Tag Archives: Black

Capoeira through the ages

"Fighting Blacks", watercolor by Augustus Earle, 1822

Capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art practiced all over the world, was originally a criminal activity. Even after the abolition of slavery, in 1888, the police would repress any manifestation of Black culture. Lots of the early records were destroyed and capoeira disappeared from several parts of the country, thanks to the repression. It only survived in regions where African culture was particularly strong, such as the cities of Salvador and Rio. In Recife, capital of Pernambuco, it morphed into frevo, a popular dance that was quite rough in the beginning of the 20th century. As recently as the 60s, the umbrella – at the time not covered with fabric – was used as a weapon. Today, it is hard to believe frevo descends from a martial art. Continue reading Capoeira through the ages

Presidents in stamps

Any philatelist can tell you that there is much more to stamps than meets the eye.

This week Correios (the state-owned company responsible for the Brazilian postal service) released a stamp depicting former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. It is legal to pay that type of homage to people who are still alive, if they won a Nobel prize or an Olympic golden medal. Or if they are former presidents. Naturally, some complained that Lula was into some sort of self-praising.

Anyways, presidential stamps have some interesting stories behind them. Continue reading Presidents in stamps

Who’s black?

Mulatto then white Machado de Assis (in a photo taken by the great Marc Ferrez in 1880) and...
Mulatto then white Machado de Assis (in a photo taken by the great Marc Ferrez in 1880) and…

Machado de Assis, the greatest Brazilian novelist of all times, was born black and poor, in one of the hills of Rio de Janeiro, the grandchild of freed slaves. His mother was born in the Azores islands, that belong to Portugal, but his birth certificate, from 1839, was clear: he was mulatto. But, in 1908, when Machado died, covered in glory, the founder president of Academia Brasileira de Letras (the prestigious club that congregates the elite of the country’s writers), his death certificate stated that he was white.

Black then white then black Lima Barreto
Black then white then black Lima Barreto

Another great writer, Lima Barreto, himself a slave descendant, had a different fate. This lonely, drunkard anarchist spent time in a psychiatric hospital, before dying at 41, in 1922. His birth certificate indicated he was black. His medical papers, the first time he was taken to the hospital, when he was enjoying celebrity, said that he was white. Finally, when he died in disgrace, his death certificate sent him back to the black community.

Traditionally, in Brazil, society identifies individuals as black or white according to their money. A few years ago I interviewed a successful black businessman that  would be considered black anywhere in the world . He thought of himself as black – and I suppose that is what really matters. He told me that he was a member of several trade associations and his partners would frequently hint that he wasn’t REALLY black. “They say to me: look at your nose, look at your skin tone, you are white!”, he told me, laughing.

If you are into this topic, you can also check my former post Racism, the Brazilian Way. Don’t miss the comments. Some are pretty cool. And if you want to dive into the universe of Brazilian literature, look for a decent translation of Machado de Assis’s “Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas“, “Dom Casmurro” or “Quincas Borba“, and Lima Barreto’s “Triste Fim de Policarpo Quaresma“.

If you liked this post, try also BBC documentary about Brazilian slavery and Darker middle class and Blacks that built Brazil.

Darker middle class

Black graffiti

A new study concludes that 53.5% of Brazilian Blacks and 47.3% of those with a mixed Black and White heritage belong now to the middle class (which includes the so-called A, B and C classes).

According to  economist Marcelo Neri, interviewed this week by daily O Estado de S. Paulo,  these numbers show a very positive evolution in the last 15 years. In 1993, less than a quarter of the Blacks (23.8%) and just a little over one fifth of those with mixed heritages (21.7%) were in the middle and upper classes. Also, he verified that the mobility of Whites in this period was, in comparison, less accentuated.

Neri, who works for the Centro de Políticas Sociais of Fundação Getúlio Vargas (a respected university and think tank), based his info in data collected in the 2008 edition of Pnad, a reduced version of the census, with a limited sample of interviews, produced by IBGE, the federal  bureau of statistics.

Naturally, we can argue that the Pnad – which asks the interviewees to define their own color – may be misguided by those who prefer to see themselves as whiter than they effectively are. Census interviewers have been reporting for decades that many people refuse to be classified as Blacks, preferring to state that they are tanned or morenos (a word with a slightly vague meaning, that normally applies for a brunette or maybe someone of Mediterranean origin). But, if that is the case, there is a good chance the presence of Blacks in the middle classes might be even higher.

