The black woman and love: 3 women tell how ethnicity impacts their relationships and what they learned about themselves living with their partners

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Note from BW of Brazil: I’m sure that regular readers of this blog know by now that this one of my favorite topics. And before I get people coming here saying, ‘why are you concerned with the relationships of others?’, allow to respond again. Who people choose to date and marry is truly their own business. In that sense, I could personally care less who people get with on a micro, individual level. But on the macro level, the results of mate selection can have a profound effect on the overall position of any given community. And in a country such as Brazil, where black people consistently struggle, debate and complain about the social situation of the black population, it would be foolish not to consider the ramifications of widespread interracial unions and their effect on the social ascension of the black community as a whole. 

As I’ve argued in past articles, for me, all of the struggle, affirmative action policies and demands for black representation are worthless if everything black people get, they turn around and give it right back to white community within a few generations through miscegenation and the whitening process, which seems to be the rule in Brazil. When I get the time to get to it, I will present a very intriguing example of this process that was pointed out to me in one of my social networks that perfectly exemplifies what I’m talking about. In the meantime…

Yesterday, I was spending some time in a hair salon in the Tatuapé neighborhood of São Paulo, when I picked up one of the many magazines spread across a table. I always do this as I rarely buy the magazines in Brazil as one could easily go broke spending BRL 15-20 reais on a magazine, which is about the regular price of most of them. Anyway, I was flipping through a recent issue of CARAS magazine, a sort of entertainment magazine that covers celebrity life, who traveled where for vacation, red carpet events and glamorous weddings of the stars. The magazine focuses mostly on Brazilian celebrities, but also features American glamourous life as well. The norm is that usually about 95% of the faces and bodies featured on these pages as white and when it does feature black Brazilians, often times it features some popular singer or futebol player and their lavish wedding to their white partner.

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Wedding of singer Mumuzinho, left

Allow me to say, I am not a regular reader of this magazine, but I have also flicked through it more times than I can remember in the last seven years or so, and I have NEVER seen a ritzy wedding of two black Brazilians featured in this magazine.

casamento-iza-e-Sérgio-Santos-rio
Singer IZA, left, with husband Sérgio Santos

Well, let me take that back.  I did see the wedding of singer IZA and her husband, producer Sérgio Santos, but people have long debated over whether he was actually black, mixed or that type of ‘Brazilian white’. Needless to say, weddings of the type that feature futebol star Willian or singer Mumuzinho, both black men married to white women, are the norm when weddings featuring black Brazilians are featured in this magazine. 

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Wedding of futebol star, William

Anyway, what caught my eye in a recent edition of CARAS was a photo of actress Cris Vianna, strolling in an outing with a man that, from what I saw, looked white. The caption of the photo read: ”Cris Vianna: a new boyfriend?” In the photo, Vianna is seen walking with an unidentified man who appears to be talking on a cell phone. The two aren’t holding hands and Vianna has a rather blank look on her face. 

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‘Cris Vianna: a new boyfriend? In an outing of a theater piece in Rio, actress Cris Vianna, 42, was seen accompanied by a supposed boyfriend. Cris still hasn’t assumed the romance’

So what’s going on here? Really, there’s no way to say in any conclusive manner. If the two had been holding hands at some point, I’m sure paparazzi cameras would have caught it and had it plastered all over the internet. We don’t know if Cris is dating this mystery man, if he’s simply a collegue, a business manager or anything else. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. But I will say what ran through my mind when I saw this pic. 

As I’ve explained in numerous previous posts, it is a well-known fact that the openly stated goal of Brazil’s leaders was the eventual disappearance of its huge black population through the promotion of mixed unions and, in reality, black Brazilians have been pretty much willing participants in this agenda all with the ready-made explanation that ‘love has no color’. When we look at popular, and/or rich Afro-Brazilians, the rule, rather the exception, is that they will have a white partner. Even with the recent noise of black women calling out black men over their interracial choices for long-term relationships, the truth is, we see top level black women with white partners almost as often as we see the men. 

