Note from BW of Brazil: When I first got into studying racial politics in Brazil, I constantly read that Brazil was ‘different’. Race relations in Brazil are completely different than in the United States. The American situation cannot be applied to Brazil. Or Brazilians don’t see race. Here’s my thing. I am far more willing to admit that there are indeed differences between the United States and Brazil in terms of race than most Brazilians are willing to admit that there are far more similarities between the two multi-racial societies. In past posts, this blog has demonstrated that many Afro-Brazilians look to and see themselves somewhat represented through the success of their “cousins” to the north in the United States. As much as most Brazilians continue to see the United States as the most racist country on earth, and as much as African-American representation in that country’s media leaves to be desired, many Afro-Brazilians recognize the fact that black American representation in stories and lead characters in television and film productions is far more that would ever be conceivably possible for black Brazilians in Brazil’s media.
It is no doubt for this reason that when someone like Beyonce shakes up the world in a Super Bowl performance, it is celebrated in the black blog-o-sphere in Brazil, provoking questions such as, “where is the Brazilian Beyonce?”. Or when there is a major film feature on the life of one of America’s most influential and controversial black artists, black Brazilians will ask, “Where is the Brazilian Nina Simone?” Or when a gifted black athlete assumes a social responsibility of always representing his people beyond his particular sport, people will ask, “Why don’t black Brazilian athletes stand up and challenge a racist system like a Muhammad Ali?”
Little wonder that films and TV programs starring African-Americans in lead roles or with largely black casts such as Everybody Hates Chris, The Fresh Prince of Bel Aire or My Wife and Kids are major hits on Brazilian networks. The fact is, in the US, for decades it’s been quite normal to see television programs that present African-American culture and actors while in Brazil it remains a rarity. This also explains why African-Americans boldly make noise in the press when they are noticeably absent from the biggest celebration of American film of all while Afro-Brazilians are hardly in a position to be able to complain, perhaps finding it necessary to hold onto the few crumbs they are given.
Given these facts, can one still make the argument that the US is far more racist in its dealings with its population of African descent? It’s a question that most Brazilians will continue to deny if asked their opinion. And it is this denial that perhaps at the root of the issue of why the new Netflix series Dear White People (released as Cara Gente Branca in Brazil) is hardly getting the coverage that it deserves. After all, according to Brazil’s decades-long mythology on the topic of race, such a series that approaches the racial issue so boldly would have no place in Brazil because race relations in Brazil have nothing in common with race relations in the US. Or do they?
Netflix Cara Gente Branca (Dear White People) trailer
Brazil has always been a “racial democracy” while the US has always been a country of open racial hostility, right? If you still believe that I would suggest that spend a few days analyzing some of the articles on this very blog dealing with this issue. The fact is, the topics approached in Dear White People, both the film and the series, are subjects that Afro-Brazilians discuss EVERYDAY (see note one).
Need proof…Keep reading…
The super important themes of Dear White People
The release from Netflix, about a group of black students facing the structural racism of an elitist American university is less talked about than it should be.
By Carolina Moreira
Dear White People (released as Cara Gente Branca in Brazil) debuted last Friday (28) on the Netflix streaming platform and its release is less talked about than it should be. The series is about a group of black students facing the structural racism of an elitist American university, that is: mostly attended by white people. In its ten episodes, the release portrays the racist conjuncture in which we live and evidences this fact through the use of the representation of both micro and macro aggressions.
“If suicide and racism are urgent issues, why was the frenzy of the premiere of 13 Reasons Why so much bigger than Dear White People?”
Soon after the debut, I commented on the importance of black protagonism in the series in the text “Cara Gente Branca: uma luta pela igualdade de direitos” (Dear White People: a fight for equal rights), but after the publication a very important discussion was raised in the text “Dear White People e o silêncio ensurdecedor da internet” (Dear White People and the deafening silence of the internet) caught my attention. Gabriela Moura, the author of the text, touched on a delicate and devastating point: why the frenzy created in social networks for the debut of 13 Reasons Why was so much greater than the debut of Cara Gente Branca? If the two themes (suicide and racism) are urgent, what would be the cause of the unequal repercussions?
In this respect, we can perceive two nuances. The first one refers to the audience’s own engagement with the series (in the case of 13 Reasons Why, for example, there was a big commotion with Twitter tags, testimonials on all social networks, newspapers, and magazines echoing the theme). The second nuance is more institutional and concerns the divulging of Netflix, which is being very weak (compared to other series already released) and didn’t bet on national advertising strategies, tactics used in shows such as Orange is The New Black, The Get Down, Santa Clarita Diet and 13 Reasons Why.
Cara Gente Branca touches on open and extremely painful wounds. If for some it is difficult to accept that we are a structurally racist society, just imagine what the lives of our black population whose racist experiences are daily, whether they are wide open or not? And although the series is a North American reality, several of its questions brought by the narrative can be easily perceived in the Brazilian reality.
All this controversy makes very clear the real need to discuss issues related to racism in our country. That is why we have raised 10 important issues addressed by Cara Gente Branca and that can generate reflection, contribute to the demystification of the theme and, perhaps, broaden the empathy for important black struggles.
Racism is not only about insults, swearing and clear violations of rights. Structural racism is in everything that constitutes us as a society, it is in our language, in our customs and beliefs. And that’s a topic widely covered by the series in every episode. I don’t think it was by chance even that some of the most powerful and respectable characters in the series, the university’s rector and his son, are black men. To show that their existence doesn’t prove the supposed absence of racism in which many people want to believe. All the black characters in the series are part of a university that is the American intellectual elite. All highly educated and acculturated, but nevertheless not immune to police violence, the neglect of the administration and even the relationship rejection. In addition, the choice not only to show situations in which racism is exposed in its most explicit facet, but also to show it in micro-aggressions, was fantastic. A crooked gaze, an insinuation, a soft repression…All of this is rooted in our culture and must be fought every day.
