On the Color of Desire, Disrespect, and Sexual Exploitation in Brazil

by Veronica Maria Brown-Comegys The day I arrived in Rio de Janeiro a muscle-bound German strang...

by Veronica Maria Brown-Comegys

The day I arrived in Rio de Janeiro a muscle-bound German stranger followed me from the reception desk into the hotel elevator. After the door closed, he began shouting in halting English, “You are American. I want to be with you tonight, why not?” “Why not?” I side-stepped to the elevator panel and wildly pounded the buttons. The door opened and I raced to my room.

White Brazilian and European male visitors gravitate to the eroticism of the woman of African descent. Yet they do not express their admiration in romantic sonnets and songs. Instead, white Brazilian men say in Portuguese, “As negras tem fogo no rabo.” The translation is, “Black women have fire in their ass,” according to my white friend, Carlos Marques, a fifty-six-year-old activist and historian. The activist, of Porto Alegre, in Rio Grande do Sul, said, “Rabo is a VERY bad expression, extremely graphic. It is machismo and racism.” Cesar Renato, 19, a black aspiring rapper, in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, added, “They say worse things than that.”

Carlos Santos, 30, of Goias, a black decorator and house painter said, “It is true that the white man says the black woman has an appetite for sex, and is hotter than the white woman. I agree that black women are hotter. This is obvious. But, oh no, to say they have fire under their skirt, this is too much. This is hyper-sexualization of the black woman.”

The crude expression is directed at all black women. Yet it is the black woman who has tan, gold, caramel and light-to-nearly medium colored skin, who is preferred. Marques said, “Light-colored girls are a species of sexual fantasy for many men, Brazilian and foreign. They are something like a sexual fetish.”

Dr. Norma Cavalcanti, a white psychologist, said “In Brazil a woman has only two rights; the right to be a mother, and the right to be a ‘boneca gloriosa’ (glorious doll).” Willing or not, I had all the necessary attributes to play this role: light brown skin, heavy-lidded, big brown eyes, full lips, and most importantly a five foot seven-inch body, which was far from thin and shapeless. Far from being a brown Playboy centerfold, but not to be ignored.

Within a few days I had another encounter. I ventured into a store to purchase a bikini. I was talking to a young clerk when her blond blue-eyed boss moved her aside and said in perfect English, “I will help you.” The merchant handed me several bikinis and led me to a dressing room. He grinned as he backed out of the room. “Take your time,” he murmured. Unbeknown to me, he did not go far. As soon as I was naked he jerked the curtain aside and burst into the cubicle. He leaned against the wall chuckling and getting an eyeful. Of course, I grabbed my clothes, dashed into another changing area, hurriedly dressed and scurried from the business. An elderly male member of my white Brazilian “family” explained that “American men are cold. Brazilian men like women. Brazilian men are warm.”

African-Americans should recognize this black sexual image. “Wherever black men and women go they are closely pursued by the shadow of white-created sexual stereotypes,” Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, M.D. wrote in Why Blacks Kill Blacks. According to Dr. Poussaint, “Many Caucasian men perceive any and all black women as prostitutes or ‘easy lays’ – a projection of their own lechery and exploitation of black women.” These myths and stereotypes came from the slavery era and still prevail.



During the 2014 World Cup Season male and female journalists were distained “international gringos who come to Brazil with the wrong idea.” Carol Apaloo, an African-American school teacher, whose family relocated from Los Angeles in the late 1970s said, “The Germans are the worst.” She discussed the lewd way they were dancing with the black Brazilian girls at Carnival. One journalist said that the foreigners are only part of the problem. Their behavior matched customary treatment black women receive from white Brazilian men.

Marly Ferreira, 57, a black Brazilian writer and Professor of Biology said, “The image still exists of the black woman as sexy, good in bed, to be used as an object. This image is a benefit to tourism. There are many schemes to make the color black agreeable, to be used by everybody.” More than two decades ago, white historian, sociologist and anthropologist Gilberto Freyre said, “The mulata is treated like a product. Our mulata is not different from other women, but she is being exploited as a sex symbol, and the majority are being turned into prostitutes.”

One white Brazilian impresario Oswaldo Sargentelli built his fortune on the sexual allure of black females. He advertised that his nightclubs featured “mulatas that are not on the map.” He called the black performers his goldmine. During the two-hour show the women strut across the stage as a master of ceremonies tells saucy jokes. Occasionally, an eager man is invited to dance with a performer. In interviews, the late promoter, has said, “I don’t require them to be literate, but they must be professional.” That means that they must not date the customers, or accept messages from them. After each performance a guard escorts the women to their home.

