Why does Anitta’s “Vai Malandra” bother black people so much? Singer’s new video once again stirs up questions of racial identity and cultural appropriation

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Note from BW of Brazil: So to tell you the truth, the idea of writing something about singer Anitta’s new video hadn’t even occurred to me until probably Wednesday or Thursday when a colleague at work mentioned to me how “hot” she looked in her new video. Having met the singer personally, this colleague also told me that the singer is super cool and very down to earth, before returning to how “hot” she looked in her new video. Sitting at a computer, he then showed me a few shots from the video. Then yesterday, in one of my social networks, I received a link to an article on The Guardian website about how Anitta is stirring up the pot again with the images featured in her “Vai Malandra” video. Then I checked out a piece by Stephanie Ribeiro, whose work I’ve already featured. All of this and I still hadn’t had a chance to even see it yet. 

As I had already posted an article about Anitta’s look for the video months ago, it’s only natural that I follow up now that the video’s out. So it’s now Saturday afternoon and I’ve had a chance to check out the video…twice. My reaction? OK….so….what? There’s absolutely nothing shocking about the video in any aspect. Passing the video on to a friend in Arizona, one of the first things he noted was, one of the first images you see of a clearly black women in the video is a woman Brazilians would describe as “gordo”, meaning fat. What is the message there? Of course, there are attractive women who can be described as overweight, but the women presented in the video as “eye candy” all slim and have light or white skin. The lack of brown-skinned women in the video is an element I pointed out in a previous post analyzing funk videos. In typical Brazilian fashion, to represent Brazil as a woman, you can’t be too dark even if the last two Miss Brasils have been black. In a few words, Anitta’s clip and the singer herself speaks volumes for how Brazil continues to deal with the race issue and class.

Let me explain. 

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In terms of the location, a favela, we’ve already seen that Brazilian society is very willing to nibble at facets of the very culture that it belittles (see here and here) while still rejecting it as a whole. Anitta, bridging the gap and taking full advantage of her ability to tread paths in different worlds, is doing what she does best. She’s bringing funk and its location, the favela, both facets of lower class, primarily black culture, to the middle classes and now, on a global level. And adding to this mix of having a foot in both worlds, although of African origin, one of her most important selling points is having a phenotype that allows her easier access to both the black and white worlds. She’s not dark-skinned and thus more “acceptable” to white masses, but also has characteristics that black people identify with. 

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Then, as usual, we have plenty of T & A throughout the whole piece. Again, what? Anyone who has taken in American Hip Hop videos starting in about the mid-90s to current Brazilian funk videos, has already been overexposed to this as it is. So when Anitta and her crew of ladies present themselves as main course meals, hot and ready to be served to masses of men who continue to salivate over such imagery (and thus upholding this image of Brazilian women abroad), recognize, they are simply playing the game. Don’t get it twisted, I’m not saying I support such images, I’m just saying that this is where society is these days. Simply put, Anitta knows the game and is just giving the people what they want. But before I go any further, I wanna let Stephanie Ribeiro shares her thoughts on the video. The post below was already referenced in The Guardian article I mentioned above. 

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Why does Anitta bother black people with her “Vai Malandra” video?

In this week’s #BlackGirlMagic column, Stephanie Ribeiro reflects on accusations of cultural appropriation made at Anitta for her look in the music video for “Vai Malandra” 

In August of this year, a photo of singer Anitta with braids, tanned, on a rooftop in Morro do Vidigal wearing a black tape bikini. The photo, we later discovered, was a preview of the clip that was released this week. Anitta is undoubtedly a phenomenon. The most important contemporary Brazilian singer with respect to visibility, reach and influence. But her image in “Vai Malandra” music video was singled out as proof of “cultural appropriation.”

As much as I understand, I always say that anyone who places braids, and even the aesthetic that she has created for the video as a cultural appropriation does not tackle the most important thing which is Anitta using blackness when it suits her. The debate, in fact, should be about racial identity and convenience (see here and here).

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In the music video, Anitta repeats the braids she wore during a trip to Bahia this year. The question that remains is: Why in Vidigal and Bahia, black majority spaces, did she opt for the same aesthetic? Both in the photo of her arrival in Bahia, and in the video of “Vai Malandra”, the singer appears with a tone of darker skin, tanned. Why? Finally, why on other occasions does she assume an aesthetic that does not refer to a certain “blackness”?

Also, have you noticed that the look of Anitta is very similar to that of (actress) Juliana Paes? But that both were never called black or position themselves as black mediatically? Juliana Paes has a black brother. Evidently black, and yet, this has never been a matter raised by the media.

Juliana and Carlos Henrique Couto Paes
Actress Juliana Paes with her brother Carlos

I can say with absolute certainty that for both Anitta and Juliana, being mestiça (mixed), from an interracial family, did not lead them to being considered black – at least not in Brazil. Both occupy a space of success and visibility, so they probably do not want to “regress”, after all, contrary to what some black activists believe, it is not a disprivilege to leave a mixed-race family and not be seen as black. Structural disprivilege is to be seen as black because it means being treated as such and carrying the MARK.

