Blackness in Brazil: ancestry, skin color, and race

by Hiroki Matsuyama

In today’s modern world, there are many types of injurious racisms all over the world. However, the elements to discriminate against people are different, and they are depending on countries. There are several interesting aspects in terms of the way to distinguish people in Brazil according to ‘The social consequences of Skin Color in Brazil’ by Edward Telles.

On the one hand, people in the U.S tend to discriminate against those who are black, on the other hand, people in Brazil do not distinguish people depending on their race, but they do depending on situation, classifier and region. In other words, skin color is more commonly used than race in terms of distinguishing people. The most interesting point in this reading to me is that some U.S blacks may be seen as white in Brazil, only people having very dark skin are considered black. In fact, there are Brazilians who call themselves white, have non-white ancestry, and the numbers of those people is not small surprisingly. In spite of the fact that the U.S does have the ‘one drop’ rule  to discriminate against blacks, you would not be considered black in Brazil if you do not have black ancestry. From this point of view, it can be said that miscegenation tends to whiten the population in Brazil, which is totally opposite idea of the U.S. This is because Brazil was the colony of Portugal, and Brazilian people were born between Portuguese males and African or indigenous females.

Honestly, racial discrimination in Brazil did not seem to be worse than it in the U.S as my first impression. However, there is severe discrimination depending on their skin tones in Brazil. Although, in the U.S, there are color differences within races of Black and Latino, not among white people, there are color differences within the entire population in Brazil. It means that job wage or opportunities in Brazil depend on skin color. Hence, there is the difficulty for policymakers to define racial boundaries, and decide who should benefit from affirmative action even though they try to make a move for low-income citizens.

There are totally different notions between two countries, the U.S and Brazil in terms of discrimination. I would not say which is in better or worse situation; people in both countries are struggling in different ways. As I am an Asian person, I would like to research how Asian people in Brazil are considered. If people in Brazil discriminate against people depending on their skin tone, Asian people might not be discriminated because so-called ‘yellow color’ is close to white color.

The consequences of blackness in Brazil

by Saki Miyata

Brazilians from the end of the 19th century to...

Brazilians from the end of the 19th century to the very begining of the 20th century. First roll from left to right: A Portuguese-Brazilian woman, a German-Brazilian boy, an Italo-Brazilian man, an Arab-Brazilian and a Japanese-Brazilian woman. Second roll from left to right: an Afro-Brazilian man, a Cafuzo girl, a Mulatto woman, a Caboclo man and an Indian woman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In “The social consequences of skin color in Brazil”, Edward Telles describes how people perceive skin color and race differently in the Brazil, compared to the United States, as well as the current inequalities caused by skin color. How Brazilians determine their identity or how they classify themselves, skin color is the main focused element. On the other hand in the United States, elements such as ancestors and “blood” determines one’s identity and race. Telles described that this is due to the difference in the laws that were made during slavery. In the United States, there was a law which described that if a person has a black ancestor, he or she is considered black; even though it was only 1/10th. However, in Brazil, this person might be considered “brown” or even “white”, according to his or her skin color. This seems very interesting, since one could change their class and “race” depending on the country.

After reading this chapter, I found an interesting blog about the consequences of “blackness” among the Brazilian people. Although more than half of the population is black descended or mixed race, the inequality and discrimination that dark skinned people receive are surprisingly high. However, according to the study, the “awareness of the importance of African culture in Brazilian history and Brazilians’ pride in their black origins has increased in recent years” (Global voices, 2011). On the other hand, another article showed that a famous funk star changed her skin color to a lighter complexion and became famous (Watts, 2013). In the discussion during class, our team shared our opinion toward this controversy. Although more and more people identify themselves as “black” or partially “black”, people still want to achieve whiteness. In our discussion, we concluded, that people who have dark or tanned skin wanted to have some sort of confident and pride towards who they are even though the society prefers whiter skin for success.

Through the past classes, it sees that throughout the world, the conscious of “white is beautify and successful” seem to be connected. Even in a country like Brazil, where enormous numbers of the population is mixed, and claims diversity, the inequality still exists. This fact questions me why does the “white as dominant” does not change over history? Even though the colonialism and slavery did end in most of the countries?


Global voices, 2011. Brazil: Census “Reveals” Majority of Population is Black or Mixed Race. Global voices. Retrieved from

Watts, J. 2013. Brazilian funk star Anitta sparks new debate about skin whitening and race. The guardian. Retrieved from

Race, skin color, and identity in Mexico

by Kathy Russo

It’s a nice hot day; you’re minding your own business sipping on a cool drink and enjoying having some ‘me time’ while wandering around the city or campus.


