Note from BW of Brazil: Today, July 25th, is the day in which we celebrate the International Afro-Latin American and Afro-Caribbean Women’s Day. And as we do here every year, we present to you a special report on the lives, thoughts, importance and opinions of the parcel of Brazil’s population of which this blog is dedicated: black women. And as with the vast majority of posts we’ve presented on this blog since 2011, we allow today’s post to paint a portrait for our readers of exactly what is to be a black women in Brazil. And who better to speak on this experience than black Brazilian women? In today’s post, we present the voices of 16 black women of varying occupations and social backgrounds speaking on this very topic. On this important date, we wish to all that are part of this demographic a happy and well-deserved International Afro-Latin American and Afro-Caribbean Women’s Day!
International Date celebrates feminine blackness
Students, servants and outsourced workers at the University of Brasília give testimonials about what it is to be a black woman
By Jorge Gil
On July 25th the Dia Internacional da Mulher Negra.(International Day of Black Women) is celebrated. In 1992, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the 1º Encontro de Mulheres Afro-latino-americanas e Afro-caribenhas (1st Meeting of Afro-Latin American and Afro-Caribbean) was held, an occasion in which two decisions were taken: the creation of the Women’s Network of Afro-Latin American and African-Caribbeans and setting July 25 as the Day of Afro-Latin American and Caribbean Women. The date strengthens feminism and aims to consolidate the strength of black women against gender and ethnic-racial oppression in the regions in which they live. The goal is also to expand the organizations that elaborate strategies to tackle racism and sexism, suffered by women who still go through situations of social class, ethnic and religious discrimination.
At the University of Brasília (UnB) they are mothers, professors, students, servants and many other women who struggle every day to overcome the obstacles, despite social inequalities. By joining the institution, regular students make a declaration of ethnicity, which allows the tracing of the racial profile of UnB students.
In order to combat instances of discrimination, the University of Brasília launched UnB Diversa e Plural (Diverse and Plural) campaign with actions aimed at promoting tolerance and respect for diverse gender, race and sexual orientation identities, among others.
Below, a number of reports of these women pass on impressions of what is to be a negra (black woman) in Brazilian society.
With a Master’s degree in History, Layra Sarmento recalls that in the history of Brazil there are few reports about black women and stresses that, in schools classes mentioning quilombo leaders are rare. “When these heroines are mentioned, the story comes down to a situation of slavery,” said the student.
The cearense (native of the state of Ceará) writer Jarid Arraes, a cordelista (1) that addresses the female ancestry in her texts, estimates that the almost forgetting of black women in History is something that contributes to the low visibility of the black population. For this reason, she thinks that meninas negras (black girls), as a rule, grow up believing the myth that there are no good intellectual references in which they can look up to. And, in order to discover their references, it’s necessary to immerse themselves in a maze of individual research. Jarid says they need to put together pieces of a huge puzzle in order to, in the end, discover that very little information was recorded about women such as quilombo leaders Dandara dos Palmares and Tereza Benguela.
Maria das Dores Almeida
“Ser uma mulher negra no Brasil (being a black woman in Brazil) is ‘jumping a fire’ every day, because the structural racism in our society makes it impossible for most black Brazilian women have access to basic public policies, such as health and quality of education. Institutional racism is one of the ‘determinants’ for exclusion and social mobility. But despite all the problems imposed on our lives, I feel very proud to be a black woman.”
Maria das Dores Almeida (Durica), amapaense (native of the state of Amapá), professor, post-graduate in History of African and Afro-Brazilian Culture. At UnB, she’s taking the Master’s course Professional in Sustainability together with Traditional Peoples and Lands. 17 years a militant in the Movimento de Mulheres Negras Brasileiras (Black Brazilian Women’s Movement), the Instituto de Mulheres Negras do Amapá (Institute of Black Women of Amapá), in the Rede Fulanas (Fulanas Network), in the Negras da Amazônia Brasileira (Black Women of the Brazilian Amazon) and in the Articulação Nacional de Mulheres Negras Brasileiras (National Articulation of Black Brazilian Women).
“Being black woman is a constant challenge. We never falter in facing difficulties, and we are often surprised by attacks that come from where we don’t expect (them). A synonym of struggle, in my opinion, is walking the field of knowledge because, knowing our rights, it’s possible to advance ensuring that these, as much in the individual order as of the groups we represent, are minimally secured. I carry in my ancestral legacy the desire to move forward, glimpsing the possibility of still being able to live in a just and egalitarian society. Of noble and warrior character, I keep on under the sign of resistance in the struggle for appreciation of the black people of Brazil and the world.”
Miriam Aprígio, teacher, historian and quilombola of the Comunidade de Luizes in Belo Horizonte (state of Minas Gerais), is taking her Masters in Sustainability at UnB. She’s been a militant since her youth in ethnic and racial agendas.
