Note from BW of Brazil: You know the story. Well, if you’ve been paying attention for any amount of time you do. Google the term “racial democracy” with or without the word “Brazil” and you’re bound to see countless that debunk the idea that Brazil is or ever was a real racial democracy in which all persons were/are treated equally regardless of skin color, hair texture or phenotype. I’ve been writing about this for nearly eight years, and based on my own research as well as my experiences with the country over a period of 19 years, I can say with authority: Brazil practices one of the most effective forms of racism in the world. I say this because not only does the country’s power structure maintain a system that keeps persons with white skin perched at the top of the racial hierarchy, in its founding mythology, Brazil has also rather successfully convinced a large portion of its non-white population to willingly go along with the program of white supremacy while simultaneously participating in its own demise.
One of the main pillars of the idea that Brazil is this great multi-racial nation in which persons of different races, colors and ethnic backgrounds freely mix without any of the racial turmoil associated with countries such as the United States, is the high rate of interracial unions that have been a prominent part of the nation’s history for centuries. There are times when one can walk the streets of Brazil and believe that he or she is seeing the foundations for the various ethnic groups all over the world. That’s because, when we see many Brazilians in the street, it’s quite easy to come across people who wouldn’t look out of place walking around someplace in the Middle East or the Islands of Oceania. And with such widespread mixture, it would seem impossible to believe that racial issues could even exist. But THAT is one of the very reasons that makes Brazilian style racism so successful and hard to truly grasp.
You see, for the last two-thirds of the 20th century, millions of Brazilians learned two very strong ideals. One, that racism doesn’t exist, and two, it is better to be white. And what is the connection between these two trains of thought? Well, it’s actually quite simple. If a large percentage of the population regardless of race agrees with the second statement, it can have the effect of diluting racial conflict because, as everyone aspires to be white, there’s no need to argue about it, which in turn leads to those who are not white, actively attempting to whiten their family trees through mixture with the group deemed racially superior. Racial hypergamy in full effect.
I remember a comment by a black woman quoted in a book released in the 1960s or 1970s by sociologist Florestan Fernandes. The woman quoted in the book was perplexed about why black activists were protesting racism in Brazilian society. Not getting what all the fuss was about, the woman asked something to the effect of, “Why all the commotion about racism? My son is already white.” The woman’s comments exemplify exactly the Brazilian solution to its black population: disappearance through successive relationships with white or lighter-skinned Brazilians. And this has been the proclaimed goal of numerous black families over the years, and rarely did anyone express the idea that there was anything wrong with that. in their view, you should want to whiten your offspring and “improve the race”.
For the most part, even in Brazil today, it is still common to hear teenagers and adults admit having been encouraged by their parents to marry white and produce whiter children. I’ve noticed that most people who admit to hearing this in their homes growing up followed suit and got into relationships with white or near white partners. But nowadays we are slowly seeing a growing rejection of this ideology as more and more non-white Brazilians are beginning to question these beliefs and attempting to free themselves from the manipulative, psychological chains imposed on them and their ancestors for decades. We see this rejection arise every time black men and black women engage in arguments over the latest black male or black female entertainer going public with their relationships with white partners.
This debate was sparked once again this week when another admired, famous black woman posted a photo of herself with new boyfriend. I will cover that story in the coming days, but for now, the article below presents another example of black Brazilians coming to terms with their “palmitagem” and digging deep to understand why this ideal has such a strong influence on their dating habits.
Racism in Interracial Relationships
By Aline de Campos
Julia Bispo “was barred” at her boyfriend’s birthday party: “I was at home waiting all day. When he appeared, he said he didn’t come and get me to prevent me from feeling bad in their presence. It had been two years since we had been together.” Young and black, she only realized the weight of prejudice after the breakup. Her former mother-in-law never hid her disapproval, while he systematically excluded her from get togethers with his family of Spanish and Italian origins. Julia dealt with the situation like many who are forced to face racism head on: “This comes from my own raising. My family was also taught that blacks victimize themselves and must forget about these situations. I thought it was just his family being standoffish.”
For her, the chance to “ascend in life” was to get into relationships with rapazes brancos (white guys), which she also learned at home: “They said that a black woman gets attention from a European. Sometimes I think I’m rejecting my roots or cheating on the black movement for liking a white guy. Do you know Sam White from Dear White People? I find myself in the same situation as her,” she says.
Today, at the age of 21, Julia recognizes that she was educated to see brancura (whiteness) as synonymous with beauty, which resulted in her not being attracted to homens negros (black men) (see note one) and consequently not seeing beauty in her own negritude (blackness). This is a factor in 100% of the reports I’ve heard. Having worn her natural curls for a little over a year, she recalls that for ten years she was hostage to her hair. To feel beautiful, she straightened it, didn’t wet it in public, so she could identify herself as a descendant of Indians and feel prettier, better accepted. “People will always look and try to suppress us, telling us to straighten our hair, tell us how to behave,” she says.
Researching the presence of racism in black-white affective-sexual relationships has enabled me to identify the influence that representation and representativeness – especially in the media – have on the way we look at each other. Representation that occurs through the strengthening of stereotypes, because the construction of what is black and its place has evolved little during this post-abolition period.
Representativeness is also problematic, as in all social structures, pessoas negras (black people) are not seen in a prominent positions. The combination of these two factors denotes the need for an antidote – and quick relief – so that we can move forward in the racial debate. The media can play this role both in ensuring the fair visibility of the povo preto (black people) and in ending the stigma of stereotyped blacks.
