Note from BW of Brazil: A recent American TV commercial by the US breakfast cereal maker Cheerios caused quite a commotion in online communities. The commercial featured a little girl who was the product of an interracial couple and her two parents. In the comments section of the video website You Tube there was an overload of racist comments posted in the comments section by viewers who didn’t like the idea of an interracial relationship between a white woman and a black man being suggested in the clip. “Suggested” because the video never actually showed the man and the woman together, but the references of the child, her appearance as well as the two adults, even though not even in the same room, suggested the reality of the relationship. One might think that this sort of reaction is ridiculous in the 21st century in a country that recently re-elected its first black (or biracial) president in its history. A president whose racial background was similar to the one depicted in the commercial.
The many vulgar, even shocking comments made by viewers suggested that there continues to be a parcel of the American population that outright rejects the idea of an interracial marriage, particularly one featuring a black man and white woman. The nation’s racially volatile history continues to make the idea of an interracial couple a “revolutionary” idea even though interracial marriages make up 8% of all US marriages and accounted for 15% of all new marriages in 2010.
Juxtapose that situation with what’s going on Brazil. According to 2010 statistics, 31% of all Brazilian marriages are now interracial, a near 10 point jump from 1998 statistics. The high rate of interracial marriage in Brazil can also be noted in several of its ever popular novelas (soap operas). In fact, one could argue that in analyzing couples depicted on Brazilian television, there are white couples and there are mixed couples but rarely does one find a black man and black woman depicted in romantic situations. Economist and anthropologist Jacques D’Adesky of the Centro de Estudos Afro-Brasileiros (Center of Afro-Brazilian Studies) at Universidade Cândido Mendes (Cândido Mendes University) in Rio de Janeiro also made a note of this.
According to D’Adesky to a 2005 interview (1), “In novelas, it is still difficult to see a black couple kissing each other. It continues being a taboo to see a black man and black woman dating and marrying each other. The television standard is to show a white couple, or at most, a mixed couple, the preference being a white man with a light-skinned black woman with a thin nose and straightened hair.” (2)
D’Adesky is not exaggerating. One could literally count on a hand or two how many relationships in novelas over the years have featured a black man and a black woman. The couples found on the 2007-2008 Globo TV novela Duas Caras serves as a perfect example. Below are photos of various black actors/actresses and the partners they were paired with in the series (captions display character name and actor/actress names in parentheses).
With this in mind, what is the message that the Brazilian media, in this case, the most powerful television network, Globo, is trying to spread? Looking at it from the long debunked myth of the country as a “racial democracy”, one could say that the ease with which interracial couples are portrayed on television would place Brazil far ahead of other multi-racial societies in terms of racial relations. But considering that Brazil’s racial policies and ideologies were different than that of the US (or South Africa for that matter), then we must analyze the message differently from how it would be interpreted from a US perspective (Speaking from the context of real life relationships, Brazilians also note that there’s something “not just right” when black Brazilian men seem to favor white women more than women who look like them).
Historically speaking, American racial ideologies were based on segregation of the races that would protect the “pure whiteness” of its European descendant population thus giving birth to the infamous “one-drop rule”. In Brazil, a country that was 62% non-white in 1872 (16 years before the abolition of slavery), the ideology of white elites was the opposite: the slow disappearance of all traces of blackness from the country within a period of 100 years through racial mixture. Put in this context, it could be argued that in the promotion of whiteness through mixture that would lead to the desired goal of the elimination of the black phenotype, Brazil is actually less tolerant to difference than it makes itself out to be. Specifically speaking of the couples featured in novelas, if the media were truly tolerant, why does it show white couples and mixed couples (that is, when they DO feature black characters) but hardly ever black couples? Of course, the Duas Caras example is the only featured on this post, but anyone who pays attention to the question of race in the Brazilian media would tell you that this is the norm in Brazilian television.
As you continue to read this post, keep this question in mind: What would be the effect on a population of a highly influential medium such as television consistently presenting whiteness as the standard of beauty all day, every day for several years? Well, n0 one can say with any absolute certainty, but many people are asking the same question (see here, here and here).
That said, in Brazil, opposite than in the US, one could say that a public or televised show of affection between a black man and woman could actually be considered a “revolutionary” act, which was a campaign slogan of the Movimento Negro (black rights organizations/movement) in 1991. Below is how two other bloggers saw it.
