Brazil is a country that has a calling for diversity. However, the foundation of this nation was marked by the exclusion of black and indian people, who keep suffering the damage of slavery and the genocide promoted by white people. Through his history of exception, Lázaro Ramos – renowned actor, filmmaker, writer and TV host – offers an unique and personal way of reflecting how much Brazil is failing to produce talent because of racial prejudice. Drawing on biographical features, in my skin is all about to accepting, seeking and valuing our lost identity.
- 1 In my skin
- 2 Racism has not been overcome yet
- 3 How to fight racism?
- 4 Conclusion
- 5 How about you?
In my skin
The author’s story begins on November 1, 1978, on an island with a little over two hundred inhabitants who work in fishing, farming or in the town hall. Paty Island is a district of São Francisco do Conde, municipality 72 km from Salvador that hosts the first oil refinery in Brazil. Paty’s story is not well known, perhaps because the elders were ashamed of their past of slavery and suffering.
The author’s father managed to make a living as a machine operator at the Petrochemical Complex of Camaçari for betting on education. His mother, Maria Célia Ramos, became pregnant after a flirting with her father. Their relationship did not go on, but they both kept friends and present in their son’s life.
At the age of five, Lázaro went to live with ‘Dindinha’ due to the hectic routine of his father and mother, who was a maid. Hangouts with them were usually on the weekends.
The author’s family was quite syncretic. There were candomblecists, protestants, and catholics to mention a few.
During childhood kids want to be “someone” and then, they choose a superhero. The author’s idol was Balão Mágico’s TV Show “Jairzinho”. This identification probably happened, because Jairzinho was one of the few blacks in Kid’s TV universe at the time.
Another great moment of identification happened in a carnival in the company of his father. Despite being shy, he had his eyes in tears as the African block “Ilê Aiyê” passed by singing lyrics that affirms the black identity with pride and comfort.
By the fifth year of elementary school, he studied in private school. The number of blacks and whites in his class was balanced by then. His hard time at this moment was to be the maid’s son. This was because he was confused by the inconsistent treatment he got from his mother’s boss. Sometimes he was treated well and played with her grandchildren. But at the time of the mess, only he used to be scolded.
“Are you doing what there, boy?”
He used to be so embarrassed and feel lost in the world. For a child, such a situation can be very difficult. Generally, he would return to his mother’s maid room, a small space that made him reflect why he was not allowed to explore the other places in the house. From time to time he sneak-peeked through the door and saw his mother being yelled, a reality he had sought to escape by making origami.
This period made a dent on him as ingraining him a great will to turn around and break social barriers. No one in his family had ever attended university. When asked about professional intent, his response was “I want to be a doctor.”
When he moved to his father’s newly built home in the Garcia neighborhood, the writer for the first time hung out with friends with who he felt comfortable to be who he was. It was then that he realized that he had a knack for acting.
During a game of cards, they bet the loser to take liquor. Then, he left the game dizzy. Following, they went to a street party, where he mistook a church colleague for the local drug dealer, who did not like his mistaken camaraderie.
When he realized his blunder, he pretended to be even drunker and began to run away. But it was to no use because the dealer was very annoyed. So, Lázaro had to rely on the help of his friends, who saved his face by saying that he was too drunk to be beaten up.
Shyness was easy to put aside among those friends, but the same did not happen in the new private school, where he was one of the few blacks. At the time of fifteen-year-old dances, for example, he could not feel more rejected. When some girl gave him some talk, he could hardly talk for lack of training. So, his strategy became to be “the best friend”, which also happened with his wife actress Taís Araújo.
Moved by the desire to lose shyness, he began his interested in acting. However, his father believed that the best for him would be to graduate in a technical major and then get a job at the petrochemical complex in Camaçari.
To kill this possibility once for all, he intentionally failed at the technical school admission exams and went to study at Anísio Teixeira High School. This school was also public and offered professional education as well as acting classes. From then on, Lázaro combined his work as pathology technician with his true passion for acting.
Even so, his father did not accept the acting idea very well for fear that the author could not make a living out of the stages. When hard times would come in, he would feel confused if it really would not be better to follow his father’s advice.
Sometime later, the presenter joined the Olodum Theater Band which was a turning point in his life. This group equipped him with arguments and the courage to question racism. The essence of the group is to mix humor & social criticism to speak up from the black point of view regarding the world. What drew his attention was precisely the union of criticism with humor that made the subject of racism a bit lighter.
