I still remember the conversation. It was September of the year 2000 and I was kicking it with my new friend, Marcus, a short, light-skinned Brazilian brotha with long dread locks. Marcus looked sort of like one of Bob Marley’s kids although I couldn’t pinpoint which one. I met Marcus through an American couple from Massachusetts that had been traveling to Brazil for a number of years. After finally meeting Marcus in his hometown of Salvador, Bahia, in northeastern Brazil, we started kickin’ it about black issues and making comparisons between the Civil Rights/Black Power Movement of the mid 1950s to the early 1970s and Brazil’s Movimento Negro Unificado. I was telling Marcus that I really admired Abdias do Nascimento, at the time an 86-year old veteran militant of the Movimento Negro. It was two of Nascimento’s books that had introduced me to the black struggle for equality in the Federative Republic of Brazil. As Marcus and I walked the streets of the Barra region of Salvador, Marcus told me that although he liked Nascimento, he preferred Malcolm X because Malcolm had married a black woman. When he said this, I was puzzled. Was he telling me that Nascimento, Brazil’s most celebrated modern day black rights advocate, was married to a non-black woman? As it turned out, Nascimento had been married to Elisa Larkin, a white American woman somewhere between 30 and 40 years his junior for many years.
At that very moment, I had a flashback of a time in the 1990s when I was taking a class in Black History at a community college. The class was watching a documentary and at that point in the film, the story of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass was being highlighted. The class listened quietly and attentively as the narrator read some of Douglass’s greatest speeches and accomplishments. Some of the students were being exposed to Douglass for the first time and it was apparent that many of them were growing fascinated with the life of one America’s greatest heroes. But all of the admiration of the man’s influential life seemed to pause when the young women in the room discovered another fact about Douglass: in his later years, he had married a white woman. I still remember the collective sighs and gasps that I heard in the room when the narrator finished revealing this part of Douglass’s life. It seemed as if the women in the room didn’t want to watch the documentary anymore. As if all he had done for his people was somehow void because he had committed the “treasonous” act of marrying someone from the other side: the oppressor’s side. “What kind of black man who fights for and loves his people marries a white woman?”, is what the sighs, comments and teeth sucking was really asking. Here it was years later and that memory came roaring back to me because of what someone on the other side of the world told me about a completely different person.
|Lee’s Jungle Fever|
So, here again was a question and that was the topic of much controversy in the African-American community. Could a brotha be married to or kickin’ with a white woman and still “be down”? Wesley Snipes’ character, Flipper, in Spike Lee’s 1991 film Jungle Fever, wanted Lee’s character Cyrus to definitely know that he was indeed. And, on another level, is it a contradiction for a black militant who advocates black pride and collective unity of his people to date, have relations with and/or marry a white woman? The question still leads to heated reactions and presumably the answer remains “no”. Many in the African-American community today insist that had President Barack Obama’s wife been white, he would not have received the overwhelming support of the American black community and most likely would not have ascended to the presidency of the United States.
But now I was pondering these questions from another perspective. After discovering this about Brazil’s most important black leader of the 20th century, I came to discover that not only was black men marrying white women in Brazilian society quite normal, it was also a well-known fact that there were many Afro-Brazilian militants married to white women, and, as I would assume, they didn’t see a contradiction in the fact. In the past decade there have been a number of academic and journalistic works that studied the relatively high percentage of interracial marriage in Brazil. As it turned out, although mixed marriages were common in Brazil, they caused just as much debate and strong emotional reactions from black Brazilian women as I had heard for years from black American women.
|Flamengo (Rio) soccer star Vágner Love|
So, exactly what is the reaction to black Brazilian men dating and marrying white women, particularly blonde women? Are there differences in the reactions of black Brazilian women and black American women? Are societal reactions and stereotypes the same in the two countries? You be the judge….
Below is an article extracted and translated from the October 1998 edition of Raça Brasil, the only Brazilian magazine dedicated to the Afro-Brazilian population.
