Note from BW of Brazil: Today’s post is due to a number of things. One, the study of interracial relationships in Brazil is an ongoing topic here on the blog. Two, today’s post is a direct result of an essay that discussed what was termed “Cirilo’s Syndrome”. Named after a young black male character on a children’s novela, the term speaks to the black male who would do anything for the affections of a white woman. Three, it speaks directly to the idea that racism cannot exist in a country where the rate of interracial marriage is so high. And four, it is a response to a comment posted by a reader who basically argued that political and racial issues should be tossed aside when the topic is interracial relationships. To understand this last viewpoint, let’s take a look at that exact comment posted on the blog on November 15, 2013.
Anonymous: “you bet there is racism in brazil, interracial relationships wont cure it, some people might marry to get up in the world, but, the absurdity that anyone can just pscycho analise what millions of couples sre thinking or why and how they got together, is ridiculous, its ridiculous in the states, and its ridiculous to do it in brazil. leave interracial relationships out of political and race issues discusions…interracial relationships have nothing to do with racism and the absence of them will not affect racism one iota…”
The first thing to address in regards to this comment is that the very issue of interracial relationships IS racial as well as political. One cannot avoid this reality when the fact of the matter is that one race (white) is in a COMPLETELY superior social position both literally as well as in the psychological understanding of other racial groups as well as whites themselves. The second issue is this: how can one argue for leaving politics out of the discussion when Brazilian elites devised a policy in the late 19th century with the acknowledged goal of promoting interracial relationships as a means of eventually erasing the black population? That by definition IS political! The third point regards the sentence “interracial relationships have nothing to do with racism and the absence of them will not affect racism one iota…”. Response: If Brazilians have been mixing for five centuries but racism is still a strong influence, wouldn’t it be just as valid (or more) to say that the existence of such relationships will not affect racism one iota? So let’s be clear; if you as the reader are the type to avoid difficult conversations, duck your head in the sand to avoid such discussions or prefer to see the world through rose-colored sunglasses, then perhaps today’s post is not for you.
The psychological effects of centuries of racism and the spread of the ideology of black inferiority has left numerous scars on the psyche of African descendants throughout the world; psychological scars that the majority hardly even perceives. As one post from several months ago showed, many Brazilians have long asked why it seems that black Brazilian males in particular seem to suffer from “Cirilo’s Syndrome”. The pieces below register the existence of critics who also reject the “interracial marriage as the absence of racism” argument. Their frank, thought-provoking personal reflections and memories once again prove that a more thorough analysis of this mythology masquerading as reality is necessary.
The following piece is taken from Pedro Jaime de Coelho Júnior’s doctoral dissertation about black executives in the city of São Paulo. Coelho’s dissertation didn’t specifically focus on interracial marriages but rather experiences of racism among black executives (a miniscule figure in itself) in the city. Out of 50 executives in his research, Coelho noted that 48 or 49 of his subjects were married to white partners. In this commentary, one of his subjects, Douglas, shares his first recollections of the topic of racism.
Coelho: “Douglas narrated the presence of the racial question in his life story. His first experience with racism happened in his family. The child of a black father and white mother, a descendant of Italians, he, that had said throughout our conversation that in his house one didn’t speak of prejudice and racial discrimination, made the following reflection:
“There’s a story about the racial question in my family that is very interesting. Even today my mother doesn’t think that I’m black. It’s a very interesting point, this is, even for therapy…Sometimes she talks like this: ‘No, but you are not black!’ When I was a child the preoccupation with this thing was still great. What was she really saying when I was a child? Ah, She talked like this: ‘You stayed a little longer in the oven but you’re not black. Black is so and so, black is really so and so.’ My father didn’t deal with it much. All of his brothers were black. So I perceived this in my mother. My own mother showed herself to be bothered…There was a time that I got embarrassed, asking myself: Why did she marry my father then? Why? But she was always like this…, even with my sister who is a little lighter than me. And even today she says it. It’s that thing, my mother is already 80-something years old, it’s difficult to change her mind. If she hasn’t changed by now, chances are even less now. But she indeed had some prejudice, I perceived this in her own relationships with my father’s relatives. It’s interesting that she said (this), isn’t it? And even dangerous for the formation of a child. She used to say: ‘You are not black!’ She didn’t accept (this). It’s just as well that I didn’t need analysts…I had black male friends, black female friends, I got along with everybody. Now, if I would date a black girl, or if I would marry a black girl, sincerely I don’t know if I could relate to her…I ended up marrying a blond, I don’t know if it’s because of this. But going back to what I told you before, we didn’t talk much about the racial question as home, mainly because of her, because for her I wasn’t black; period, end of story.”