In the beginning of his professional life, the author coordinated the double routine of pathology technician and actor, which ran from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. The fatigue was enormous, but the desire to keep acting spoke louder. By the time he was twenty, he had done a bit of everything ranging from protagonist to producer.
At one point, the author left the laboratory to focus only on acting. This was made possible by his performance in the movie of the dancer Carla Perez “Cinderella Baiana” that was a huge success. The amount he got was as much as 20 times his stipend.
So he set himself a 20-month deadline to see if his career in art would take off. If it did not take off, it was all right too, because he had no problems with going back to the double journey.
Then, the tour of the play “A Máquina“, which became a national success, gave him a major recognition in Brazil.
The peak of this phase was with the soap opera character “Foguinho” in” Cobras & Lagartos” that was an absolute success on Brazilian TV.
Later, he missed creating his own project to speak up for people’s dreams so he created the TV Show “Espelho” on the Broadcaster “Canal Brasil“.
Within this journey, he has got a number of awards and job opportunities that are easily found on Google.
What is not available, however, is the hidden history of the challenges of climbing the social ladder being an exception, something that is invisible to many.
We are talking about the sideways glances, the subtexts, the fears, the subtleties of prejudice and the reflections on identity that we will address in the next lines.
Racism has not been overcome yet
There is a whole idea that there is no racism in Brazil. After all, we are part of a mixed-race people. But the truth is that the Brazilian people are ashamed to say that it is racist, but not to act likewise. Who is on the discriminated side of the situation as well as the author, can prove this with daily facts.
Unfortunately, racism is a crime that is almost perfect, because most times only the victim sees it. When victims demonstrate their dissatisfaction, they are automatically become mentally troubled people or accused of victimhood.
There are countless examples that the author has lived himself and, likewise, his black friends. There was the case of his friend who went to buy a car. When he arrived at the dealer, he overheard one salesman commenting to another that he was just a “looker”. The guy who looks and does not buy anything. Contrary to expectations, his friend Chico took a bundle of money and bought the car right on the spot with no financing.
From his own experience, he was stopped by two policemen as he was going to the bank to cash out. Armed police officers asked for his ID and claimed he was a kind of a “suspect”. It was only after pouring out all the talk he learned in Olodum about racism that the cops went away annoyed with his “arrogance”.
Everyone knows someone who has been discriminated against, but in a nobody raises their hand to call themselves racist. This is due to the fact that racism has been institutionally promoted by the government, which has become known as the “Whitening Theory”.
The Whitening Theory
“Let’s ignore race because we are all human beings” is a very misleading speech. From the biological standpoint it does make sense, but the from the sociological one it does not. The ideal of a mixed nation was indeed useful for us to deny our African and indian origins.
Anthropologist Lilia Schwarcz has an extensive reflection on this subject. According to her, if there was a theory created in Brazil, it was the whitening theory, which preached that the “clearer the skin color of the Brazilian, the more developed the country would be.
I add that this has unfolded several strategic measures that the Brazilian state has created to oppress blacks in their basic needs. To mention perhaps the most subtle of them, in the constitution of 1824, the black people were indirectly prevented from having access to the school, which repressed the formation of a proportionally black middle class.
In the present moment, the “success” of this policy is evident in geographic census data in which black populations are the most illiterate, die earlier, are less likely to get work and are preferred targets of police and justice.
Many people who today oppose black inclusion policy ignore this history and confuse the racial issue with a merely social and educational problem.
In fact, there is no doubt that the improvement of the educational system will help the black population, which is the largest user of the public basic school and high school in Brazil. However, this measure serves the Brazilian people as a whole but does not specifically address the damages based on race already mentioned.
At the time of slavery, a black man who had obtained his freedom and was traveling through Brazil could be apprehended at any moment by the police as a “suspect” of being a slave. Even with his freedom paper in his pocket, he was still seen as a “fleeing slave”.
In the present, it is not much different. The black boy who is caught by the police must show humility not to be mistaken for a bad guy.
On the other hand, the self-perception of the white race does not exist, because it is commonplace. Usually, the white condition is not a subject as this is the “normal” one. When we speak of a European, we always specify if he or she is English, Portuguese or French.