With the recent noise made over the romantic choices of actress Erika Januza and rapper Karol Conka, I have to admit that my thoughts remained on Cris Vianna. You see, the last boyfriend I had seen Cris with was a tall, bald, dark-skinned personal trainer who it seemed she was destined to married as they were together for four years. But then news broke, if I’m not mistaken, some time early last year, that that relationship had officially ended. I have to admit, I was little saddened by the news. It takes a lot of identity searching for black Brazilians to fight off all of the forces working in their lives that tell them that they must whiten themselves and their offspring. This force, besides coming from society in general, often comes from their own families. As such, when you see a brown-skinned woman such as Cris Vianna dating a man who is even darker than she, you could actually see it as a sort of victory for blackness. It’s almost like, well, the whitening process will have to wait at least one more generation because these two black people chose to get together. 

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Cris Vianna with ex, personal trainer Luiz Roque

I don’t know Cris Vianna personally, but something about her struck me as her being the type of black woman who would seek an equally black partner. I don’t know why I felt that way. Maybe it was her strong identification with her black doll collection, something that must have been difficult to amass in a country where black dolls are so rare. Or maybe her relationship with personal trainer Luiz Roque or rumored relationship with the coordenador of band and NGO, AfroReggae, William Reis.

Cris Vianna, de 42 anos, está namorando o coordenador do AfroReggae, William Reis, de 33.
Cris Vianna, 42, rumored to have been dating the coordenator of AfroReggae William Reis, 33.

In reality, whatever happened there, it seemed to have ended as quickly as it started. At the end of May, beginning of June of this year, several websites reported that the two were a couple even though there was no public announcement from either party. I have to admit, it looked a little suspect to me from jump. Cris, 42, is nine years older than the 33-year old Reis and the news was beginning to look like the younger man with the ‘cougar’ who is still trying to weigh all of her options. I had no idea what was going on with Cris, but I just sat back and thought, let it be. If she finds the right one, we’ll all find out soon enough. But at the same time, in the back of mind, I hoped that Vianna wouldn’t become the latest of the tens of thousands of black Brazilian women I’ve heard express their difficulties with dating black men. If it is indeed true that she is dating the mystery (white) man, it makes me wonder, did she decide it was time to ‘open her options’ because she could be waiting forever for another black man to come along? Could it be that she was always open to dating across racial lines? Is this particular white man holding a bag as heavy or heavier than hers? Who knows…But these assumptions and many more could be possible… 

Now that I’ve weighed in on Cris Vianna and what could be going on in her love life, let’s check in with three other black women and see what they have to say on being a black woman when the topic is love. 

The black woman and love

Three women tell how ethnicity impacts their affective relationships and what they found out about themselves by living with their partners 

Have you ever wondered how love is awakened? For medicine, the feeling starts in the brain, when neurons release dopamine, that hormone that makes your legs wobble and fills your stomach with butterflies. For some branches of psychology, the affect is a social construct, that is, we learn to like someone. Our family, our toys, what the media says, the school we study in, and the work we have are all factors that shape the formation of personal taste. “All this is influenced by race, class and gender. With love it would be no different. We learn who to fall in love with. That is why there is the rejection of others. The criteria are not the same for everyone,” says Mariana Luz, psychologist and representative of the thematic nucleus of psychology and race relations of the Regional Council of São Paulo.

Therefore, talking about love is not only about dating, but also about neglect. And this point is essential when it comes to the affective relationships of black women. According to the 2010 IBGE Census, this ethnic group is the least married in the country – only 7% of all marriages. By contrast, these women are the most vulnerable to rape, making up 54% of cases, according to the Atlas of Violence 2018, proof that sexual exploitation from the time of slavery still plagues them. The equation for finding a partner and happiness for two is complex. Dreams, fears, affinities, culture and ancestry were considered by lawyer Kissy Cândido, engineer Débora Carvalho and journalist Sophia Mattos in choosing a partner and building ties with him. They then reveal the particularities of feeling, living, and seeking love from a racial perspective. And they tell how relationships they once had impacted the most important relationship of all: with themselves.

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Inside Out

“I’ve always been in places where there were only white people, even from an entirely black family. I was used to finding the European standard beautiful, so I had relationships with many white men. I didn’t get with black men because I didn’t think it would work out. I heard from a young age that they were difficult and no good. Today, I know that the black and the white can make the same mistakes. I heard from both, things like: ‘Wow, you’re so pretty you don’t even look black. Whites, however, tend to say these things more. I think black people understand, in part, the bad things we suffer. However, I only became aware of these racist acts some time later.

