Note from BW of Brazil: Here we go again! It never ceases to amaze me to see what people deem to be creative while being either completely ignorant of insensitive to how this piece of “creativity” may be seen by others. Such is the case of yet another incident in the usage of “blackface” in a photo or advertisement. For the sake of historical context, blackface, which is usually called “rosto pintado de preto”, is generally associated with 19th and 20th century American minstrel shows and later Hollywood productions, although imitations of these caricatures can be seen throughout the world. Brazil is no exception. The history of “rosto pintado de preto” in Brazilian entertainment genres is not as old as that of the US, but it is quite extension and is still quite common, even today.
Because of protests by black activists, televised blackface performances were deemed racist and dramatically decreased since the 1950s/60s although they are still quite common today in white social gatherings and parties. In Brazil, it remains common as there has never been enough protest to denounce such images in the media. The denouncement below is yet another example of how in recent years black Brazilians are increasingly recognizing and denouncing such acts and depictions.
Note of repudiation of racist photography done by the Coletivo Sete/Nove
Courtesy of the Coletivo Negração
“Happiness today is a fantasy/People sing without knowing/That the favela (slum) became poetry/In the mouth of those who never knew what it is to suffer”
Blackface is when white people paint their faces black to produce a racist caricature and stereotype of what is to be/look black. It started in the US where they reproduced images, and shortly thereafter, television programs with whites dressed as blacks to make fun of, ridicule and animalize the image of blacks. Blackface offends, makes fun of and oppresses profoundly.
Last week an organization of photographers from Porto Alegre (state of Rio Grande do Sul) called sete/nove (meaning seven/nine) with the intent of promoting an event for a party denominated “Selva” (meaning “Jungle”) used a white model to caricature a black woman and more white models caricatured as Indians. The Blackface attracted much attention, people complained, many of them black women and with this action of repudiation of the posting had their comments deleted and ignored. Silencing on the accusations made dialogue impossible and we observe that this is the same oppression that happens daily, against said “minorities”, that instead of reflecting on the error, silenced those who criticized it and said that “racism is in the eye of the beholder.” (1) The photo was removed, but the party remained intact.
This attitude is nothing novel or unexpected, it is only the result of a movement in which one speaks against oppressions, calling himself libertarian, that instead of fighting against these oppressions does the opposite: maintains a hegemonic logic silencing legitimate complaints against racism and ignoring the voice of those who suffer from racist and sexist oppression daily.
The Coletivo Negração (loosely meaning “Blacktion Collective”) aims to open a dialogue with the organizers of the party and the public in general, to reflect and problematize the condition in which black women and men are placed in our society, which reproduces, mainly with black women, double oppression, of race and gender, and even triple if we consider the issue of social class. We are aware of the note of “clarification” issued by the collective of photographers sete/nove, but it does not propose nor redeem itself with the error produced in the photos, only trying to stifle our voice instead of listening to criticism and reflecting, ie, they should start by admitting the mistake and seek to deal with the concept of Blackface within the group so that this racist situation does not repeat itself. Blackface is not art, it’s racism, we don’t need to understand the concept of the photographs that the group tried to approach, we are not naive, whites have painted themselves black for decades in order to stereotype, make fun of our appearance and inferiorize our origins. We understand that racism, as much as sexism, is something structural in our society, so we must always deconstruct and question our actions, because without notice, often times, we produce and reproduce many prejudices daily.
We are not considering here the intentionality of the photographers having reproduced the image. This is not an issue for the moment. The act of reproducing blackface is objectified in the social imagination and reflects the ridiculosity of the role of blacks. Art is not innocent or “apolitical”. Art produces and reproduces values, ways to think and act. Having consciousness of this is to recognize art as power for social transformation, it is to ensure that it really is democratic, coming to all without oppressing anyone. It is extremely urgent that our artists (yes, because photographers are also artists), no matter in what sphere of art, recognize the political crossings! It is necessary to ensure that the hegemonic logic of privileges that the white population has, be disrupted. Dear friends of sete/nove, yes you are racist and sexist, so it’s necessary to recognize this condition so that, ultimately, in the future cases like this are not repeated. We were constructed through oppressive logics and even though we struggle against them, possibly we die from oppressors. We are left to fight so that these oppressive and prejudiced attitudes do not strengthen in our day-to-day and so that the next generations know other logics, other possibilities and ways of living.
Source: Coletivo Negração
1. In a similar manner, after being accused of making a racist joke, popular comedian Danilo Gentili didn’t apologize but even went on to make a racially offensive comment to a viewer who denounced his joke. Story here.