Note from BW of Brazil: It’s real. Conversations on race with the average Brazilian will generally go down the same paths. If you should suggest that black Brazilians are at a disadvantage across the board in comparison to white Brazilians and that this position has a lot to do with institutionalized racism, generally, there are a few tired and true reactions. 1) Prove adherence to the thoroughly debunked ‘racial democracy’ myth which posits that “all Brazilians are equal”. 2) They’ll admit that racism does in fact exist, but that it’s nowhere near as bad as in the United States. 3) They’ll admit that racists exist and that they even know a few racists personally, but deny that they are in fact racist. 4) In line with number 3, they’ll tell you that they have a black friend/colleague/husband/wife/maid /_________ to “prove” that they aren’t racist or 5) Define any black person bringing up the issue of race/racism, even with clear facts, as a vitimista or one who plays the victim. There are actually more reactions that I could name, but you get the picture.
The question here is, if the differential treatment of black Brazilians is an actual fact backed up by countless studies and the testimonies of literally thousands of black people who have experienced such treatment based solely on their physical appearance, can this still be considered “playing the victim”? The article below makes the case for the idea that black victim playing simply doesn’t exist because, well, the facts speak for themselves.
Why black victim-playing doesn’t exist
Part of the white Brazilian population tries to delegitimize racism with the false idea of meritocracy in a country of slave-owning heritage.
By Amauri Eugênio Jr.
Many black people have heard phrases such as “Você é negro(a) de alma branca” e “Você é um(a) negro(a) de traços bonitos” (meaning “You are black with a white soul” and “You are a black with beautiful features”) or had to put up with someone touching their hair, because someone thought it was exotic. Hearing that he/she doesn’t appear to be a professional in a certain intellectual activity or a high-ranking position are also constant facts in the lives of blacks. But whoever complains about it is considered a victimista (one who plays the victim) and has to listen to a monologue about the cousin of a neighbor’s friend who was black and came up on his own merit.
“I’ve heard from a schoolteacher that I was a negra de alma branca (black woman with a white soul) because of my behavior in the classroom, and I’m pretty because I have traços finos (fine features) and don’t have a ‘nariz de preto’ (‘black nose’). Once, a woman turned back in a line, and told me that my hair was cool because it was fashionable. “- Leandra Silva *, 19.
The examples in the paragraph above are forms of racism. According to the Atlas da Violência 2017 (Atlas of Violence 2017) of the IPEA, however, black people are 23.5% more likely to die than members of other ethnic groups. Schooling does not equate income between blacks and whites – blacks earn 85% of a white person’s salary in the case of a completing high school, and 65% in the case of higher education. Black women, on the other hand, earn an average of 59% less than white men.
There are a few examples that show racism as a constant in Brazil. On December 2, for example, an agency posted a Facebook a montage of a photo of Jim Carrey before and after entering the stock industry. In the “after” post, Carrey appears in blackface and cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair). The racist meme received a number of inquiries to the point that the company removed the post from the air and publicly retracted it denying that the publication would have been racist.
“A guy came in red, one in blue, one in white and one in green. Comment: ‘Everybody today is a Power Ranger, except Diego*! He is the black ranger.’ “I’m wearing a wine [shirt] and it happened today [December 5] at the firm.” – Diego Moreira*, 30.
There are those who find it normal that blacks suffer from urban violence and live on the fringes, while it is strange to see them in public universities or in managerial positions, for example. According to Juarez Xavier, Unesp journalism professor and NUPE (Núcleo Negro para Pesquisa e Extensão – Black Center for Research and Extension) coordinator, the idea of “racial democracy” has reduced the political and social reaction against institutional racism.”
The researcher explains: “When they criticized racism in Brazil, it was said that there was no [prejudice] as in the US – as if racial democracy in Brazil had not constituted institutional racism. But when [statistical] data became available from the 1980s, they showed that, regardless of the racial democracy discourse, there is a blockage of the access of black people to the exercise of social rights, such as education, health and work – which crosses the machine of the state and is fed by the ideological machine that favors it.”
Even with the blatant inequality between blacks and whites in the country, policies such as racial quotas in vestibulares (college entrance exams) and public employment competitions are criticized for supposedly favoring the black population. “Ideally, the measures would have been adopted back then. We see the attempt to create policies to include the black population in society and what is said about them is a fallacious argumentation. There is no overcoming of inequality without state intervention,” Xavier believes.
“Today [December 5th] a guy told me that my hair is weird, and it looked like I had been shocked – he thought that remark was very cool. And some people say, ‘Você não é negra, é moreninha’ (You’re not black, you’re moreninha).'”- Daisy Coelho, 30.
The proportion of blacks in strategic positions in Brazil is far from equal. Data show that 43 out of 513 are recognized in this way in the Chamber of Deputies (House of Representatives). Still, 12.8% of black youths are in higher education, while 26.5% of whites are in the same category. “It is not only in the political capital that there is an underrepresentation of blacks: all [sectors] have a brutal absence of the black population and what’s shocking is this asymmetry in Brazil. It’s necessary to have strategic actions to claim spaces in public universities. Our policy is to universalize the access of blacks to these capitals.”
A few months ago, actress Taís Araújo was ridiculed after saying that the color of her son made people change sidewalks. In the same week, Titi, daughter of Globo TV actors Bruno Gagliasso and Giovanna Ewbank, suffered racist attacks. In all cases, the black person was ridiculed for talking about racism, while a white individual gained support for the same reason.
“Since I did braids, which is something recent, I always hear that I look like some artist. There would be no problem in this if it were not that they think that every black man looks or is a brother. Besides, there are several requests to touch my hair and I think that sucks.”- Thayse Lopes, 30.
These facts exemplify authority of speech – the opinion of someone white is often the most respected in any context. “There are people who have been trying to remove racist expressions from speech. We are in a society submerged in the cultural practice of slavery and it is assumed that it is impregnated with prejudices,” says Xavier. “When there are sectors of society that learn to deal with diversity and make mistakes trying to learn, the educational process is worth it. When dealing with another fascist, that feeds the prejudiced speech, this is a crime and the person must respond in court,” concludes the Unesp professor of journalism.
* Some names have been modified to preserve the identity of the characters