WHITEWASHING & IDENTITY: A COMPARISON BETWEEN TWO CULTURES
The ideals behind identity and the very dreaded existence of labels is very different in Brazil than in the US. In the US, I am labeled as black, female, heterosexual, cis-gender, and Christian, which string along other positive and negative labels. In Brazil, I'm not quite sure because I live with a middle-class Brazilian family, in a nice area of Sao Paulo, and I attend a prestigious university.
My uncertainty derives from Brazil's history. Brazil was the last country in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery in 1888. By that time, Africans consumed a great portion of the country's population, which lead to government imposed miscegenation or whitening of the population.
So why do I have this uncertainty of what’s white and what’s black in Brazil? One reason is because of a historical survey conducted in 1976 by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. In the survey, Brazilians were asked to state the color they thought they were without the restrictions of the typical categories of white, pardo, and black. The survey revealed 136 different responses (pages 27-30). This survey reveals how subjective race is whereas in the US, any amount of African ancestry means that you’re black.
Another reason is because of the elite. If you're rich or in a position of power and you look like me, you're not black. You're white. It's a concept that dates back to when former African slaves would buy their freedom and later gain positions of power that eradicated their blackness. However, this concept does not prevent people of color from discrimination or racism.
Just from my day-to-day experiences in Brazil, no one could sell to me that it's a racial democracy, that everyone's mixed, or that race does not exist here. People of color make up more than 50% of the population, but over 70% of the poor and well over half of the unemployed. It's definitely more complex than in the US because people of color are the majority, but it boils down to the same societal message: blackness is not equivalent to white.
For example, the renowned Brazilian soccer player, Neymar da Silva Santos Jr., was asked in 2010 if he had ever been a victim of racism. He responded:
Nunca. Nem dentro e nem fora de campo. Até porque eu não sou preto, né? [Never. Neither inside nor outside the field. Because I'm not black, right?]
His response was very fitting since he had never traveled outside of the country and in Brazil, he isn't black. While it's challenging to explain, it's important to note that preto/a is the Brazilian equivalent to the n-word. Whereas negro/a is the appropriate way to say you're black, and moreno/a is a euphemism for blackness. Take a glance at some of these recent to older pictures of Neymar, Jr. The pictures reveal a form of physical whitening over the years.
With the recent outrage over Raven-Symoné's remarks as a co-host on The View, there's something very concerning happening to her identity that's similar to Neymar. We want to attack Raven for her self-hating remarks, but really we're ignoring the most important message about why she even believes these things. We're ignoring what Neymar's transformation actually means. These two scenarios, among many others, reveal that we base our self-worth upon a societal standard of whiteness.
I'll never forget when I told my parents that I wanted to stop relaxing/straightening my hair and that I wanted to be natural. They cringed with fear out of the idea of their daughter becoming "too black". Too black to get a job. Too black to be successful. Too black to survive in a society that puts whiteness on a pedestal.
This is a heartbreaking phenomenon that I've chosen to tackle because labels are the very reasons why we hurt and destroy one another. Your labels are created by the outside world looking in on your existence. Your identity is you looking within yourself into the outside world. Your labels mean nothing. But your identity is important to you and those around you. Your identity is the difference between self-love and self-hate. I struggle with my identity because all I've ever found is that this world does not identify with me, which is why all the intangible aspects of your identity matter just as much as the physical.
Don't let this world's labels dictate who you are. You make your identity and that alone is worthy of all of your love.
Até próxima vez, minhas pessoas linda, keep life sweet, and never stop feeding your soul. -xo