Why Successful Black Men in Brazil Won’t Marry Black Women

“Black is a slave. Black is not good,” said black Brazilian actress Polly Marinho, in explaining the thinking behind why interracial marriage is more common the higher up the socioeconomic ladder a black Brazilian goes.

Brazilian football legend Pelé with his wife Oct. 17, 2012, in Monaco
Brazilian football legend Pelé with his wife Oct. 17, 2012, in Monaco VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images

In 1965, Ebony magazine published a 10-page spread about Brazil with the headline, “Does Amalgamation Work in Brazil: Absorbing Negro Through Interracial Marriage Is Their Answer to the Race Problem.”

The top image in the article showed a black woman walking hand in hand down the street with a white man.

“Interracial couple walking hand in hand is not unusual,” the caption read. “But unless the dark girl is the boy’s cultural or economic superior, chances are they will never wed. Black and mulatto men marry white women to improve social status.” 

Sadly, not much has changed in Brazil some five decades later. 

The 2010 census in Brazil showed that out of all the women over 50 who had never had a spouse, a majority of them were “pretas,” a term commonly used to refer to dark-skinned black women. It’s also obvious to all Brazilians that once black Brazilian men attain a certain social status, they choose white women as their life partners. Brazil’s most famous soccer player, Pelé, has been married three times, but never to a black woman. Nearly all of Brazil’s top male samba singers are married to white women. A study conducted of high-level black Brazilian businessmen in 2011 found that out of the 50 interviewed, 49 were married to white women (pdf).

“They Want Good Things”

Black Brazilian actress Polly Marinho, 32, thinks this is a natural outcome in a country that values whiteness on television, in its magazines and in government. 

“We are educated to think, like, that black is not beautiful. Black is a slave. Black is not good,” said Marinho, who recently starred in a popular television show on Brazil’s largest television network. “Let’s take, for example, a very famous black soccer player. When they want money, they want good things. A beautiful house. A Ferrari and a white, white, blue-eyed chick.”

When Marinho lived in New York for two years, she was surprised to see well-off African-American men seriously dating black women because it just doesn’t happen in Brazil. Although her acting career is booming in Brazil, she longs to return to New York for the plethora of acting opportunities and the black men. 

“[Black American men] can [have sex] with the rich white girls,” Marinho said. “But the girlfriend is black.”

But even if successful Afro-Brazilian women and men wanted to date each other, it would be difficult. The worlds they live in, study in and work in are not black. 

“The black middle class lives in an environment where a majority of the people are white,” said Fábio Chaves, a blogger who runs the site Black Men and Women With a Lot of Pride. “And in Brazil, and I believe in the world, we give preference to relationships with people who see us eye to eye, so it’s not just a question of color, but mainly the general social relationship.”

Going Against the Tide

Humberto Baltar is unique in Brazil. He’s a college-educated black man who owns his own English-language-instruction company. The 34-year-old earns a salary that puts him in the upper part of middle class. Despite this, Baltar, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, has chosen to exclusively date and marry black women. Baltar says his experience growing up in the house where his mother worked as a maid made him aware of racism in Brazil. Although his mother’s employer, a white woman, considered him part of the family, he always had to ask permission to get water or to turn on the TV.