Note from BW of Brazil: Today’s feature, a letter from a concerned mother to her daughter’s school, brings to the fore a number of issues that are regularly dealt with on this blog. To get right to some of these issues, first of all, as Brazil has long promoted the idea of a “racial democracy” to its citizens, millions of people, white and even black, continue to believe that 1) racism doesn’t exist or 2) racism is not a serious problem or 3) racism exists although they are personally not racist. These types of attitudes have made it very difficult for everyday Brazilians to deal with the repercussions of everyday racism in the lives of Afro-Brazilians. After all, how can one address an issue when one cannot accept that the problem itself even exists?
Another issue approached in the following piece deals with the idea that the “less black” people are, the less they are likely to be victims of racism. Without even dealing with the fact that the idea of “how black” someone is seems to almost justify or brush aside racist incidents if someone is judged to be “too black”, it also seems to deny that persons of mixed-race African ancestry don’t experience such treatment. Here on the blog, several incidents have shown that so-called “less black” persons also experience racist actions or sentiments. Incidents that affect lighter-skinned Afro-Brazilians are the principal reasons why this blog rejects the idea that pretos and pardos (blacks and browns) or negros and mulatos don’t belong in one group as they are both discriminated against and excluded from certain areas of Brazilian society precisely because their African ancestry is visible.
Another important issue in today’s post deals with the fact that, because of the denial of the existence of racism, many Brazilian families don’t educate their children on the topic of racial identity or how to react when a racist incident happens to their children. A common belief is that when blacks complain or report racist incidents, these incidents are only in their minds or they themselves are at fault for whatever reason. In many cases, victims simply suffer in silence. Angela Ernestina Cardoso de Brito approached this type of denial in her study “ENTRE NEGRO E BRANCO–SOCIALIZAÇÃO DE FILHOS MESTIÇOS POR FAMÍLIAS INTER-RACIAIS” (Between black and white – Socialization of mixed-race children by interracial families). Here is a citation from Brito’s research:
“…interracial families live in the absence of development of strategies that can help children to cope with the problem of racism and racial discrimination. They have difficulties in addressing and discussing issues relating to racial origin, which leads them to practice a socialization that will not help their children cope with situations of discrimination and racism of which they will partake. Moreover, they don’t have tools for discerning racist attitudes, which probably leads them to take them for granted. Consider the testimony of Irani (a white mother):
“No, we never talk about this…I never perceived that it was blacks that had this difference, I never realized that, I never saw it, if there were some difficulty, it was because it was his mistake, but color would not bring anything, even though they were black. I don’t I think that they are black.” (Irani/white mother)
At another point, when her mestiço/negro (mixed-race/black) child was verbally attacked by a white child, Irani attributes prejudice to the black himself, and even tries to soften the attitude of the white offender saying it’s a case not to be taken seriously. When asked if her son would not have suffered from this attitude, she replies that “this story of racial prejudice is a thing of blacks themselves; your son, who is not black, would not have suffered this.” Referring to her words, I, as a researcher, persisted in asking whether, in fact, her children would not have reported any situation of racial discrimination, she responds visibly annoyed: “I told you I could not help you in your research.”
Within this context of denial and rejection of the issue, the white mother in the following article (originally posted in Invisibilidade Negra) should be commended as she not only discusses black identity and beauty with her daughter, she is also conscious and active in advocating an open discussion of the race issue, which many people and families would prefer to pretend simply doesn’t exist/isn’t important. She appears to be the exact opposite of some white parents of “mixed” children who are openly racist in spite of having a black partner and child.
Letter from a mother to a white school where her 4-year old black daughter studies
Dear teachers, school directors and whoever else is part of my children’s education:
Today my daughter (Child III – Morning) was the victim of racist bullying at school. I’ll start from the beginning.
When trying to complete the task that was requested, looking in magazines for a family that resembled ours, obviously we didn’t find any, because our media believes that there are only white people with straight hair people in Brazil. I then asked her (my daughter) to draw our family. As you can see in the drawing, she painted herself as a “menina branca (white girl)”.
