Note from BW of Brazil: The relatively recent debate over palmitagem isn’t actually new at all although the label is. Perhaps five years ago or so, Afro-Brazilian women started labeling the pattern of successful Afro-Brazilian men having long-term relationships with white women as palmitagem and those men who practice such dating habits were called palmiteiros. Both terms come from the root word palmito, which refers to the crunchy white vegetable that is called hearts of palm in English.
Just since about 2014, the debate has escalated from just black women cmaking the accusations of black men and then in social networks, black men, in turn were making the same accusations against black women. Black women have always maintained that they don’t “palmita”, asserting that because of the abandonment so many black women have experienced due to so many black men flocking to the arms of white women, they had no choice but to open up their options if they wanted to secure long-term relationships.
The question here being, who’s right? Who’s wrong? Or are both sides equally guilty? I’ve actively followed the debate since about 2004 or 2005 and I conclude that both sides have contributed to an enormous gap in efforts to unify the comunidade preta (black community) against systematic white supremacy. Nowadays, the topic is entering the political realm with many people (rightfully) concluding that the interests of black Brazilians as a whole can never be addressed when so many people seem to be “talking black, sleeping white”, consistently whitening the race and effectively returning any gains made by Afro-Brazilians to the white community via generational miscegenation.
23 years ago, in 1997, in an article entitled “Quem tem razão?”, meaning ‘who’s right?’, Sandra Ventura tackled the issue in a mainstream media vehicle and set the stage for an ongoing debate that, within a few years, would continue in one of the first social networks used by Brazilians, Orkut, and then later in black Brazilian communities in platforms such as Facebook. With recent calls for amor afrocentrado (Afrocentric love) and amor preto (black love), I thought it would be a good time to re-visit that article that was first released in August of 1997.
Passionate about their color, black men and women feel rejected by the opposite sex of their race and accuse each other of preferring white partners.
By Sandra Ventura
Since the world is a world, men and women differ on several aspects. In chemistry between the two sexes, such differences are an extra spice. And if attraction were not the basis on so many questions, certainly some impasses would never be discussed. In the case of blacks, one of the themes that provoke the most heated discussions is the rejection by partners of the same color, which grows proportionally at the socio-cultural level. According to the study Racismo Cordial, carried out by Datafolha in June 1995, 35% of blacks with only a primary education have never had an intimate relationship with a partner of a different color.
However, the percentage drops to 22% when respondents have completed high school and drops to 8% among university students. This means that the higher the level of education of blacks, the more they date and marry white or partners of other ethnicities, neglecting the relationship with people of the same race. This statement, however, is countered by these same men and women. While they say that successful black women prefer white men, women go further. They claim that black men only look at blondes and that black women are always at the bottom of the male preference scale, behind white and mixed race women. As the debate ignites the hearts of both parties, we try to find out who is right in this story.
“Some blacks use the embranquecimento (whitening) strategy. Lightening his descendants, he lightens his own life, becoming less surrounded by others” (Aurélio do Nascimento, sociologist, on marriage with white partners)
According to sociologist Aurélio Eduardo do Nascimento, co-author of the book Trabalho, História e Tendências, published by Editora Ática, the result of the research proceeds, although it is not possible to declare the trend pointed out by the study as a truth. “It is a detectable behavior, because when the black person ascends economically, he belongs to the world of whites, which, historically, was not made for him.” According to Nascimento, racism does not disappear with social ascension and, for this reason, blacks use the whitening strategy. “By lightening his offspring, the black man lightens his own life, becoming less surrounded by the others,” he says.
The relationship of the rich black or black university student with white women generally involves another issue, the difference in cultural status. “It’s very difficult for blacks to pierce the schema of the white elite and marry a woman of the same social and intellectual level”, believes the sociologist, for whom the majority of blacks marry white women of inferior education. According to the professional, it is a two-way ascension: whitening for blacks and changing the social level for her. “Usually, the less favored classes accept more miscegenation, which makes things easier”, explains Nascimento.
This is one of the main complaints brought by black women who consult with psychologists Silvia de Souza and Ana Maria Silva, from the Amma group, which works on the racial issue. “They complain that black men prefer white women, even if they are cleaning ladies, over black women with the same socio-cultural level”, informs Silvia. In the opinion of Ana Maria, from the moment that black men or black women come into contact with negative stereotypes of their race, both can be led to reinforce a negative image of themselves and of everyone who has characteristics just like theirs. “In that case, they will not look for someone similar, as they tend to project everything negative that they see in themselves.”
For Ana Maria, it is not at all easy to come face to face with an equal that evokes a pejorative image, when what you want is to forget your origin. For this reason, warns Silvia, these same black men and women must question themselves on some points when they meet the opposite sex. Some of them would be: what feelings does this person provoke in me; what I see in him/her that causes me disgust; why I don’t see myself as a partner of that person; what images do I make of this relationship; what is the sensation that that person’s touch causes me.
“When answering some of these questions, the person begins to have clues to the feelings that the opposite causes”, explains Silvia. The answers also serve to indicate the degree of whitening of the individual, since those who do not reflect on their own condition in relation to themselves and the world tend to accept the distorted image transmitted by the white society. “Another point is that the advertising world imposes a white model of beauty, internalized by black women and men”, warns the professional. Placing all these ingredients in the cauldron and adding a pinch of low self-esteem – common to most blacks – leads to rejection of the partner from the same ethnic group.
