Being Black in Brazil

Vitória de Castro Jesús, Uniban Universidade Bandeirantes

Brazil is the country with the largest black population outside the African Continent. However, this does not make identification with Black culture to be natural.

Racism in Brazil is extremely well structured, and as said by Professor Kabengele Munanga: “racism is a perfect crime, for it attacks the black population from several fronts”.

Dark-skinned black people are attacked with violence! Dark-skinned black youths are murdered with more than 100 shots, dark-skinned Black women are shot and dragged for many meters and dark Black children are killed for having a bag of popcorn in their hand, which was mistaken for drugs. Racism with the Black, the undeniably Black, is mass murder and cruelty.

Slaves at a coffee farm in 1882. Vale do Paraiba in the state of São Paulo, Brazil

Slaves at a coffee farm in 1882. Vale do Paraiba in the state of São Paulo, Brazil

To those who have lighter skin, such as me, racism is presented in a different way: soft, masked and often difficult to be perceived by ourselves.

We live daily under a “policy of denial of our Blackness” for the whiter you are, the more accepted by the white society you become, therefore, often being seduced by the privileges offered to us.

This “policy” makes it very difficult for black people with lighter skin to affirm their blackness; because here we have different names for melanin tones present in the skin. For example: mulatto, moreno, mameluco and so on.

When I discovered myself as Black, after a long journey of self-discovery and recognition of my roots, the first sentence I heard from a white person was, “You are not Black! You are not dark enough to be Black”; as if Blackness were linked only to the amount of melanin in our skin. Blackness is something much deeper, which is intimately linked to the consciousness of who you are, your history, your people and, for the lighter ones, recognition and abdication of every privilege that our smaller amount of melanin can offer us.

There is a constant denial by whiteness on the existence of the Black people, and this denial is expressed in the difficulty some people have in saying the word “Black” as if it were a sign of offense and, because they think so, they replace who we really are with “softer words” such as “person of color” or “moreninho”.

We are not people of color, brown, mulatto nor anything else! WE ARE BLACK! Undeniably Black! With different tones, but essentially black.

We need to clear our perspective and learn how to recognize ourselves before the mirror and before each other.

Household slaves in 19th century Brazil

Household slaves in 19th century Brazil

The fact of having lighter skin made my self-recognition process much more difficult. I had a feeling that I did not belong anywhere, because I was not light enough to be white and not dark enough to be black.

My certainty of being a black woman came during school, when a philosophy teacher, who is a dark-skinned black, executed an activity asking in what place in the past we would like to be born; when he called me and asked me that question, I replied that I wanted to be born in the time of the knights and castles... he looked at me and said: “If you were born at that time, you and I would be living in an African tribe and being much happier. You must understand who you are, and you’re a Black girl!” At that moment I understood that Blackness is not something we can deny or pretend not to exist, because it is present in the traces of our face, in the rebelliousness of our hair, which even with straightening  and relaxing refuses to give up being what it is, and on the thickness of our lips. We are part of Africa itself, alive and pulsing!

As much as white society denies our existence and tries to dress it up using different names, when the time comes to shoot at us, to forbid us from entering somewhere, removing us from a store by force, criminalizing and arresting us for no reason, they have no doubt about who we are. So, we cannot have doubts either!

And certainly, in every sentence herein, there is much more left, that has not been said!