The inheritance of “she’s is a slut or he’s a thief”
“Not a single Brazilian has pure blood, because the examples of marriages between whites, Indians and blacks are so widespread that the nuances of color are infinite, causing a degeneration of the most depressing type both in the lower classes and in the upper classes.” The phrase, quoted by US historian and Brazilianist Thomas Skidmore, shows the thinking of the French diplomat and writer Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882), who proposed the genocide not only of blacks but also of mestiços (persons of mixed race).
By assessing the historical aspects of interracial affective-sexual relationships in Brazil, we are able to better understand the race and class tensions in the country. During the colonial period, relationships between whites and blacks came about through forced miscegenation, in which the black woman had her sexuality stolen and subjected to the interest of senhores brancos (white masters) seeking extramarital pleasures.
Over the years, this practice came to be viewed with benevolence as an attempt of embranquecimento da população (whitening of the population), giving rise to pretos de pele mais clara (lighter-skinned blacks) – at the time, called mulattoes. Here the measures of colorism and the social position of blacks and their descendants are established based on their different shades. In turn, the sexualization of the then slave put the black woman in a place of neglect that, combined with the animalization of the black man, the support of hegemonic theories such as Gobineau’s, determined the social pyramid that guides the relations between blacks and whites in the current days.
Racist practices of attempted genocide of the população negra (black population) have formed a cancer in society. To the illusion of the myth of racial democracy came a biased look at pessoas de pele preta (black-skinned people): “Negro é ladrão, negra é puta” (A black man is a thief, a black woman is a slut). For Rafaela Damasceno, black and lesbian, “this view has a lot to do with maintaining stereotypes in society.” Rafaela believes that the discovery of her identity came from understanding the weight of her color. She says she feels doubly discredited in a society that sexualizes both her blackness and her sexuality.
Coming from the colonialist heritage we have been given, labels about skin color are responsible for how we see and relate to each other. Rafaela considers that the media has its share of responsibility: “There is a historical erasure of the black that has been repeating itself to this day. When you don’t see yourself, you don’t know what you are, you lose your identity.” For her, the false racial democracy in Brazil, very present in novelas (soap operas) and advertisements, makes evident the inequalities of power relations.
We can consider that the media, in its different channels, ends up influencing the way we relate to each other, how we deal with plurality and also the way society views the corpo negro (black body). Most importantly, the media content influences the black view of himself. How do I see myself and what does it make me feel? Thus, we come to the common ground presented by all respondents in my research: low self-esteem.
Rafaela spent a period in the United States on business. She says that they see the Brazilian as the sunburned one, not as the black one. She evaluates that there is an erasure of Afro-Brazilians in the perception of Americans: “What matters from Brazil abroad is the white woman, or the black woman in prostitution. The solidão da mulher negra (loneliness of the black woman) comes a lot from that too.
Solidão do corpo negro (loneliness of the black body)
By knowing the experiences of Denise Lima, a young black woman who deals with depression and borderline disorder, it is possible to understand the effects of this loneliness. All her life, she has struggled to be an interesting woman and good enough for her partners. Faced with the difficulties she had in relationships since adolescence, however hard she tried, Denise never felt as good as she wanted to be.
In search of an acceptance that she didn’t have for herself, she plunged into looking for a relationship in which she felt loved, but came across the reality: “I got older and realized that because I was black, no guy wanted me. It’s too sad. ”
She remembers a relationship that had and that marked her a lot. She discovered that a white guy she had been in a relationship with for some time had another girlfriend, whom he proclaimed, unlike her. “When I saw that the other one was white, I felt like trash. I saw that she was a blonde, studying at a rich man’s college like his, which I could never afford.”
Raised in Brasilândia, Denise now lives a relationship with another white guy, also with a better standard of living than her own. She was the first black woman he had ever presented to his family. Unable to appreciate herself, even believing she deserved it, Denise subjected herself to abuse in this connection, which resulted in depressive crises and an attempted suicide.
Unsurprisingly, the feeling of loneliness is much more present in black women, as she is neglected not only by white partners, but also by black men. In assessing the testimonies I collected, I noticed a greater resistance from straight, black men to open up on the subject – perhaps for this reason.
One of the men I interviewed caught my eye. After facing racial prejudice in previous relationships, especially by former in-laws and family of former partners, he, who declined to reveal his name, says he has adopted self-protection strategies in his current relationship. “The armor works like this: she tells me that her family is racist, but they don’t admit that. So she avoids putting me in big family gatherings,” he explains. I ask if this is not something that affects him; he merely replies that he prefers to avoid conflict and lives well this way.
Tired of dealing with similar situations, Toni Basílio demands of himself to prioritize involvement with black men. Even knowing that this is not possible at all costs, he considers it essential that love and affection flow to someone who understands his struggle.
About his love experiences with white men, he points out that “whites choose among themselves” and that black men also choose whites, which has always made any relationship difficult. For Toni, love between black people is a political act. I ask him what his biggest dream is and he responds, smiling with his eyes: “Ah! I’d like to marry a black man, that dream of supremacia negra (black supremacy), you know?”
Aline de Campos is a journalist. This report is based on the research “Todos os olhos em mim: a presença do racismo nos relacionamentos inter-raciais” (All eyes on me: the presence of racism in interracial relationships), by Aline de Campos.
- In recent years, many black Brazilian women have to come to question their own identities and how they came to either reject black men, reject their physical features or prefer white men for relationships.