But when we speak of an African, we speak an African, and we do specify the country he or she belongs to. One way the state managed to devalue the past of the African nations was to treat the European past as history with a capital “H” and the African past as ethnography.
In short, there was no interest in integrating blacks into society. By the very opposite, the interest was that they would disappear so that the nation could advance according to the premise of whitening.
The Black Protagonism was omitted in the History of Brazil
The black people are an almost invisible subject in the dominant narrative about the history of Brazil, according to the author. Although it is a consensus that Brazil was formed by the intervention of the white, indian and black races, there is a tendency to erase the protagonism that the blacks also had in this process.
For example, in the Farroupilha Revolution black lancers fought under the promise of freedom, but in the school history books, we do not see this. Nor is it taught that the first strikes in Brazil were not promoted by the Italians, but by enslaved blacks in Ilheus, at the end of the eighteenth century. They negotiated with farmers the conditions for returning to work, including the right to sing and dance.
Another interesting fact is that the greatest engineer in the empire, André Rebouças, was also black. André gained prominence in society by solving the problem of water supply by which the capital Rio de Janeiro passed at the time. He designed an ingenious water collection system that came from out of town. In addition, he was an advisor to Emperor D. Pedro, designed and executed the Curitiba-Paranaguá railroad that was a reference in the engineering world at the time.
These are some facts that reinforce that the blacks had their history told in the third person, what the historian Ubiratan de Castro endorses.
The Domestic Maid in Brazil is not treated as a Human Being
Historian Giovana Xavier tells of a fight between mother and daughter in which she heard the following expression: “Why are you yelling at me like that? Are you thinking I’m your maid? ” Then is it natural to yell at someone when the person at issue has the maid profession as if she were a possession? This is one of several stories that reflect the slave mentality that still shapes work relations.
Many maids in Brazil, 70% of whom are black women, work in abusive situations. Abuses include poor pay, sexual harassment, and bullying. Many feel overwhelmed because, at the same time that they suffer, they keep working in the same conditions for supporting their family.
Former maid and history teacher Joyce Fernandes has gone through it all and created the facebook page “I Maid,” in which these abuses are reported daily.
Much is heard that the maid is an “almost family” figure.
However, what happens is that she abandons her family and never fully enters the family of their bosses.
Media Still Reflect Racial Segregation
Between 1994 and 2014, only 4% of the protagonists in Brazilian soap operas produced by broadcaster Globo were interpreted by non-white women. If you have watched soap operas, you will be able to identify at least 1 of the objectified stereotypes that according to author Laura Vascouto are perpetuated in scripts:
- The black mother who does everything for the bosses
- The servile, snoopy, seductive, comedic or submissive maid
- The serving friend, that is, the male version of the maid
- The slave
- The sensual black
- The trickster
- The “perfect” black, a term invented by Joel Zito Araújo to designate the black that moves away from its origins and becomes more acceptable in the eyes of the whites
- The black “ladder”, which serves to show how the white person is good or more important than him
A case in Lazaro’s career seems to support this evidence. He had an experience of rejection by the audience as playing a role that would not fit into any of these stereotypes.
In the soap opera “Insensato Coração“, 2011, the actor represented André Gurgel who was a very successful, rich, arrogant and who treated women with some coldness.
As a result, he was attacked on social networks as “ugly,” “monkey,” and “unsuitable for the role.” What if this role were not taken by a black face, mouth, big eyes and wide nose, would it happen the same?
An example on the internet that also highlights the racial prejudice is the youtube video “Black Doll White Doll Experiment”. In the social experiment it brings up, one black and one white doll are placed on a table. Then, an interviewer asks the same questions to every child of different races individually.
The questions were:
- “Which doll is the black doll and which one is the white doll?”
- “Which doll is the most beautiful?”
- “Which doll is the coolest?”
- “Which doll is mean?”
- “Which doll looks more like you”?
The result you should already imagine.
The amazing thing is that even black children saying that they looked more like the black dolls, they still answered that the black doll was the mean one and the ugly one. When asked why they simply replied “because white is cooler”.
Not by chance, when we see a soap opera, whether Mexican, Venezuelan or Brazilian, the beautiful ones are white. Subalternity is represented by the negro and the mestizo, who are never cast as beauty models.
The reality is that the negro image still is very much linked to poverty. Hence, there is some resistance from the marketing point of view to putting blacks in the media in general. Advertising simply reflects the hierarchical relationships present in society.
