Hairdos deployed in Brazil’s fight against racism

Hairdos deployed in Brazil’s fight against racism

Agence France-Press (AFP) News

Laura Bonilla

RIO DE JANEIRO — Nothing like a good hairdo to fight deeply entrenched racism in one of the world’s emerging economic giants.

The tools of battle, such as scissors and conditioners, are being wielded on the outskirts of Rio in a chain of beauty parlors that cater to black and mulata women of limited means.

Rather than straighten out their afro-style hair, as many blacks around the world like to do, this chain called Beleza Natural, or natural beauty, transforms it into soft curls. And business is booming.

Ditched is the popular conception in this South American powerhouse that afro-style hair will get you nowhere.

About 51 percent of Brazil’s 194 million people are black or mulato (mixed race), and the owners of Beleza Natural estimate that 70 percent of women in Brazil have afro-style hair.

“This beauty salon is for the forgotten consumer, the invisible one, to raise the self esteem of low-income customers. Women who are used to serving but deserve to be served and served well,” said company chairwoman Leila Velez, a mulata of 38 who at the tender age of 16 was already managing a McDonald’s.

…”One hundred percent of the success of this store is linked to the issue of race,” said Victor Cunha da Almeida, a professor at the business school of the Universidad Federal in Rio de Janeiro.

“In Brazil there is cultural baggage among black women who do not like their hair because it is not straight, which is the best known standard of beauty”, said Almeida, who co-authored a thesis on Beleza Natural and its support for the bottom of the social pyramid.

“And that is the difference with Beleza Natural, which does not want to straighten hair. It wants to relax it, to soften the curls. It says this to a woman: ‘You are beautiful because you are black. You are beautiful because you have hair like this.'”…

Jose Jorge de Carvalho, an anthropologist at the University of Brasilia, says that even though Brazil is held up as an example of harmonious racial diversity it is actually “very racist”.

“These hair salons are part of an effort to fight racism, to lift the self-esteem of black women of the working class,” said Carvalho…

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