What does it mean to “palmitar”? Understanding the term that many use to define a black preference for white partners

palmitagem
See note for discussion of caption

Note from BW of Brazil: I gotta admit, I DO LOVE this topic! The topic to which is so-called “palmitagem“. I’ve discussed and used this term in a number of past articles, as well derivatives such as “palmiteiro”, “palmiteira”, “palmitar”, but even having discussed the subject, as it is a specifically Brazilian Portuguese term used by many black militants or those connected to black issues, they are terms that I consistently need to define for an English-reading audience.

The term “palmitagem” defines the phenomenon of black Brazilians, usually men, who seem to have a predilection for women with white skin. The term has been in vogue for a number of years in discussions that emerged from the growing recongnition of the issue of the “solidão da mulher negra”, meaning the loneliness/solitude of the black Brazilian woman coming to the fore. Statistics have been used to prove that black women make up the majority of single women in Brazil as well as how they often take longer to secure long-lasting relationships. 

Enter into any online black Brazilian community and you will see a ongoing debate between black men and black women over the issue of “palmitagem” as well as debates that discuss the reality of how racism affects the dating choices of these men and women. What I have noticed is that the debate usually never goes anywhere. Two recent debates I’ve been following feature comments reacting to a photo of funk singer Nego do Borel with his girlfriend and another involving comments on the necessity of black men marrying black women made by African-American Clinical Psychologist, Umar Johnson

For anyone living outside of Brazil, particularly in the United States, the popularity of interracial unions may seem like an exaggeration, but an African-American journalist friend of mine living in Rio and I are often amazed at how widespread this phenomenon is among Afro-Brazilian activists, entrepreneurs and people with influence in social networks. It literally seems to be the rule. Black? Check. Well-off? Check. Influential? Check. White partner? Check? And even though the emergence of the original topic, the loneliness of the black woman, seemed to point the accusational finger at the black Brazilian man, what I note is that it seems that the term “palmitagem” can be equally applied to black men as well as black women.

When it is pointed out by black men that black women “palmita” as much as black men, the usual response is that, if they don’t want to be alone, black women MUST open up their dating options. I will admit that it does appear that if a woman is CLEARLY black (dark skin, African features), she will have more difficulty securing relationships beyond the “hit it and quit it” variety, but I am not thoroughly convinced that this is all that is going on here. To put it in simple terms, it makes no sense to believe that a black man’s perception of beauty and desirability can be influenced by white supremacy-driven social engineering but believe that black women are not influenced by this as well.

As I’ve pointed out since the beginning, black Brazilians and in reality, ALL black people of the African Diaspora have been indoctrinated to pursue racial hypergamy. Now whether social circumstances allow this to happen or not is another discussion. The fact is, black Brazilians as a whole need to have more honest discussions about this subject, consider the effects of Brazil’s promotion of racial hypergamy and then come to some rational conclusions about their choices for dating, marriage and reproduction. 

Recently, I’ve seen some push back on this topic criticizing black women for their accusations against black men when, often times, you look for the significant others of these women who promote “black empowerment” in one form or another, you’ll find photos of them hugged up, kissing or married to people who one would assume have advantages under a system of white supremacy. 

For example, one activist that participates in the Facebook group Negros Contra o Movimento Negro, meaning ‘blacks against the black movement’, consisting of people who oppose the policies and views of black rights organizations, took two well-known black women YouTubers to task for what was seen as obvious hypocrisy. Below is a question to said activist and the response given. The question and response can be found in Renata Nascimento da Silva’s 2018 dissertation entitled, “A máscara obscura do ódio racial: segregação, anonimato e violência nas redes sociais”

Preta - Neri
YouTubers Nátaly Neri (top, right side of both photos) and Preta Pariu with their significant others

Question: I noticed that in some posts you cite black militants or fanpages that fight against racism, for example, the YouTube channels Preta Pariu and Afros e Afins by Nátaly Neri, have you experienced some kind of persecution by these social groups?

Answer: I recommend that you see once again the above-mentioned contents, because Preta Pariu and Afros e Afins by Nátaly Neri are FAR from being considered “champions of the fight against racism”. For very simple reasons. One is completely hypocritical, while the other is completely racist. What strikes me about Preta Pariu is her blatant hypocrisy in saying that “black woman don’t palmitar” but she herself is married to a light-eyed German.

In reference to Nátaly Neri, several months ago, in a WhatsApp group in which all of the members except myself were black Brazilian men who debate black issues and exchange ideas about the history of Africa and African descendants, the topic of Neri’s significant other being a white, transgender male was also pointed to as another example of the hypocrisy that some see coming from black female circles on debates about racism, white supremacy and black empowerment. 

