Who told you that straight hair is the most beautiful? How Brazilian society destroys black self-esteem

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Note from BW of Brazil: In the 19th century, Brazil’s elites decided that it wanted a white country. In order to achieve this objective, a strategy was put into place. This strategy included 1) the importation of millions of European immigrants, 2) the restriction of non-white immigration to the country, 3) the promotion of racial mixture and 4) census and identity manipulation and 5) the complete destruction of black self-esteem. 6) the harassment and interference of widespread black rights organizations and movements. Number five in this strategy was perhaps the most important because if the self-esteem and any type of pride in blackness could be impeded, points three and four would take care of themselves because millions of afrodescendentes (African descendants) would hate being black so much that they would avoid “inflicting” this classification/identity on their children at any cost. Although it must be pointed that out some parts of the plan have been successful as Brazilian society and media consistently bombards persons of visible African ancestry with all sorts of negativity and invisibility on a daily basis, which has contributed much to the continuation of the “everything white is alright” perspective amongst many  within this population. But the good news is that there are individuals and organizations who are actively trying to battle this imposition of inferiority with the afrodescendente population. Although there is a long ways still to go, there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

Who told you that straight hair is the most beautiful?

By Junior Walmyr*

In a school located in the Baixada Fluminense (area of Rio), a friend of mine, a teacher, witnessed a case of racism and came to talk to me. He told me he witnessed a shocking scene of a student at the school where he teaches crying absurdly. Teachers tried to contain the girl’s crying, with no success, invited my friend to try another way to calm the child down. She, a black girl with her black hair and the weight being outside of the standards of beauty that society desires, and he black and gay, with the same characteristics of the girl. Both carry a supposed stereotype about themselves that goes against the norms of the society in which we live.

Associated with this theme the social worker Fernanda Martins asked some questions on her social networking site that led me to once again approach this subject. She described it: “Why is it that straight and ‘perfect’ hair is the most beautiful? Why is the Barbie type of body the idealized body type of almost every woman in the world? Why do women have to dress themselves full of gadgets, makeup, clothes and super-annoying and uncomfortable shoes?”

Arthur Barcelos, State Youth Advisor of the State of Rio de Janeiro
Arthur Barcelos, State Youth Advisor of the State of Rio de Janeiro

A reproduction of a standard of the aesthetic of beauty is a source of trauma for several generations of children, adolescents and adults. In many situations we see people despised and excluded from society because they find themselves outside of the idealized standard by a white and Eurocentric mindset.

Racial prejudice is a crime in Brazil, however but a lot of comments reproduced by whoever claims not to be racist have proved that this evil is so permeated in society that is at the point of being naturalized. The lives of celebrities can serve as an example. The mirror of beauty is the skinny person or a ‘sculpted’ body, with straight hair and skin as white as cotton. Because of this many girls and boys, as the student quoted above, suffer from not fitting into the imposed standard of beauty that teaches how we should live, ultimately, based on standardization of the public and the spectacularization of society.

Arthur Barcelos, state youth advisor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, is a Physical Education teacher and talks about his identity being cast against the grain of society: “Since I assumed this more natural style I feel much better about myself. Today it’s already an identity and people recognize me by my hair, but I’ve been much criticized. They said I was too sloppy, that I was not presentable. And these criticisms came from acquaintances, friends, but mainly from my family; which has led me to have to cut my hair a couple of times because they did not believe that as I was, I would achieve professional success.”

The plastic artist Dayse
The plastic artist Dayse

There is a counter-culture that undermines the black cultural perspective and afrodescendente (African descent) in Brazil. This consolidation of a stereotype of beauty doesn’t strengthen self-esteem of this very same black man or woman and leads them to live in the midst of an inferiority complex.

For the plastic artist and member of Aqualtune – Associação de Mulheres Negras (Association of Black Women) – Dayse Gomes, it’s necessary to understand that “my hair is extension of my speech, that it affirms my identity, that influences aesthetically and politically other women and even children, these are some of the reasons I feel dreads are a part of me.” According Dayse, “there is still a negative view of the image of dreads by the vast majority of people. The reference of beauty is European beauty and everything that does not consider this similarity is judged as “feio” (ugly) or “ruim” (bad). Ie, to be inserted in a standard that everyone feels “comfortable”, including a non-black, is at all times be mutilated.

 The system is racist and its standards oppress us and attack us from all sides. Whether at work, at the bank, at a restaurant, etc… Dayse reported on a case of racism she suffered: “A non-black woman in an elevator, doesn’t stop looking at my hair and in order to express her annoyance at seeing a black woman in the so-called ‘executive’ suit and dreads, said to me: ‘You’d be prettier if you lengthened (straightened) that hair’, immediately I replied: ‘Your racism doesn’t tolerate and because of this motive, you are freely attacking me, but gather yourself of its insignificance and heal’. I left the elevator and never saw her again.”

The social worker Fernanda Martins
The social worker Fernanda Martins

We know that much has been done, but the evil of racism, which spreads without stopping at the corners, must be eradicated. Marcela Ribeiro is a militant of the MMM(Marcha Mundial das Mulheres or World March of Women) and director of Combat Racism of the UNE (Uião Nacional dos Estudantes or National Union of Students) and claims that “racism is manifested in many ways, especially for us black women, it violates us every day with the eroticization in the process of the commoditization of our bodies or in a more subtle and cruel way to establish certain standards of beauty that destroy since childhood any whiff of self-esteem. It’s not necessary to have straight hair, thin nose, thin lips to be considered beautiful, nor do we need that women’s magazines say that a black woman is the most beautiful in the world, as if it were a concession and this erased the history of oppression, there are thousands of anonymous Lupitas in the world out there, and eyes not blinded by racism always knew how to recognize their beauty.”

Beauty is a hegemonic racist, classist, sexist and exclusionary social construction. A pedagogy of beauty and aesthetics should be a fundamental battle agenda to combat racism. We are black women and men in our multiplicity of forms, bodies, faces and hair. We will reach a time when they will not see ourselves as the 50 most beautiful, but as the more than 100 million beautiful black men and women of Brazil. It is this constant desire to be free of social standards and ties that my teacher friend showed to that little girl, who after a hug and a kiss was recovering from her first confrontation with racism in school.

* Walmyr Junior is a teacher. He is a member of the Pastoral da Juventude (Youth Ministry) and works in the Pastoral Universitária of PUC-Rio (Campus Ministry at PUC-Rio). He is a member of the Coletivo de Juventude Negra – Enegrecer (Collective of Black Youth – Blacken). He represented civil society in a meeting with Pope Francisco at the Municipal Theater during JMJ (Jornada Mundial da Juventude or World Youth Day).

Source: Jornal do Brasil

About Marques Travae 2895 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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