Note from BW of Brazil: It seems that a hot topic never completely disappears. It may even fade into the background for a while but it always lingers and one need only bring the topic back up and note that it still can be the cause of divided opinions. One such topic is the question of interracial relationships and what many see as a direct consequence: the solitude of black women. Having experienced this topic on both the American and Brazilian side, I see this as a topic that black communities in both countries will need to come to terms with in the 21st century. On the one side, we have those who believe that these types of relationships show an evolving view of race, signs of diversity and peaceful co-existence. For others, the rise in these relationships are simply another facet of a system based on white privilege and supremacy. How do you see this? Should people just “get over it” or does it signal another side of the old ‘divide and conquer’ strategy that will ultimately undermine the black community? The piece below doesn’t delve into these questions but rather addresses the outcome from the perspective of a black female.
You ‘palmitas’ and we who are passed over
The reality of affective racial miscegenation and the structural solitude of black women.
By Stephanie Ribeiro
Palmiteiro is a word that breaks the myth of the racially democratic and multiracial society. Where “amor não tem cor” (love has no color), with only these 10 letters one questions sexism, privileges, affective impositions and the maintenance of a Eurocentric aesthetic standard; and one highlights a structural and cruel reality that it wants to ensure: the loneliness of black women.
Palmitagem is a neologism used by black Brazilian women to refer to cis, heterosexual black men who are involved with white women, mainly because they are in a privileged position in relation to gender oppression. No, I’m not denying that black men suffer racism! I’m affirming that they don’t suffer sexism, and this allows them to enjoy the privilege of making certain: choices.
“To have privileges means to take advantage of opportunities and choices without having to think about it, like turning on the faucet at home to have water. Decisions that seem mundane but are not because of the existence of a group of individuals of the same society that don’t have the same opportunities. It is precisely because of having privileges that it is hard to understand that despite the freedom to strive and fight for what you want to, not everyone reaches the finish line with the same success.” – Túlio Custódio, to Galileu magazine, in the article – “Você é racista – só não sabe disso ainda” (you are racist – you just don’t know it yet)
We, blacks, and the lack of love
The disadvantages that we, black people, share, regardless of gender, is that of not knowing how to love. They are generally fruits of homes destroyed by racism, families who rely solely on an overloaded mother, or who live with physical aggression being naturalized. When we think of a perfect family full of love, the image that comes to mind immediately is that imposed by the media: Happy white people with two children and a dog.
It seems that for black people love is something too distant. If we were to enumerate what the barriers are that racism brings us, we would cite education, wages, representation, among other fields. But we would never remember the affective field. And it is this category that many racist victories accumulate, affecting our psychological health for us to carry repeated frustrations and accept reproductions of abusive relationships. All this in silence, as if there were a structural problem. Since love is “nonsense” and is not discussed especially among educated blacks, in order to be “self-silenced” afraid of not being so “strong.”.
In Vivendo de Amor (Living in Love) by, bell hooks (2006: 188) she affirms that “many black women feel in their lives there is little or no love.” And this is a reflection of a disadvantage of black women, and of the non-choice about herself, which added to the impositions of the visions created on us by the racist imagery: we are hot sexual symbols, a stereotype created to historically justify the rape of our bodies. Or worse, we only serve to nourish, as a wet-nurse. Created in this way are the perfect conditions for the so-called:
Solitude of the black woman
In our current society thoughts linked to past violence and objectification against black women still reverberate. We are the women generally remembered when someone thinks about sex. When it comes to the stereotype of ama-de-leite (wet nurse), we are for all people in the living circle, including for friends, partners and family members, those who listen, those that nourish, and even in a financial and psychological form, we are literally sucked by others’ problems. And, without delay, we become useless once they are solved, even with our help.
- What black women was never someone’s post-sex therapist?
- And worse, what black woman doesn’t identify with these aforementioned situations?
Within family, friendship and romantic relationship bonds, we black women experience different forms of lack of love and isolation, unusual in the lives of white women. This is a reflection of our vulnerability in a society in which we are representatives of at least three oppressions: race, class and gender.
