Blog post by Julia Marques da Silva
Through the work that I have done in my dissertation in exploring how Brazilians reconstructed their social, political, and historical contexts into their lives in the U.K., the theme of how navigating spaces with “whiteness” became apparent as some of the informants shared vastly different live experiences relating to racism. Some of the experiences of these informants reconstructed some of the characteristics that can be found in Brazilian. However, amongst some of these reconstructions, the experiences create a challenge to a common notion that Latin Americans living in the U.K. are an “invisibility” community.
Using Sara Ahmed’s conception of whiteness where it gains currency of being unnoticed (Ahmed, 2007), the idea of “invisibility” becomes associated to how whiteness is employed for Latin Americans to navigate their new UK context, expanding it outside of the normal discussion of Latin Americans being “invisible” due to not being statistically recognised by the U.K. government. In some of the experiences of the informants, it was clear to see how their whiteness has impacted the way they navigated through their new lives in the U.K.
Rosa Maria Aparecida Gonçalves, an Afro-Brazilian challenges this notion of invisibility through many of her experiences living in the U.K. since arriving in December of 1979. She narrates her life in the U.K. highlighting several issues that were not encountered by those who were white Brazilians. By describing her life in the U.K. as “Minha vida toda era survival” “My whole life is survival” highlights the stark difference between her life story to her other counterparts that did not describe their lives the same way as Rosa (Brasiliance: Interview with Rosa Gonçalves, 2015, 20:34). Many of the jobs that she held during her time in the U.K. included work, such as janitorial services and babysitting, as she was unable to complete her education, and came to work for a Brazilian family relocating to London, highlighting that she was the only black women in several different places where Brazilians were located in London (Brasiliance: Interview with Rosa Gonçalves, 2015). The jobs that were available for Rosa were stereotypical roles associated with black women in Brazil as these roles have been reconstructed from Brazil’s legacy with slavery (Gonzalez, 2020).
Another participant, Francisco Torres, discusses similar topics, stating “Na época, psicologia, pobreza, e pele no funciona no Brasil. Preto, pobre, psicologo. Loja do sapato. Vai vende sapato” “At the time, psychology, poverty and skin doesn’t work in Brazil. Black, poor, psychology. Shoe Store. Go sell shoes”, while touching his arm in the video (Brasiliance: Interview with Francisco Torres, 2015, 39:32). These experiences of social and economic status are discussed in the work of Abdias Nascimento (2016b) and Lélia Gonzalez (2020), who both highlight that Afro-Brazilians usually occupied these economic roles in Brazilian society as they did not have the same autonomy compared to white Brazilians economically as it is described by Nascimento it as a vicious cycle of discrimination in education and the workforce. While Rosa and Francisco both were able to find more autonomy in their economic lives, as both were able to start businesses in the U.K., their experiences were both distinguished through the recreation of the racial construction of Brazil.
All these experiences juxtapose those of Graça Fish and Ana Elizabeth Fuíza, who were able to navigate through the U.K. differently due to their whiteness. Their anecdotes of their lives in the U.K. recreated the similar privileges that is found in Brazil with being white. This included more autonomy within their lives. Graça shares her concern for finding a job that had the same level of “prestige” as the one she previously had in Brazil, even describing that there are two types of women, some more powerful in the likes of Margaret Thatcher, and others who work as secretaries (Brasiliance: Interview with Graça Fish, 2015). This sentiment is very different than the life of Rosa, who did not share the same concern of having a job of high status. This anecdote that Graça shares makes the apparent difference between the privileges associated with social and economic status from Brazil is translated into their live in the U.K.
Nascimento highlights that white women are more likely to be educated compared to Afro-Brazilians, thus impacting both of these demographics’ economic statuses in society (Nascimento, 2016a) Similarly, Ana mentions in her interview that “… eu practicamente não tive que me adaptar muito porque eu já pensava muito. Já conhecia bastante história e literatura…” “I practically did not have to adapt a lot because I already thought a lot. I already knew a lot of history and literature…” (Brasiliance: Interview with Ana Elizabeth Fiuza, 2015, 36:39). This sentiment of her adapting into her life within the U.K., as not a statement that was shared by all of the participants, but also her highlighting her education highlights the way that the cycle of discrimination works within Brazilian society as white Brazilians are more likely to complete their education (Lovell, 2000). The indication that Ana was able to navigate these spaces much easier than the rest of informants, indicates how education impacts the category of experience (Ahmed, 2007). The concerns, or lack thereof, that both Graça and Ana share does not stem from how their bodies are orientated within U.K, society, thus rendering them more invisible as a migrant compared to Rosa and Francisco, however their proximity to whiteness impacted the experiences they had.
Ahmed, S. (2007) ‘A phenomenology of whiteness’, Feminist Theory, 8(2), pp. 149–168. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/1464700107078139.
Brasiliance: Interview with Francisco Torres (2015). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHBSEU8uyUc (Accessed: 10 November 2022).
Brasiliance: Interview with Graça Fish (2015). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiMA7DWWmOg (Accessed: 10 November 2022).
Brasiliance: Interview with Rosa Gonçalves (2015). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMMxtZL6tHs (Accessed: 4 November 2022).
Gonzalez, L. (2020) ‘Racismo e sexismo na cultura brasileira’, in Por um feminismo afro-latino-americano, pp. 106–135.
Lovell, P.A. (2000) ‘Race, Gender and Regional Labor Market Inequalities in Brazil’, Review of Social Economy, 58(3), pp. 277–293. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/00346760050132337.
Nascimento, A. (2016a) ‘VI. Discussão Sobre Raça: Proibida’, in O Genocídio do Negro Brasileiro: Processor de um Racismo Mascardo, pp. 95–98.
Nascimento, A. (2016b) ‘VII. Discriminação: Realidade Racial’, in O Genocídio do Negro Brasileiro: Processo de um Racismo Mascarado, pp. 99–107.