The social construction of preference and interracial relationships: Black Brazilian women on black Brazilian men and white women

Rapper, activist, actor MV Bill and girlfriend Vivian Reis
Rapper, activist, actor MV Bill and girlfriend Vivian Reis

Note from BW of Brazil: Interracial dating and marriage is a frequent topic here on the blog as it is yet another important cog in understanding matters of racial politics, identity and Brazilian society. A few days ago, the blog featured photos of popular Afro-Brazilian soccer player Vagner Love and his new namorada (girlfriend) and a series of comments posted by various Brazilians about the athlete’s relationship. One of the most popular questions/comments about Vagner and his new love went along the lines of why so many black Brazilian soccer players seem to date/marry white and/or blonde women and are rarely seen with women of clearly visible African ancestry. Only the men themselves know the reasons (or, as one study suggested, maybe they don’t even realize it) but the question itself has been a hot topic among black Brazilian women for years.

Although it’s certain that the topic has been discussed for decades, one of the first times the topic was debated widely in a public forum was in a 1997 issue of the magazine Raça Brasil that was carried here on the blog last year in a four part series. Over the past decade or so, there have also been a number of dissertations and books released on the topic of interracial marriage in Brazil. The topic of the day has nothing to do with bashing black men but simply represents a peek into some of the discussions that black Brazilian women are having on the topic which asks a very to the point, frank question: what is/are the reason/s behind the trend? Is this simply social indoctrination that promotes the white woman as the most desirable woman in Brazil? If this is so, is this saying that ALL black Brazilian men are likely to fall victim to what Daniela Gomes defined as “Cirilo’s Syndrome”? Is this simply black men participating in the Brazilian elite’s late 19th century plan to erase the black population through continuous inter-mixture with whiter/lighter partners?

Stayed tuned to upcoming post as BW of Brazil will be posting more on the topic in the coming days/weeks. 

Interracial relationships: This is not about love

by Larissa Santiago

As the title suggests, this text will not talk about love. It will not even to mention the exceptions (or rules) that this feeling leads to, bringing together people of all kinds. I ask for your understanding to make a reading of the relationships in a very harsh, perhaps, but real way and that needs to be discussed.

With the introduction made and apologies previously requested, let’s go to the questions. The first thing I want to make clear is the concept of race. The term race should not be understood as a biological concept that designates distinct human types physically and mentally, since science denies this concept (Guimarães, 1999). Race (or its substitute, ethnicity) is understood here as a set of social, cultural, and environmental elements and characteristics, designating differentiation between humans. Remembering that these features can comprise a complex group identity and for some of them we use classifications like negros (blacks) (blackness), brancos (whites) (whiteness), amarelos (yellow or Asian).

2010 book "Virou Regra" by Claudete Alves
2010 book “Virou Regra” by Claudete Alves

That said, let’s get to the heart of the controversy: some time ago, the group discussed the book Virou Regra (Became the Rule) by Claudete Alves and talked about the fact that it was verified in the Master’s in Social Sciences research – that black women get married less. Here are some of the comments (from the discussion):

(Note: All comments presented in the original Portuguese with English translations below the original text)

Maria B

1

“I started the week talking about “Cirilo’s Syndrome” and today, in Victoria’s post, about the solitude of the black woman. In the book Virou Regra (Became the Rule), by Claudete Alves, resulting from a master’s dissertation, this is an analysis about the place of the black woman in Brazil in relationships. The research shows that black women are remaining single due to being passed over for white women. Be it to “lighten the family”, or be it due to a preference forged in adolescence, the fact is that more black men marry with white women than black women. And the number of relationships among whites (men and women) is infinitely bigger than between white men and black women. Are there exceptions? Of course! The problem here is that of the discourse and the origins of the preferences (let’s remember that tastes are socially constructed?)

“In the US there is a very lively debate in the media about black women that accept dating outside of their ethnic group due to few options that were available if they didn’t do it. Here in Brazil things are similar, but the position of black women is a little different; here, it’s not discussed what black women want…but who wants them…There is this sensation of passivity in dealing with the problem. This comes from the cultural past of both countries that possess profound differences in spite of certain similarities in relation to the black population, mainly the sense of identity of the population.”

Larissa

2

“I am loving the controversy and my opinion is similar to the author of the book: there is  historiocity having the denial of identity and it has the desire constructed of the white (man or woman) is always better. But we need to stop being adjunctive and be protagonists in this show.”

Minnie

3

“The problem is that it won’t work to stop being adjunctive when you don’t know that you are adjunctive. These things are not discussed. Or when they are, they are by persons that naturally already have a bigger politicization, a bigger interest for the subject, as is the case I think of the majority here. As here “racism doesn’t exist” none of this exists, the debate ends up restricted.”

Maria B.

