Race and racism in Brazil and Latin America: Are you sure these guys aren’t black? Because your insults say otherwise

Futebol stars Ronaldinho Gaúcho (Brazilian) and Teófilo Gutiérrez (Colombian)
Futebol stars Ronaldinho Gaúcho (Brazilian) and Teófilo Gutiérrez (Colombian)

Note from BW of Brazil: Nothing really shocking about this incident or another one that happened about a month ago. The difference is the chosen insult and the two countries involved. As we have seen numerous times on this blog, derogatory remarks about persons of visible African ancestry are just as much the norm in Brazil as they are in other parts of world. The reason for today’s post is to show, once again, that there is very good reason why Brazil’s so-called pretos (blacks) and pardos (browns), or better, negros and mulatos, are combined into one group as representative of the Afro-Brazilian community. Just as common as it is to hear racial insults tossed around Brazil directed at those who cannot “pass” for white, is the argument that claims that pardos are not negros. I will agree that if a person of mixed race is of a primarily indigenous appearance, one could argue that that person should not be defined as black. But Afro-Brazilian scholars have long lumped blacks and browns together because socioeconomically speaking, they are in the same situation of disadvantage in relation to those who define themselves as brancos (whites). They also both face experiences with discrimination based on physical appearance that denotes African ancestry.

To get to the point, let’s report the two incidents both involving futebol players. One happened recently in Mexico while the other happened about one month ago in Argentina. One of the players is Ronaldinho Gaúcho, Brazilian, two-time winner of FIFA’s player of the year award, a former member of Brazil’s national team (the seleção), in Spain as well as Brazilian teams. The star recently signed a new contract to play in Mexico. The second incident involved Colombian player Teófilo Gutiérrez.

México: Ronaldinho is a victim of racism

Ronaldinho Gaúcho at a press conference announcing his signing with Club Queretaro in México
Ronaldinho Gaúcho at a press conference announcing his signing with Club Queretaro in México

By Luiz Nascimento, September 14, 2014

Irritated with traffic caused in the city of Querétaro because of the presentation of the new signing of Ronaldinho Gaúcho with the local team, last Friday, the Mexican politician Carlos Treviño, former Secretary of Social Development of the city, wrote a racist message against the Brazilian player in a social network.

“Really, I try to be tolerant, but I hate futebol, and the idiotic phenomenon that it produces. I hate it even more because people flood the streets making it take me two hours to get home. And all this to see a monkey…Brazilian, but still a monkey. This is a ridiculous circus,” wrote Núñez.

Ronaldinho Gaúcho presented to the fans of Queretaro in México
Ronaldinho Gaúcho presented to the fans of Queretaro in México

Despite having deleted the message then the politician shouldn’t be get away with the episode. The Secretary of Government Jorge López Portillo said that Núñez could be prosecuted.

“Racial discrimination is not the spirit, and in no way represents the way people of Querétaro think. We are all very respectful. Naturally, it can be denounced and we are aware of everything,” he said.

Racist comments radio announcer causes controversy in Argentina

August 13, 2014

Last month in Argentina, Colombian player Teófilo Gutiérrez was insulted by a radio announcer
Last month in Argentina, Colombian player Teófilo Gutiérrez was insulted by a radio announcer

On Wednesday, The Instituto Nacional contra a Discriminação, a Xenofobia e o Racismo (Inadi or National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism) of Argentina condemned the racist slurs uttered by a broadcaster against the Colombian futebol player Teofilo Gutierrez, of the River Plate team, in full transmission of a futebol match played on Sunday.

Alberto Raimundi, a commentator for Radio Revolución, unleashed a major controversy by calling the attacker “negro de merda” (black piece of shit).

“Let the River fans forgive me. I’m sick of this guy, to me, he is a negro de merda (black piece of shit) that has incredible luck,” said the broadcaster after a goal scored by Gutierrez, in the match that ended with a score of 1-1 for the first round of the Argentinian first division.

“It makes me angry that guys like this, of bad character, have this sort,” he added.

Teófilo Gutiérrez
Teófilo Gutiérrez

The racist comments generated numerous reactions on social networks, with several River fans  defending the player, who also posted a message. “Que lindo es ser negro” (Spanish)/”É tão lindo ser negro” (Portuguese) (“It’s so beautiful to be black”, in English), the Colombian published on Twitter.

Raimundi has already apologized on his Facebook page. “I apologize fundamentally to Teófilo Gutiérrez and to all those who I may have felt offended,” said the journalist, before emphasizing: “I am not racist in any way.”

On Wednesday, however, Raimundi caused further controversy when trying to justify the insults.