The solitude of the black woman is present in various affective fields. We live in the absence of love in several of our relations. Many black women, even within their relationships, feel alone.
We can remember Carolina Maria de Jesus, writing Quarto de Despejo, seeming only to portray the daily life of a slum woman, actually shows the consequences of emotional isolation cited here. For us, black women, there would be left only one alternative: fight to survive.
This real-life character becomes a national symbol of the emotional loneliness of the black woman. In her vocabulary the word love does not exist, let alone does she tell in her memoirs about some act of caring, empathy and affection, however, there exists in her narrative excess, not only hunger, but also solitude.
“Slavery created in black people a notion of intimacy linked to the practical sense of their reality. A slave who was unable to suppress or contain their emotions, maybe couldn’t survive.”- Bell hooks in Vivendo de Amor Living Love.
As Bell says, we blacks are wounded, and the racism that has created barriers in our lives does not cease to act in our interpersonal relationships. Carolina uses her pencil and an old notebook found in the trash by chance, wanting to denounce with words the inequalities and hardships that plagued her. We blacks have a hard time talking about love, or rather we had, but the rise of black feminist discourse in Brazil has given voice to several “Carolinas” that with their posts on blogs, social networks, illustrations, and even memes have begun to talk more and more about this subject, the way they judge best.
Amor afrocentrado (Afro-centered love) and the term palmitagem
Afro-centered relationships are those that involve the choice of and between black partners, possibly being of different genders and sexual orientations. The today’s discussion on the topic brings the existence of a postponement on social symbols that represent some black bodies. Today one speaks of emotional loneliness also among trans-black women, black lesbians and gay black men also.
Love designating romantic and emotional relationships HAS COLOR, yes. One of the most significant works about this is by Claudete Alvez in her book Virou Regra (Became the Rule), in which she reflects on the loneliness of black women and their subjectivity against her being passed over by the black man.
The term palmiteiro is the result of a questioning of black men done by black women in relation to affective choice of “their peers”. This is not about essentialism, based on the idea that blacks should stick with blacks, because only we understand each other. It is simply a question about the systemic presence of cis heterosexual interracial couples consisting of a black man and a white woman, in our daily lives. This presence marks itself in the representations: the Valentine Days advertisements, in novelas (soap operas), etc. The myth of the Brazilian racial democracy that was created upon the policy of miscegenation found in this composition of the perfect reproduction the composition of the ideology that “love has no color.” After all, in this national fantasy, the fallacy that “we live in a non-racist society where colors don’t matter, so much so that there are thousands of Pelés with their Xuxas”, is always important.
When I say ‘peers’, I want to show that black women are closer to black men than white women were to white men, because racism unites us.
It is also worth mentioning that comparing our country to the US in terms of a “ban on marriages between whites and blacks,” when we are dealing with palmitagem it is at the least a lack of knowledge and reading about how they affected and affect the construction of racial politics in each of the countries. In the United States there were anti-mixing laws, namely constitutionally against intermarrying; while here in Brazil, there was a thought of a lightening/whitening process of the population based on “mixing”, which did not guarantee inclusion and strengthened racism in a veiled way in the society.
As such the racist dynamic of appreciation of miscegenation in order to “erase the black component,” the black man, from different social conditions, has historically marked his preference for women with the lightest skin whenever possible. This, incidentally, is not a discussion that is new, both in Brazil and in the US, made by black women. For example, to illustrate, we need not look only in books or scholarly articles. We can draw on artistic performances and entertainment, as in the series Everybody Hates Chris, when Rochelle (the mother of the main character) says to Julius, her husband: “You can trade me for any one, but she can’t be white.” Or, in the recent film Dear White People, when the Coco character before having sex with the Troy character, says that she doesn’t date black men “as they prefer to trade black women for white women.”
They are expressing opinions and insecurities, consequences of the same questions about the emotional choices black man that we, black Brazilian women are making.
