Which one is considered “flesh colored”? How whiteness even defines what color is “natural” – Photographer collects testimonials on the subject

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Note from BW of Brazil: I can actually remember very well when I heard someone say something like this for the first time. This idea of “flesh-colored”. It’s funny how these things are common wherever you find whiteness as representative of humanity, which is basically anywhere. As such, the same is true in Brazil. My experience was in the US. Talking to a work colleague many years ago, a tall white guy in his fifties, he described the bandage he wore on his arm to cover a wound that happened when he was doing some repair work on his car as “flesh-toned”. I was like, “Flesh-toned? Whose flesh? My flesh is clearly not the color of your bandage.” Realizing how it sounded, he just walked away and didn’t say anything else about it.

Defining a light beige color as “flesh-toned” or “flesh colored” is yet another manner in which whiteness positions itself as representative of all of humanity. The standard to which ALL others will be judged. Funny when we consider that pinkish white skin is actually a minority in the human family. Anyway, as I’ve already mentioned, the same is true in a country like Brazil with its endless rainbow of skin colors and hair textures. In Brazil, when one refers to a “flesh color” or “flesh tone”, it’s common to hear people say “cor de pele”, literally meaning ‘color of skin’ or ‘skin color’ or the English term “nude”. But again, whose skin color?

Photographer/professor Denise Camargo also thought about this ideology and created a project based on this issue and some of the comments, once again, show how Brazilians are taught from a young age to deny their skin if it is considered “too dark” or aspire to whiteness.


Which one is the skin color pencil? Photographer collects testimonials on the subject

Denise Camargo will design images on the subject in buildings of 10 Administrative Regions of DF

By Paulo Lannes

“When I was a child I didn’t know I was black. They hid this from me.”

Many people, even by virtue of habit, still describe the rosa-bebê (baby pink) pencil as “skin color.” Based on this perception, the São Paulo photographer Denise Camargo, also a professor at the Institute of Arts of the University of Brasilia (UnB), has developed a multimedia exhibition on the theme, scheduled to take place in the second half of 2018.

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“History taught that blacks had no soul. If they have no soul they can do anything to them.”

Denise intends, among other actions, to project the video on the entrances of buildings located in 10 Administrative Regions of the Federal District. The images will show people and testimonies related to the cor da pele (color of the skin), capable of denouncing the veiled racism that exists in Brazilian society.

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“I am very black, but I only lack the blessed melanin..”

Some of the testimonials are included throughout in this post:

“It is about bringing up a place of manifestation on the subject. I want to raise the concept of skin color common to us and question it,” explains the photographer. With the project still under construction, the artist is collecting testimonies from the city about the theme.

“Those panties there, they’re the color of what skin?”

Interested parties should contact the photographer by e-mail at oju.cultural@gmail.com or fill out an online form. After the first contact, the person will be invited to make an audio recording.

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“I’m black, but no one believes me.”

Currently, “Cor de Pele” has 20 photographed and more than 40 testimonials. In 2015, the project was selected in 1st place in the call for Inovação e Transversalidades do Fundo de Apoio à Cultura (FAC – Innovation and Transversalities of the Fund for Support to Culture).

“Mom, I wanted to be cor de pele…”

Note from BW of Brazil: Denise Camargo has contemplated this issue or a number of years. When this idea of ‘flesh colored’ became as issue affecting her son at school, she posted her thoughts online back in 2008. Below is what she posted nine years ago. 

Faber-Castell colored pencils

What is the color of the skin/flesh-colored?

I would like to tell you the following story: When my son went to kindergarten, he came home one day saying that he wanted to be ‘cor de pele’ (flesh-colored) (see note one). I would like to inform you that we are black. My husband is white. Our son, mestiço (mixed).

We couldn’t understand his desire because he was already a skin color, “I replied. ‘Son, you are a skin color. Cor de pele negra (black skin color) ‘. This theme hovered around the house for weeks until one day I went to school to find out what was going on.

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And to my surprise, the fact was a mixture of incompetence for Brazilian diversity from the teacher herself, and very strongly, also coming from Faber-Castell, that has in its box of 36-color pencils a color called PELE (SKIN). What color is this? A salmon, light pink, rosy that the manufacturer calls PELE.

LÁPIS COR DE PELE … COR DA PELE DE QUEM? (Flesh-colored pencil…Color of whose flesh?)

Whose skin, I wonder? Pele branca (white skin), of course. Would it not be right in a black majority country that there was also a color in the pencil box for those who did not have pele branca?

I emphasize that, yes, although statistics camouflage this data, Brazil is a country with a maioria negra (black majority). And I can provide consistent bibliography on the subject, if necessary. Either insert a new color, that contemplates black skin, or change the name, please.

cor de pele

My son is seven years old now, and he’s known for a long time that he’s ‘marronzinho’ (a little brown), like he said. But he understood at the very moment when he wanted to be ‘cor de pele’ that you subjected him to a disguised bias. Camouflaged in a box of pencils we see in the singing, colorful, smiling advertisements of name brands. The fact is that since that time – and it’s been a long time! I try by this channel, without success, a contact with Faber-Castell.

The fact is that last week, making a purchase I could see that the color PELE continues in the pencil box manufactured by you all. I want an answer and measures in a week, please. Because today I woke up tired of being ignored. I would like to inform you that this time I will use all the necessary resources so that my complaint reaches the channels destined for it, as well as institutions that are concerned with the issue in Brazil.

Sincerely, most sincerely,

Denise Camargo

Source: InclusiveMetrópoles


1.Many Brazilians over the years have reported the desire to having white skin, either themselves or recognizing this desire in their children. For examples, see here, here, here or here.

About Marques Travae 2894 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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