“THE colorism is state whitening policy which for a long time made me hate my father’s inherited genetic traits. Hated me. Maim me. My hair straightened ”. – excerpt from the video, “I am the girl who was born without color…”, available on YouTube.
It is easier to see the problem of colorism when we use the other existing term to call it: pigmentocracy, these are the different ways of social exclusion which considers different skin tones, segregating easier, crueler and clearly those with darker skin. This theory aims to show that, even with and among people declared to be black, pigmentation is still decisive in terms of variation in social treatment.
The main weapon of colorism is mimicry, that is, social camouflage as a survival strategy. In view of this, individuals with “disguiseable” blackness incorporate this behavior that encourages practices for erasing black identity, the most popular example in Brazil are hair straightening. Seeking to generate a new way of how the black subject is read in society.
Furthermore, in all parts of the world, colorism works with “privileges” and shallow rewards for black people with lighter skin, in practice, they are fed with their passability – through their less marked appearance, they manage to occupy some spaces and even be better heard, thus suffering “less racism”.
However, white supremacy is still a fact, and makes a point of being constantly present in all layers of the social body, and is strengthened through the oppression of the racist system in which countries were built. Briefly, brown people are too dark to have the white privilege, but they are clear enough that not everyone perceives their blackness, that is, they become more “pleasant” when looking at white.
In this way, the branquitute allows the presence of black subjects with the identification of physical traits closer to the European, it tolerates these individuals, as it manages to recognize itself in part.
This issue sharpens the feeling of disenchantment. In a colorist social context, even though blacks with light skin are black like one with dark skin, the racism experienced by this group is not comparable. The “brown” terminology itself is a way of removing racial awareness, since it is yet another state mechanism of social whitening and dilution of blackness.
The consequences of colorism
The comedian’s autobiography Trevor Noah, recounts his childhood and adolescence in South Africa as a mestizo during Apartheid and the troubled democracy that took place after that. Throughout history, we are presented with a strong identity issue present in the protagonist’s life: the way that colorism affected his construction as a subject:
The curse that the colored (an expression used to describe the mestizos in South Africa during Apartheid, and still used today) bears of not having a clearly defined origin to turn to. If we analyzed the origin of this lineage, at one point, it would divide into whites, natives and an intricate network of ‘others’ (…) The history of the colored population of South Africa is, from this point of view, worse than the history of black population. Despite all the suffering, at least black people know who doesn’t. The colored ones don’t.
It is worth mentioning that pigmentocracy is very common in countries that have undergone European colonization.
Discussing our own reality, the formation of Brazilian society composed of an enormous diversity of skin tones has its origin in the meeting, sometimes violent, of innumerable racial groups. The constant cycle, for the most part, of sexual abuse arising from the exploitation of whites on natives and blacks enslaved during the period of Brazilian colonization initiated the process of miscegenation of peoples.
This factor – miscegenation – is one of the biggest arguments to reaffirm the fantasy narrative of racial democracy – the utopia of peaceful and just coexistence between the races – and to strengthen our country’s color policy.
Contrary to what one might think, Brazil is not configured as a racial paradise, in fact, the racial prejudices constructed and fed back historically and, socially, politically and culturally, new forms of discrimination, based on in the most varied criteria, seeking to reinforce racism towards Brazil. It is observable in society that miscegenation did not generate a harmonious coexistence between the races, but a social hierarchy, using heavily the practice of colorism.
In general, black subjects with less evident phenotypic traits do not come to pass as whites, but simply as “non-blacks”. They occupy this complex and intentionally confused limbo, since they are the result of an eugenics that has even whitened our thinking. The Eugenia period was the process of Brazilian social whitening encouraged by the government of the time through the facilitation of immigration.
One of the ways to exemplify the pigmentocracy rooted in Brazil is through the myth of mulatto exports, which is one of the fantastical narratives that accompany Brazilian colorism. He is an example of the powerful link between machismo and racism. In the popular imagination, she represents the woman of satisfaction of carnal pleasures, as the character Rita Baiana presented in the literary work, by Aluísio de Azevedo.
The ideal that for decades was disseminated, socially and culturally, abroad. It fosters the view that Brazilian women are sensual and the “color of sin”. The very expression – the color of sin – is strongly associated with the negation of black ancestry.
Why is it important to understand colorism?
It is extremely important to understand the construction of this process of contrast between the shades themselves, which results in social differentiation. In addition, by understanding how colorism occurs in everyday life, it is possible to understand how racism penetrates our lives in the most diverse facets.
Structural racism makes people tend to associate that racism is being forced out of a space or being stopped and treated violently by a police officer. Racism is undoubtedly that, but it is also present in much smaller attitudes, such as the simple look and the way of talking. Intrinsically, it is directly linked to politics, education and language. It is based on the basis of society and can only be perceived by an accurate look that sees the discrepancy in income, employability and marginalization, for example.
It is unrealistic to think that biological deterministic theories have left no scars on the current social body, they just continue to exist in a new guise. If before they were used to justify slavery by affirming white supremacy over black inferiority, today, their influences reaffirm the continuity of racial discrimination in its most varied forms, as at colorism. Recognizing yourself as black still has a negative social burden, and that is what we need to discuss.