The slow ascension of the Afro-descendants is still very far from solving the Brazilian disparities (racism was the topic of a recent post), but it deserves to be celebrated, anyway.

Saints without a halo*

Mighty Anastácia

They were not canonized. They are controversial. There is even doubt if some of them really existed. Nevertheless, Brazilian popular saints generate deep devotion, pilgrimages and flourishing commerce.

Take, for example, Escrava Anastácia. This beautiful slave of blue eyes, that supposedly lived in the 18th century, was obliged by her master to wear a mask covering her mouth, because she refused to, you know, accept his sweet love. Apparently, this device was commonly used in the gold mines, so the slaves wouldn’t ingest (and steal) the metal. There is almost no evidence that Anastácia really existed, but she is still considered a big miracle worker.

Another powerful popular saint is Padre (Father) Cícero, a priest, landowner and conservative political leader of Juazeiro, in the Northeastern state of Ceará. Also known as Padim Ciço, he was excommunicated in the late 19th century by the local bishop after a series of supposed miracles that his superior considered a fraud: the host offered by Cícero would systematically turn into blood when ingested by one of the priest’s followers. Later his excommunication was invalidated by the Vatican but he was never allowed to return to his parish. His popularity never diminished, though. He amassed a huge fortune, including 34 rural properties, and became the state’s vice-governor.

Continue reading Saints without a halo*

Unconventional Brazilian beauty

The girl who´s on the cover of Playboy´s Brazilian edition sat today by my side at the theatre – she took her three daughters to watch a children´s play, “Os Saltimbancos“, a version of the “Four Musicians of Bremen” with songs by Chico Buarque. Fernanda Young, a foul-mouthed writer and TV hostess is definitely not your conventional pin-up. She is almost forty, all covered in tattoos, extremely pale, with short dark hair, with a tendence of dropping names of depressing German philosophers. Her cover picture is also unusually discreet for Playboy´s standards in the country.

Brazilian beauty for export – Gisele Bündchen, Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrósio, Isabeli F0ntana, you name it – represents a very small fraction of the diversity of  looks of a country of extremely varied genetics. For decades, Brazilian press and soap operas were also blind to this variety. Slender blondes are still disproportionately present on the video and magazines.

This is slowly changing. At this exact moment, black actresses star three soap operas broadcasted by Globo, the dominant media conglomerate. This is huge in a country where TV is crucial in the definition of trends, habits, beliefs and preferences.

Maybe Brazil is ready to export its “out-of-the-box” beauty.

Racism, the Brazilian way

Neguinho da Beija-flor, famous samba composer from Rio
Neguinho da Beija-Flor, photo alexdecarvalho/Flickr

In Brazil, unlike other countries, different ethnic groups interact a lot – sometimes peacefully, sometimes not.  This interaction leads frequently to mixed marriages and a blend of genes and cultural heritage.

This healthy mix gets more evident when geneticists investigate our origins. Neguinho da Beija-Flor, a famous samba composer from Rio, is mostly white, genetically – even if his nickname stresses his very dark complexion. On the other hand, Daiane dos Santos – Olympic gymnastic gold medalist recently involved in a doping scandal – represents what could be a “typical” brasileira: 39,7%  African, 40,8% European and 19,6% Native Brazilian.

Both celebrities had their genes analyzed in a study promoted two years ago by the British news conglomerate BBC with several prominent Brazilians of different backgrounds.

This mix didn’t, necessarily, produce a racial democracy. In an interview to the BBC on this subject, sociologist Ronaldo Sales, from Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, in the city of Recife, points out that miscegenation doesn’t create a homogeneous mixed race group, but a hierarchy – the whiter you are, the better your chances of social integration.

The underlying racism is particularly evident in bank branches. Most of the banks that operate in large cities install revolving doors, conceived to block the passage of costumers holding metal objects or bulky volumes. The following video, just released by Circo Voador, a very engaged theater and cultural movement in Rio, shows how this mechanism is used to avoid the entry of black Brazilians in banks. Two guys try to enter the same bank, dressed similarly, carrying the same bag. One is black, one is white. Guess who entered immediately and who had to remove his tee shirt and drop his belongings before being sent home, without entering the bank?

Have you ever experienced racism in Brazil?