Becoming a black woman: an identity in process

Becoming a black woman: an identity in process

Black Women of Brazil: The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

Fernanda Souza

“(…) We are born preta (black), mulata, parda, brown, roxinha (a little purple) among others, but becoming negra (black) (1) is an achievement.” (Lélia Gonzalez)

“How (does one) to form an identity around color and non self-acceptance of blackness by the majority whose future was projected in the dream of branqueamento (whitening)?” (Munanga, p. 137, 2004)

My entire life I saw myself as a parda (brown), morena, mulata, mestiça (mixed race), but never, under any circumstances, negra (black). Although having blacks uncles and cousins, besides my late grandmother being black, I didn’t not recognize as such because of not thinking my parents were black, because I believed in the idea that blacks were only those people who had darker skin and my father and my mother could be seen, even by themselves, as mestiços and not as negros. That’s where we have one of the great subtleties while one of the biggest problems for racial consciousness in the country: the mestiço. The mestiço, as an intermediate category between white and black, is a result of the long process of mestiçagem (racial mixture) that marks Brazil. Mestiço here should be understood primarily as someone who is the child of a interracial couple (in this case, I refer to the union between a black man/ white woman and white man/black woman) and can also, to facilitate understanding of the text, be understood as someone who, even though not being the son/daughter of an interracial couple but of black parents, having lighter skin and had/has difficulty in defining themselves as black. Again I reiterate: this extension of the concept of “mestiço” is only to help in the understanding of the text and not to have to use the term “non-white” because it encompasses other ethnic groups, such as indigenous and neither “pardos (browns)”, because I find it politically innocuous for a text that will discuss mainly mestiçagem and the difficulty of asserting a racial-ethnic identity.

Miscegenation constitutes the cornerstone of the myth of racial democracy, whose central idea is that we are mestiços, the result of interbreeding between the three races – white, Indian and Black – which occurred through a contact and a harmonious coexistence between the three – forgetting that this process started from the rape of black women enslaved by plantation masters and there is nothing harmonious about it – and, in this sense, here there doesn’t exist so much discrimination and racial prejudice and people recognize themselves first as Brazilian than from a racial-ethnic identity of the oppressed, because as the myth of racial democracy dissolves, it mitigates and obscures the tensions, conflicts and racial prejudices present in Brazil, as Kabengele Munanga (2004) pointed out…

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