The prison and its walls: When black people continuously reproduce the acceptance of internalized European aesthetics

Image from "Pretinhos Kids" Facebook page
Image from “Pretinhos Kids” Facebook page

Note from BW of Brazil: The BW of Brazil blog tackles a lot of issues that affect the Afro-Brazilian community on a regular basis and tries to do so in a manner that persons who don’t live in Brazil can relate. Many of those issues are similar to those that populations deal with regularly in the African Diaspora. Just a few of those topics include racial identity, racism, racial inequality, the hegemonic dominance of whiteness, the whole “good hair”/”bad hair” debate, etc. Today, the blog touches on yet another topic that is well-known throughout the Diaspora. To introduce this topic, ask yourself this question. Do you believe in the power of belief. For example, have you ever heard how elephants are trained for the circus? It goes something like this. 

To train an elephant for the circus and ensure that it never rebels, a trainer ties a thick rope around a baby elephant’s neck and drives the other end of the rope into the ground with a stake. The baby elephant tries to break free over and over and never manages to do so and finally gives up. When the baby elephant grows into an adult it keeps this lesson in its mind and, remembering its failure to escape, it doesn’t try anymore, even having much more power as an adult. The trainer can now secure a full grown elephant with a much slimmer rope and the animal won’t even try to escape. With this in mind, consider how the mind of a slave and/or an oppressed people can and have been shaped by the ideologies of their oppressor. Thus, whatever the oppressor passes on to the oppressed, the oppressed are capable of passing on the same oppression, now self-afflicted, for generations to come. Case in point: the question of hair and standards of beauty. Read on… 

The prison and its walls

by Jaqueline Gomes de Jesus

Recently a colleague told us a story. The daughter of a acquaintance was discriminated against at school for having “cabelo ruim (bad hair)” (a phrase used by our narrator with conviction). The teacher, at one point intervened, taking the insulted girl to a secluded corner and asking:

– “Do you think you’re ugly?”

– “No …” – replied the girl.

– “You are very beautiful; don’t believe what your classmates say.”

So, I immediately asked my colleague if the teacher had also talked to the other children about how wrong they are to discriminate. She said no, but that she would talk to the teacher about it.

I justified my question explaining that is common in situations of racism and other discrimination in the school environment, that professionals silence or hold accountable only the victims for what happens. History repeats itself.

Unfortunately, in the same week, there was another episode. The conversation was about the daughter of another coworker who participated in Jornada Mundial da Juventude (World Youth Day). The mother showed a photo of the girl with relatives around: a white woman with blondish straight hair, surrounded by visibly black people. The proud mother’s comment:

“See how beautiful my daughter is and look how she had pretty curly hair.”

(Hair, again. Markers of female identity in this society, as always…and as always, this racist society, refers to goodness or “badness” associated with ethnic identity…).

“I’ve had hair like that!”, intervenes another, “now I feel much better with this hairstyle.” (straight hair)

“My grandfather was black,” emphasizes the mother. “They say we have to purify the race, isn’t that right?”

I interrupted immediately:

“No! Purifying the race? What race is unclean and must be purified? From what? It doesn’t exist, it’s only in the minds of those who, like before, felt ashamed of being black or of African descent and adhered to the official discourse that black is ugly and white is beautiful! Are you still repeating this today?” The word “eugenics” and “fascism” were running through my mind.

There is a message that resonates among in such deplorable moments, which feeds the sense of deprivation: that no matter the degree or nature of their socioeconomic ascension, you will be “put in your place”, that was prepared for black people in a contemporary racist society, which fills the mouth to make a discourse of diversity, but only throws crumbs while booking the best positions for the privileged few.

This place is depreciated, stigmatized; a kind of prison in which the walls prevent us from enjoying certain spaces, of moving freely, which even the few blacks who managed to break through the barriers of inferiority in the labor market and access to higher education didn’t escape.

That the movements of black Brazilian men and women of the popular classes, those from the anti-racist and racial equality lines advance to radical actions (in the sense of going to the root of the problem in this ethno-racial country). The success in appropriating Afro-Brazilian elements that constitute the core of Brazilian culture is not enough, we have already passed from the time of subverting the economic logic that repels black people from positions of power or from more socially valued positions.

But how do we address this structure, delineated for centuries? The Racial Equality Statute brought some general proposals, effective in different fields of social perception about the black population. Besides them, affirmative action, in particular quotas for blacks in the selection processes of higher education institutions and in the selections of public agencies – which I consider potentially transformative – can support a true change in the functioning of our system of power, but should be followed carefully in order to avoid bad management and ensure its continuity.

While it is planned, the continuing silence against everyday racism proceeds, but also the individual struggles against the violation of identity and perspectives of all us, black people. This battle becomes that of all Brazilian citizens.

Jaqueline Gomes de Jesus is Ph.D. in Social Psychology of Work and of Organizations for the University of Brasília (UnB) and professor of the Centro Universitário Planalto do Distrito Federal (The Planalto University Center of the Federal District) – UNIPLAN. She writes the blog Jaqueline J.

Source: Blogueiras Negras

About Marques Travae 3114 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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