Brazilian Rapper Nega Gizza on Black Hair & Identity


by Marques Travae of Black Women of Brazil

Nega Gizza, the Hip Hop moniker of Gisele Gomes de Souza, is a rapper from Rio de Janeiro. The child of a maid, at seven years old, she sold beer and pop with her siblings in downtown Rio. She dropped out of school in the 7th grade and while she dreamed of becoming a journalist, she identified with Hip Hop. After her brother was killed by the police, famed rapper/social activist MV Bill adopted her as his “sister” and she began contributing background vocals to his songs in his band. In 2001, she won a Prêmio Hutúz award, the most recognized award for Rap music in all of Latin America, in the category of “Best Rap Demo”. In 2002, she released the CD Na Humilde. With her strong vocals and lyrical content, she showed that women could hold their own in a genre dominated by men and blazed paths and opened opportunities for a new generation of female MCs.

In her video for the song "Prostituta", she denounced the cruel realities of women who work as prostitutes and has also spoken out about complex issues like sexual violence, abortion, child abuse and the position of the church in regards to these issues. Along with MV Bill and cultural/Hip Hop producer/author Celso Athayde, she is also the co-founder of the organization CUFA (Central Única das Favelas), an NGO that promotes education and cultural production in poor neighborhoods of Brazil using primarily Hip Hop and sports. Through this organization, young people learn to produce videos and documentaries and participate in workshops that focus on aspects of culture.

In this short essay, Gizza approaches an issue that is a constant issue amongst black Brazilian women in regards to self-esteem and racial identity: hair. Gizza’s piece speaks volumes to the question of hair texture as a prevalent issue in the lives and experiences of the vast majority of black Brazilian men, relating her own history and memories as a snapshot of the Afro-Brazilian experience. Read on!


Kinky/curly hair yes, hard hair no!

by Nega Gizza
March 16, 2012

When I was little, I was called “moreninha (little brown girl)” by my playmates in the neighborhood. I didn’t like this because I knew I was negra (black), or preta (black) as some prefer. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t become enraged about it because at that moment I didn’t even know the reason for being black and much less arguments that I could use to “defend” myself. when they called me moreninha, marrom bombom (brown candy) or cor de chocolate (chocolate-colored)*. Basically, I didn’t think of it as something bad, it was just the way my girlfriends, many of them also black, thought of so that they didn’t offend me, after all, being called and recognized as black could be seen as offensive.

I come from a family marked by miscegenation, the same thing that characterizes the Brazilian people. In my mother's family, my grandfather was Portuguese and my grandmother was of Indian descent, my father has family in (the state of) Bahia that were descendants of slaves. But for me what matters most is what I see when I look in the mirror. I assume that it was to understand and know more about my race and history as a black person, when I was a teenager, I read books, saw movies and listened to music. All of this information made me a wiser woman in relation to my blackness.

Today I realize that the question of blackness is tied to many factors. Among these factors are our physical traits and also, why not, this thing of black hair. Speaking of hair always generates adverse discussions, because Brazilian mixing has given us people with very diverse faces and features, the black and the white, the Indian and the white, the Portuguese and the black, that have mixed race children who have light or dark skin but that are born with cabelos crepos (kinky/curly hair).

Today it has become the style, there are a lot of people who adopted a hair style that stands up or "Black Power" (afro). I also recognize that many from this new generation have been taken by the tide of “black is beautiful”, without even knowing why they adopted such a stance. Even so, I think it's valid. Recognizing beauty in the hair that previously people only straightened is a great victory.

I've always been proud to be able to have resistant hair strong and why not say it’s different, I can cut, color, braid, stretch, leave it natural and create a great visual mixture, but I am very disturbed to learn that today, at a time in which we proceed to the evolution of recognition of our racial identity, there are still those who try to strike down the power of black people's knowledge, and try to define our hair as duro (hard), giving our hair every kind of negative connotation possible.

In my childhood, prejudice was much more veiled and the oppression was so great that some black girls looked in the mirror and saw themselves as straight-haired white girls. As in the film “Precious”, in which the character Claireece suffers from her condition of being black, poor and obese.

Currently I realize that the discussion has grown with ideas that speak of kinky/curly hair in a positive way, like the book Cabelo Ruim (Bad Hair)? by the journalist Neusa Baptista Pinto, that tells the story of three girls learning to recognize themselves as beautiful and how the Projeto Pixaim (Nappy Project) of the CUFA Matogrosso institution values ​​the kinky/curly hair of men and women. I consider it essential to have references to make kinky/curly hair go beyond style and become a tool to change the self-esteem of the black Brazilian, so it is important to disseminate works that speak to and bring the issue to collaborate. While this is going on, I’m humming along and changing like a chameleon, “my head of hair is thus, kinky/curly hair, it is nappy.”

* - For a brief introduction into Brazilian color and racial terminology and classification, see the article Racial classification and terminology in Brazil

10 Weigh in!:
brinabwell said...

Enjoy reading articles like this involving other cultures of African heritage and how they perceive themselves and are perceived. Brings to light the commonalities with those of us in the US dealing with similar issues. Thanks for the post.

X0CurlyHallow0x said...

Yes brinabwell I agree and it breaks my heart that when some people look at us that is what they see

Carla said...

Beautiful! One step at a time...one person at a time is all it takes to shed light on the positives of accepting ones own natural state - kinky, curly, coily. Thank you for sharing more articles from this great site.

Jamie said...

I love this article. I love her strength and willingness to be herself. I think that is the key! If we learn to increase our self-esteem, understand that we were made in the image of God and accept that we too are beautiful then we won't feel the need to question why we look the way we do. Instead we will love who we are and the world will be forced to see us for who we are, perfectly made in His image.

Spokenheart said...

This article was pretty great! its admirable the way she learned to love herself and be herself despite other's opinions. She is def someone that others can look up to.

Anonymous said...

How great that she is setting a positive example for young black girls, instead of insulting and degrading them like Nicki Minaj.

Anonymous said...

This was well written. I like how self aware she is, trying to set a good example for others.Poor self esteem can really hold you back in life. Appreciating oneself is important,you have to recognise your own worth.

Sydni_Michelle said...

Never heard of her until today, but I absolutely loved her message. One of the deepest peaces, Ive read in a while

Anonymous said...

I was happy to hear that they have the CUFA NGO to reinforce racial pride and acceptance.

I am happy to be nappy. Acceptance of our hair in it's natural state will promote acceptance of us all, nappy or straight.

It's like changing the world, one 'fro at a time!

Samantha Nneamaka said...

You look at this women and hear her words and you can feel her true beauty ...................

The things people have to f i g h t for in other countries are considered small to nothing in the lives of some

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