There’s no need to go to London to understand that the denouncements made in Fake Deep, by the artist, director and filmmaker Cecile Emeke, are also about us black Brazilian women who are devastated by abusive intimate relationships where we are victims including by black men.
Being Brazilian, American and European black women, experiencing the reality of countries with different racial politics, all of us in the context of the diaspora are talking about this subject. Even when not using the term “palmitagem”, there is the same tiring of always seeing black cis straight men that hold any social/intellectual privilege repeatedly opting for their “perfect” interracial relationships. Moreover, often times this choice is followed by a trail of destruction in the lives of black women, previous to the affective choice made.
Here in Brazil, Tiaguinho, Rael and Emicida are part of the new black singers and artists who hold professional prominence and, as a reflection of representation and meaning of their place, appeared in photos with their white girlfriends. There is not much novelty: they are the heirs of Alexander Pires, B-Negão and Falcão. We could cite even black intellectuals such as Franz Fanon and Abdias do Nascimento, who dedicated their lives to debating racism, for demonstration of this behavior. It is systemic!
The repetition of these choices leads us to believe in two facts:
Stability has color: Black men DO prefer to maintain stable and lasting relationships with white women. And they prefer this even in the face of potentially abusive and problematic relationships, when of the lack of debate on each of privileges. Oh, and that does not mean that eventually they don’t date or have sex with black women.
Prominent position has color: Black men who experience serious relationships with black women end these relationships as soon as they gain prominence, success or profit in their careers.
However, it is not these small demonstrations of ascension that will protect black men from the racial argument from a gender perspective. It is no wonder that they are reminded of their “palmitagem” by us black women whenever possible. And they are bothered, because this reminding questions their privilege. They also are “angry” because when we say “she is white and you are black,” we defined to them their vulnerability to racism in front of their partners.
What leads to this?
One of the first things that one questions when this structural situation of palmitagem is evident is “mas ele/eu não tem/tenho culpa: meu gosto não tem cor” (but he/I am not to blame: my taste has no color). And to deal with this argument, we can highlight this passage from a text by Ana Claúdia Lemos Pacheco:
“A study of emotions and affection, according to some current authors of the anthropology of emotions, points to the importance of understanding how systems of emotional, sentimental and affective meanings are constructed in each society or, put another way, how the emotional signs gain meanings in specific and general situations. It is certain that regardless of the theoretical interpretations that exist in relation to the study of emotions in anthropology, there is the understanding that the area of emotions, feelings, affective choices, of conjugality, express forms of interpersonal behaviors and standards of conduct, ie, emotion plays a central role in the construction of the world, it expresses the culture itself.” – Ana Cláudia Lemos Pacheco – Raça, Gênero e Relações Sexual – Afetivas na Produção Bibliográfica das Ciências Sociais Brasileiras – Um diálogo com o tema (Race, Gender and Sexual Relations – Affectives in the Bibliographic Production of the Brazilian Social Sciences – A dialogue with the theme.
In other words, taste is a social construct that overlaps and structures individual choices. And black men, just as the whole society, are conditioned and educated to see in the white woman not only the aesthetic standard of the beautiful, of beauty, as well as a symbol of the ascension and representation of what symbolizes to be a cis straight white man in society.
This is a trama of sexism, racism and class oppression; this trama that resists and insists, within the oppressed themselves, in the reproduction of oppression. For black women always empty themselves into something very painful, the perception of being passed over affectively, mainly by black men. Therefore, all that remains for us is the cry of rage in response to this situation: Palmiteiro!
That cry that leaves a mark in you, men, and like us, black people, are choosing to reaffirm the slavist logic that we only have the body that nourishes or used for sex. Not being of our “nature”, according to this ideology, to think. And it’s also not to love. The revolt that many show is by repetition and not by their individual choice.
The various questions of black women
Today, many black women question those that choose to talk about this subject, saying that they live alone and happy. We can be complete, living alone. However, the choice for being alone has to come from us and not a structural imposition of a racist and sexist society, the same that still pushes a vision of black women based on nearly 400 years of slavery.