Suddenly someone comes up to you and asks for a moment of your time to inquire a few questions for their studies. After a few of the basics that near to all interviews contain—name, age, city—the more detailed questions emerge, those specific to the study in particular.

“What is your race? What do you classify yourself as racially?”

Would you be able to answer these questions without hesitation, after a brief moment to pause and think it over, or would you attempt to swerve the question all together?

“What is your skin colour?”

What about now? Would you have the same reaction as to the previous question?

In México, and many other Latin American nations, the individual and collective response would be positive to the latter question, with little-to-no hesitation; while the former would cause for the questioned to become greatly uncomfortable and unnerved. The notion of race, and the open discussion of the matter, has a negative connotation in México for it is almost always robotically associated directly with racism itself. While colour on the other hand, is a positive conception that expression social and economic status, as well as the forthcoming of one’s future generations.

Even in today’s society and modern world, the notion that “white is right” prevails. Numerous individuals in México are seeking out methods of identifying themselves as Moreno clara or blanca, from staying indoors, to taking on cosmetics to whiten one’s skin tone. People take this step a whole new level as well, by seeking out partners for sexual encounters and marriages that are on the lighter end of the skin palate in order to try to safeguard their future generations’ success—by means of a light skin colour.

One may try to argue that the notion for this mind set, in which white skin leads to automatic success, is rooted deep in the nation’s historical origins of colonialisation by the Spaniards and Whites of Europe. While this may ring true for the shaping of the society, many individuals nowadays, especially those in the younger generations, would ardently refute this claim by saying that they are simply fonder of the skin colour and body features. The argument would continue on to lay claim that the ideal of being whiter is more attractive, which ultimately leads to success in the society, in addition to the better treatment of people while growing up, which is why they wish for their children to be whiter than they themselves may be.

Race, however, hold the negative notion that if someone were to openly comment on it, they would be seen by others as ignorant or racist, according to research conducted by Christina Sue. Many argue that the subject matter is far too sensitive for some and that they would rather not take the risk to offend someone. Others claim that race has nothing to do with how society functions and thus should not be discussed in ultimatum.

On the other side of the issue at hand, what is not discussed in Sue’s research findings is that racism is very prominent in Latin American nations like México, not simply by terms of colour but actual race. It is harder to come by when being discussed openly, especially by an outsider for a study, for one does not wish to be coined a racist in actuality, but if observed from a distance or over years of assimilation one will come to notice that the topic of race and where one originates from plays a large part in daily life. From my own findings while in México over the years, I have come to see and hear many speak poorly of people for being from a certain part of the country, for each area has its “own people/kind”, or a different country, such as the USA and Puerto Rico. From “güero” to “chino” to “gringo” to “gabacho” to “chilango” to “cabecita negra,” there are endless racial slurs and insults that one will hear while simply walking down the market but would never be discussed and heavily denied if one were confronted about.

One must try to consider why such a discrepancy occurs in the first place. Why is the discussion of skin colour perfectly acceptable and advocated for, while the mention of race and ethnicity in a public setting is pure taboo? The concept of conscious “race-blindness” and skin colour being the ideal basis for success and power is still going on strong in that Latin American nation of México.


Sue, C. A. (2009). The Dynamics of Color. Mestizaje, Racism, and Blackness in Veracruz, Mexico. In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E.N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Marketing lighter skin in South Africa

by Yusuke Shiga

Lots of cosmetic companies have globalized their markets by using ingenious marketing strategies, and the number of consumers of these products has proliferated. Especially skin whitening products are purchased in many countries and the inclination for whiter skin is so prevalent, yet the causes of this social phenomenon are complicated. In this writing, I’d like to focus on this trend in South Africa.

In this complicated discourse, there are two main factors, social structure and marketing strategies, specifically advertisements. First of all, as for advertisements, companies have sold the products by highlighting their great effects on the skin with pictures of consumers who successfully achieved the whiteness and nice skin condition, and also emphasized that having whiter skin improve their dating and marriage prospect. In fact, the winners of beauty competition were chosen for the models of many advertisements and encouraged people to buy the products. Moreover, these ads stressed the healthy aspects, the commodities protect your skin from the harsh rays of the sun and make your skin smooth or brighten. Most importantly, these ads said “manufactured for black by their brothers/sisters in U.S.”, this phrase tremendously encouraged them to use cosmetic products.

Concerns about social structure, racial hierarchy, and apartheid have played significant roles on seeking whiteness. The social stratification/class were determined by one’s racial category, and lower class, colored had limited access to occupation, education, housing, and so on. Therefore, for them whitening skin tone means racial uplift and getting chance to become wealthier. Within the society, white skin implicated modernity and progress, because during that time, not only wealthier people and whites but people who looking for better jobs migrated from rural area to urban area.