As we can see here, Kissy acknowledges that she, like so many other black Brazilians, has also been influenced to see whites as the standard of beauty. I point this out because it puts into the question the idea that black people see everyone as equal when the truth is, within many black families there is an open adoration of whiteness. And if this adoration exists and people admit that they subscribe to a European standard of beauty, we cannot accept the idea of equality when whites are given this ‘head start’ from jump, even within the black community. 

The truth is that I was aware of being black, but I didn’t really feel inserted in the ethnicity. It eventually diminished me. During law school at Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares, I began to change my relationship with myself, to accept myself and to like myself. This is essential in the pursuit of a healthy relationship. From then on, things started to flow better. Before you can be happy with your partner, you need to be fine with yourself. That way you will make the best decisions for your life. And you will understand the limits of something that is not good for you and you have no reason to force yourself to continue.

When I met Paulo, I noticed that I wanted to have a serious relationship with him. One encouraged the other. Together we wanted to be better, study more, get better jobs, crave more. This is a great attitude, since black people are the majority in society, but a minority in education. Today, I believe that the relationship between black men and women is stronger, as they share the same culture and face racism. Of course the prejudice is not the same for men and women, but the pain is very similar. I think that if I suffered racism alongside a white partner, he would even feel sad, but not to the same degree.'”- Kissy Cândido, 29, lawyer, São Paulo, married to Paulo Augusto, 33

It’s again necessary for me to point out that I no longer subscribe to the idea that Brazil’s population is majority black. It has been a very widespread propaganda tool that black Brazilians will need to deal with sooner or later. In terms of her idea that ‘the relationship between black men and women is stronger’, I hear this often from people speaking of the younger generation. I can’t affirm this at this moment but I am starting to see signs that this could be the case in the near future. 

Débora Carvalho já namorou homens brancos e negros e acredita que a sociedade aceita melhor relações afrocentradas

Only if it were to add up

“The first time I fell in love was with a black boy, but it was not reciprocated. In Porto Alegre, my hometown, I had two Afrocentric relationships. The family of the first accepted the relationship, but he didn’t want to study, and the difference in life prospects distanced us. In the second relationship, the boy’s parents said I was too dark to date him, even though we were both black people. They even introduced him to other girls and asked me to pay part of the energy bills for the nights I slept at their house. The boy didn’t work or study and didn’t support me. Then I met a white German man and we moved to São Paulo. We spent four years together. But the relationship was becoming unsustainable, as he often offended me. During a trip, a gentleman approached us to find out if I was his “escort”. Besides not defending me, he tried to convince me not to do anything. That upset me. There is still a stereotyped vision of the black woman, which reduces her to her body in our society.

These recollections give you an idea of the state of black relationships. A black family saying that Débora, who isn’t even dark-skinned, is too dark to date their son speaks volumes on the indoctrination process and social engineering toward white standards that have affected millions of black and would be black minds in Brazil. Again, if we have black women recalling such comments coming from other black families, it should be pretty obvious that it is not simply love that drives many interracial unions in Brazil. 

The other thing here is that, as common as it is to see black women with white men in Brazil, because of the centuries long stereotype about black women and sexuality, regardless of how widespread interracial unions are, black women continue carry this stigma in the overall consciousness of the society at large. We see this over and over and over again

Since then, I’ve met some people, but I didn’t commit myself anymore. I try to relate to black men because I feel better with them. I want someone who understands my place in the world and I think only a man of the same ethnicity will have that sensitivity. If I’m by a black man’s side, no one is unfamiliar. It seems that there is even greater respect from society, perhaps for better accepting the idea of being a real couple – not a supposed exchange of interests.

One thing I can say is that, in general, I DO read many more comments by black Brazilian women than men that openly declare that they would prefer to have a black partner. Don’t get me wrong, both sides are more likely to believe ‘love has no color’, but between the two, I hear a preference for blackness far more often from black women in Brazil. 