As long as blacks are excluded and discriminated against in all sectors, they will not be proportionally represented in TV commercials, billboards and magazine and newspaper ads.
Love Relations are also influenced by Racism
There is a belief that the black people seek whites in love to improve their self-esteem as sustaining blackness is hard. This attitude seems to be present in the lives of most black soccer players and this is almost always frowned upon by movements against racism.
For the author Claudete Alves who has a book on the loneliness of black women, this is a protection mechanism for black men. By a historical and cultural process, they tend to deny their identity. If the black women, in the same proportion, would reject the black men, we would have a balance. However, it is the opposite that happens in reality.
Claudete’s field research has shown that the black women have their love-sexual preference within their own ethnic group. This demonstrates an attitude of resistance that made them preserve black identities more than black men.
In the survey, most women claimed that after the “Pelé Era” the relationships between black men and white women increased dramatically. One of the reasons would be the role of the media, which created a benchmark for what would be sexually desirable for black men and boys.
When boys begin to consume pornography, what they find are blond women. This indirectly has a negative impact on the self-esteem of black women whose value is implicitly diminished.
In terms of violence, research indicates that aggression against black women has grown by more than 190% between 2003 and 2013 and that they represent 60% of women beaten up by known people.
Moreover, it is still very difficult to see representations in which black love is praised and expressed as something beautiful. One does not see this expression of love on television, in magazines, in advertising or in storybooks.
As a consequence, all this is imprinted in our unconscious mind, which influences the way we behave and show ourselves to the world. Therefore, this context explains that racism has also a negative impact on love relationships among black people.
The Price of Being a Successful Black Person
Brazilian rapper Emicida said in an interview with the author that when black people reach a position where they are not the norm, they tend to adapt to a certain behavior to remain there. Apparently, the price of occupying certain places is not being able to mention how difficult it is to get there.
Contrary to this rule, Lázaro included some conducts in his role of actor. One of them was to refuse invitations to soap operas portraying slavery. He was not willing to play the role of an enslaved person who wears cotton pants, is whipped and then is saved by a ‘nice’ white woman. This is because this whole context only reinforces the whiteness ideal. His friends even started to make jokes by asking when he was going to make this kind of soap operas again.
Another decision was that he refused many jobs in which he would have to use firearms. The reason was to stop reinforcing the negative stigma that is socially associated with the black skin.
In recent times black people from popular economic levels have come to universities, to leading positions in the corporate world and naturally deserve recognition for this.
At the same time, their stories still remain the exception.
It is quite valid to be praised for the personal story like “I came from the favela and made it to the top”. However, this should not lead us to think that all favela black people must get there as well because their conditions do not favor those success stories.
Writer Conceição Evaristo summarizes this with the following saying: “the exception simply confirms the rule“.
How to fight racism?
The author began to wonder how to fight racial prejudice more intensely after the birth of his children. The solution to this problem is not straightforward. In fact, it involves quite a few variables, but we can highlight 3 pillars of this process in the following paragraphs.
Family is paramount in building self-esteem
In his TV program, the author had experiences that reinforced how much the family element is essential for building self-esteem. This became evident as their interviewees, without exception, gained new vigor and confidence upon talking about their loved ones.
The white population has the opportunity to know well their European origins and to keep their surname or family recipes with love.
In contrast, African descendants lost this benchmark through slavery. Trafficking has eliminated the records of the places from which they came from, redefining them in invented ethnic groups such as the “Mine”, which means those who embarked on the Mine’s Coast.
In addition, the traffickers even forced enslaved people into mystical rituals for erasing their memories. They were forced to make several rounds around large baobabs under whips, after what they were baptized with a new Christian identity. Then, they were mixed in batches with people from different ethnicities so they would not understand each other. Finally, they passed through the “Portal of No Return”, which was a monument built so they would never feel like returning to their homeland.
All this process has generated psychological wounds and an incessant search for freedom of the black families that comes until the present day.
For example, journalist Gloria Maria shared that her grandmother would emphatically repeat that “she should be free, that she could not be a slave again.” Being free was above marriage or anything else.
In the author’s family, the injection of self-esteem and affection happened and was very important for his self-confidence.
However, this is not the case for many black families, where parents get tough. They embody a careless attitude because they believe to be preparing their children for a world that will not treat them well.
