This story, like so many others we have posted here at BW of Brazil, is a very revealing portrayal of white privilege in Brazil, a country where the majority of the population classifies itself as non-white and where, in reality, some of those who see themselves as white would not be accepted as such in North America or Western Europe. In October in Curitiba, Paraná (southern Brazil), a beggar with white skin and blue eyes approached a girl in the streets and asked to have his photo taken. Due to the wonders of social media, the man became an internet sensation and the focus of news reports around Brazil. As the story spread, no one seemed to notice that this man’s sudden fame was a blatant contradiction in a country where many continue to believe that discrimination is based on social class rather than race or color even against overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The question that one should ask is: if one is discriminated against in Brazil due to a perceived inferior social class, what was it about this street dweller that led to his sudden fame?
Blogger Robson Fernando de Souza saw it this way:
In Brazil, race is still a determining factor if the person will or will not do well in life. The case of the white-eyed beggar from Curitiba is a prime example of that.
A story in which poverty, the Eurocentric standard of beauty and racist culture clash has been making waves on the internet. A beggar photographed in Curitiba is a hot topic all over Brazil, for being a white man with blue-eyes “but” having been plagued by poverty. When we know of this novelty and compare it with the lives of thousands of other beggars in Brazil, we realize how Brazilian culture is still very much steeped in racism.
The white beggar, whose name has not been revealed, lives on the streets of Curitiba and posed for the photo wanting “to be put on the radio” to become famous. The photograph was put on Facebook and is now widespread throughout Brazil, calling attention to women and men. Now the man is considered “gorgeous”, with many women, enchanted by his good looks, wanting to date him and shelter him; suddenly the man’s a candidate to be on fashion runways, as the “dream” model of designer brands; suddenly his status as a beggar is in doubt mainly because he’s white with blue eyes, looking too much like a European to be recognized as poor. The opinions mostly converge on one point: he is too “handsome” to continue begging.
Here is how the Globo news network reported the story:
The photo in which the guy is shown wrapped in a blanket took social media by storm when a girl posted it on Facebook. She commented in the social network that the young man approached her in the street and asked to be photographed. He wanted to become famous “on the radio.”
The girl said she couldn’t put the picture on the radio, but that he could become famous on Facebook, at least among her friends. As of the morning of Thursday, October 18, the image had more than 41,000 (note: now near 54,000) shares and was being passed around as “the fine beggar in Curitiba.”
|Rafael Nunes before crack addiction|
The mother of the homeless man who became famous in social networks after asking to be photographed in front of the Cathedral of Curitiba, Edith Claurence Silva said in an interview that her son (Rafael Nunes) had already been a model, but abandoned his career and became a crack addict.
She said she hadn’t seen her son for 30 days and that when he appears it’s to ask for food and go back to the streets. “He doesn’t need to do this, he has family at home. But since entering the world of drugs it’s like this (…), he doesn’t come back anymore and he lives anywhere. Such is the life he choses. It’s very sad in some cases, he goes through some crises and gets violent. But I want to take him off the street, but I can’t afford a clinic. We’ve already tried to put him in a clinic but he doesn’t stop.”
Edith also said that she has high hopes that the boy goes back to having a life away from the streets. “I want to save him from this, I know that there are good clinics that can do that.”Meanwhile, in the very same Brazil, inclusive of the very same city of Curitiba, thousands of black and brown people suffer from poverty equal or worse, but in turn remain treated like the rejected of society, as beings worthy of nothing more than pity or turned faces. Many even cry out to the media, for a little attention and humanitarianism, and all that they manage are a few minutes on TV or radio, some donations and, with luck, some social assistance from an NGO or City Hall’s official organ of social services. But they are almost never embraced by dominant cultural standards of beauty in the country, made instant celebrities because of their physical appearance and elevated to the status of “hot” and adored model.
That’s when we started thinking: if it was a black man with strong African features or a mulatto, he would be immediately rejected in his quest to “be put on the radio” or receive humanitarian aid, employment and/or housing of some politician or business. He would not draw attention to virtually anyone on the internet besides some half-dozen girls or boys who like black beauty. He would be just one of thousands of beggars who roam the inner cities of Brazil, his photo would be disdained by the society, and he would return soon after the photo, to the streets to live there indefinitely, if not forever.
In other words, for our society, it isn’t normal to see misery and beggary in a white man of European appearance. For society, whites deserve much more than that. But on the other hand, blacks in the streets begging and pleading for dignity are considered something more than normal. It’s tradition now. Why do they deserve to be elevated to models of service to high fashion? “Get up and do something”, “go to work”, “get a job”, “go to school” (where they were absent in childhood) – this is the way much of the society thinks, the same society that is now sympathizing with the European looking beggar.
Watching the story and its context, we realize that the great fortune of the still anonymous beggar was his being white with blue eyes, having a strong Euro-descendent phenotype – and maybe even being a homeless European immigrant. His beauty fell into the graces of the people, his name will be revealed at any time, and now he is having his moment of fame and could become a model to charm the designer brands and people who appreciate male beauty. If he was black, being an immigrant or not, he would be considered “ugly”, relegated to just “another one” and still be seen as a mere waste to be treated like trash by society, the state and its violent arm, the police.
The truth is that the subject is about to ascend in the world not so much by chance, talent or effort. But because our society is racist and Eurocentric, and at the same time that it turns its back to blacks in extreme poverty, it sympathizes with whites that are in the same situation. After all, seeing African descendants suffering and begging on the streets is “normal”, but not a white man with blue eyes who is considered “handsome”.
If Brazilians stopped normalizing seeing blacks in poverty on the streets and began to appreciate their standard of beauty, we would see full runways of former beggars, making professionally company with the people of Curitiba. This would even be followed by becoming the instant celebrity that he/she has become. But if that does not happen – and instead, black misery is treated with banality – it’s because racism, notably in its social and aesthetic, continues to reign supreme and making Brazilians of all colors finding whites better than blacks only because they have light skin, hair and eyes.
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