So, how could we not be bothered with these facts, but only a black woman knows how hard it is to maintain any emotional relationship. And the situation is configured as a rule when we observe what happens to black women who manage to minimally overcome this reality affective passing over.
Yes: The world seems that it goes against us even when we are in a relationship. Even the white feminist women, who talk so much about sisterhood, when they see a black woman living the fullness of a happy loving relationship, are bothered almost immediately.
“Ahh ela é negra!” (“Ahh she’s black!”)
“Ahh ela é negra!”
“Ahhh mas ela é negra!?” (Ahh, but is she black!?)
These are some of the expressions most heard by more people that experience a relationship with a black woman. It is so ingrained in our society that we don’t have the right to love. It ends up being little revolution in the life of a black woman if she has a seemingly healthy and happy relationship. A shocking fact for others.
In Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, through the Ifemelu character, the author stresses how representative it was for a black man like Barack Obama, president of a powerful nation like the US, to go hand in hand with a black woman occupying that space in his inauguration. That’s because there are clear effects on the lives of countless black women even in relation to the existence of any affective experience. Still today we, black women, are bound to crumbs and small demonstrations of hidden and camouflaged love. It’s not just about walking hand in hand in the street.
It’s about how men, especially black men, are making public statements to their white companions even in comments on social networks; while for us to they use various excuses to leave this hidden. It’s the praise and declaration of love only in the “inbox” that carries our souls of hate and inflate our lungs to the screams of PALMITEIRO.
Some black women disagree with the use of the word palmiteiro and how it’s used. I believe that black women must be seen as full subjects enjoying as well the possibility of acting individually, not always being responsible for the collective. We have to deconstruct the idea of black women always acting on behalf of others, and succumbing to their own wills. Some of us have restricted or non-existent access, to academic readings cited here, which doesn’t imply in not understanding loneliness itself and seeking answers to this.
No, I don’t think that we are talking too much about all this. Bell said that it was a subject rarely discussed in 2006 and now in 2015 we black women are talking and exposing the wound without shame and without blame ourselves, after all, the problem is not with us and it never was. We are breaking down some barriers.
Because of this, white women who are bothered by the term, I only lament, it is necessary to expand the idea of sisterhood and intersectionality. There is indeed a lack of reading and empathy on your parts. Placing yourselves in the role of privileged women, that this is in the racial question and only reflects their affective choices. I am really tired of reading white women feeling they are victims for “only dating black men”, treating us as “angry black women who hate miscegenation.” My fatigue only increases when you are in interracial relationships, and act as if every black woman was a “danger” to him.
To white men who believe that they can question the use of the word “palmitagem”, only seek to understand what is your place of speaking. This is not about you, don’t think that we want to know what you think.
Whites and people in general using the term “palmitagem” is no evidence of an extremist attitude of black women who are reverse racists, after all racism against whites doesn’t exist, in order for this it would be necessary to reverse the structural logic of power.
To black men, black women are not desperate for relationships, and there is no possibility of only relating to a cis straight black man for a black woman. But I am rather tired of the repetition of some who say they are proud of their blackness. The inconsistency of some is really the result of little openness to broaden the discussion on gender and race.
“Relating one’s self with a woman like me implies deconstructing everything that society taught that it is a man, but it is still little debated about what the social construction of gender and power is – and how this construction affects us all.”
For black women, I really want us all always have in our heads that we are worthy of experiencing love, be it with whoever makes us happy, even if this is the choice for ourselves.
It is another revolutionary act that that the black woman loves herself and thinks of herself above all. More revolutionary than this is a black woman loving and supporting herself. Love that heals is the love that we can have for each other.
“When we black women experience the transforming power of love in our lives, we assume attitudes capable of completely altering the existing social structures. Thus we can gain strength to face the daily genocide that kills so many black men, women and children. When we know love, when love, it’s possible to see the past with different eyes; it’s possible to transform the present and dream of the future. That’s the power of love. Love heals.” – bell hooks in Vivendo de Amor (Living Love).
Source: Alma Preta