I know the debate can (and does) go on forever, but the ultimate question remains: Does one side “palmitar” more than the other? All I can say that BOTH black Brazilian men AND black Brazilian women are each contributing to the slow demise of a once enormous black population. 

yuri palmito
Standup comedian Yuri Marçal

What does it mean to “palmitar”? Understand the term used for interracial couples

By Nathália Geraldo

Choosing a person to relate to is a personal matter. But there are some terms within social groups that define how these relationships happen; and one of them is a verb that is being used on the internet to classify the choice of someone who is within an interracial relationship: “palmitar”.

“Palmitar” and its derivations “palmitagem”, “palmiteiro”, “palmiteira” are neologisms created to interpret the act of a pessoa negra (black person) romantically engaging with a pessoa branca (white person).

But the meaning does not end there. On the Internet, there are several reports and interpretations within the context of a relationship, considering mainly the gender slant – that is, the different experiences between black women, white women, black men and white men in Brazil.

To account for such controversy, Twitter is one of the great murals of opinions (and criticisms) about who palmita or doesn’t. It’s on the web that users bring discussions and comments about interracial or Afrocentric relationships, who “can” or “cannot” palmita, among other comments.

Palmitar: controversy on the networks

The expression “palmitar” comes from the palmito, of hearts of palm itself, related to the color of the white skin. It turns out that for many people it is associated with another issue that is part of the lives of many black women: solidão (solitude/loneliness).

It is common for black women who talk about their experiences in their love lives to quote an excerpt from the Living to Love text by US author bell hooks to explain feelings of being passed over.

“Many black women feel that in their lives there is little or no love. This is one of our private truths that is rarely discussed in public. This reality is so painful that black women rarely talk openly about it,” writes the theorist.

In fact, they hear racist phrases in dating apps, suffer and report more cases of harassment at work, among other experiences resulting from racism. In this sense, there are questions about the existence of “palmiteiras”.

“Black woman really have to palmitar”

The loneliness of the black woman is part of some lines of thought and testimonies that circulate through the networks. “Black woman really has to palmitar,” wrote a black woman on the social network.

“This loneliness of the black woman that contributes to you to palmitar, right, you can’t wait to afrocentrar (be afrocentric) being that all you want in the end is to be loved a little bit like everyone else,” said another.

“For me, to palmitar is the black being with the white, regardless of gender…However, if you research a crucible you will know that there is a heavy situation called ‘black woman’s loneliness’ that has been dragging on for centuries…While the black man was never that alone, right…” wrote one user, a black man on Twitter.

“Famous Palmitagem: Getting with the white girl just for your desired social standard image. I don’t judge the brothers, the relationship is theirs, I think the ‘hell with others’, palmitar when you love. This is an imposed thing that affects not only these brothers,” wrote another black man on Twitter.

“Palmitagme” is also especially valued in the case of celebrities and the media, including pornographic production. “Worse still when the rich black man exalts black women to earn money and then he palmitar,” wrote a black woman on the social network. “Porns always encourages hypersexualization of blacks and the palmitagem,” wrote another.

“Palmiteiros” Emojis

The love relationship between blacks and whites has even become the subject of a petition created by Tinder, the dating app, in 2018. The company claimed lack of representation of a group of people in the emojis, and in March this year Unicode – the company responsible for creating the emojis – finally met the demand, with various skin tones among couples.

The relationship between these people, according to the company, was one of the few that had no way of being represented on social networks and virtual messages.

Note: The caption of the above the photo at the topic of the article reads “Eu e minha pretinha no baile”, meaning, “Me and my black girl at the dance”. The meme ironizes the practice that some black men have of referring to their white girlfriends as “a minha pretinha”, meaning my “black girl/girlfriend”. The terms for black in Portuguese, preta and negra are often used interchangeably. Anthropology professor José Jorge de Carvalho tells us that the term can be used for non-black women also. According to Carvalho: “When a man calls a woman of fair skin nega,…this means she is able to preserve for him…something of the sexual mystery attached to the real other.” In other words, if a non-black woman can provide the same sexual satisfaction of a black woman, she symbolically becomes a black woman in the sexual sense.”

Source: Silva, Renata Nascimento da. A máscara obscura do ódio racial: segregação, anonimato e violência nas redes sociais. Universidade Federal Fluminense Institute of Arts and Social Communication Graduate Program in Media and Everyday Life, 2018, Universa

About Marques Travae 3238 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. Swirling or palmitagem as Brazilians call it is a problem throughout the diaspora and not just Brazil. In the US, swirling is also very huge among Black celebrities and well known Blacks in general. The UK has huge swirling culture as well. But it has been very somewhat alarming to me that in a country with a large Black population that so much swirling has been happening. I don’t think it’s any one factor that is causing this to happen and it’s more of number of factors in Brazilian society that is causing this to happen. Marques, i think you should write an article in the future discussing the numbers of factors that make Black people in general swirl.

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