According to questions posed by black activism, these two women could, in some way, choose which identity to assume – clearly they have already chosen. For me, as a black feminist, it makes no sense to force blackness on those who have chosen that it is best not to be black. Becoming black means having responsibilities, even if some deny the role of activist. The black being is a collective consciousness, it can not be (see note one). We are or are not, and it is not possible to go back, because it is the connection between consciousness and identity. The MARK we carry, the color of our skin, is the factor that makes us be seen as black. But it is our consciousness that makes us see ourselves as black.

The misuse of the concept of “becoming” black is the consequence of many disconnecting the materiality from our racial consciousness – and that is impossible. To this, there are other confusions about the consequences of mestiçagem and the percentage of the population that is the result of this process. If you’ve read O Cortiço, you’ll remember Rita Baiana. She was the first personage of the national literature with whom I identified in my racial history. I say that, as much as one understands that the “mulata” bears a series of symbols to be designated as such, to me, the main one is the tone of the skin, negro mais claro (lighter-skinned black), which supposedly shows the mixture. The word mulata is racist because, in its etymology, it has as one of the meanings the derivation of mule, an animal the fruit of the relationship between a horse and a donkey.

We can say that there is no difference in treatment among blacks structurally, but there are differences in treatment. To deny this would be to cover the sun with the sieve. Just remember, for example, that Nayara Justino was dislodged from the position of “globeleza” and replaced by another woman, also black, but with lighter skin. This is COLORISM. I am not saying that being a “globeleza” is a privilege, but that one black woman was considered worthy to be exhibited in those miserable calls on the TV and the other, no. For me, the very existence of colorism in our country only reaffirms that racism in Brazil is of MARK. Thus, for none of the blacks is it comfortable but it acts with distinct nuances when we are not only dealing with the structural.

Therefore, a few points are raised on Anitta. Some black activists say she is black, and turn to photos of her childhood and her family to defend this thesis. Others say that Anitta is not black. She would be only mestiça and, in Brazil, socially seen as white. Anitta herself says that nobody in Brazil is white.

Juliana Paes muda o visual para Bibi (Foto: Divulgação)
Actress Juliana Paes has a black brother but doesn’t identify herself as such

Invariably, the discourses that claim we are all mestiços are used whenever racial debate is proposed, even though basically, in data, Brazil is not even the country where mestiçagem remains as strong as our imaginary believes: most marriages still occur among people of the same racial identity, according to IBGE research. Race is a determining factor in affective relationships. This completely disrupts the idea that there are no “whites” in the country. They not only exist as they marry one another, thus maintaining the structural powers and goods acquired among their similars, breaking the logic of supposed racial democracy. Marriage has long been a business arrangement, and racial identity in Brazil indicates class and social place.

That’s why I did not like Anitta’s video _ even admiring her work very much. I found it quite sad that at no time does she wear the braids or hairpins. In the video recorded in Morro do Vidigal, somehow, she “dresses up” as a black woman. She could do all that without needing that outfit, which goes from the tanned skin to the hair chosen and even the cellulite, which appears only in “Vai Malandra”. I feel bad to see how our black aesthetic is still a “costume”. I think that proposal is part of her work as a singer and artist, but she is a woman of peripheral origin, she does not have to emulate something.

But Anitta has a large audience, so we need to make it clear that not every person with tanned skin is black. Not every person with cabelo cacheado (curly hair) is black. Not every person who has black relatives is black in Brazil. Of course, it’s up to each of us to have honesty and ethics with our racial identity. I can not and will not pretend to have an identity that I do not have. I’m black. There is no hesitation about this identity: I can thin my nose and wear straight hair, but even so, I will not be seen as white. Ludmilla, another funk singer, makes that obvious. So I do not have the right answer on racial identity. I think it’s easier to think about it in another context. Of course, Anitta and Juliana Paes would be Latina among the Americans, but, I, would be Afro-Latino. It is about these possibilities of being, and often the denial of the materiality of it, that we are trying to debate. So, let the problematizations continue, even if some call it “mimimi,” (whining) after all, “Vai Malandra” is there and it bothered black people. Especially us black women.

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Note from BW of Brazil: For the most part, I have to say I’m in agreement with what Ribeiro had to say on this issue. A few of her comments reminded of some of the things I previously wrote on the Anitta issue. The controversy over accusations of Anitta appropriating aspects of black culture due to her avoidance of clearly defining herself as black also harks back to an article I wrote about the contradictions that come with accepting every light-skinned/mixed/mestiça/parda into the negro (black) category. I also agree with Stephanie’s assessment of Anitta being black when it is convenient. This becomes evident in Anitta’s own words about her identity and the chameleon-like fashion that she deals with the issue. Again referring back to my previous piece about Anitta, her equating being a “neguinha” (little black girl) to spending time in the sun begs the question, what does she consider herself when her skin is lighter? Even Anitta saying that her father’s family is black stops short of her clearly identifying herself as black. After all, in Brazil, it is very common to hear light-skinned persons of African descent say that their grandmother or grandfather is/was black. It doesn’t necessarily mean they identify as black and in most cases, I would argue, it is their way of saying that that blackness doesn’t apply to them. 