One Oba Oba dancer, Rece Fatima Serafim told me, “Sargentelli is trying to protect us because he knows that in general, the treatment of black women in Brazil is very bad.” Another performer Maria Elizabeth da Silva said, “We are treated as artists but, in general black women are not treated with respect.” Most dancers stay at the club for about three years before leaving to marry, travel or work abroad. Ms. Serafim was training to become a singer while Ms. Da Silva planned to teach dancing. When I returned to the United Press International Bureau, my white American boss asked, “Well, how dumb were they?”

Some activists have denounced the nightclub owners and show producers, along with the mulata mystique. In Brazilian Women Speak: Contemporary Life Stories, one woman said,
“We’ve got one here who is an incredible exploiter of black women. She said, “When they go into these clubs, these shows, they are labeled mulatas, and, even worse ‘the mulatas of so-and-so.’ They start having an owner, a master. And they are prostituted on the stage. The men in the audience have always wanted to prostitute these women, but the women might not be aware of this, and anyway they have to survive. I don’t know if they earn much-they’ve never shown much interest in talking to us. They seem to think that if they say anything, they will lose their jobs. What they do say is, ‘Well if I were not on the stage I’d end up in some madam’s house.’”
According to the activist many of the performers have little education. “They don’t need to talk, just to wiggle. When they get old, they beg.” However, many dancers recount the triumphs of others who married well, moved to Europe, or worked in fashion houses, film and television. One woman married a wealthy French Count. The young dancers called her the “most successful mulata of all times.”

During one of my vacations in Rio de Janeiro, I met a British graphic artist on Copacabana Beach. He had been a resident of Australia when he went to Rio for Carnival. However, he quickly decided to relocate, driven by his lust for black Brazilian women. He stuttered, “Th, th, these black girls here re, re, really know how to shake their asses. Plus they are cra, cra, crazy about men with blue eyes.” He arrived in the country ready for action. Unfortunately, jobs were few, and payment was slow. Within three years his savings and fondness for the natives had dwindled.

Meanwhile my landlady, who was a psychiatrist, expected me to become accustomed to rabid attention from men. She said, “Look Veroni (family nickname), this is Brazil. This is the way Brazilian men are. In my home state, blondes have a hard time catching a man.”

Brazil: People and Institutions presents a 18th Century poem from Rio de Janeiro folklore which attests to the appeal of the Afro-Brazilian woman.

If white women were for sale,
Either for gold or silver,
I should buy one of them,
For a servant for my mulata.


In Order and Progress: Brazil from Monarchy to Republic, Gilberto Freyre wrote, “Moreover, a historian quoted a white man born in 1887, who said, he had been happier in ‘his friendship with a negro woman’ than in his marriage to a white girl. He followed his uncle, to whom a white woman was no woman at all. His German friend agreed. The European considered the black woman the “queen of all womanhood.” Nevertheless, the white woman retains the exalted status. In Race in Contemporary Brazil: From Indifference to Inequality, Afro-Brazilian feminist Sueli Carneiro said, “Black women are not ideals of anything. We are women identified as objects. The aesthetic model for Brazilian women is white.”

“Even in the 21st Century, and in spite of the advancement of the black Brazilian woman, she is still a product for consumption and exportation,” said Marques, who teaches English to black youth in the poor areas. In Brazilian literature the black woman has superb culinary skills, according to Dr. Cavalcanti, of Rio de Janeiro. “But I never heard of one making it to head cook,” she said.

Recently, a white Brazilian ex-politician even denied that black women were sexually abused during slavery. Demostenes do Demo said, “Black women were not deflowered and sexually violated during the slavery era. They played a game of seduction and yielded their bodies with complete delight, freely.”10 The politician distorted history, according to Priscila Luiza Coscarella, 45, of Campinas. “How repugnant,” she said. Sandra Helena Figueiredo Maciel, black feminist and former Coordinator for Racial Equality in Rio Grande do Sul said, the former politician has a reputation for being a racist, a misogynist, homophobic, and corrupt.

“In the past and the present no woman has been more raped, abused and humiliated than the black woman,” said William Reis, 27, community activist of Rio de Janeiro. Reis identifies himself on Facebook as William X Luther King.

There is a need for international feminism since the racist, patriarchal oppressors operate from the same play book. Regardless of language or nationality, the game is always: Treat the Woman as An Object.

Photo: dabldy / Shutterstock.com

Veronica Maria Brown-Comegys was a recipient of an Inter-American Press Association Scholarship. The grant funded one year of study and research in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where Veronica wrote some freelance articles, about feminism, African religions and crime, for United Press International. Afterwards, Veronica began a book on women, blacks and life with her white Brazilian “family.” In addition, for three years she studied graduate classes in anthropology at Michigan State University. Overall, she has visited Brazil three times, and Portugal, Paraguay and Mexico once. Veronica can be reached at: veronica.browncomegys@facebook.com.




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