardly sleep because of anxiety … I already guaranteed this photo before eating the world because of being so nervous with this trio that will lock it down today at 9:30 pm in Barra – Ondina”
Note from BW of Brazil: No matter how one looks at this case, it is quite intriguing. Anitta seems to adhere to the idea that, whether chatter is positive or negative, the important thing is to keep people talking. The first thing from the above material that I’d like to address is the idea that, in Brazil, no one is white. Let’s be clear, people, Brazilian or not, should stop saying this. It simply adds to the confusion that non-Brazilians already have about the people of Brazil. I have said this over the years, but if you’ve ever been to Brazil, you already know that there are millions of people who would be considered white in whatever country they were to visit. But there is clearly a confusion on the topic of race and nationality among millions of people in the United States. Let me give an example of this confusion.
Sometime in 2008, I was driving around in Canada on a job-related assignment. As I was in the car for at least 30 minutes, I tuned into a popular program hosted by syndicated radio personality Michael Baisden. The topic on that particular day was the controversy caused a recent Vogue magazine cover featuring American basketball star Lebron James and Brazilian superstar model Gisele Bündchen. The debate centered around not only the depiction of a black man and a white woman sharing a cover, but also the manner in which Vogue played into the black man as monkey/gorilla theme in a shot that beared striking resemblance to a famous drawing of a growling King Kong grasping a white woman. Callers into the show were making a lot of typical comments on the cover, until one caller made a comment that left me shocked. The caller argued that, in fact, the cover being interpreted as an interracial couple shouldn’t be seen as such. According to his logic, Gisele, being Brazilian, is a Latina and as a Latina, she is technically a “woman of color”. Needless to say, I almost lost it! I tried frantically to call into the show to rebut such a ridiculous statement but I couldn’t get through.
For many Americans, all persons born south of Texas are Latinos and thus persons of mixed race. This is a problem and serious misunderstanding. While it is true that most people born in Mexico and further south speak Spanish and Portuguese and thus can be classified as Latinos, this region was peopled by Europeans, Africans, the original indigenous populations and also persons of Asian and Middle Eastern origin. Many families have mixed over the past five centuries across the region known as Latin America, but this doesn’t mean that ALL persons are mixed to the degree that one cannot perceive their predominant racial origins according to phenotype. It also doesn’t mean that there aren’t persons whose families underwent very little or no racial admixture over the course of their experiences in their particular country.
In the same way that the United States and Canada have Americans and Canadians that appear black, white, mixed, Middle Eastern and Asian, so too does Brazil and Latin America as a whole. As such, to define Gisele Bündchen as a “woman of color” because she happened to be born in a Latin American country is a serious mistake in logic. Her name is Bündchen and she is a sixth generation Brazilian of German descent and was born in a region of Brazil where European immigrants flocked into Brazil by the millions starting in the latter part of the 19th century.
Bündchen is perhaps the most widely recognized representative of white Brazil and it is this whiteness, from a global perspective, that is probably the main reason that she has found such success on international modeling runways. To put it bluntly, Gisele has to be one of the whitest women in Brazil and the label “Brazilian” doesn’t alter this in the slightest bit!
The fact is, there are millions of Brazilians who are just as white as Gisele, but the issue is that, due to such widespread miscegenation and the preference of whitening one’s racial identity, we may never know exactly how many white people there actually are in Brazil as the official census depends on self-declaration. In other words, whether a person is clearly of mixed racial ancestry or clearly black, if that person defines him or herself as white, the census will count that person as white. So just as there are millions of clearly white people in the country, there are also millions who identify themselves as white but who don’t look purely white and may have recent non-European ancestry in their family trees.
Now in terms of Anitta, her situation is a perfect example of the complexities of considering persons of mixed ancestry as black. This is an ongoing debate, especially in Brazil, where pretos (blacks) and pardos (browns) are considered representative of the black population due to their similar experiences with racism and similar statistical profiles in terms of quality of life statistics See here and here). So, if Anitta has gone under the knife to alter her physical appearance and take on a more European type of appearance, should she no longer be considered part of the black population? Do accusations of cultural appropriation apply to her? It’s not an easy question. But I will say that as she is of African descent, she always has the possibility of presenting/identifying herself as black. If she is of African descent, which she does admit, she cannot be accused of cultural appropriation. I mean, consider if Gisele Bündchen were to suddenly start rocking corn rows and Hip Hop gear; the accusation would apply much stronger. I have never seen Bündchen identify herself with aspects of black culture and, as I said, she is one of the whitest women in Brazil.
