Note from BW of Brazil: For those of you who don’t really understand the intricacies of how race, racism and racial classification play out in Brazil, the following post is a really good example. First of all, to get a grasp of the contents, you should understand the contradictions and debates within the topic itself. As thousands of Brazilians and non-Brazilians have debated for decades, on can look at the country in several ways. One could it argue it is the biggest “mixed-race” country of all time. There are those who continue to argue, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that the country is not divided into black and white. And continuing on the issue of black and white, there are those who will continuously argue that those who are of visible African ancestry of the mixed variety, are a completely separate group from the so-called “pure black” group. This last argument is completely baseless as ALL non-white Brazilians have some degree of admixture. But let’s get to the topic…
The above citation written by journalist Cláudio Humberto reads as follows: “Minister of Racial Equality Luiza Bairros said something silly, again: she said that ‘white people’ are the ones that react to the “rolezinhos (mob groups)” in the malls. The tapir ignores, but shouldn’t, that no one is ‘pure white’ in Brazil.”
First of all, for those who don’t know, a tapir is is a large aardvark-like mammal that can be found in the jungle and forest regions of South America, Central America, and Southeast Asia. Second, Humberto’s statement is utterly ridiculous on so many levels but again represents the contradictions about race in Brazil. Why?
1) Brazilians have ALWAYS defined the difference between race in the US and race in Brazil as “prejudice of origin” and “prejudice of mark” (1). In other words, because of the “one-drop” of African blood rule in the US, anyone, even a blond with blue eyes can be defined as black, whereas in Brazil, whiteness or blackness is strictly defined according to physical appearance. This makes sense because with the widespread miscegenation that happens in Brazil, if the “one-drop” rule were applied to Brazil, easily 80-90% of the population would be defined as black. In a country in which the desire for a white population actually drove a policy, that rule simply wouldn’t work.
2) Humberto’s comments are ridiculous for the fact that Brazilians know that even the majority of those people who define themselves as “branco”, or white, have African and or indigenous ancestry along with European ancestry. Minister Bairros never said in her comments anything about “pure white” because, as just stated, “whiteness” in Brazil is not based upon “purity”. Thus, why would Humberto even bring this up? Besides the continuous denial of racism in Brazil, another issue is that of “white” Brazilians who travel to North America, Europe or even southern Brazil and discover that they are not seen as “white” in those places, which points to an obsession and insecurity of not being considered part of the hegemonic global standard of whiteness. It should also be understood that although the “one drop” rule is clearly not in effect, from time to time people will either admit or be reminded that they too have a “pé na cozinha“, or a “foot in the kitchen”.
3) Humberto’s comments also highlight the manner in which race can flipped like a coin in Brazil. It is very common for people who for all intents and purposes see themselves and are often accepted as white, even if they have some physical feature that indicates they are not “100% European”. These same people will adopt a white identity and not think anything about it until the day in which they are accused of saying or doing something racist. In this case, that same “white” person will suddenly remind the accuser that their grandmother was preta (black), parda (brown) or some other term denoting African ancestry, and thus, argue that they cannot possibly be racist because of the fact (see here for example).
4) It’s fitting that a person who looks like Humberto would make such a comment about no white Brazilian being “pure”. In Brazil, many people who look like Humberto, even with his or her features denoting African ancestry, will identify themselves as white. From this perspective, a person who looks like Humberto making such a statement could go three ways. A) Said person could identify themselves as black racially but not support black political views, B) Said person could identify themselves as white and harbor racist sentiments against blacks. C) Said person could hate the fact that people remind him or her that they in fact are not white, despise the fact and decide to take this anguish out on darker persons of African ancestry.
5. Racial identity and political identity are not always the same thing. In other words, assuming Humberto defines himself as black does not mean he supports politics that support the black struggle for equality in a racist society.
These are a few of the reasons why I found Humberto’s statement ridiculous, but that’s not all. His disrespect of Minister Bairros is wrong in terms of accepted ideals connected to race and “place”. Francisco Antero and the women from the Blogueiras Negras blog expressed this quite well below.
Black minister Luiza Bairros is called a tapir: the treatment dished out to black and feminine face of politics
by Blogueiras Negras
First Cécile Kyenge, then Christiane Taubira and now Luiza Bairros. Ministers of state attacked in their humanity by close communion between racism, sexism and sense of impunity. Women who refused to remain the in place that is intended for them by abject whiteness that reacts by insults. The first and second were called monkeys (2). Here it was another curse, this time we are compared to a tapir because the minister expressed the view that young people participating in recent “rolezinhos” are also victims of racism.
The subject of the aggression is Cláudio Humberto, a columnist for the Jornal Metro newspaper, that felt comfortable enough to call a minister of state a tapir while at the same time defending the thesis that there are no whites in the country. What underlies this message is that if there are no whites, you cannot be racist. Obviously it backfired since the publication of the text itself and the insult are expressions of an uncritical whiteness that is unprepared to deal with racial issues and that still relies on impunity to express its contradictions and excrescences.
This is how the unequal treatment dispensed to black women and men works, at home, in daylight and in writing. This is why we work so that it is highlighted and therefore fought. We, a collective of black women of pen and keyboard, reject the treatment dished out to the black and female face of politics. Every time one of us comes to power, all of us come. Whenever one of us is attacked and dehumanized, we all are. We will not remain silent in the face of this insult that further exposes the fact that racism is a structural issue in our society, still accustomed to slave society behavior.
Respect for freedom of thought and immunity from criticism should not be used to defend the idea that racism is just an opinion. The racist heritage of a country that calls itself democratic is brought out, we feel up close every day when we don’t have access to the university, when we receive appropriate treatment according to institutional racism and when we denounce it, as Minister Luiza Bairros did. We’re talking about a very tangible reality, even statistically.
As such, we believe that the author of the comment and the newspapers that published and republished the text should be held accountable for the statement, if not legally, and to be publicly rejected. Regardless of the legal classification of crime, ethically and morally, it is the committing of a misdemeanor disqualifying the comment of a head of state from the perception of a supposed and erroneously presumed incapacity simply by the fact of being a woman and black. Would this writer have called a white male politician who had the same opinion an “anta (tapir)”?
Only Frantz Fanon can explain Cláudio Humberto, a black man who reproduces the discourse of the dominator.
By Francisco Antero
Clearly I have political differences with the Minister, but both she and the former minister Matilde Ribeiro are at a level of excellence among this group that has been in power since 2002. In the present case, it’s a typical attack from someone who doesn’t this shitty country is racist. Matilde Ribeiro also said some harsh words in relation to our racism when she was minister and the media world didn’t stop persecuting her.
- Cláudio Humberto is black and burst on the scene as a spokesman for (former president) Fernando Collor de Melo in the early ‘90s.
- Racism is a function of what Cláudio Humberto said. It goes that someone will “badly” interpret this and think that the criticism is in relation to the minister’s comment.
1. Nogueira, Oracy, “Skin Color and Social Class,” in Plantation Systems of the New World. Washington DC, 1959.
2. It’s worth noting how common it is in Brazil that persons of African descent are called macacos, or monkeys. Here are a few examples.