“I was wrong for using a word, here in my country, we use four million times a minute, throughout the national territory, usually to mean ‘someone who we don’t like’, and not by explicit racism,” he explained.

In response to the racist comment, Gutiérrez tweeted "How beautiful it is to be black". Eating the banana is a direct reference to a racist incident that happened to the Brazilian Daniel Alves in Spain several months ago.
In response to the racist comment, Gutiérrez tweeted “How beautiful it is to be black”. Eating the banana is a direct reference to a racist incident that happened to the Brazilian Daniel Alves in Spain several months ago.

Considering that the insults had a higher endorsement by being cast in a medium of communication, INADI resolved to notify the commentator to appear judicially next week. A DAIA, the largest political representation of the Argentine Jewish community, also condemned Raimundi’s statements, considering them “racist and discriminatory”.

“The words of a racist nature referred to the Colombian Teófilo Gutierrez are unjustifiable and don’t admit explanation,” denounced the entity. Gutierrez, 29, is one of the most famous players of the Argentine championship. In the last World Cup, he was a starter on the Colombian national team that reached the quarterfinals.

Note from BW of Brazil: So here we have two incidents, two racist comments. Ronaldinho was insulted with a term that dehumanizes persons of visible African descent around the world: “macaco” or monkey. Gutierrez was a called a “black piece of shit”. Pretty crass comment but also not rare. What one should note here is that both of these players in Brazil could be classified as pardos. Although Gutierrez is Colombian, one could easily find his phenotype in any state in Brazil. Neither Ronaldinho nor Gutierrez has jet-black skin; neither is a so-called preto-retinto, or “ink black”. Gutierrez’s hair texture looks quite straight while Ronaldinho has a loose type of curl pattern. Both have brown skin and both have obvious signs of racial admixture. But yet and still, in both cases, these players were insulted with words meant to demean them due to their African ancestry regardless of how much European or indigenous ancestry they may have. In the the case involving Gutierrez, the radio announcer tried to downplay his insult by claiming it’s a term that is commonly used in Argentina, which I wouldn’t doubt. But I’m quite sure he doesn’t refer to people who don’t appear have any African ancestry with the term ‘negro’. 

Neither of these incidents happened in Brazil, but rather in two other Latin American countries. So the question here would be, is one to believe that Brazil’s system of racial classification works in a completely different manner than those systems in other Latin American countries that have similar understandings of race and histories of miscegenation? Not really. There are plenty of books that show the similarities in racial classification and even uses of racial terminology throughout Latin America. The stories involving race across Latin American borders are reminiscent of one Brazilian woman’s understanding of how the people of Peru also saw her as black although people in her own family in Brazil always complemented her on her fair skin. The bottom line is, in Brazil, whether people like to admit it or not, if one’s blackness is “too visible” (regardless of how ‘mixed’ they are), said person can be subjected to discrimination or strange treatment based on understandings of race, as singer Preta Gil recently learned. As such, people can forever claim not see players such as Ronaldinho or Teófilo as not black, but their insults say otherwise. 

As numerous personal stories on this blog have shown, Brazilian society is infamous for persuading persons of visible African ancestry to ignore these physical characteristics, try to “pass” for white, or at least “not black”. This type of “racial schizophrenia” wreaks havoc on the identity of some persons when these same people who are taught that they are “not black” either face racist sentiments or comments about their appearance that signal that people don’t necessarily see them as white. In such a case that is the Brazilian reality, my conclusion is this:

In a country in which race truly doesn’t matter and racism truly doesn’t exist, one’s racial identity and classification would not and should not matter. But as racial characteristics subject persons to discrimination in Brazil as in any other country, the denial of the factor of race, racism and identity as a means of consciousness for those who are subjected to such treatment is an extreme disservice for those who are the victims. But it also keeps the dominant group in control as the oppressed group cannot fight this oppression of which they are victims due to a lack of knowledge of self; which is the very objective in the first place!

Source: Black Women of BrazilManhuaçu News, UOL Esporte

About Marques Travae 3386 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

5 Comments

  1. The problem with this whole “not-white = black” definition, in which race is determined by discrimination is that it uses whites as the standard, ignoring that brown people discriminate black people and black people also discriminate brown.

    Would Gutierrez be accepted as black in an American prison? Think again, no way! When I was in the US I heard more than once coming from blacks that they didn’t “trust browns”.

