Note from BW of Brazil: When I first started digging into the issue that would later become labeled as palmitagem, I was curious as to why this phenomenon seemed to be affecting so many black women. And to be clear, I’m speaking of the situation in Brazil. Having lived in the United States most of my life, I was already familiar with some of the reasons African-American men were making this choice. But with a background in anthropology, I knew that it would be a mistake to automatically assume that the same circumstances automatically applied in another country.
I will say that I am discovering some differences that drive the pursuit of love across racial lines in Brazil in comparison to the United States, but also numerous similarities. In the context of formerly enslaved populations of African descent that continue to live under systems of white supremacy/superiority, we shouldn’t be surprised that some of the same issues apply.
One major difference is that while in the US, for more than a century the practice of racial segregation and the purity of the white race against any mixture with persons of African descent was the law of the land. In order to maintain this purity, any person who was known to have any traces of African ancestry were automatically defined as black. As such, any person having African and European ancestry being defined as black would make that person part of the black community and thus impede that person from introducing any African blood into the white population.
On the other hand, the opposite happened in Brazil. With the anticipated ending of the slave regime in the second half of the 19th century, and a census showing that the country was majority non-white, elites decided on a policy in which they would attract millions of European immigrants to Brazil and promote widespread miscegenation would the goal of whitening the country.
Thus, within millions of black and brown families, the idea of “improving the race” through unions with white or near white partners was generally accepted. With the transition into free labor and the exclusion of the black population from participation in so many sectors of the economy, success and wealth became exclusively associated with whiteness. It became the dream of hundreds of thousands of black families to be able to enter the “mundo dos brancos“, or the ‘white world’, both socially, professionally and at the personal level.
With this ideology firmly rooted in the black population, it became a symbol of success to have a white partner, white or near white children, live in mostly white neighborhoods and have white contacts that could help one ascend the social ladder. Against this backdrop, we can begin to understand why so many prominent and everyday black Brazilians, of both genders, enter into such unions. Of course, many will claim it simply a thing of love, which, as they say, has no color. But upon closer analysis, the evidence that something much more than love is going on here. Check out one woman’s testimony below. Of course, while I’ve read countless accounts more or less similar to this one, we cannot automatically assume that this applies to millions of black Brazilians. But it would be foolish to rule it out.
Loving a black man can hurt
9 months ago, I had a kind of relationship with a guy. Same age, same tastes. A black man, because I refuse to relate to white people (yes, I don’t give my parents the dismay of palmitagem). Same social class, same social circle.
Despite the time, we never had a label. Not because I didn’t want to. But because he felt the need to be free. He wanted to be with me, but also wanted to be with others – look at the trap! But I went on. I understand that the demands and dynamics that involve being a black woman or man are great. And I tried to understand it. Help him as much as possible.
And, inevitably, love builds up. Plans are being made… It’s natural.
Well, this story could have a more beautiful ending.
Our story ended because he chose to get into a serious relationship with a white woman. “Ah, but it’s a matter of taste! Love has no color,” some will say.
Is it true?
In the last conversation we had, after I discovered the relationship, he said, in these exact words: “I like white women. And if I’m going to cheat, I’ll cheat with a white woman. I never assumed (a relationship) with a black woman. To get ahead in life, I have to have a pessoa clara (white person) at my side, not a black person like me.”
I could blame all black men here for the solidão da mulher negra (loneliness of the black woman). For the emotional abandonment of my sisters. But I can’t see anything else, but another facet of racism.
We live in a country marked by the myth of racial democracy. Here is the paradise of the races. Everyone loves each other. Everyone respects each other. A festa of miscegenation. This was the image sold worldwide by the colonizers.
On the other hand, we have a painting like “A redenção de Cam” (The redemption of Ham), which reveals that the love for color is not as great as it is said…
We are encouraged from an early age to ‘lighten’ the race. And the mais retinto (darker the skin), the greater the pressure. Phrases like ‘you won’t want to have a child of your color’, or ‘hopefully find a white one, at least your child will have good hair’ are commonplace since early childhood.
White is associated with the beautiful, the good, the pleasant. Black is associated with poverty, marginality, bad, ugly, unpleasant. And that has an impact on us. In the formation of our intellect. In wow we see our brothers of color. In the way we have relationships (or not).
My account is that of countless black women around this country. We tend to find fault in ourselves for the man we love, black, leaving us for a white woman.
The answer, sisters, is that we are not defective. But unfortunately we live within a system that incites us to self-hatred. It makes us think that we will only have space if we associate ourselves with the white. It makes us fear for our children, if they are born with our color. With all this, we have weakened as a people.
We cannot fail to note and emphasize, yet, that this is also a strategy of extermination. Through miscegenation, blacks are born increasingly lighter, until no more are born. It seems paranoid, but that was exactly the proposal and wager of Brazilian scientists some years ago – denounced in the book O Genocídio do Negro Brasileiro (the genocide of the black Brazilian), by Abdias Nascimento.
The feeling of failure is inevitable. To fail as a woman, and as a black, to love and be sufficient to your black man. But it is above us. The system was created to alienate them like that. And let us not use this as an excuse to ‘palmita’ (swirl) (yes, black women swirl!) (see note one).
We need to strengthen ourselves as a people. We need to learn to love ourselves. We need to understand even the one who openly says he only likes white women and understand that brainwashing starts early, this condition is not entirely his fault.
Our people forgot that love is invincible in the battles. Let us start by redeeming this value.
- Here, the author points out that, regardless of the popular discourse that black Brazilian women don’t palmita, or have a preference for white males, black women are also affected by a dictatorship of whiteness.