Whenever you see a pretty black girl you think she’s just gonna flirt with a rich white guy” – Josias Damasceno, musician and voice overdub actor
As social pressure is a harsh reality, blacks end up falling into the trap. However, while black men are more concerned with seeking social acceptance, women are looking for happiness, according to psychologists. “For women, the social aspect is not always related to the financial aspect”, says Ana Maria. Sociologist Aurélio Nascimento suggests one of the reasons that puts black women at a disadvantage: Men still have positive discrimination about their sexual performance and sensuality, like the mestiço (mixed) woman, while black women are left over.”
The men, the women
Married four times, each of them with a different ethnic type, actress Zezé Motta, 53 years old, is wagering on the standard of beauty as responsible for strengthening the rejection. “People end up believing that miscegenation can solve everything and they play the wrong game.” A carioca, she grew up in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro, mixed with people of all colors. Perhaps because of this, she never felt passed over due to skin tone. “Whenever I wanted a man, I never thought if he would care about my color.” Despite not having had difficulties in the area of love, the actress has heard many complaints from other women about the rejection. “I often say that we cannot forget the emotion. When it exists, everything disappears,” she advises.
Eduardo Silva, 33, Bongô, from the children’s program Castelo Rá-Tim-Bum, of the TV Cultura network, agrees with Zezé in the emotion chapter and warns of another fact: “If you spend your life surrounded by whites, like me, with whom are you going to relate to?”. Dating a white girl at the moment, Eduardo claims he was never prejudiced in this regard. “The supporters of this thesis have nothing. I like pretty girls, regardless of race. But black women are right to complain.” The actor, also a professor of molecular biology in a pre-university course in São Paulo, makes the statement based on his experience with students, mostly white, middle class and full of prejudices. “There is a certain folklore about this history. I don’t know if it’s racism, fear or what, but whenever we see a beautiful black woman, we soon think that she’s only going to flirt with a rich white man,” believes musician and voice dubber Josias Damasceno, single, 41. Aiming at himself, who prefers mestiços, black women or morenas, Josias says that the rich black man wants to have a model woman, “but there is no standard of beauty for our race”.
Married to a black man, journalist Jaqueline Carvalho, 29, is another exception. “I was never attracted to whites and I always dated black men,” she comments. Like actor Eduardo Silva, she finds it difficult for blacks to maintain their roots as they rise up the social ladder, “because in college, whites are the majority.” If black men prefer whites? “Many of them look for blondes, the maximum whiteness, to show them off as a trophy. I would say that marriage to this woman successfully crowns the trajectory of the black man. In contrast, black women use white husbands as trampolines.”
Civil technologist Railton Aparecido Carvalho, 31, after loving relationships with several women, opted for a black woman, in this case, the aforementioned Jaqueline. “I thought she was best for me. Unconsciously, really, not to be rejected. I am proud of my race and, if I had to go back in time, I would do it all over again.” For Railton, the blacks who choose blondes want to deny their origin. “Pelé is the ultimate example of this behavior”, he comments, believing that this situation will only change in Brazil when black people become conscious, as in the United States. “There, famous black men are always accompanied by beautiful black women.”
Also married to a black man, biologist Rosa Maria Tavares Andrade, 35, doesn’t agree that men prefer white women. “This myth came up because futebol (soccer) players are in the video all the time with a blonde by his side. Maybe that’s because blondes harass more.” According to her, this stigma doesn’t exist in the context of ordinary people, as they would put the feeling in the foreground. This opinion, however, does not dismiss the complaint of black women. “As discriminated against as he may be, black men have always been better off than women,” says Rosa Maria. It’s based on statistics that point to black women as the base of the pyramid at all levels. In this report, however, they didn’t leave the top for a single moment.’
“Women complain that black men prefer white women, even though they are cleaning ladies, over black women with the same socio-cultural level” – Silvia de Souza, psychologist
Desire has no color
Sociologist Aurélio Eduardo do Nascimento believes that the marriage of successful black women or men to white partners is not a rule for those who ascend socially, but only a tendency. This is because, in his opinion, affective relationships are not subject to ethnicity and, therefore, would not have a preconceived choice as a starting point. “I believe that personal relationships are driven by emotion and escape from the social culture,” he says. Psychologist Salete Duarte agrees and adds that complicity and intimacy are independent of race or creed. “We are attracted by the similarities and differences, by opposites and complementaries, not specifically by black, Japanese, Arab or white.”
In that sense, according to her, miscegenation would not be a conscious device. “We cannot rule out the possibility that some people are so calculating as to do this with their lives, but Brazil is basically a mixed race country because of the physical and personal attraction of individuals, who want this woman or that man”, explains the psychologist. Nascimento also believes that the mixture of races, so common in our country, is much more affected by emotion than by the so-called historical strategy of whitening.
Anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro supports the same thesis. So much so that he always saw Brazil as the power of the future precisely because of ethnic diversity, the result of the mixture of the Indian with the European white and with the Africans. His ideas about the mulatto homeland can be seen in the treatise O Povo Brasileiro (Cia das Letras, 476 pages, BRL $25.50).