    So, for whites, everything that is no-white is black, I grant you that, but the same does not hold for browns and blacks. Browns (especially the borderline cases where African ancestry is visible but weak) will discriminate blacks based on the fact that they don’t feel they are black and not even are accepted by many blacks as blacks (by the way, I read several comments on this blog coming from blacks that reinforce this idea very much) and blacks when discriminate browns it is many times because of their European ancestry, if we assume that to be the only difference between them.

    So, using this discrimination definition, whose standards should we use?

    • First of all, if you read the piece, the article makes a clear point that someone like Teófilo Gutierrez would be considered a “pardo”. The point of the argument was simply that coming from the comments he was marked for discrimination because he was not white, however one chooses to classify him.

      Next, in a number of posts on this blog, we have made it clear that the majority of “pardos/mesticos/mulatos” don’t in fact identify themselves as negros.

      Third, I completely agree with the black/brown point. This is in fact true. But why are you asking the question in terms of American prisons? No one here is speaking of American prisons. Your comment is similar to anyone who would make the argument that “these guys wouldn’t be black in Africa”; why make the point of dragging a whole other continent into the discussion? Brazilians often make a point of rejecting the American “one-drop” rule which this blog also rejects. The point is to show how racism in Brazil (and Latin America in general) does have differences, but also has similarities with what happens in the US.

      In terms of the black/brown thing in the US, I believe your argument is flawed. Why? One, when we speak of the black/brown divide in the US, it is based not only on phenotype but also culture, language and nationality differences. African-Americans have differences with the Hispanic/Latino population for a number of reasons that cannot be compared to the Brazilian context as pretos and pardos are still Brazilians who, even facing discrimination, are seen as part of the nation’s history. Culturally, pretos and pardos in Brazil are equal. One cannot same the same about blacks and Latino/Hispanics in the US.

      Besides this, it also doesn’t matter if a Latino/Hispanic is of the light-brown, more indigenous looking person or a dark-skinned person of visible African descent, African-Americans often reject both. Singer Tony Tornado, who is very dark-skinned and would be black anywhere in world, did an interview on how African-Americans rejected him when he lived in the US in the 1960s.

      There are several reasons for this divide and I won’t get into all of them here. Suffice it say, the question of racial classification and identity often go beyond simply phenotype. There are politics also involved. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, based on his phenotype could have easily said he was not black. But his identification with blackness as well as his political stance in favor of African-Americans made him blacker than many darker-skinned African-Americans.

      • “coming from the comments he was marked for discrimination because he was not white”

        Yes, completely agree. Marked by white racists as non-white, so far so good.

        “But why are you asking the question in terms of American prisons?”

        The reason I made this parallel is because in a number of posts you made it clear that Brazil cannot be in a bubble and that, while you do not embrace the one drop rule, you made it clear you find correct the US African American position of categorizing all Afro-descendents in the same umbrella of blackness. This is why I started this parallel. Apologies if I misread your views on this.

        ” in the US, it is based not only on phenotype but also culture, language and nationality differences.”

        This is completely correct. However, I don’t think my argument is flawed. It was incomplete, I admit. While the difference is not only on phenotype, depending on the difference only one of these things alone are enough. For example, Gutierrez’s phenotype is alone enough to put him out of the Black umbrella. Of course, culture/language is also capable of making someone not making the cut, so I am unsurprised by Tony Tornado’s story. The point is that in the US, ALL these things you cite are important. But never mind, you are right I shouldn’t have dragged American prisons to the discussion in the first place.

        ” Culturally, pretos and pardos in Brazil are equal.”

        Completely agreed. So, now back to Brazil, which is the main point.. if we now use Brazil’s and Brazil’s only racial discrimination system to define race, we STILL would come to the conclusion that black and brown are different IF we use, say, the Brazilian brown’s perspective on race. It is extremely common, in my experience, and some posts in this blog actually confirm this, for browns in Brazil to discriminate blacks. So if, and only if, you use white Brazilian’s views on race, who indeed sees browns and blacks equally and therefore discriminates them equally that we could conclude that browns and blacks in Brazil are the same. So, ignoring the US analogy, the question still holds. Whose standards are we talking about when we define race as a function of discrimination?

      • But in Argentina, negro is not used only for black people.A negro is a person who is not “white” or have a very dark complexion. Maradona who is mestizo of Spanish, Croatian and indigenous descent but not black blood can be called negro in Argentina.An indigenous is a negro, a person that look like Di Maria is a negro, even Antonio Banderas could be called negro.

  2. You didn’t answer my question. Probably because you also don’t want to answer it.

    It wouldn’t be strange, as once you consider or admits, the racial question is relative to the subject, anything can happens.

    In any case, thanks a lot for your blog… since I’ve found I should have been working, but there were so many things to read… that I can’t!!!

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