Not as stereotypical as it sounds

The Complexities of Racial Identities

The inability of the European colonizers to communicate about the people and the diverse cultures that came to make up Latin America is a feeling and reality that accompany us to this day. In Brazil, determining someone’s race or describing their skin colour is extremely tricky. We have so many words to describe our many skin colours, some of which might sound really rude when translated to English; clarinha (light-skin), queimado de sol (sun-burned), moreno claro, quase branca (almost white), cor de jambo (color of jambo), pretinho (darkie), mulato, sarará, neguinha, mestiça, café com leite (coffee with milk), bronzeado (tanned), pardo, etc. Even though we have all these words, assigning people to these categories is very hard, and just like with the casta paintings lines are blurred and crossed.

Growing up I was taught to be proud of the miscegenation of Brazil because I was led to believe that despite our racial differences, we were all treated the same and had the same opportunities. I now know that this is a myth, the myth of racial democracy. The consequences of colonization, in particular categorizing the other in racial hierarchical terms, are felt in the racism and colourism present in society. The casta paintings also reminded me of a famous painting by Modesto Brocos called Redemption of Can (1895) that shows a couple, their baby and the baby’s grandmother. The grandmother is Black, her daughter has brown skin and the father of the baby is white. The paintings reflects the belief that Blackness could be eliminated through interracial marriages within a couple generations, as the baby is completely white.

In the lecture video, Professor Jon talked about the crisis of representation which began with the invasion of Latin America and other territories around the world. I think that we are still facing a crisis of representation in the sense that the people in the media and those in positions of power do not represent the Brazilian society as a whole. There are several pictures of university graduating classes in which there are no Black students even though over 50% of the Brazilian population declares themselves as Black. So instead of asking who are we, I think we need to ask who is given visibility? Who is given opportunity? How can we change this?

The main question that I have is if noways people are able to overcome their assigned places, like the ones suggested by the casta paintings. Do you believe in meritocracy? Can meritocracy take place in societies as diverse and unequal as Latin America?

Here are some sources that I find super interesting and relate to this topic 🙂 :

This visual documentary by Nataly Neri explores discussions of  racial identity in Brazil and issues of representation. Just make sure to turn on the subtitles!

In this Ted Talk Angélica Dass, a Brazilian photographer, talks about her project Humanae which is a celebration of the diversity of  skin colours around the world. She talks about her own personal experience with her skin colour and the assigned social meanings that are constructed.

This is a Brazilian commercial for beer. I feel kind of torn by the fact that corporations profit from racial diversity. What do you think of commercials like this? Have you come across anything similar in other countries?


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