Dear white friends and sympathizers, why not to wear turban*? Certainly all of us as well as our ancestors went through hard times. Life is plenty of them. But some of them we will never undergo, apart from rare exceptions. We are talking about longstanding hard times full of nuances that are not alike the rainbow colors refracted by light. They are nuances of the shadow, of the worst within us; they are thousand shades of racism.
Perhaps three times in my life I have been through those rare exceptions: I was called “big nose” by a Chinese, criticized for being an “Euro-Brazilian” researching Afro-Brazilian culture and for being a white person presenting an event for the celebration of the 13th of May, Brazilian day for the abolition of slavery. White friends and sympathizers would tell me “you see? They (the “not-white”) complain about racism, but they are racists themselves”. Racists exist, unfortunately, in all skin tones. It’s part of human nature to have prejudices; they are ways of filtering information and of seeking safety. What is not natural, although naturalized, is a distorted view accompanying certain prejudices.
There are fundamental differences between intellectually provoking me on my occupation with the sensitive field of Afro-Brazilian culture, and going through the hereditary and daily suffering perpetuated since slavery times. Whereas my nose looks big compared to a Chinese one, it is not considered ugly, inferior or dangerous. No one ever bullied me by telling me to cut my “bad” hair, by calling me stupid or incapable, or by monitoring my behavior inside a store. No one ever slapped my face for not giving away my seat to a person with another skin color. Unlike my black friends who experienced these scenes, I will never know how racist violence feels like. This is one of my perpetuated privileges.
I will never know how racist violence feels like. This is one of my perpetuated privileges.
If wearing turban entailed any act of racist violence, the same way that having a darker skin or a curlier hair does, no single white person would ever do it. In fact, no one at all would choose to suffer. Black people don’t have the option of wearing their discriminated skin for a party and taking it off the next day, as I do with my typical Afro-Brazilian clothes after a presentation, or as someone who straightens the hair or gives up his dread locks does. For them, there’s no choice of forgetting the suffering taken to transform the turban from a trade mark of slaves into a symbol of conquests, freedom and cultural pride.
We don’t have the masochist option of wearing the black skin and understanding the daily and longstanding distress it carries, but we do have the option of stripping off our sadism. We can choose not to attack “not-whites”, not even in thought, by no longer supposing that the black woman in the medical office cannot be the doctor, but at most the nurse. We can choose to straighten out our distorted view, by fighting the socially inculcated fear leading us to cross the street when seeing someone black and to sit rather next to a white person in the bus. We can opt for listening to those who can finally speak out their feelings, instead of confronting them back with more despise “you see? They are racists themselves”. To recognize and exorcize racism inside of ourselves should be a routine exercise.
To recognize and exorcize racism inside of ourselves should be a routine exercise.
Because I have privileges, I can choose to use turban or whatever I feel like, especially if it helps releasing my individual pain. But I can also choose not to use it, for knowing that it touches the pain of a lot of people. I presented commemorations of the 13th of May and of the Brazilian Day for Black Consciousness invited by a black Candomblé priest, who dressed me with his Afro-Brazilian clothes and turban. Therefore, those provocations surrounding my skin color and sociocultural background didn’t affect me, let alone the media or a whole country. On the contrary, the critique only made me even more aware of the sad and, still, insurmountable differences between two peoples separated for centuries by their skin color and aims: one seeking to reduce prejudice and pain, the other to maintain its privileges.
Long live the pretos velhos, long live the black movement!
*Last February, whites wearing Afro-Brazilian styled head wrap, turbante (turban), became a great controversy in Brazil after two black women told a girl in a public station that she wasn’t supposed to use her turban for being white. The girl was covering her bold head due to a cancer treatment. She replied by showing her head and stating she could do whatever she wanted. The fact became a national issue and another opportunity for white people to strengthen their hegemony over the majority of Brazilian’s population, the “not-white”.