The difference between the light-skinned mestiça/mulata/parda undergoing certain procedures to assume a more European appearance (hair straightening, skin lightening, cosmetic surgery, makeup) and a darker-skinned, more obviously black person doing the same thing is that the person of a more mixed appearance is already closer to the European aesthetic whereas a darker person (like singer Ludmilla and rapper Tati Quebra Barraco, for example) will never be able to pass even if they go to the lengths that a Michael Jackson or Lil Kim went to. And even if darker-skinned people can’t pass, some of them are as disgraceful to our race as lighter-skinned persons who are assumed to be trying to pass. Futebol stars such as “I’m not black” Neymar and Mr. never marry a black woman or speak out about racism, Pelé, will never be considered spokespersons for the black race.
In terms of Anitta, I don’t think of her as practicing a form of cultural appropriation because she was never white from the beginning. The fact is most black female entertainers, be they American or Brazilian, whiten themselves to some degree in order to climb the success ladder. This whitening process includes the aforementioned methods. American superstar Beyoncé has reached a level of stardom that is rare for black entertainers, but in her path to success, people conveniently gloss over her constant usage of hair weaves/extensions and straightened hair with blond coloring. And analyzing various photos of Mrs. Knowles-Carter, it seems apparent that she has also altered the shape of her nose. But even though she has changed aspects of her appearance and used these techniques to whiten herself, she is still considered a positive representation of black women, this not even considering her sometimes risqué performances.
I, personally, don’t invest much in looking to entertainers to be true role models because they are just that: entertainers, and in order to attain mainstream success, they will do whatever is necessary. These entertainers are not civil/human rights activists and we should stop looking toward them as if they are supposed to be some great representatives of the black cause. I don’t have a problem with Anitta rocking braids because the hairstyle actually makes her look blacker to me. Both of the photos she posted in which she is wearing braids actually slightly remind me the Knowles sisters, both Beyoncé and Solange. It would be great to see Anitta explore her blackness a little deeper, but I don’t expect anything of her. From what I’ve seen of the entertainment business, there seems to be a huge pressure for these women to whiten themselves in one way or another, and behind the scenes, we have no idea what they go through to be able earn the success they attain. It is the ultimate “deal with the devil.”
Funk singer Valesca Popozuda, before and after
Brazilian culture itself already exerts enormous pressure on its citizens to whiten themselves, both aesthetically as well as in the choice of romantic partners and the phenotypes of their children. So why point the finger at Anitta? She is but another victim of Brazil’s particularly cruel brand of racism. The process of whitening she has subjected herself to is the norm in Brazil. We see it with white entertainers who wish to appear even whiter as well as the preto/pardo entertainers.
Before pointing the finger at Anitta as a “would be white girl” attempting to appropriate black culture, we must first recognize that Western society is extremely anti-black and to make it, many people of African descent are enticed by temptations of fame and fortune if they are willing to “de-negrify” themselves. And once we open the door and accept that our people begin to thin their noses, straighten and lighten the color of their hair, we have already accepted the European standard. Many of us remember when Michael Jackson first appeared with a noticeably thinner nose. For the most part, this alteration was accepted because, in reality, many black people themselves didn’t like the wide noses they were born with. But then Michael kept going undergoing surgery again and again until in the end he was barely recognizable in comparison to the young black man we once knew.
So don’t get mad at Anitta. She’s simply playing the game.
In Brazil, one learns from very early on in life that is better to be white, and if there is never a figure in one’s life to teach them about the intricacies of white supremacy and anti-blackness, how are we expect these people to turn out? I’ve never heard Anitta say anything that gives me the idea that she is a researcher of black identity/consciousness. To the contrary, she’s just a girl doing what it takes to get paid, so I’m not really mad at her. Because I never expected anything more from her.
Source: HuffPost Brasil