Coelho: “One perceives that it’s not that the racial question wasn’t discussed at home. It was discussed. His mother in an eloquent form said that “being black represented something shameful” (in the words of another interviewee, Flávio who described his black father’s attitude about race). Douglas’s father’s silence said something. It said that blacks should not confront the presence of prejudice and racial discrimination.
Note from BW of Brazil: Douglas’ recollections reveal a clear racial bias on the part of his white mother regardless of her having married a black man. Also revealing is Douglas’ father’s silence on the issue almost as if he simply agreed with the inferiority of his race. As highlighted in another post, the idea of marrying a white or at least lighter-skinned partner was and continues to be very wide spread in the black community. Perhaps even more revealing is the piece below written by a woman who chose to remain anonymous. Her analysis speaks poignantly to some of the same issues raised in a piece from October entitled “How interracial marriages are one of the most glaring symptoms of Brazilian racism.”
Cyril’s syndrome and the cycle of family violence
The first time I saw the term “Cirilo’s Syndrome”, I identified immediately with the idea but only after some time did the coin drop in what it represented to me. I am the daughter of a relationship that arises from a “Cirilo’s Syndrome” and since then I keep thinking how it influenced and forever influences my life. This is a trip and nor hysteria, as some people have tagged us in discussing issues like this. It is, above all, to understand how certain kinds of relations can affect our personal lives.
My father has always been the kind of black man that pretended his whole life that racism had nothing to do with his life. This brought dire consequences for me since I never felt the urge to share the pain of going through the racism that I experienced at school, for example. He also chose a white woman to marry. The consequences of that act, which resulted from a lack of pride in himself that my father felt, brought me the worst consequences. The woman that my father chose, my mother, besides being white is also racist. Surely someone will say, (that’s) impossible! How can a racist white woman marry a black man? The response to that question is nothing simple, but in the case of my mother, and what she herself says, it seems to have been some lack of choice (1).
She was a Northeastern immigrant in Brasilia and worked as a maid, and as my father was interested in her, I believe that she saw in him a way out of the situation in which she lived because at the time my father worked and earned considerable money, certainly more a maid. Not to mention the stories she still tells today of what she went through in the “Madame’s house” (her employer). What seems to have happened was a kind of tacit agreement that my mother would lend to my dad the social mobility that his image of a white woman represented and my father would offer her a springboard out of a life without any expectation of improvement and advancement since my mother, after all, is illiterate.
Time passed and I was born. I believe that there can be nothing worse for a black girl than being raised by a racist woman. Throughout my childhood I grew up believing that I was ugly, my hair was bad and it needed to be tamed, that I should be stuck in the house in order not to work and not become a vagabond in the street. This was the tone of all my upbringing. At age nine I was already being taken to the “beauty” salon to straighten my hair. When I it couldn’t be straightened it should be tied down with a braid and the bun that she did to” tame the mane.” Besides all that I was raised by my mother hearing the following type of phrase when a black woman appeared on TV: “This woman is pretinha (black) but even so, she’s cute.” When I grew up and began to liberate my hair and let it look natural it seemed like I had committed a crime. I lost count of how many arguments I had with my mother about it and how many times she told me that my hair was horrible (2).