Now the slight disagreement I have with Stephanie’s piece, and it’s not a big disagreement, but in the same way that I pointed out a slight point of dissension with my friend Daniela Gomes, this point is another subtlety that appears when the topic is race in a comparative analysis between the US and Latin America. In terms of how Anitta would be perceived in the US, I think there are a few other things to consider. If Anitta was not the famous singer but just plain ole Brazilian Larissa de Macedo Machado and were to try to go to the US to live, knowing her origin and also hearing her Portuguese inflected English, people would immediately classify her as a Latina or Brazilian. No doubt about that. But if someone looked like Anitta was born and raised in a black community in the US, I believe she would be accepted as black or at least mixed. Over the years in the US, I’ve known many a woman who looks more or less like Anitta, but having grown up in the ‘hood, if she comes across as comfortable in her surroundings, spoke the same as the people in her immediate circle and didn’t come across as being somehow better than everyone else, she would be just another light-skinned black girl from the ‘hood. Ribeiro even partially co-signs on this when she states that “it is our consciousness that makes us see ourselves as black”. For me, it shouldn’t be narrowed down to just consciousness, but a certain behavioral standard as well. After all, there are millions of black Americans or black Brazilians who have very little or no familiarity with the disciplines of Pan-Africanism for example, but no one would dispute their blackness. 

Over the course of my travels back and forth from Brazil since 2000, I’ve had many a conversation with African-Americans about Brazilians. When the term ‘Brazilian’ comes to the mind of many a black American, a certain image comes to mind. The image is the “exotic”, racially indefinable person with light skin and long, wavy/curly hair. Not black, not white but…something else. I remember sometime back in 2009 or 2010 in Detroit, introducing a Brazilian female friend to a black couple I knew. In my mind, the Brazilian friend, with a light caramel brown complexion and afro-textured hair, was clearly black. But she spoke English with a slight accent. I never thought about how others might perceive her until several weeks later when the guy from the couple I am speaking of, asked me what the Brazilian friend was in terms of race. I never told them that she was Brazilian. Of course, there’s no way to be certain, but I believe that had the Brazilian spoken English in the same way as black Americans, I don’t think the guy would have questioned what race she was. 

Often times, when we speak of this idea of race, along with this question, often times concepts of nationality are mixed in with it. Again, this is a point I discussed in the previous Anitta article in which I touched on American ideas of whiteness and nationality. In that article, I shared a memory of a radio caller on an American radio program stating that he saw supermodel Gisele Bündchen as, technically a “woman of color”, since she was Brazilian and thus Latina. This is a perfect example of how many Americans have it in their minds that no one in Latin America can be considered white, even being of exclusively European ancestry. An idea that Anitta herself co-signed on when she said that “no one in Brazil is white.” It’s a pretty amazing deception when the mind convinces the eye that something is or is not true.

I have said in various previous articles that I’m not an extremist when the subject is the infamous “one drop rule”. For me, if a woman looks like Marilyn Monroe, I could care less if one of her parents is black. For me, this person is white. But for many people, a black parent closes the case. On BW of Brazil’s Facebook page, last week, on the article asking if Meghan Markle was black, one person commented that her mother was black, and as such, suggested that her ancestry was sufficient enough to close the debate and place Markle squarely in the black category. I don’t buy this reasoning. Here in Brazil, for example, I see plenty of children on a daily basis who I would consider white (or something close to white) who have a black mother or father. Take American singer Cheyenne Elliott as another example. At first glance, would you immediately consider this woman to be black? If you don’t know who she is, do a quick image search. I imagine some people would say she’s white while others may detect some of her features signaling non-European ancestry. But how would this view change when you discover that Elliott is the granddaughter of famous singer Dionne Warwick? Hmmm…

In the end, I would suggest that no one be too alarmed with anything Anitta does. Her objective is to sell her music and she apparently knows that she will be far more marketable if she skirts a controversial issue such as race altogether. I’m not saying I agree with that. But this is one of the dilemmas we deal with when we consider every pardo/mestiço/mixed people as black. I think Anitta knows this quite well and is playing the cards she was dealt…and laughing all the way to the bank!

Source: Revista Marie Claire

Note

  1. In the original sentence (“O ser negro é uma consciência coletiva, não dá para estar”), Ribeiro plays on the difference between the Portuguese words “ser” and “estar”. Both translated in English as “be”, the first is a permanent form of “being” while “estar” is temporary.
About Marques Travae 2875 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. I think that Juliana Paes brother is actually, a half-brother. I looked for pictures of her parents in the internet, and this is what I
    found:http://img.olaserragaucha.com.br/entretenimento/gente/1340236384656837.jpg, https://s2.glbimg.com/B7r-5zK-Rd_eAj49tbnQuXwugXE=/0x0:720×500/690×0/i.s3.glbimg.com/v1/AUTH_e84042ef78cb4708aeebdf1c68c6cbd6/internal_photos/bs/2016/B/C/qFrbbLT36abY8MTKw1xg/juliana-paes-familia7.jpg. They are not white, but they are not black inded.
    I saw Juliana Paes sisters in a TV show and they dont look black either.

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