Negras in Brazil: Re-Envisioning Black Women, Citizenship, and the Politics of Identity

Negras in Brazil: Re-Envisioning Black Women, Citizenship, and the Politics of Identity

Negras in Brazil: Re-Envisioning Black Women, Citizenship, and the Politics of Identity

Negras in Brazil: Re-Envisioning Black Women, Citizenship, and the Politics of Identity

Excerpt

We have a lot of mulheres negras (black women) of valor (value) that still
have not been descoberta (discovered). They are in anonimato (ano
nymity). No one does anything. … “A” very large percentage is strewn
about because we are still desvalorizada (devalued). We are discrimi
nated against in everything. In all segments of the society, the domestic,
the poor woman, the black woman, she is discriminated against, yes. It
does not make a difference to say that they put a black woman there on
the television, to do a soap opera, but what type of role does she play
there? … “E”ither the thief, or the domestic, or the employer's lover.

–Maria Ilma Ricardo, personal interview

These comments by Maria Ilma Ricardo, a fifty-four-year-old Afro-Brazilian domestic worker and antiracist and feminist activist in Belo Horizonte, provide valuable insights into the socially devalued status of Afro-Brazilian women. By noting that black women possess an intrinsic valor, or value, as human beings, Maria Ilma's statements challenge the ways in which Brazilian practices of racial, gender, and class domination sanction and perpetuate their social and political invisibility. Her use of the terms descoberta (discovered), anonimato (anonymity), and desvalorizada (devalued) underscores the cultural dimensions of citizenship in Brazil and points to the lack of recognition, respect, and value accorded to Afro-Brazilian women. The order in which she uses these terms also suggests a chain of relationships that connect black women's social invisibility to their struggles for full citizenship.

Maria Ilma's reflections on the anonymity and invisibility of black Brazilian women provide a fitting introduction to many of the central concerns of this book. Her use of the term anonimato suggests that black women are nameless and, as such, lack an identity. Her comments also highlight the ways in which processes of self-discovery and social recognition are linked to the formation of active social and political subjectivities.

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