Note from BW of Brazil: Throughout several articles here on the blog, we’ve discussed the Brazilian obsession with whiteness and 19th century elites promotion of racial mixture with the ultimate goal of the eventual disappearance of the black race through an ongoing process of mixing with whites over the course of generations.
In the 1940s, President Getulio Vargas would issue Decree #7967 that would establish conditions to be met by immigrants wishing to come to Brazil. This decree declared the necessity of restricting immigration to the country to those who had more “desirable” characteristics of the white race. As a result of Brazil’s interest in whitening its population, approximately 4 million European immigrants would enter the country between the 1870s and the 1940s.
The objective was quite obvious as Brazil had imported between 4-5 million African to use as slave labor over the previous three and a half centuries. With this goal clearly established, several Brazilian officials began making predictions about just how many years would be necessary for all vestiges of the black race to be completely consumed into whiteness, with most predicting between 3-5 generations. Of course the plan failed and some will argue this objective ended long ago, but is that really true?
Over the course of several years, we’ve seen this obsession with an all-encompassing whiteness played out in several areas: politics, the teaching profession, diplomatic positions and so many other areas, particularly the mass media. Several studies have shown Brazil’s participation in the eugenics movement that document this desire to whiten the population. In his book The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health, and Racial Destiny in Australia, Warwick Anderson writes: “The term ‘eugenics’, meaning ‘well-born’, was coined by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin and an advocate of state control of human breeding to select for desirable features and to eliminate defective characteristics.”
In Brazil, this ideology was clearly applied to the black and indigenous populations. Within this context, let’s take a look at a video by popular funk singer formerly known as MC Beyoncé, then MC Ludmilla and now as simply Ludmilla.
Whiteness, the ideal (white) man and the promotion of eugenics in Ludmilla’s ‘Hoje’ video
By Nalui Mahin
Funk was created in the favela slums of Rio de Janeiro, in the 1970s, with the influence of the soul, of other American black music and drums present in the religions of African origin. It has undergone several transformations and always spoke of the experiences of favela populations (majority black). Like most of the cultural practices created by black populations, the rhythm was stigmatized by the large media conglomerates and associated with crime.
Currently, funk is going through a peculiar moment, particularly in its cradle, Rio de Janeiro, where there is a policy of favela occupation, which criminalizes, imposes a series of bureaucracies and finally reaches its goal, of preventing Bailes Funk (funk dances) from happening in the favelas. But this space for leisure and sociability hasn’t ceased to exist, it was transferred to clubs on the asphalt, the only places that can meet the safety standards and open with (and sometimes without) the license from City Hall and the Fire Department, but not everyone has access to these spaces, of course.
This process of the modification of funk is also reflected in its artists, which not only changed the location of concerts and consequently the public, but also the musical aesthetic and clips. A good example to illustrate these changes is Ludmilla, formerly known as MC Beyoncé.
The young artist released a video of the song “Hoje” in which the setting is a kind of scientific laboratory, where Ludmilla and her friends have the ability to create men in a machine called “PERFECTMAN CREATOR” and that works in a very simple way: the creator writes the desired characteristics in a man and voila, he appears.
Thus, the singer and her assistants, all wearing white coats, write several words such as “forte” (strong), “seguro” (secure), “confidante” (trustworthy), “exótico”, (exotic), “sensível” (sensitive), “confidente” (confident), “companheiro” (companion) and the machine creates boys with the desired characteristics.
Some of them are slim without athletic abdomens, these are discarded at the time and disappear as soon as the lab red button is pressed. Interestingly, all the characteristics written on the machine are positive and throughout the clip, they make white guys appear, except in one of the times in which the words give make a dog appear, a reference to the symbol of fidelity.
In the clip you can see that there is the lead role of Ludmilla, a young black woman, who throughout the song exposes certain power in relationships with males, however this black protagonist doesn’t extend itself much, limiting itself to only the presence of the singer. Not only are the guys that the machine produces are white, but also her assistants/dancers.
The clip is explicit that in fact what matters is brancura (whiteness), independent of shapes and musicians, as all the positive characteristics give rise to white men and finally the objective is reached and the “PERFECTMAN”, with green eyes, muscles and white skin emerges.
We must not forget that in a society such as Brazil, where girls grow up watching stories of white princesses and princes, where there are very few forms of positive media representation or leading roles for blacks, it’s no wonder that the production of a clip such as “Hoje” where all the positive characteristics generate white guys and a dog and makes black men invisible. It is also clear that this should not be naturalized.
This production is a reflection and part of the production cycle which have very low or no racial diversity, and that even when they want to suggest some black protagonism, its fall into the same error: leaving a gap in representation of black men (when not sexualizing or criminalizing them) and attributing all the positive characteristics to white men, being that they were within an aesthetic standard of virility or not.