However, in the 1960s, an anti-skin whitening movement occurred, because black politicians and nationalists criticized this trend as “betraying the race.” They insisted to be proud of their skin color. Plus, the fact that scientists proved that ingredients in skin whitening products were harmful to skin fostered this anti-movement.

While after it was proven that using these products might cause serious skin troubles like “chubabas,” which are purpled patches of skin, some continuously put these chemicals on their skin. The struggle black Africans faced is depicted in the film “Skin” by Sandra Laing. This movie is based on a true story and shows the strong impact of the skin color in everyday life in South Africa. The ironic scene is that parents who are both white rejoiced to hear their child who had been recognized as colored before was authorized as white.

In my opinion, the main reason why these issues still persist is because there is possibility that you can move to higher class after using these products, even though you also have possibility of having “chubabas”. Especially, lower class tend to become addicted to cosmetics, due to the strong racial hierarchy in the society, and this “high-risk high-return” ideology has a powerful effect on whitening products addicts, I think. Yet, various elements are connected to this social matter, we need to analyze more from different perspectives.

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Skin Whitening as Social Uplifting and Achieving the Ideal “beauty”

by Moe Miura

There are many skin-whitening products in global markets today. One can easily purchase skin-whitening products even without knowing it, because whitening one’s skin tone is already a big phenomenon in the 21st century all over the world. However, South Africa has significant story about its history of the phenomenon of skin whitening.

In Evelyn Nakano Glenn’s Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters (2009), author Lynn M. Thomas focuses on the history and the use of skin lighteners in South Africa. Today, 35% of the South African women are said to be using the skin-whitening products. Then these questions pop up: why do South African women try to whiten their skin tone? Is there a history behind it?

South Africa is widely known for its history of apartheid, where black and colored people did not have the same political or economic rights as white people, and also were forced to live separately from white people. This policy led to the further discrimination of black and colored people, segregation, and the skin color preferences influenced by the European colonialism (Thomas, 2009). Thus it created the idea of lighter skin equals more liberty and less/no discrimination. Historically, the use of skin whitening products had a lot to do with the fact that there was a significant racial discrimination against black and colored people.

pictureAnother reason of using the skin lighteners was “technology of the self”, meaning people decorate themselves to transform themselves, so that they can achieve happiness or perfection. This can range from concealing blemishes to bleaching their faces. Advertisements have played a big role in informing people about this idea that whiter is more beautiful, using musical stars and beauty contest winners. Capitalism also pushed this idea because the more difficult the thing to achieve, the harder people try; concealing flaws and having lighter skin was difficult thus people would purchase more stuff to achieve this “ideal beauty”. The market of skin lighteners had become multimillion-dollar-per-year endeavor.

As it can be seen, reasons of South African women purchasing skin whiteners ranged from racial uplifting, capitalist commerce, to making themselves look better as a “technology of the self”.


Thomas, L. M. (2009). Skin Lighteners in South Africa. In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E.N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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Skin Lightening in South Africa

by Yutaro Nishioka

The trend of skin lightening, especially among women, is getting increasingly common all over the world, including South Africa, where the major part of its population is black. According to a study from the University of Cape Town, as many as one in three African women use bleaching products to lighten their skin.

Skin lightening products often create serious medical complications; many patients suffer from diseases caused by a combination of use of lightening products and sunlight (
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also mentioned the negative effects of some skin lightening products. Mercury, one of the common ingredients in lightening creams, is said to have harmful effects and could also lead to kidney damage, as well as other side effects such as “skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections” (

Why is skin lightening becoming so common in South Africa despite its negative health effects? Professor Lynn Thomas, co-author of the book Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, mentions the history of South Africa being colonized by Europeans. The Europeans and South Africans were not treated equally, and there was the notion that light skin was somehow better, not much unlike Hitler’s idea that Jews were inferior. More recently, apartheid, the government policy of racial segregation against black Africans in South Africa, was renounced officially only in 1992.

The effects of the history of discrimination can still be seen in the current South African society. For example, Nomoto “Mahoza” Mnisi, a famous South African musician, is known for her extensive use of skin lightening products. She says, “I just want to be light skinned… I was tired of being ugly.” She is assuming that dark skin is “ugly” and light skin is not.

People that have heard of this news have reacted differently, but the majority of the comments on the internet do not seem to approve of her changed appearance: “she was so much prettier before; her husband must be blind”, “God created her black and she looked so pretty. She looks pretty now but she looked better before”, “She is insecure and that’s bad.”

