Note from BW of Brazil: Racism in Brazil is the perfect crime! And this is one of the principal reasons that we cover this topic so much on this blog. As as been explained in numerous posts here, historically, Brazil’s myth of “racial democracy” has manipulated its black population into accepting and believing that racism doesn’t exist all the while the society and system regularly practices one of the most potent forms of racism in the world. As studies have shown, 92% of Brazilians admit racism exists but only 1.3% of these same people admit to being racist. This is actually an improvement as only a few decades ago, many black Brazilians themselves firmly believed that racism was only a thing of the United States. Then there are those who will tell persons who have experienced racism that “it’s all in your head”, “ignore it” or that some people are just “bad apples”. Then there are Afro-Brazilians themselves who label other Afro-Brazilians who have experienced racist incidents of practicing “coitadismo”, or playing the victim.
Today, although it is generally acknowledged that racism exists, people still deny that it is a serious problem that provokes serious problems among those Brazilians of visible African ancestry. It can lead to self-esteem problems in black children. The desire to not to have been born with African characteristics and denial of racial identity. And because so many people are in denial, or don’t know how to deal with the issue, these people often don’t prepare their children for the undeserved mistreatment they may receive in social environments in which persons insult them or remind them that their physical appearance doesn’t fit into the standard of beauty. They don’t prepare the girls for the lesson will they will learn in their adolescent years when all of the boys, even those closest to their appearance, prefer the girls that look like the (white) women on all of the TV programs.
Brazil’s racism is perfect because it consistently assaults the psyche of the Afro-Brazilian population, denies that it does such and then stands back and points the finger at the victim saying, “it’s not racism, it’s them; they don’t want to be who they are”, taking no responsibility for the reaction. The problem in Brazil is that there has never been an emotional and psychological healing for the descendants of Africans who often times themselves are unconscious of the effects of nearly 500 years of white supremacy. For only when the problem is discovered and acknowledged can there be a process of healing these wounds. A struggle that the author in the following text came to terms with. Racism is indeed bad for your health and we can only hope that Brazil learns to cope with such a serious issue and exit the depths of denial so that this healing process can reach more of the population on a mass level.
Depression and anxiety: what racism has done to my health and the 10 lessons learned
By Gabriela Moura
After years of hiding under lock and key, it seems that I am not as good an actress as I thought. Every now and then I receive messages asking if I’m okay. Including from physician friends. The latest, a psychiatrist, told me: You have all the classic symptoms of depression, come to my office so we can talk. Little did he know that I already know all of this, and now I’ve been fighting against this empty nonsense in which I drown every day. Little does he know that I know why my breath is always panting and my insomnia. But I still cry for help.
I have a friend who tells me not to say anything in public because, unfortunately, many people seem to feed on other people’s sadness. Like vultures, you know? I know she’s right, but I hope that this text will help people understand that seeking help is essential.
I’m twenty-seven, and of course I will not remember the first time I understood being the victim of racism. But I have memories of several episodes since my early childhood, and I needed a lot of courage to write this text. The effects of racism in a person’s mind are devastating, but almost nobody knows it. I think if they knew, if people understood how badly our mental health is affected, a lot would be different. I usually say that the life of a black person could yield a horror movie script.
Before I need to explain that almost everything that happened to me before the age of ten is blocked. Frankly I don’t know if I want to dig so deep, but it left me flashes of life that I didn’t choose for myself.
Of course I cannot tell all of my story here, but I can specify some of the many times I found myself being set aside for being black and explain how it shaped my attitude toward life.
First, less explicit cases, but apparently with no explanation. Like when I was very young and had a little friend who was studying in a private school, and his class would take a trip to Parque da Mônica (1). The children were entitled to take a guest, and he made his mother go to my house so that they could invite me. I was very happy, and off we went. At one point one of the teachers went hand in hand with one of the students of the kindergarten. I took her other hand so she could guide me also, together with other students (each carefully watched by teachers and monitors) when she shook her hand to let me go. I did not understand that day why I was not receiving attention like the other children, nor why a person that should be responsible for me repelled me so violently. I must have been about six years old.