The solitude of the black woman is a theme researched by several groups of studies in the country and it is a real and devastating fact: the number of single black women in Brazil is alarming. Many factors contribute to the fact: black women are deprecated by black men (for them being with a white woman means a form of ascension) and white men; they are considered “mulata-exportação” (mulatas of the exportation type), having their bodies hyper-sexualized and desired only for sexual purposes; they lead in the number of single mothers, evidencing the sad reality of affective and also paternal abandonment. The theme of solitude is approached by the series in an episode focusing on the character Coco (Colandrea) in an exemplary way. The series shows the character being deprecated and makes it clear that the problem was that she is black.
Colorism or pigmentocracy is the name given to discrimination by skin color and is very common in countries that have been colonized by Europeans and have gone through the process of slavery. In a simple way, we can define that the less pigmented the skin of the black person is, the less racism he/she will suffer throughout life. This “privilege” is the subject of discussions between the protagonists Sam and Coco. Coco, who has the most pigmented skin tone, in an inflamed and sincere discourse explains to Sam, whose skin is less pigmented, that this factor is decisive when racist situations come to the surface. It is clear that the racist experiences of each person are unique and we’re not saying here that there is a possibility of saying that someone is “mais negro” (blacker) than someone else, but it is always worth thinking about our privileges to build a less racist reality for all.
Police violence against black people is something alarming and has already generated huge and conscious movements like Black Live Matters in the United States. Bringing to the Brazilian reality, the number of black and white people killed in police operations is discrepant and Cara Gente Branca knew how to take advantage of the theme in a very assertive and touching way in one of its most tense and distressing scenes of the season.
It’s not easy being a black woman or a black man and maintaining high self-esteem in a society where ser branco (being white) – or having the characteristics defined as white – are required at all times. A number of factors can be addressed here: the lack of media representation, the scarce means of aesthetic empowerment and even the limited number of cosmetics and accessories appropriate to the black realities can be pointed out as a start of a conversation on this delicate subject. Cara Gente Branca had the sensitivity to bring this theme to the fore with two of its characters: again Sam and Coco. The aesthetic transitions through which the two go through along with the questions arising from these procedures are displayed throughout the episodes and the two characters travel an interesting path to feeling beautiful and accepted.
This is an arid and comprehensible subject hampered by disinformation shared to exhaustion by the spaces of the internet. Because it is a series that deals with the theme of racism, it is clear that apropriação cultural (cultural appropriation) would not be left aside. During an artistic presentation, Sam and Reggie discuss how much that expression appropriated itself from different cultures. The scene has a light tone, but the subject is serious and how good it was that it was approached.
Militancy and collection
Being a militant is not an easy task, regardless of the cause. And this is shown with excellence by the series. Sam is an activist who fights in the highly engaged Black Movement and focuses her efforts on building a more egalitarian society, but she is human and, of course, under pressure from others. And it is also clear that she cannot be perfect in her posture 100% of the time. This is beautiful and humanizes the character. Depending on the receiver, however, the message passed by the scenes that bring that reality to the surface may cause some strangeness and even a feeling that the character’s posture is fake, but let whoever can be 100% perfect cast the first stone.
Myth of Reverse Racism
Reverse racism does not exist. This is a care that must always be taken when it is necessary to talk about it, so as not to run the risk of legitimizing the term. Racism is a proven social phenomenon, explained and studied by different sciences such as history, geography, sociology, anthropology and the study of languages. Reverse racism, on the other hand, is a myth widely used to expose situations that are mostly singular (ie, not collective) and particular. Cara Gente Branca touches on this issue when it shows white students who cannot understand their privileges and, in a way, shows how discrepant and unjust the realities experienced by black and white groups are within the university.
The theme of interracial relationships is very well approached by the series and even puts in focus one of the most important characters of the narrative. After discovering that one of the university’s most active black movement activists relates affectionately to a white man, her militant colleagues pressure her and make fun of her. It is clear that the character didn’t want to make the fact public precisely because of the fear of publicizing her relationship “with the oppressor”. Already among the dynamics of this couple, the series has the sensitivity to show that certain concessions and understandings are necessary so that the white part of that relationship understands peculiarities experienced by the black part. In a sensitive way the series managed to bring the subject to the surface and showed that when the subject is an interracial affective relationship in a structurally racist society, not everything is always flowers.
The impostor syndrome
It is no surprise to anyone that black people often need to work harder than white people to challenge and conquer spaces that should be equal. This pressure often means that when you are at the top or getting there, the black person will wonder if she really deserves it, whether she has the potential to perform such a task, or if it is a sham. The feeling is legitimate and touches on the point of self-esteem of black people who, as mentioned in the item on aesthetic empowerment, is constantly being massacred (among other reasons) by the lack of representation. In the series, the militant Reggie and even the heartthrob and successful Troy go through moments of insecurity about their abilities. Not understanding that this feeling is part of a context is what underlies another myth: that of victimization.
Source: Revista Trip
- Interestingly, the above article didn’t mention the topic of white usage of blackface in Dear White People, which has been a huge issue in Brazil in recent years because of the propensity of white Brazilians to wear this ghoulish makeup. Yet another issue that Afro-Brazilians can surely relate to is the discomfort their presence causes on college and university campuses throughout Brazil.