Last night my husband and I watched a fascinating episode of Dr. Gates’ “Black in Latin America” on PBS (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/black-in-latin-america/?gclid=CMXYwfKRzqgCFaNd5QodHjphgQ). The episode focused on Brazil, specifically Salvador, Bahia. This city is the third largest in Brazil (behind São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro). Dr. Gates was drawn to investigate Salvador because upwards of 80% of the population has Black African heritage. This is not surprising because Brazil had the largest Atlantic Trade slave population in the world at a whopping FIVE MILLION SLAVES. This was ten times the number of slaves deposited onto the soil of the United States of America.
Given the high number of slaves, it was almost inevitable that there would be a lot of “race mixing” and the resulting rainbow hue of people. And with mixed race, you KNOW there are varying hair textures. I was thrilled when Dr. Gates visited a hair salon renowned for teaching women how to embrace their natural hair texture. This is in stark contrast to the famed hair treatment known as the “Brazilian Blowout” which is reputed to have originated in Brazil. The hair treatment is renowned for giving people shiny, bouncy, frizz-free hair and works best when applied to chemically treated hair according to this website: http://www.brazilianblowout.com/faq.
But, STOP! Recent media coverage (http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/41742315/ns/today-today_fashion_and_beauty/ and http://www.foxnews.com/health/2011/03/16/brazilian-blowout-craze-safe/) suggests that the hair treatment contains formaldehyde which is hazardous to your health. Why would such an unsafe hair treatment have originated in Brazil? The above MSNBC article “Hazardous for Health? Roots of Brazilian Blowout” quotes Ms Eliza Larkin Nascimento as saying, “There is a racist culture in Brazil, and one of its expressions is a beauty standard that values what is European. Discrimination in Brazil rides a lot on appearance — on facial features, on hair texture. Hair is a great focus, a great symbol”.
Wow, we are all sisters confronting many of the same issues.
 Ms. Nascimento is director of IPEAFRO (LOVE that “AFRO” is part of the acronym!) an organization that concentrates on Afro-Brazilian studies.