As we deal with racial issues a lot at home, in reality because my children are children of a black man, and as my daughter has the “mulata” phenotype (a term that even should not be used because it is derived from “mule” and strongly expresses colonial racism), I asked why she painted herself that color, since she is NEGRA (I work on racial empowerment a lot with her). She started crying and saying he did not want to be “that color”, she wanted to “be branca (white)” and that when she grew up, she would wear pó de arroz (rice powder, makeup) (1) to become white.
I tried to push the subject more, always saying that she is beautiful the way she is, boasting about her beauty (as we always do here), and she began to perking up a little more. I said, “but it’s that there’s no one in my class with ‘this color’”, “I don’t like it” and “a friend of mine told me I’m ugly.” I put it her in front of the mirror and asked who she saw there. She said: “me” and I asked if she thought she was really ugly, looking in the mirror. She said no.
I asked, moments later, who the friend was who said she was ugly, she replied “João”, and I asked how he said it. The answer made me cry: “He said that I’m ugly because I’m negra.” (2)
My dears, this is a VERY serious issue that needs to be addressed URGENTLY in the classroom. I suggest that, immediately, you take advantage of the motto of the task to do this, so that the kids are seeing themselves, because this is crucial in self acceptance and in acceptance of differences as a whole.
I say this because, despite being white, I know what veiled racism in Brazil is. And it DESTROYS the self-esteem of children, including girls as well resolved as my daughter. Less than 15 days ago, my husband was beat up by the PM (Military Police), for nothing. He is black, was riding a bicycle and passing by a poor community. Whoever wishes can try to convince us that this violence “has nothing to do with skin color,” because we know it has.
Friday there is a meeting at school about my daughter, and this will be the main theme, after what happened. I think this is a much more serious problem than any other that they want to speak to me about.
We need to act together. I want to try a meeting of parents (because I believe that this child only repeated what he heard at home, since the theme of ‘racism’ is in the media due to the wretched ‘Somos Todos Macacos’ ((We Are All Monkeys’ campaign)). The veiled racism is, finally, surfacing. And my daughter was its victim.
We need to insert racial and social themes with more force within a “white school”. Otherwise, this social evil will never stop violating children like my daughter. I have several suggestions for action on the subject, books to address the topic in the classroom, even a class, using the book Menina Bonita do Laço de Fita, this class is available on the Geledés Black Women’s Institute website.
I know activists of the MovimentoNegro (black movement), with whom you could talk in order to think of a lecture for mothers and fathers. Because it’s easy to say ‘no racist’ being white, but with no idea of what black people suffer in Brazil, especially if they, like my daughter, are a minority within a specific context, such as that of her school. It’s hard to be ‘different’ in a biased environment (children bring their prejudices from within their homes), so I think that it’s FUNDAMENTAL that you TRULY deal with these prejudices.
My daughter’s my pain is my pain too. The seed of racism was planted within my family, in a very sad way in recent days. Hopefully, with the help of the school, we’ll be able to make it not germinate, and my daughter and other black children don’t suffer anymore with this kind of seed, which can destroy the identity of a person. Because, as a black friend of mine said, “this wound planted in childhood never heals.”
Thank you for your attention.
Source: Invisibilidade Negra, Black Women of Brazil, Brito, Angela Ernestina Cardoso de. “ENTRE NEGRO E BRANCO–SOCIALIZAÇÃO DE FILHOS MESTIÇOS POR FAMÍLIAS INTER-RACIAIS” in Oliveira, Iolanda e Silva, Petronilha Beatriz Gonçalves. Identidade Negra: pesquisas sobre o negro e a educação no Brasil. São Paulo: Ação Educativa, Rio de Janeiro: Anped, 2003.
1. The history of wearing makeup to cover up one’s racial origins has a very interesting history in regards to racism against black players in Brazilian soccer leagues. See here.
2. In reference to our previous point on racial origin, regardless of “how black” someone is perceived to be, racism in Brazil clearly happens according to the perception of one being white or not. Thus, the “mixed-race” child in today’s piece experienced racism as a black child, regardless of the fact that she has a white mother and her skin color and features denote some level of admixture. We cannot be certain of the child’s appearance as there was no photo presented in the article.