Men, white or black, whoever gets with black women choose the lighter-skinned, younger, and less educated than them. Machismo, right? They have difficulty dealing with solidly educated women. I have even avoided saying that I am an engineer, fluent in German and am doing a doctorate.

Even though I have never heard ‘eu te amo’ (‘I love you’), I have always sought happiness and don’t let myself be overwhelmed by problems. Because the joy is not in a relationship, but inside me. Whoever wants to come, if it’s to add up, we’ll evaluate.

Débora Carvalho, 38, Engineer, Porto Alegre

Heavy baggage

According to psychologist Mariana Luz, the pursuit of satisfying the desires of family members or trying to fill an emotional gap are common attitudes, as well as creating expectations and doubts about the future. However, it is necessary to pay attention as these emotions tend to be maximized by racism and machismo. The dialogue with the person involved or with someone with similar experience is essential to dissipate trauma – beyond, of course, the professional therapeutic support.

With the blessings of her mother, Elisangela, and Father Francisco, Kissy and Paulo celebrated their union in two ceremonies: one in the candomblé, the religion followed by the couple, and the other in the Catholic church, to make the bride’s grandmother happy. ‘She made a point of it, despite being something that didn’t represent us,’ says Kissy.

For Débora, the family weight was due to her father’s absence, which impacts their expectations of affective constructions even in adulthood ‘From an early age, I understood that people with structured families tend to be more successful. And I came from a humble construction. That, coupled with the question with my father brings consequences to my life. I think I look for this figure in other men,” she says.

Sophia cultivates, along with the desire for motherhood, a doubt ‘What will it be like raising of a child with parents of different ethnicities? If we have a son, he’ll be black, and Matthew and will only learn what racism is when his son is a victim of oppression because of his skin. Then, everything I explained during the relationship will make sense to him’, reflects Mariana pointing out that love is not enough for the relationship to work out, because we don’t live off that alone. ‘The person defines what the other necessary factors are’, explains the psychologist.

This lack of understanding of what it means to be black in a decidely anti-black society is one of the reasons I decided many years ago that interracial relationships weren’t for me. In a country like Brazil, where race, class and neighborhoods can determine who lives and who dies due to violent Military Police actions, black people simply don’t have the luxury of believing that ‘we are all equal’. 

Sophia Mattos, 23 anos, jornalista, de são paulo. casada com Matthew James, 28 anos

ONE + ONE = A COUPLE

“In childhood, I always thought I would have a relationship with a black man. I studied in private school and was the only black girl. Until adolescence, no one wanted to be with me. I didn’t even have a partner at the festa junina party. I danced with a boy who was also rejected because of being Bolivian. So I figured if there was a black boy in school, I could hope he would be with me. It even happened that some white boys showed interest, but didn’t make this it public due to shame. So, falling in love with a white man was certainly a thing of frustration.

Unfortunately, many black girls and women have been in situations in which both white AND black men don’t express interest in them. In a popular piece from 2016, Léo Custódio explained how black boys grow up learning which girls are worthy of their time and hearts and which girls are worthy of only ‘fast love’, and there is a clear connection to skin color. Sophia’s story is almost equal to that of a similar memory of rapper MC Carol. One thing you will notice again and again in the memories of black women is the idea that both white AND black men don’t want to publicly acknowledge that they are involved with a black girl/woman. It is one of the many commonalities of the ‘solidão da mulher negra’, or loneliness of the black woman.

My mother once said to me, ‘You are so beautiful you should be with a white person.’ I don’t blame her or judge her. She heard this during her raising. And indeed, both black men and white men hardly take on a black woman.

As we can see, more evidence of this preference for whiteness on the part of black families themselves. But, as I written in the past, this is quite common. Talk to any black or brown family in Brazil, and you’re sure to hear many people admit to having heard comments from their parents encouraging them to find a white partner. I saw this in a recent online conversation. 

parents used to say - E

Translation of comments

Maria: I wanted to get something off my chest! How do you black women feel when your family members influence you to palmitar (swirl)? I usually like guys who can’t usually take up relationship responsibility and as a consequence I always ended up fucked. Today during breakfast, my mother said that I should stop running after a negão (black man) and change a little and that she always saw me with a white man and not a black man. And my grandmother said that she was always fucked over with blacks and was only happy with my grandfather (who is white). Anyway, I got reflective here, because I don’t see myself giving up on my dreamed família afrocentrada (afrocentric family).