It was also during this time that I was forced to repeatedly hear the question “Are you adopted?” Because my mother has fair skin, although she is not white. Or hearing, as I passed by, my classmates singing a little song that said “Gabriela, cabelo de Bombril, Gabriela cabelo de Bombril.” (Gabriela, brillo pad hair, Gabriela brillo pad hair) or from being repeatedly called macaca (monkey), galinha-preta-de-macumba (black voodoo chicken), carvão (coal) and all the names already known. And the teachers did absolutely nothing. In my school life, by the way, I only had two black teachers. From jardim (that period preceding pre-school), to the end of high school. Two black teachers. No teacher was bothered by having students chanting racist abuse within the classroom, and in history classes, talking about blacks came down to having them as “rustic people who were enslaved by better prepared whites.”
As a teenager I did my best to be more like the acceptable white standards. I straightened my hair, dreamed of having an operation on my nose and did cabulosa diets to lose weight and see my hips decrease. A practice that brought me eating disorders with which I deal with today. In this period, the racism that I went through in school was not veiled. There was no modesty, for example, boys in the class who said that being with a preta (black girl) was something totally out of the question. Things like that. They stuck objects in my hair, asked if they could use it to clean pots, blew chalk dust on my face saying that I was supposed to be white. No “boyfriend” ever acknowledged me publicly. And of course none of this happened with just me. I watched all the other black girls in the school go through it. Some in an even more violent way because also they suffered gordofobia (fear/hatred of fat people), an oppression of which I didn’t go through and that didn’t even know existed.
Last year I discovered the book Psique e Negritude (Psyche and Negritude), and it had been hell reading 90 pages. Yeah, it’s been six months that I try to read 90 pages. There are 90 pages of a book that tells all that I experienced, where people give testimonials similar to mine, and where we can see how the education system is unprepared for promotion of racial equality policies. And I think I need to write a text specifically addressing this issue. I promise that one day I will do it.
Sometime later I found this article by Exame magazine, showing the result of a study that, for me, was quite obvious: racism causes anxiety and depression. Experts say that suffering racism equals the emotional blow of losing a loved one. I say that these experts are right. The problem is that this is equivalent to losing a loved one a day because I experience it every day. I cannot choose not suffer racism for one less day in order to rest. Being black is living in a world that does not want to keep you alive. Then I remember the people who think that the policy of racial equality is a privilege. We should have been content with the Lei Áurea (Golden Law), and that’s it? Again: this is for another text.
Everything that I’ve said so far was only an introduction. What I want to really do is count the 10 lessons I’ve learned dealing with my depression and my anxiety with racism as principal – but not only, that is clear – causes of these disorders.
1 – This is not a choice: Dealing with racism is not a choice. People often ask me: How can you deal with so much trouble and so many problems? I’ve already said above that I cannot choose not to suffer racism. I remain facing it. Over the past 10 years I have made a very consistent work of self-knowledge and political empowerment, and I believe it not to be an exaggeration to say that it saved my life. It really helps to know your own history and approach other people who go through the same situations. The similarity of the stories of black people is frightening. But the only thing that was important to me was to learn methods of defense and resistance tactics. And I believe that if I don’t worry about it, no one worry about me.
2 – “It’ll pass” is the worst thing you can hear: After being hidden by so many boyfriends that didn’t accept acknowledging me and inventing the most bizarre possible excuses, many friends comforted me with the good old “it’ll pass”. Bad news: it doesn’t pass, no; at least not so fast. Good news: recognizing this helps prevent entrapment with men who think they are not racist just because they took a black woman to bed but “god frees him” from being seen with a black woman in public. It’s worth it playing for real in the beginning and finding out if he is a jerk, but it takes time and it’s never easy. The same thing goes for when we lose a job vacancy for being blacks. Nothing will pass, and it’s very, very cruel to tell someone this. The problem is not to be masked, but faced.
3 – Living alone may not be so bad: this part I’m still learning. Living with loneliness is not something that enters our heads, because we are socialized to having a beautiful happy family, legal relations, blah blah blah. But racism pushes many people away from you, and depression pushes further away. No one wants to be around a person who looks like a walking black cloud. And the irony is that this time is that we need more help and support. Hence the shame of admitting to being a depressive or anxious person.