Why do they prefer blondes?
Tânia Regina Pinto
It seems to be becoming a rule: a successful black man always has a blonde in tow. This is not only our problem, much less a lack of clarity. Just remember a few phrases of the black American leader Eldridge Cleaver, in his autobiography Soul on Ice.
“…Love doesn’t exist between a black man and a black woman. I for example, love the white women and hate the black ones. Its inside me, it’s so deep that I don’t try to change it anymore.”
“Every time I hold a black woman, I’m embracing slavery, and when I hold in my arms a white woman, well….I’m holding freedom.”
The book was written in the ’70s and today, at the gates of the Third Millennium, black men, in whole or in part, agree with his analysis: “It is undoubtedly an interesting comparison, because the white man really represents this greatness. I think I have always related to the black woman in a backwards manner”, confesses DP, black businessman, successful, in his forties, who only agreed to speak on the subject if his identity wasn’t revealed. The reason? “I can’t have an open, intelligent conversation with my wife. We never talked about it despite being married for 22 years and having two children.”
DP even made a reflection: “If I found a black girl in college, would I marry her?” He answers himself: “No. My wife doesn’t have a college degree, she’s short, fat and has a belly.”
But she’s white.
“… I will not be free until we can have a white woman in bed …”
This one sentence written by Cleaver hit the nail on the head for DP. For him, this is the naked truth, at least in his case: “I don’t want to be from the Samba*, the east side, where I was born. I wanted to be an ambient non-black, and I saw in the white woman the gateway to a better world. Besides that, I had to show that I could have as many white women as I wanted. When I was young I was rejected by the family of many girlfriends.”
Ana Lucia Valente, of the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul, owner of a post-doctorate in anthropology, makes this assessment of the problem: “When the black man has dominion over a white woman he reaffirms his manhood. It is the revival of the racist practice – ‘I dominate this white woman.”
Joel Rufino dos Santos, a black historian that heads up the Palmares Foundation as the Minister of Culture, confesses: “All the anxiety of the ascension of the black man maybe has as the objective to be white, and he only reaches this – or thinks he reaches this – when he finally possesses a white woman sexually.”
To the question, asked bluntly, “why do black men prefer blondes?”, Antonio Campos, director of the Guia do Círculo Negro (Guide of the Black Circle)**, reacted angrily: “What is their preference?! They don’t have a preference. It doesn’t matter if she is black, white, yellow, Japanese. If the guy is from the periphery (loosely, “the ‘hood”) and never had access to a light-skinned woman, there is a curiosity, the opposites attract. This is not true for all the black men. Dating and marriage, has to do with chemistry, flirting, the style, the look. I think that emotions have no color.”
Another business administrator, Cleto Peppe, owner of Dorment’s Bar, reinforces the idea: “It’s not a matter of preference, is a matter of coincidence.”
The black psychologist Sérgio Ferreira da Silva doesn’t agree. He said “black men prefer blondes for fear of perpetuating the race. When you look at black, you see the dirty, the tar, the monkey. And what he experiences as a child in school he brings to his adult life. Then when he thinks of marrying, he searches for the white woman as the object of the denial of his own color.”
Cleto Peppe disagrees. For him, the black man that says he suffers or has suffered prejudice it is because he considers himself to be inferior, he has a complex.
An example? Himself.
“Everyone sees that I usually go out with white women,” he says quite naturally.
* – Samba is a Brazilian dance and musical genre originating in (northeastern state of) Bahia and with its roots in Brazil (Rio De Janeiro) and Africa via the West African slave trade and African religious traditions. It is recognized around the world as a symbol of Brazil and the Brazilian Carnival. Culturally and historically, Samba’s significance is akin to American Blues and Jazz.
** – Organization established in 1997 in the city São Paulo to offer black professional services to the Afro-Brazilian population.
End of Part 1…To be continued….
See Part 2 here
Source: Raça Brasil, Issue #26, 1998, Black Women of Brazil