As there is a difference between Mahoza’s view and that of her fans, it is questionable to say that the history of the colonization and discrimination is the sole cause of the contemporary trend of South Africans’ skin lightening, but it is probably one of the factors that have contributed to the trend.


“Not Happy Being Black?” – Posted by Editorial Staff.

Thomas, Lynn M. 2009. “Skin Lighteners in South Africa: Transnational Entanglements and Technologies of the Self.” Pp. 188-210 in Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E. N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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Color complexes in the Philippines

by Lulu Maginde

In ‘Filipinos and the Color complex,’ Joanne Rondilla questions the reader, especially readers here in Asia, what the ‘ideal’ concept of beauty is, and how different people within Asia perceive beauty. As Rondilla focuses specifically on the Philippines and how skin whitening is utilized, or rather highly emphasized, it was interesting to find how skin-lightening products are marketed and sold as well as what these products are saying about beauty.

Rondilla claims that this concept of having a fairer complexion/lighter skin, stemmed from the Philippines’ deep history of colonization, after having been occupied by Spanish for over 300 years. This history most indefinitely influenced the way of life, culture and traditions, not to mention language and the concept of what is deemed beautiful.

After the departure of the Spaniards, then came the Americans, and many Filipinos will claim that until present, the Philippines is still a colony of the US, as most of the way of life in the Philippines has been greatly structured around a more Western way of life. Of course the country still has its rich culture and heritage, as well as its strict religious value system, however it is not hard to deny that US presence has greatly affected life in the Philippines.

This ties in perfectly to my next point of how Rondilla compares standards of skin color between Asian immigrants to the US to Asian Americans born and raised in the US. The main difference between these two groups is that while Asian Americans chose to tan, as it symbolizes wealth and a more luxurious life, Asian immigrants, for instance the Filipinos who immigrate to the US, are more likely to use skin lightening products in order to assimilate  into society. In the Philippines, having darker or more of a tanned complexion immediately reflected what social class one belonged to. If one had a fairer or lighter complexion, they belonged to an a higher social class, simply because they were not as exposed to the sun as working-class laborers.

This notion of a ‘relatable ideal’, or the claim that a certain type of beauty is the shared/common ideal amongst women in the Philippines is what is striking. Consciously or unconsciously, these women buy into an industry, in conjunction with certain media institutions, that greatly influences what may be deemed as beautiful. Thus, they buy into the idea that, due to capitalism, ‘everything can be bought and exchanged’.


Rondilla, Joanne L. (2009). “Filipinos and the color complex.” Pp. 63-80 in Glenn, E. Shades of Difference: Why skin color matters. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

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The trend of Japanese whiteness

by Yusuke Shiga

For women in modern society, whitening the skin by cosmetic products is so prevalent, and this trend is becoming more significant in terms of racial discrimination today. The influence of colonialism on not only developing, but developed countries is incalculable in various aspects. Still today, one’s appearance, especially skin color, plays a tremendous role in one’s access to essential stuff, from necessities for life such as housing, food, and clothing, to social security and social welfare. By lightening the skin color, people can more easily get these kinds of advantages and live more comfortably in a society. This social structure promotes the preference of whiter skin, however the skillful advertising and marketing strategies of cosmetic firms also affects this social inclination to white skin. Evelyn Nakano Glenn (2009) argues that the giant multinational corporations have grown by meeting the needs of women in each nation, thus the market for cosmetic products has expanded. When you focus on the Japanese case, the complicated contents can be seen.

Recently, Japanese women have sought white skin, as they think that white skin is beautiful or healthy and they persist in trying to to have whiter skin. There are some arguments about the reasons for this tendency, and some claim that Japanese ideal image of women is almost Caucasian because of the advertisements of media and companies. They insist that in most cases, whites are chosen as the models of cosmetic companies, and regarded as beautiful women, and therefore Japanese women try to mimic Westerners. On the other hand, others claim that whitening one’s skin color is part of Japanese traditional culture, because even in the Nara period, people already had customs to whiten their skin tone by using “Oshiroi” (White powder). However, in my opinion, these arguments neglect some important points toward this question “Why do Japanese women seek white skin?”.

Of course, we cannot define the main cause of Japanese preferences for white skin, since there are lots of causes and all of them are associated with each other. Through the discussion of my class, many of the interesting, persuasive ideas are came up and I consider this issue deeply, then I came to the conclusion.

In my opinion, we Japanese all share the misleading idea “Japanese must have nearly same white skin tone naturally”. Therefore, we sometimes discriminate against “Jiguro people (people who naturally have blacker skin compared to other Japanese)” regardless of their birthplace, and draw the line between “naturally white Japanese” and “naturally black Japanese”. Furthermore, because of this premise, “skin whiteness” symbolizes one’s youth or health. Having white skin implies that you make an effort to keep your youth by caring for your skin condition.