“For me, a black woman is strong physically and mentally, is comfortable in her skin. A woman that believes in being completely beautiful, despite the so-called standards of beauty of society, such as having cabelos lisos, olhos azuis, nariz estreito, pele clara e quanto mais magra, melhor (straight hair, blue eyes, narrow nose, pale skin and the thinner, the better. A woman that uses stones that they throw at her to build her foundation and believes that she is everything because she was created with perfection, even though the society says that she is nothing.”
Ficenca Rachel Eliza was born in Suriname and is a quilombola of the N’djuka people. She possesses a degree in Public Administration, is taking her Masters in Sustainability together with Traditional Peoples and Lands, in the Centro de Desenvolvimento Sustentável (Center of Sustainable Development) at UnB.
“The university, the labor market, personal relationships, consumption … everything comes with a huge stamp: ‘negra’. Thus, unreliable, incompetent, ugly, uneducated, sexually available, incapable of ‘civilized’ socializing. No positivity accompanying the adjective ‘mulher negra forte’ (strong black woman), we are strong to withstand all the perversity of Brazilian racism (in health, education, labor market). In times like the present, racism wears her gala clothes and attacks on diurnally. We fear losing our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, because of the existence of a permanent gun pointed at our heads. ‘We are a target’. But being – historically – in this condition never stopped us from acting towards strengthening the black community wherever we are and with the means we have.”
Joelma Rodrigues, 48, was born in Brasília. She has a PhD in History and teaches graduate courses in Rural Education and in Professional Masters in Sustainability together with Traditional Peoples and Lands of UnB. Her research has focused on the intersections between race and gender, from the perspective of black feminism and African womanism. She is currently coordinator of questões negras (black issues) of the Directorship of Diversity Board of the University of Brasília (DIV).
“Being a woman and black, to me, is a challenge because, in our society, we are victims of double dose oppression: We face sexism and racism on a daily basis, we are made inferior and but don’t bow our heads before the difficulties. We are women of struggle, even if prejudice tries to bring us down. And our constant struggle goes far beyond wanting a place in professional or social context. It is, above all, wanting to be respected as human beings. We are synonymous with resistance. We need to unite even more to combat racism. We cannot mask it as something nonexistent. The standard of beauty imposed by the media forces us to be who we are not and who we don’t want to be. But that doesn’t stop us from being who we are in our essence. We are beauty, we are culture, we are love. We want equal rights and representation.”
Priscilla Sena, 23, resident of São Sebastião (Federal District). She studies Letters and entered the University of Brasília through system of racial quotas. She is a cultural activist and member of the Movimento Cultural Supernova (Supernova Cultural Movement). She combats racism and love her cabelo black (natural black hair).
Ana Caroline Gomes
“Being black woman is a matter of tornar negra (becoming black). In a society that shows by all means of media that we’re out of the parameters of beauty, ser negra (being black) is to redeem a second identity and see oneself free from social constraints that they insist on persecuting us with. Being a black woman is decolonizing yourself every day in order to cope every day. It is resisting the sexualization and objectification of attacks on our black bodies. Ser negra is to redeem our origins, to love our roots and draw new routes of survival.”
Ana Caroline Gomes, 24, resident of Gama. She is a student of Critical Theory and History of Art. She is a cultural producer, dancer and rapper.
“I always think that being a black women is to live fully without fear of daring and never submitting to society’s criteria, that dictates what we should do with our hair and determine what is beautiful or not. Ser negra (being a black woman), to me, is being proud of who I am; it’s not using or be something to please a determine standard by the society.”
Layane Soares Nunes, 20, was born in Valparaíso de Goiás (state of Goiás). She entered UnB, in the course of Architecture and Urbanism, through the racial quota system and is proud of it. She entered into the Scientific Initiation Program and participates in the AfroAtitude Group. In 2016, she participated in the Encontro Nacional de Estudantes e Coletivos Negros (National Meeting of Black Student Collectives), in Rio de Janeiro (RJ).
“Being a black woman is to be strong, to resist the oppressions of a racist and patriarchal society. It’s being mother and father, even being alone. It’s being the target of disrespect and standing firm. It is getting even with everything pushing you down. It’s being tired, denied and objectified. It’s being the second option for those who don’t see the value of the feminine black body. Ser mulher negra (being a black woman) is suffering with all this, and yet, standing stronger every day.”
Hallana Moreira, 20, a Journalism student at the College of Communication at the University of Brasília. She joined the institution by means of quotas for blacks.
“I think being black women is to be an ordinary person. I don’t believe that the color of my skin or my gender should be an obstacle to achieve my goals. And it’s with this thought that I live my life. It’s just interacting with the world in some way that I am reminded that I am not just someone, I’m not just a woman, but, yes, sou uma mulher negra (I am a black woman). Therefore, the path that I follow ends up being a bit peculiar. For this reason, being a black woman also means a constant work to break down the various barriers and prejudices that come with the label, without, however, losing strength and optimism.”