Rayane: I get pissed off by this… My mother tells me to “think about my daughter’s hair” before marrying a negão. I tell her that’s precisely why because I want a black and wonderful daughter with black hair that I will marry the blackest man I can find.

Vanessa: My mother always said that about hair… Or “ah, he’s got straight hair” because my ex had wavy hair.

Daniel: The older people are from a different generation than us…At that time the whites brainwashed the blacks. Even I, who am African, I’ve seen family members encouraging me to go white. Thank God I am a studied person and I always try to learn more about black people. When you start studying more about your people, everything changes and you start to see that it doesn’t make any sense to relate to a white person…A relationship goes far beyond just a man and a woman. It involves a lot of things…

Veruska: Anyone who is the citizen who relates to me is not going to be good because I am not worth it. Here, the people barely know who I live with and relate at all levels, so it doesn’t matter. And here my mother is white. All the children are from palmiteiro parents.

This was a just small sample of conversations that go on everyday among black Brazilians. As you can see, they can all relate to having had family members tell them to bring home a white partner or to be careful with certain physical traits associated with black people that they may want to consider not passing on to their children. There’s even an African acknowledging the same coming from his own parents. But, as suggested earlier, there is a recognized understanding among some from the younger generation that this attitude of it being better to marry white partners is something that the older generations were taught to do. Again, more evidence that love is clearly not the only motivating factor for so many black Brazilians being ‘palmiteiros’, meaning those who prefer long-term relationships with white partners. 

Matthew was the first guy to take me on as a girlfriend – six days after the first date. I have never seen my mother so happy in life. He’s great, but you can’t ignore the fact that he’s white. If he were black, he wouldn’t be treated so well anywhere, you know?

We’ve been together for four years. Since Matthew is Australian, I haven’t met his parents and friends in person yet. We only spoke virtually, but they never showed any prejudice. I don’t know what it will be like in person. I have already made it clear to him that I am afraid of this meeting.

The worst fights Matthew and I had were for racial reasons. He has a naive discourse that todos somos iguais (we are all equal). When we met, I lived in a tiny house, quite different from his. I try to talk about the reality of being black in Brazil and sometimes I don’t want his opinion, but just someone to listen to me. It’s not because he’s with a black woman that he won’t be racist.

”It’s not because he’s with a black woman that he won’t be racist”. All I can say is that I wish more people could understand this concept. I’ve seen numerous examples of this in my dealings with people from the dominant culture over the years, and I can say with full understanding on the topic: simply because you date, marry, have children with a person of another race, does NOT automatically mean you cannot possibly be racist. 

In the end, putting it in the balance, love is greater. Matthew never stopped talking about feelings. And to this day he has accepted me with all my facets, just as I have embraced his multiple characteristics. To me, this is partnership, even if the realities are not the same.”

Sophia Mattos, 23 Years, Journalist, from São Paulo. Married to Matthew James, 28

About Marques Travae 3244 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

3 Comments

  1. Excellent article. Growing up in Canada in a neighborhood with little to no visible minorities, most of my friends were Caucasians. So I dated what I knew. My first love was a black man. Unfortunately that relationship broke my heart. I found many non black men were interested in me but could not handle the pressure that comes from society in a mixed relationship. The looks and comments from family and friends. (Yes you’ll find out who your true friends are when you date a black woman). As I got older I began looking for relationships where the man understood more about us as women. Black women. It also bothered me too when I heard “we’re all equal” when so much in our world was saying other very ugly things so it was hard to believe. I find myself looking more now for that relationship that’s more then just love but strength. I want a bond that can handle all the obstacles that are going to come at us as a black couple or a mixed couple. And if I am in a mixed union, my parnter needs to understand my historical issues that will affect us. I have yet to find a man outside my race that does. And sadly, sometimes our black men are not aware also. There’s so much work to be done. Once more thing. I’ve noticed that when there is a union of two people, one black and one white. That the couple are most times married in a christian shrine. Nobody ever talks about that!

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