Note from BW of Brazil: “Vida de negro é difícil” (The life of the black is difficult) goes the opening line of a famous song by Dorival Caymmi. The phrase applies to anywhere where black people live and it is no different in Brazil! Most of the studies and social statistics prove that regardless of whether one classifies him/herself as negro/negra or mulato/mulata, Afro-Brazilian life is at a distinct disadvantage from the population that defines itself as branco (white). This very association with the term negro, meaning black in Portuguese, remains a source of shame for millions of people. Yes, we’ve all read that “Brazil has the largest black population outside of Africa”, but that really depends on how you look at it.
Out of about 101 million Afro-Brazilians, approximately 85 million define themselves as “pardos”, meaning “brown”. And while inequality affects pardos as much as it affects those who define themselves as “pretos” (blacks), there are countless reasons that most pardos don’t identify themselves as negros, which in Brazil is used statistically to define the combination of pretos and pardos, but, politically speaking, defines persons who have some level of black consciousness and define themselves as such. But in Brazil, the land that proclaims itself the “racial democracy” where “all are equal” and everyone is “mixed” this identity is often difficult to attain. In the piece below from 2011, Iara Félix expounds on this a bit.
What is my color? The cultural construction of the affirmation of our people
By Iara Félix aka NEGRIARA
We are in the XXI century, in the year 2011. It is rare these days you find someone who is conscious of their color/race and class. When I say consciousness it is in the attempt to expose the disparity between the color of my skin and the color that I learned to have.
We are preto (black) in color but created as “morenas and morenos,” that is, it is always inculcated in our minds a nonexistent color. To this day my color is seen as a dirty color that is reminiscent of bad things, among other things. The preto is always seen as pejorative.
The racist elite teaches that in order to be accepted we must fit in. They consider acceptable a person of the “morena” color, but it’s repugnant the affirmation that we are blacks. And being black in our society is to refer to situations of fear, injuries, calamities. But for us it’s not only that, being black is going to war with only a weapon and overcoming obstacles tenaciously.
The existence of races in the biological concept was extinguished. We use the expression raça negra (black race) to assert our virtues, previously denied. The word negro comes from the Latin necro. This expression means absence of life. Even that expression was submitted to us under a gaze diminution. Even so, today we face ser negro (being black) with the look of political affirmation, we use the expression negro because this gaze that marks differences places us as equals and imprints upon us the necessity for construction of racial consciousness.
The color I have is the color of the struggle, willpower and the transposition of mountains every day. The color I have is the sail of the world’s boat, because I chose to change the world as Zumbi did. Too much pretension?! Never, it’s time to be proud of our race; the color that I have taught me to go to the struggle and never deny myself.
The color that I have was not socially constructed (that was the color that they gave me). The color that I have was brought by my ancestors in the body and expanded itself into the world. My race that for much time lived with slavery, today still lives with the pain of prejudice, stigma and hatred.
So what’s my color? Is my color is what I learned to have or that I actually have? It’s time to rethink the facts, the concepts, the ideas and the world. It’s time to understand that it’s another era is over and that the beginning doesn’t justify the means, much less the end of the story, a story that seems to have no end.
It’s sad that even after so much suffering, we blacks have to abdicate among other things our right to color; that we have to give up our right to affirmation as a race, as human beings that should have equal rights.
It’s our turn. We demand our struggle, of the povo preto e pobre brasileiro (Brazilian black and poor people).
My color constructed a Brazil that is not ours. To us, it’s fitting that we take back what our blood forged in struggle. If they don’t give it to us, we will take it with blood, sweat, poetry and much struggle.
Long live the Brazilian people, long live black people!
Source: NEGRA, Iara Félix