Dark-Skinned Or Black? How Afro-Brazilians Are Forging A Collective Identity
Code Switch: Frontiers of Race, Culture and Ethnicity
National Public Radio
Lulu Garcia-Navarro, South America Correspondent
Sisters Francine and Fernanda Gravina have German, Italian, African and indigenous ancestry. (Lourdes Garcia-Navarro/NPR)
If you want to get a sense of how complex racial identity is in Brazil, you should meet sisters Francine and Fernanda Gravina. Both have the same mother and father. Francine, 28, is blond with green eyes and white skin. She wouldn’t look out of place in Iceland. But Fernanda, 23, has milk chocolate skin with coffee colored eyes and hair. Francine describes herself as white, whereas Fernanda says she’s morena, or brown-skinned.
“We’d always get questions like, ‘How can you be so dark skinned and she’s so fair?'” Fernanda says. In fact, the sisters have German, Italian, African and indigenous ancestry. But in Brazil, Fernanda explains, people describe themselves by color, not race, since nearly everyone here is mixed.
All of that is to say, collecting demographic information in Brazil has been really tricky. The latest census, taken in 2010, found for the first time that Brazil has the most people of African descent outside Africa. No, this doesn’t mean that Afro-Brazilian population suddenly, dramatically increased. Rather, the new figures reflect changing attitudes about race and skin color in Brazil…
…”We should see the history of Brazil as a history of racial inequality,” Heringer says — and that’s a fairly new idea. For a long time, Brazilians have believed in what’s been called “the myth of racial democracy,” she explains. Part of that myth-building was a controversial survey that the government conducted the 1970’s. It asked people to describe their skin color, and the answers varied a lot. All together, respondents used at least 134 different terms…
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