In Japan, a proverb says “stand out from the crowd and you just invite trouble for yourself”. Not to be “others”, to keep one’s youth, and to become healthy, Japanese women are paranoid to have white skin, I guess.

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Beauty Standards in the White Imagination

by Shinoko Itakura

The phenomenon of changing skin color has been happening all over the world. Some attempt to get lighter skin and some attempt to get tan skin. The reasons behind those two attempts seem opposite yet, the purpose is the same, “high class”. The symbol of high class depends on where you are, and how the standard of the beauty has been created in your society, because the standard of beauty  includes class status.

But who created the standard of beauty and how? We tend to describe people who have straight jet-black hair, and large, double lidded, almond-shaped eyes as “Asian beauty”. Even though we are Asian, whenever we see people who have those facial features, we say, “You are beautiful like Asian beauty!” In fact one of my colleague just described another colleague as an “Asian beauty” the other day. It just feels weird when Asian people describe another Asian as an “Asian beauty”. This is because the idea of Asian beauty has been created in the white imagination. We do not say European beauty or Latin beauty, because the standard of beauty is already based on European (white) features. What is more, something which is called a “universal standard” or “universal beauty” is just not universal. It always based on physical features of white people.

The standard of beauty seems to be controlled by mass media and the marketing of cosmetic products. Cosmetics companies use many strategies to gain more and more profits. “Relatable” is one of the important key concepts; if consumers find any similarity to the advertising models, for example “Asian-ness”, they believe that they can achieve those models’  look, and the universal standard of beauty. Those advertisements do not directly say “you guys can be like this model, if you use this products!” yet they are implying this by using racially ambiguous models. In order to sell the products, they also give us images of dark skin as dangerous, unhealthy, bad, and wrong by using terms such as aging or skin cancer. But what really matters is “skin color”.

I feel wrath about how skin-lightening products are marketed. It is so depressing that somehow we have to feel pressure of skin color or looking, and have to try to look like someone else, just because we are not white. This situation must be stopped and there should be the world which do not judge you by your skin color.

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From Ebony to Ivory: Colorism in the Philippines

by Jiyang Shin

The ever-expanding skin whitening market in the Philippines seems to have distinctive characteristics compared to the markets of other countries that also value lighter skin tones. In the discourse of colorism, many tend to conclude that the phenomenon of skin whitening obsession is largely due colonization by European conquistadors; however, that is not always the case in the Philippines.

I would like to raise an example of skin whitening advertisement, featuring Jinky Oda, an African American comedian in the Philippines. The advertisement is composed of before-and-after pictures of Oda. On the left hand side is Oda’s torso before she went on the skin whitening pill. She is in a white tank top, wears gold hoop earings, and has her natural curly hair all swept back with bandana like hair band; a casual style of a typical African American woman that we can easily relate to.

On the right hand side is Oda after finishing the pill, in her brand new bleached-up skin. However, that is not the only significant difference that one can tell from the picture. Other noticeable features are that her attire is considerably more dressy than the left side (you can notice it although the ad only shows down to her chest), but even more importantly, the texture of her hair has turned silky and straightened like the East Asian look that a vast number of Filipino women crave.

One can observe sinister motives behind this marketing. In the book Shades of Difference, Joanne L. Rondilla argues that there are generally three major messages that are conveyed in skin whitening advertisement in the Philippines:

1. Darkening can and must be stopped.

Why? Because having dark skin does not make you good enough.

2. Lightness comes from “within”.

This message misleads people into thinking that their natural color is lighter than they expected, thus their desire to turn white is achievable.

3. Lightening can happen instantly.

The advertisement that featured Oda is unethical because it links having darker skin with wrongness by dressing up her in casual attire. In addition, she seems to have more weight in her before picture, implying she was sloppier when she had a darker skin tone (fatness is often linked to laziness). Such indirect messages have the great potential of stirring up or further encourage racism and discriminations against certain groups of people.

As for why many women in the Philippines opt for a Chinese or Korean look, I argue that it is due to racial hierarchy that exists among Asian countries. For example, in South Korea, people of Southeast Asia origin encounter difficulties renting rooms and searching for jobs. Moreover, in Japan, Filipino people are often referred to as “Pina”, which is a derogatory term used against women who perform in sex-related work. Such unequal treatment might have gradually developed a sense of inferiority towards people of lighter skin color in East Asian countries. I argue that people attempt to escape from such discriminations by assimilating into those who discriminate against them.

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