4

“Yes, there is also this thing that heterosexual men were raised to believe that all women belong to them by right. And that he can have any woman that he wants, he has the right to choose. I always find it funny those that scorn me when they realize that I’m not perturbed (because I don’t even have interest). They get very offended by being passed over for a fat black woman.”

Victoria C.

5.5 (edit)

“This series of factors I think makes it so that people never know the real motivation for the relationship, but sometimes, it’s pretty obvious…but there are examples and examples…and also the side of the MB (mulher branca/white woman)…why does she accept this relationship? Adventure? Curiosity?”

Minnie

5

“White woman. Why does she like (him), huh? In some cases (there are) financial interests also, love, attraction….There is a strong question of taste being practically standardized in this world by factors, but also there are those that manage to escape from this also.”

Larissa

6

“Minnie the debate has only started and this is our hope: to talk about it more and more. For many of the white woman I think (and this is quite like what Victoria said, there are examples and examples) that there is some constructed fantasy: the black man has a bigger penis, more pegada (swag) etc. All this together with the eccentricity and his desire (the black man) for the white woman adds up in this relationship that “virou regra (became the rule)” according to the research of the author there.”

Larissa

“Does love have color? Depends on the country” A-ha

7

Maria B.

“So it is. This was a thing that I already perceived, that it was more and more complicated for me to have relationships with black men. I always complained about this and I have friends that end up “giving up” and today are with white men. I always see black men with white women. I don’t know if it gives to them a sensation of making life easier or “improving their lives” or if it’s so innocent that they don’t even notice this bias. What I know is that it’s not easy.”

First, I will highlight what Mabia said when she created the topic:

“And the number of relations between whites is infinitely greater than among white men and black women (…) The problem here is that of the discourses and preferences (let’s remember that tastes are socially constructed?)” (emphasis of the author).

To find out if what we were talking about was in fact true, I searched in the book Histórias da Escravidão em Pernambuco (Stories of Slavery in Pernambuco), in the article of Professor Gian Carlo de Melo Silva, “Famílias de Cor, escravidão e Mestiçagem no limiar do oitocentos em Pernambuco (Families of Color, Slavery and Miscegenation at the threshold of the 1800s in Pernambuco)”. In some parts of the article, relations as a strategy of escape, maintenance of social status or ways of survival in the slave society are quite clear.

In the whole article, the author highlights and emphasizes – always exemplifying – arranged relationships, strategic marriages or superficial sexual experiences, as he quotes:

“For Gilberto Freyre, the African left deep marks in Brazilian culture (…) otherwise contributed in the formation of bonds, horizontal and vertical friendships as well as in the realization of sexual experiences in the early years of discovery of sex of their masters and master’s wives.”

But what I want to say about this: that in the construction of our complex society, interracial relationships have always had interests far greater than love. And as we are a new society, it is innocent to think that those interests are not present today. In our group discussion we talked about stigmatized relationships: where the black woman is always the “exotic” or the black man is “avantajado (bigger/better)” and then come the different reasons for an approximation.

Taking into consideration that there is a concept of whiteness that is hegemonic and constructed as better, the society tends to search for what fits into the spectrum of good: here’s a comment from Mabia:

 “I do not know if it’s to make life easier or improve their lives.” Now we are in another era, another time, but there are still those who say that a black woman marrying a white man will “cleanse the family.”

Finally – but only briefly – I want to highlight three reasons of which Professor Claudette Alves deals with in her book that will be my reasons for another post on the same subject:

1 – The historicity of relations (I tried to deal a little with this here).

2 – The attempted denial of origin (about this, I haven’t said anything).

3 – And the constructed desire (that I touched on).

For me, this is the tripod that governs the discourse of interracial relationships, dealing with them logically here, with no mention of love. Oh, and also making it clear that we are only (but only by theoretical limitation of this humble author) addressing hetero-normative relationships.

I leave for your reflection two excerpts from Professor Gian Carlo:

“Henry Koster reports the case of an order that had as its origin the backlands of Pernambuco (1). (…) An order made by a friend and that should be commissioned on the coast was to take a good Portuguese man, good-looking and regular habits, in order to marry his daughter. (Page 68)

(…) Royal Order of the day October 27, 1817, to the Governor of Pernambuco for ordination and control of society and especially of slaves. That the governor promotes effectively the marriage of slaves (…) This measure aims to reduce the evils detected due to the state of debauchery in which slaves lived in captaincy, something that needed to be controlled by the authorities.” (Page 76)

Hoping to incite discussion and provoke questions, thank you.

Larissa is from the state of Bahia and writes at Mundovão

Source: Blogueiras Negras

Notes

1. State in northeastern Brazil

About Marques Travae 2897 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

2 Comments

  1. i have a question.. doesnt the women tell their children to be proud of their skin and to seek a mate that is black? my mother used to tell me that.

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