Unfortunately, this approach hurts much more than helps. Indeed, this is a defense mechanism that generates needy human beings.
On the other hand, care, love, and affection truly enhance the well-being and self-confidence of our children.
If they have no shelter at home, where will they find it then? What society is this that forms people who brutalize love to avoid suffering?
For these reasons, the family space is very important to strengthen the self-esteem that black people need to address the racial issue. Without self-esteem and self-love, it is difficult to recognize one’s worth, without which Black people tend to stray from their identity and cease to the unconscious mechanisms of racism.
Cultivate Positive Symbols of Blackness
Everything is symbolic, says the author. Symbols have the power to transform people’s lives.
Besides Jairzinho, who was his hero in childhood, there was another hero that had a great impact in the author.
Still in childhood, a black man in a suit went to Dindinha’s house. He was treated with much respect and reverence for all. When he arrived, everyone went to elsewhere in the house for the sake of confidentiality.
This man was deputy Carlos Alberto de Oliveira who is responsible for the law project that criminalizes racism, the Caó law. When he needed a political asylum, he hid in a hole behind the oven, where Lázaro had played so many times. For the author, Caó was the symbol that it is possible to come out of a hole to speak up to the world about our pains, injustices, and virtues.
It is not natural phenomenon black people being the majority in prisons, slums, and asylums. It is not natural that 77% of young people killed in Brazil are black. This is where the importance of inclusion policies lies in Brazil. Denature symbols that have become “natural” about the black identity.
It is not about producing more segregation and racism as some people say. Instead, it is all about removing racial symbols by giving access to the economic, educational, cultural and social rights denied by the state to black people throughout hundreds of years.
At the individual level, we can do our part by cultivating positive symbols of blackness. In his circle of friends, the author used to praise beautiful black women when the talk was about beauty. If the conversation was about acting, he would mention a talented black actor. The atmosphere was always fine.
Through this behavior, Lázaro has also influenced his family. His mother and cousins, for example, stopped straightening their hair and stuck to Afro hairstyles after he started using braids and dreadlocks. Dindinha left the rice powder, changing her makeup to a specific one for black skin.
Finally, through the cultivation of symbols that value the diversity of identities, the ideal is to get to a place where there is no right or wrong pattern. Filmmaker Joel Zito says that the way is to understand that Brazil is a nation comprised of different identities and to value the contributions that each of them brought us, without imposing a pattern to be pursued.
The so-called “geração tombamento” have shown that they are entitled to a place in the world and they know it. It is made up of young black people who use aesthetics, self-esteem, and freedom to empower themselves. Afro and curly hair became symbols of pride & comfort.
As rapper MC Soffia says, the greatest weapon against racism is knowledge. With this premise, it is important that we individually expand our awareness to realize our unconscious biases. To help along this path, here is a list of referral content on this topic recommended by the author:
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- A Negação do Brasil by Joel Zito Araújo
- Um defeito de cor by Ana Maria Gonçalves
- Afrofuturismo do Fábio Kabral
- É o Poder by Karol Conka
- Menina Pretinha by MC Soffia
- Zero by Liniker Barros
- Afrontamento by Rico Dalasam
- Afrontamento by Tássia Reis
- Muro Pequeno by Murilo Araújo
Regardless of whether we are black or not, the author invites us to exercise citizenship and to value Brazilianness. Racism keeps in us one way or another if we do not bring that subject to the rational side of things.
If Brazil is not good for everyone, the problems will keep bothering for both aggressors and victims. We need to give a new meaning to all these stories that the legacy of little plurality has left us until then.
How many talents is Brazil failing to empower simply because we do not have an environment that values all people the way they are?
“If we are neutral in situations of oppression, we automatically choose the side of the oppressor.”
Despite having a unique cultural potential, Brazil has not claimed its black and Indian identities yet, which is evident through racial prejudice. Despite Lázaro Ramos’ success story, it only confirms the rule of exclusion that happens invisibly before the eyes of many. Our society as a whole is the real loser of this story, because, at least, many people are prevented from giving their talent to the country. How long will we postpone, on an individual and collective level, the process of self-knowledge and appreciation of our African origins, treating differences without inequality?
How about you?
Can you relate to any?
I would love to talk to you in the comments below. 🙂
Anyways, I hope you dive in and enjoy his content referrals!