4 – Don’t accept that they tell you that you are playing the victim: “victimhood” is a word used in discussions on racism for lazy people who don’t want to talk about it. It is also a term used to say that people with depression are at rock bottom because they want to be. This doesn’t exist. Today I know that whoever accuses someone of victimhood in these conditions are just being mean or selfish, really.
5 – Enjoy the peaks of happiness: the times in which we are well are best for us to make a self-analysis and strengthen ourselves. Because we will need this power if the roller coaster starts to fall again. The time of relief is the time to rethink what led us to this condition and how to get out. Basically, it’s the moment that it becomes easier to be rational.
6 – Enjoy the crisis, too: It was in a crisis that I decided to look for a psychologist and it was the wisest decision of the year. It is in crises, when I feel fed up, that I become more sincere and open to say what the hell is going on inside of me. Oh, it’s also a crisis that drives my creativity. This is not an escape, but in my case the art serves as a fabulous catalyst to help recycle what is recyclable and throw away what is totally unnecessary.
7 – Get help: Allying myself with the most experienced militants of the Movimento Negro (black movement) helped me understand the world around me and gave me enough malice to understand racist situations. It is essential that we can rely on this help to learn how to defend ourselves, since, contrary to Freemaniana theory, racism alone does not disappear if we only stop talking about it. So it is necessary that we understand society, black history and theories that help us deal with the experiences we go through every day.
8 – Help someone, when I have found myself strong enough, I began to expose fragments of my life and offer help to those who needed or asked for it. It is still a mutual learning. Blacks in Brazil are raised often to think that everything is already fine, that episodes of racism are isolated cases, and that we should “let it go”. It is noticeable the inconvenience caused when we choose to fight, and that’s the attitude that needs to be strengthened.
9 – Don’t go through it alone: friends can even help, in fact they are essential, but only a professional will be able to make us dig as deep as possible in our mind. This process of analysis is the most painful, because we move in an accumulated manure pool for years, but is also the first step so that, further ahead, we can breathe more easily. And from my experience, I can say, if you don’t feel comfortable with the chosen professional, go to another. I had a therapist threaten me: look, you’re very much out of breath, if you do not control yourself I’ll send you to the psychiatrist.
Subtle as a mule kick. I’m still studying the possibility of reporting him to the Board of Psychology.
10 – One day at a time is the realest cliché there is: I’m anxious, I never live only the present. I suffer from future excess. In my head I live two years ahead of real time. Until I realized that my life has a strange and lovely tendency to suffer major changes every week. Like lunar cycles. It’s interesting to observe life itself and respect the time. Because it’s life that dictates our time, and not vice versa.
I continue to be a black woman behind a handful of dreams. I know I can never let my guard down. I will die and the world will still be racist. My children will die and the world will still be racist. But knowing that I have no vocation for Mulher Maravilha (Wonder Woman), I understood that surviving is already, in itself, an act of subversion. I said this in an interview to TPM magazine last week, but it’s because it’s a phrase that I take for life. Over the years I have discovered some ways to fight.
Co-existing with racism, living it up close every day and always being on the defensive in this respect are postures that life imposes. And, translating it to physical sensations, it’s as if we carry the world on our backs, literally, and as if there was always had a hand suffocating us. Every tense muscle, stomach always sore, swollen and throbbing head; racism is unrelenting. Seeing a black child being harassed on the street, seeing black teenagers being pressed by the police knowing that it could be my son, or that may it could still be my son one day. Be reduced for such absurd reasons and being silenced when I put it on the agenda. Imagine just living one day in this invisible chain. Now imagine living like this every day. I do not expect all people to be militants, because in fact it takes a lot of energy. But I’m very much alive, and my every act reflects some portion of the struggle. I did not choose this path when I saw I was already in it, and it has become my way of life.
Source: Nada Sob Controle
1. A children’s amusement park located in various cities such as São Paulo, Curitiba, and Rio de Janeiro.