The family of my father, made up of all blacks, is very large; he had 12 brothers and my mother always abhorred them. Even today when she speaks of my father’s family she uses the following terms to refer to them: “raça ruim (bad race)”, “raça maldita (cursed race)” and so on in a clear allusion to their black race. My father on the other hand always treated my mother’s family very well and helped them a lot including my grandfather who is extremely racist and whenever he comes to visit us makes this very clear, even then my father would die from love for him and treats him very well. Besides that, my father was and is humiliated his entire life by my mother who always left it clear that she is superior to him. Even so, my father never sketched out any reaction to end the marriage.
Within such a climate it’s not difficult to imagine how the family relationships in my house were permeated with violence. Discussions and assaults are common and my mother spent my whole life speaking ill of my father to me, which is even configured as parental alienation. More than an account of my personal life, this story is for people to reflect on how racism can be cruel to blacks. I could have had a healthy life and a family relationship but this was denied to me. Racism denied me a real family, racism only showed me the violence. If racism in Brazil was not how it is: veiled, my father could have married a black woman, my mother would never have agreed to marry my father and I would never have gone through all of that and would have the problems that I have today stemming from these relations, including psychological.
Besides all that, to close this cycle of violence I will hardly ever get married or will have a long lasting relationship because that’s the reality of black women in Brazil today. They are rejected by black men and are viewed as mere objects of sexual desire by white men. I hope that the text has been instructive for people to understand that the consequences of a “Cirilo Syndrome” can be far worse than we can imagine. I wonder how many families in Brazil are in the same situation because of it. The problem is serious and more serious than we can imagine.
Note from BW of Brazil: When any debate arises about the existence of racism in Brazil the topic is often quickly deflected away from any serious dialogue by pointing the blame of “true racism” believed to exist in the United States. In all honesty, no one would be foolish enough to deny the racist history of the United States, but the existence of US-styled racism cannot negate the fact that Brazil’s own deadly form of racism has caused serious issues in terms of black pride, black identity and self-esteem; a form of racism so virulent that the pain has caused many blacks and “would be blacks” to try to escape the issue altogether by psychologically whitening themselves or attempting to whiten their offspring so that, with any luck, they would be born white and not have to deal with such pain. With such a potent form of racism ingrained in the society and the supposed “solution” often times proving to be a sham as socio-economic statistics and experiences with racism show that pardos/mulatos (brown or mixed) are in reality in the same boat as the darker-skinned pretos. As such, it appears that more Afro-Brazilians are beginning to see the necessity of debating the reality of “the greatest mixed race nation” in the world as well as the causes for such status. And as this title is claimed to be such a source of pride and uniqueness, it cannot simply be deflected by pointing to the powerful neighbor in the north.
Source: Blogueiras Negras, Black Women of Brazil, Coelho Júnior, Pedro Jaime de. Executivos negros: racismo e diversidade no mundo empresarial: Uma abordagem socio-antropológica. Doctoral thesis. Social Anthropology. USP, 2011.
1. In this case, a poor illiterate white woman accepted a black man as her choices seemed to be few. On the other hand, there are those white women of status who define what factors are at play for her to pass up a white man for a black man. And these factors show that it is not simply “all about love.” As such, one must wonder how many interracial relations and marriages have such a dynamic at work in a society in which white supremacy is such a psychological force.
2. The comments by the white mother throughout the author’s life also speak to another common idea; the notion that there are huge difference between how pretos and pardos are treated. While pretos are deemed to be clearly black, pardos or seen as being either more or less black or mixed. It is important to note that although the child in this piece could be considered a parda/mulata, as her mother’s standard of beauty was clearly whiteness, the child’s level of blackness didn’t matter. Her mother clearly rejected one of the most recognizable attributes of African ancestry: hair texture. The child was this relegated to “other”, “non-white” or negra status even being a parda/mulata.