Janiele Custódio, 23, has a degree in Engineering of Production from UnB. She went straight from undergraduate to PhD in Systems Engineering at George Washington University, in the US, which she starts this semester.
“Ser mulher negra is being equal to the mulher branca (white woman), ‘only that it’s not’. Being a black woman is trying to transcend barriers of standard and assuming your roots without being disrespected or rated as an adept to a ‘fad’. It’s being inserted into a ethnocentric reality, living with the lack of representation and trying to fit into what society assumes as beautiful, devaluing your wonderful DNA. Ser mulher negra (being black woman) is having your intelligence questioned due to historical distortion of blacks and being seen as inferior to the mulher branca (white woman) until proven otherwise. People come to be impressed when a black person, for example, takes a good position. It’s being born with the genome as ‘differently equal’ to all other women.”
Krissya Norrana, 20. Studying Biological Sciences and lives in Planaltina.
Maria Amélia da Silva
Ser mulher negra é ser guerreira (being black woman is to be a warrior), is to fight the whip of the day to day. Most brancos (whites) are afraid of blacks taking their place. But there’s room for everyone. We must support and raise awareness for others. The mulher branca (white woman) does not fight at my side. She doesn’t fight my fight. Many white women say: “I have a child.” But, the one who knows your child, really, is me, the babá negra (black nanny) who takes care of him. I don’t see black woman chasing alimony because we face motherhood alone…Taking care of the children of white people and still finding time to be happy.
Maria Amélia da Silva, 45 and with four children. She is a provider of general services at UnB.
Sueli Bishop de Sousa
Being black woman is to be independent and be able to administer what you want. It’s going after your goals and showing the children that being black is not a bad thing. Color we don’t choose. They are characteristics of our races.
Sueli Bispo de Sousa, 39 with three children. She’s kitchen aid at the Restaurante Universitário (University Student Restaurant (RU).
Being black is to suffer discrimination every day, either by words, looks and attitudes that show how much racism is not abolished but hidden. Despite the conflicts we face, we are strong and resilient to fight for equality in this so unequal world so that one day, perhaps, the injúria racial (racial injury/slur) will end.
Maiara Gonçalves dos Santos, 24. She works in reception of the RU and lives in Santo Antônio do Descoberto, Goiás.
Silvia Alcântara Bandeira
It’s a continuous struggle to overcome racial discrimination and all forms of prejudice that label a woman, who is already decriminalized by machismo. The black woman seeks her visibility in society. It’s evident that she is currently conquering her space, however, in order to achieve success she must always try harder than others.
Silvia de Alcântara Bandeira, 58 and a merchant. In 2016, he graduated in Social Work at UnB.
Ana Ligia de Souza Montalvão
There were many barriers and many still may come, but being black woman is being myself, even though society says I’m not. But I am a daughter, a mother, and professional black woman who won and continue to win the freedom to be myself in a society that is still a slave to prejudice.
Ana Lígia Montalvão de Souza, 42, lives in Formosa, Goiás. She’s a Technical in Nutrition and Nursing. She has worked at UnB since 2003.
When they asked me what it was to be
I looked at what I am not to say
Who was criança morena (2) (dark/brown/mixed) child
With no color
I am a mulher mulata (mulatto woman) (3)
With no race
even though it was imposed on me
that they oblige me to be
being with no rights
I’m callus on the hands and feet
stubbornness in the exclusive universities
the commitment of continuity
the struggle of a people
I am the resistance to the no.
Meimei Bastos, 25, was born in Ceilândia (of the Federal District region). She studies Performing Arts at UnB. She’s actress, art educator and poet. She published texts in the book Mulher Quebrada (Broken Woman), a collection that brings together women of poetry on the outskirts of the Federal District.
Market – According to data of the Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA), the income of black Brazilian women does not correspond to half received by homens brancos (white men) and equals about 56% of the income of mulheres brancas (white women). The imbalance is repeated in relation to educational status; integration into the labor market; access to durable goods and digital technologies; the condition of poverty and domestic violence.
Source: Panorama Programme IPEA
The data are registered in the book Dossiê Mulheres Negras: retrato das condições de vida das mulheres negras no Brasil (Black Women Dossier: Portrait of the living conditions of black women in Brazil) edited by IPEA, in partnership with the Secretariat of Policies for Women, the Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality and UN Women in 2013.
- A cordelista is a person who does Cordel literature (from the Portuguese term,literatura de cordel, literally “string literature”), which are popular and inexpensively printed booklets or pamphlets containing folk novels, poems and songs, which are produced and sold in fairs and by street vendors in Brazil, principally in the Northeast. They are so named because they are hung from strings in order to display them to potential clients. Source
- Numerous articles on this blog deal with the morena/moreno classification that is applied to persons of African descent often times to avoid the term negro or negra.
- The author is obviously speaking of an experience of being labeled a mulata even if she defines herself negra or black. As a re-affirmation of blackness, many women of African descent in Brazil are increasingly rejecting this term and the meanings associated with it. See several articles on the mulata question here.