'Black Woman With the Hard Hair'

Within a week of each other, two songs and artists that have were denounced many years ago by members of Brazil’s black and feminist movements were served legal losses. On December 24th, the performance royalty of the Bahian* singer Luiz Caldas was cut because of his live performance of one of his most popular songs.

So why were these decisions handed down?
In order to understand the controversial histories of these songs, we must first go back to their releases in the 1980s, in the case of the Caldas song and the 1990s in the case of the other tune. Both songs were highly successful, both spoke of black women’s hair in derogatory manners and both were also deemed highly offensive to black women by various black and feminists organizations.

So what were so controversial about these songs that led these judgments? To get to the root of the issue, we must analyze the lyrics of each of the songs. First, here are the lyrics of the Caldas song, “Fricote”, first in Portuguese and then translated into English.

Nêga do cabelo duro, que não gosta de pentear

(Black woman with the hard hair that she doesn’t like to comb)

Quando passa na praça do tubo, O negão começa a gritar

(When she passes by the Tubo Plaza, the black man starts to holler)

Olha a nêga do cabelo duro, Que não gosta de pentear

(Look at the black woman with the hard hair, that she doesn’t like to comb)

Quando passa na praça do tubo, O negão começa a gritar

(When she passes by the Tubo Plaza, the black man starts to holler)

Pega ela aí pega ela aí, Pra quê?

(Catch her there, catch her there, for what?)

Pra passar batom, De que cor?

(To put on the lipstick, of what color?)

De violeta, Na boca e na bochecha

(Violet, in the mouth and the cheeks)

Pega ela aí pega ela aí, Pra que?

(Catch her there, catch her there, for what?)

Pra passar batom, De que cor?

(To put on the lipstick, of what color?)

De cor azul, Na boca e na porta do céu

(Of the color blue, in the mouth and in the door of heaven)

In the details of the song, the singer speaks of a black woman that has “hard hair”. The term “nêga do cabelo duro” is well-known in Brazilian historic and cultural discourse and its popular usage in everyday life plays a prominent role in the rejection by many black women of their natural hair texture. Every day, thousands, if not millions of Afro-Brazilian women spend up to half or more or a significant proportion of their monthly salaries to straighten their hair or wear some sort of weave (the so-called “megahair”), or braids so that they can attain a more “presentable” look. The lyrics of this song and others like it make a mockery of black women and are a constant source of low self-esteem.
The rest of the song’s lyrics are just as bad, if not worse. The lyrics go on to encourage the listener to grab the black woman in the song and put lipstick on her. One of the lines says to put the lipstick on the mouth and the cheeks (Na boca e na bochecha), but by the end of the song, the listener or the man spoken to in the song, presumably the black man (O negão), is told to put the lipstick on the mouth and heaven’s door (Na boca e na porta do céu). This line is a double entendre. “Heaven’s door” refers to a woman’s vagina and in concert, Caldas was known to substitute the word “bochecha”, meaning cheek, with the rhyming term “buceta”, which is a vulgar term in Brazilian Portuguese also meaning vagina. Considering that a tube of lipstick could also be recognized as a phallic symbol, the song could also be interpreted as an encouragement of rape.

Luiza Maia and Luiz Caldas

This song debuted in 1985 and went on to become one of Caldas’ biggest hits despite the outrage it caused in many black and feminists circles. The song bothered Luiza Maia, who is a state representative from Bahia, the same northeastern state from which Caldas is from. Maia considered the song to be “racist** and demeaning” and having a detrimental effect on the self-esteem of black women. For her, the song was also “symbolic violence.” Maia is also sponsoring a bill that would prohibit artists from singing songs that promote the humiliation of women. When Caldas performed the song at the Festival de Blues and Jazz of Arembepe, in the city of Camaçari, Bahia, his performance fee was cut by 30%.
In part two of this report, I analyzed a recent decision levied at another popular song that was deemed insulting to black women.
* - Refers to a man from the northeastern state of Bahia
** - It should be noted that Luiz Caldas is generally considered to be black or Afro-Brazilian

Is This What JC Penney Thinks of Our Daughters?

by Rene Syler of GoodEnoughMother.com

Come on now!

In just a couple of day, my daughter will head off to high school. She will more than likely follow that with a successful collegiate career, land a good job and be a fine, upstanding citizen. Over the past decade and a half, I have been steadily reinforcing the idea (in her and her brother) that she can be anything she wants to be, do anything she wants to do. You know why? Because she’s smart. She is also beautiful but that’s an aside; I’m teaching her to value what’s in her head, not on it.

I wish I could say the same for retail giant JC Penney, which used to be one of our favorite stores to score school clothes. For those of us on a budget, they were fashionable and reasonably priced. To that we can now add offensive. It seems among Penney’s back to school offerings this year, are these screen T-shirts, just perfect for your little airhead.

I’m speechless. Really. Time and again I see things like this and I wonder how they come to be. In this case, I can think of two reasons; there are no women in the decision-making hierarchy at JC Penney or if there are, they’re not thinking very clearly. Frankly, neither is a good option. But lest we forget, JC Penney is not the only big organization to show how out of touch it is with consumers. Remember this debacle by Italian Vogue and prior to that, skincare company, Nivea, stepped squarely into the insensitivity Olympics with this entry, featuring a clean cut, African American man, ready to jettison the head of a scraggy, unkempt man, as part of their “Re-civilize Yourself” campaign. Perhaps not racist, but it does register on the foot-in-mouth scale.

Listen, I’ve said this so many times in this space and to anyone who will listen that frankly I’m tired of it. But it’s beyond time for advertisers to get in touch with the people who buy their products. The way they do that is by not living such an insular existence. They need to come on out of the high-rise, corner office and down to street level where most of the people who buy their products live and work. Rub elbows, listen to us, learn what we value and by all means don’t insult our intelligence with stuff like this.

After feeling the full wrath of Twitter, JC Penney pulled the shirt and released the following statement:

We agree that the “Too pretty” t-shirt does not deliver an appropriate message, and we have immediately discontinued its sale. Our merchandise is intended to appeal to a broad customer base, not to offend them. We would like to apologize to you and all of our customers and are taking action to ensure that we continue to uphold the integrity of our merchandise that they have come to expect.

There’s a tough lesson in this for JC Penney. See, I’ve always been fairly neutral on Nivea; they and their products never registered with me one way or another. JC Penney is another story. I was a fan. Until now. School is in session and I’ll be teaching my whip-smart daughter an important lesson in economics; shop where you are valued. That will be anywhere BUT JC Penney.

So what do you think of this T-shirt and the move by JC Penney to carry it? What do you think of their statement? How about the Nivea ad, does that offend you? Why do you think big companies keep making mistakes like these? Let me hear ya!

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