Ludmilla – ‘Hoje’
Note from BW of Brazil: So what have we here in this music video? A black woman decides to use a machine to create her perfect man. As we saw, and as was pointed out by Nalui Mahin, not only are all of the men manufactured by the machine white, but so are Ludmilla’s dancers and lab assistants. A critical analysis from a racial perspective can be taken of this video from several aspects: The director of the video, the machine and Ludmilla.
First, as in so many other areas of Brazilian society and as a country known for its diversity of phenotypes, why is Ludmilla, the star of the video, the only black person in the video? A black woman singing a music style generally associated with poor black people from the favela slums of Rio de Janeiro. We’ve seen in past posts on how the style known as funk as been experiencing a type of Pop crossover appeal through artists such as Anitta. The genre that was once considered ‘trash’ and not even music when it was represented mostly by black artists, is again going through a process of whitening. In terms of the figures appearing in the video, who was responsible for the casting of the video?
Second, the machine that churned out “the product” after Ludmilla and her assistants typed in the characteristics of the perfect man follows very closely the model established in the Western world. A world in which, unless someone specifically states they seek products or models with characteristics of non-white groups, the standard will be portrayed with a European aesthetic. We see this in mannequins used in clothing stores, bandages, that are generally thought to be “flesh colored”, ie white, dolls, makeup, nylon stockings, etc. With such a standard so widely accepted it should actually come as no surprise that the positive characteristics that Ludmilla seeks would come in the form of a white man and that only a white man could fit the bill, thus her choices are only white.
Ludmilla herself, both as the character in the video and as an artist, isn’t going to “rock the boat” and question the lack of racial diversity. As we know, in Brazil, when black women show a talent for singing, they are often steered into the traditional musical style associated with black artists, Samba, and it is often difficult for them to earn the opportunity to break through and find success in the more lucrative Pop music market. The video casting featuring a principal black lead surrounded by all-white or nearly all-white co-stars follows the same standard that one sees in American big box office attractions starring black actors such as Denzel Washington and Will Smith. The idea here is that, if you want to earn big money, a black star can in fact sell, but the rest of the cast must be white or risk having the project labeled ‘black’ or ‘ghetto’, as director Joel Zito Araújo learned several years ago when he directed a film with a 90% black cast, a rarity in Brazilian film. We saw a similar crossover whitening in a music video by popular rapper MV Bill a few years ago.
Third, again, Brazil presents itself as far less racist country in comparison to the countries such as the United States or Apartheid-era South Africa (1), but the truth is that black representation, while still lacking in American media, offers far more opportunities to African-Americans than the Brazilian market represents to Afro-Brazilians. Brazilians often argue that Brazil never sanctioned segregation by law and thus argue that somehow Brazil is a much more racially tolerant country. But the truth is that segregation in the US led to a ‘black market’ that allows black artists, actors, etc. to at least shine in features directly targeted at African-Americans. One quick example for comparison shall suffice as an example.
Toni Braxton – “You’re Makin’ Me High”
In the 1996 music video for the song “You’re Makin’ Me High” by African-American artist Toni Braxton, we see a somewhat similar concept. No, there isn’t a “perfect man” making machine, but Toni and three of her friends, all also African-American, get together to judge a group a men who appear in an elevator one by one. In the video we see a range of different men; muscular, skinny, older, younger, and apparently of diverse professions. Counting the diversity, we see a total of about 12 men, 7 black, 4 white and 1 that appears Latino. The women all judge the appeal of each man with the numbers of over-sized playing cards. In the end, Braxton ultimately chooses one of the black men as the best man.
In reality, Braxton’s video is quite diverse given that most videos of African-American artists at the time featured primarily African-American actors and love interests. Again, due to segregation, black Americans established their own standards of attractiveness and within the world of black music videos, black films, etc., the black aesthetic carves out its own niche of beauty within an American model that also privileges the European aesthetic. This option is still largely non-existent in the Brazilian model. As we have seen, in Brazil’s novelas, black characters are still vastly under-represented and, when they do appear, are often paired with white characters in romantic settings. How should we interpret these two standards? It would be easy for one to argue that the Americans are more racist and that Brazilians are less racist as they mix more in terms of race. But the truth is that it’s not as simple as that. With a backdrop of miscegenation with the stated goal of the disappearance of the black race through miscegenation, Afro-Brazilians are expected to want to ascend in life and in attaining this ascension, enter the “mundo dos brancos”, (world of the whites) and whiten themselves culturally and in future generations, physically.
As we often do when analyzing things here, we like to take note of what others are saying about the topic. As such, we went over to You Tube to get a glimpse of what people were saying about the video. As the video has been viewed over 60 million times with over 7,000 comments, we only focus on a few in which people made pertinent comments regarding our topic. The original comments in Portuguese are at the bottom of the page. For now, let’s see what people had to say.
YOU TUBE comments
Vinicius: Look how cool, a machine for making white men
Maria: Vinicius, what’s the problem with her liking white men?
Vinicius: Maria I am only curious about the ideal of masculine beauty for a black woman is only white men (none of the models were black, you didn’t think any about this?