Have you already kissed your black woman today?
by Ana Maria Gonçalves
I read recently in the Blogueiras Negras blog, the beautiful and necessary text “Interracial Relationships – This is not about love” by Larissa Santiago. I also recently picked up the beautiful and necessary book of stories, Se7e Diásporas Íntimas, by the poet and prose writer from Salvador, Bahia, Lande Onawale. Researching about Lande, I discovered that it was he who wrote the verses are “reaja à violência racial: beije sua preta em praça pública (react to racial violence: kiss your black woman in a public square).” Some time ago I read the interesting book Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power – race and the intimate in colonial rule by Ann Laura Stoler. And putting it all together, I can’t help but think currently of an old theme: the relationships of black women, from her role as concubine and prostitute, very important in the establishment and maintaining of the colonial order. Of all times. The stigma that continues today: after all, is the black woman for fucking or for marrying?
Lande’s verses, along with a picture of a black man kissing his black woman, was stamped on the front page of the Movimento Negro Unificado (Unified Black Movement) journal back in June of 1991. I placed below, to contribute to the conversation, part of the interview that Lande granted to Silvia Regina Lorenso de Castro, in elaboration of his thesis Corpo e Erotismo em Cadernos Negros: a reconstrução semiótica da liberdade (Body and Eroticism in Cadernos Negros: the reconstruction of semiotic freedom)”, pgs. 129 and 130:
For Onawalê, it is in the field of affectivity and sexuality that racism “attains more victories over blacks. Low self-esteem and the complexes can affect the most simple and most terrifying: push us away. In a public square or on TV, white people each other kissing is romantic, black people kissing is shamelessness. We don’t make love, but have sex – and that’s it; we were born for this. There was and still is a fear, a doubt, an order that impedes us from public gestures of affection.”
The presence of a black couple allows the conclusion that the phrase “beije sua preta em praça pública (kiss your black woman in a public square)” is directed at the black man, an explicit reference to the defense of black women, which is evident from the statement and is reinforced by the words of the poet himself:
“The ‘kiss your black woman in public’ could even serve as a lesbian campaign, but at the time I thought a lot about us, black men…I saw in black men, under aspects such as this, an important ally of racism. He could do it more in a sexist society, right? (…) On the other hand, I had something to communicate in my happiness and pleasure in caressing a nappy head, and kissing a (black woman’s) mouth and to make such gestures a weapon against prejudice.”
Black affection – why kissing your black woman in a public square is an act of resistance
by Juliana Gonçalves
Conveyed in 1991 by the journal of the Movimento Negro, the campaign “Reaja à violência racial: beije sua preta em praça pública (React to racial violence: kiss your black woman in a public square),” is still well remembered. The image draws attention for pegging black affection to violence. When he wrote the verses which later became part of the campaign, the poet from Salvador, Bahia, Lande Onawale sought precisely to expand society’s views on what racism was and what racial violence was. According to him, police violence monopolized much discourse on the practice of racism.
The poem “React to racial violence: kiss your black in the public square”, was not conceived as an act of resistance, but became in the context of a racist society that “saying all the time that we are capable and deserving of this mutual love – of no love, actually,” considers the poet.
Lande points out that the low esteem and the complexes in the field of affectivity achieve one of the most terrifying effects of racism: black men pull away from black women and vice versa. “This control and reinvention of affection is not absolute but it is hegemonic. It manages still to generate patterns for actions, feelings and racist and discriminatory thoughts,” he exposes.
1. Taken from the article “RACISMO, PRECONCEITO E INTOLERÂNCIA: O outro lado da “democracia racial brasileira. Entrevista com o economista e antropólogo Jacques D’Adesky (Racism, prejudice and intolerance: the other side of the “Brazilian racial democracy”: Interview with economist and anthropologist Jacques D’Adesky. From the Contra Ponto website (www.contra-ponto.cjb.net. No longer available). Published July 21, 2005
2. One may think that D’Adesky is exaggerating in regards to acceptance of a lighter-skinned black woman, but when the darker-skinned actress Zezé Motta was involved in an interracial kiss with a top white male actor many years ago, she was bombarded with negative reactions.