Maria: Vinicius…Only because she’s black she’s obligated to botar black men? Geez
Vinicius: Maria…Anyway, when when you have a machine that creates “the ideal man” and all of them are only white men…I think it’s naivety to think that it means nothing
Apenas: Vinicius true, the only thing that bothered me about the video was that, there were only white men, it should have had a negao (big, black man), an Asian and so on, even if in the end she chooses the white model with light eyes, it’s as if only white men exist in the world. I love this song but this video
Evandro: Vinicius what do you have against inter racial couples? Only because she’s black does not mean that she is obligated to only be with black men. I saw racism in this comment.
Vinicius: Evandro hi? Do you know how to interpret the text friend? At no time did I that she should not be with a white man, the only problem that I found is that the machine that creates the ideal man only creates white men, it does not create any black, Asian, Indian, Latin, only whites, only that, as they already said here, not even that she chose a white man in the end, but at least not pass on the idea of that only white is beautiful
Apenas: Evandro, she just typed the characteristics that she wants in a man, and the machine only shows white men, as Vinicius said, implying that only those who are white don’t serve. The other men of other races, don’t serve. There’s no racism in Vicinius’s comment, he only found a fact to which everyone is so accustomed to thinking is normal, only the white serves, only white is right and only white has beauty. I think that you don’t see any problem, because it should be white, right.
Romy: It’s like, in my interpretation, the machine does not create white men but it does modify. The guy that it is modifying is white and as she wishes to only change the personality and physique, he remained white. I don’t understand how it’s bias on her part.
Apenas: Romy just puts in the character she wants in a man, and does not specify race or body type she wants. But the machine only gives you what she requests in the form of a white man. It’s not her prejudice, of course, because it was not her who directed the clip, the problem is always showing white as the personification of perfection, goodness and all that is good in the world. The thing is not her in the end having chosen a muscular white man but rather a ‘moreno’, a black man, an Asian and so on not appearing.
Romy: Apenas But if she did not specify the race, we tend to understand that will be as before, no?
Apenas: Romy, no, really because she only put in the personality that she seeks in a man. When she created the machine she hadn’t specified race or physical body type, as it is the machine the majority of the time only sends her white men in good shape, except one ugly one but white, a chubby gay but white and a dog. How is that among all types of man that the machine can create, and seeing that the human race is quite vast, it only sends her white men?
Romy – Apenas I think you still haven’t understood my interpretation, the machine doesn’t create men, it modifies one. The modified man is white, why would the machine change the race as she only wanted to change the personality and physique?
Apenas – Romy – At no time is there a man put there to be modified. The machine is empty. So it that nothing/empty will be modified? There’s nothing inside the machine, how will it modify it?
Note from BW of Brazil: The debate on this topic and the interpretations are pretty typical to what this writer usually sees on social networks. The video at the time of this writing had received over 265,000“thumbs up” and over 23,000 “thumbs down” ratings meaning there were more than 11 times more positive views than negative. In the dialogue above we note that when one person brings up the fact that the video featured only white men as possible candidates for “perfect man”, he is automatically questioned. “What’s the problem with her liking white men?” says one. ” I saw racism in this comment”, says another. Even as “Apenas” and “Vinicius” argue their points that the video promotes whiteness as the hegemonic standard for perfection, the Brazilian discourse of “we are all equal” is represented in the arguments of the others.
Amazing. White Brazilian men and women are presented as the standard for everything in the society but even questioning this standard, clearly represented in the video, and people will make it seem as if this hegemonic whiteness doesn’t exist. A minority of Afro-Brazilian activists must fight just to point out these racial disparities and often times it is other Afro-Brazilians totally void of any sense of consciousness who fight for what they believe to be equality for all, but in essence fighting for the maintenance of the status quo as, in Brazil, equality has always been code for equality for those with white skin. Thus, even as black men and women are rarely represented in positions of prominence in any form of mainstream media, people still pose questions questioning the very challenging of such overwhelming whiteness as if it were whiteness that was in fact under-represented.
With such a belief in impossible equality, much of the Afro-Brazilian population contribute to their own oppression when they continuously adhere to the idea of equality when white Brazilians consistently show their belief in determined “places” for determined groups. We see this in reactions of white Brazilians when they perceive black Brazilians “invading” spaces historically “reserved” for them. Places such as universities (here, here or here), certain shopping malls, airplane flights or anywhere else they are deemed “out of place”.
The bottom line here is what this writer has argued before. It doesn’t really matter which country in the world should be labeled as “the most racist”. The fact is that as white supremacy goes, for the most part, unchallenged in Brazil, racismo à brasileira, or Brazilian-styled racism, is far more effective because whiteness is so naturalized that people don’t even perceive its dominance. Ludmilla’s ‘Hoje’ video is simply another piece of the clear evidence of the fact.
- It’s worth pointing out how many Afro-Brazilian activists have drawn parallels Brazilian styled racism and Apartheid-era South Africa. For examples, see articles here.