I grew up with the Brazilian dream team of Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho (2002 world cup champions). Imagine my shock when Ronaldo called himself “white,” Ronaldinho declared Moreno, and Roberto Carlos white.
Then there is the curious case of Neymar da Silva Santos Jr.; or, Neymar Jr., or just Neymar—the Brazilian #10 star. Neymar once told reporters in 2010 that he wasn’t black. Since 2011, Neymar has been playing in Europe where he and fellow Brazilians (Dani Alves and retired legend, Roberto Carlos) have been subjected to banana throwing, monkey (macaco) taunts/jeering and name calls. Neymar even got into fight with an opposing team’s coach, whom he accused of calling him a monkey, and he also accused soccer fans of racism (during a friendly between Brazil and Scotland). Neymar even started the “we are all monkeys” campaign on Twitter, after the Dani Alves debacle.
Despite this, I am not sure if Neymar now accepts that he’s black. He’s experienced enough racism in European soccer to know how the rest of the world (not just the USA) sees him—as a black man. Europeans make no distinction between him and Mario Balotelli of Italy, for example.
The problem with Neymar and Ronaldo is a Latin American one–specifically Brazilian. When the Brazilian government stopped racially classifying people, Brazilians started classifying themselves. This led to the black population falling off a cliff to a mere 6 percent (from 55 percent in 1888).
Those who mostly identify as “Moreno, Pardo or mixed” are phenotypically black (see Neymar). Meanwhile, many mixed race people who fall on the phenotypical white side (Alessandra Ambrosia, Fernanda Tavares) tend to identify as white.
Why do black-looking mixed race people refuse to identify as black, but the white-looking mixed race people gladly identify as white? It is not simply preference or, “we are all Brazilians” as many Brazilians would like to believe. It is simply a desire not to be black, the race/skin color that fills the favelas of a white supremacy society.
It is important for Neymar (a man poised on super-stardom due to charms, good looks and talent) to declare himself black. He seems quite content with upholding Brazil’s Embranquecimento (whitening) practice– see the painting, The Redemption of Ham, where a black grandmother prays to god that her mulatto daughter’s baby (with white husband) turns out white. Embranquecimento was an official practice of Brazil until the mid-20th century, and it led to widespread European (mostly Portuguese) immigration into Brazil—to save the white race. Neymar has a child, with a white, former girlfriend; unlike Neymar, the child looks white (the Redemption of Ham fulfilled).
To quote this blogger:
In that sense, Neymar is only the latest in a long line of celebrities and Brazilians of lesser value who get it. Who get the fine print on the contract; who understand that national identity rests on racial harmony, which, in turn, rests on a kind of potential access to opportunity. Not the opportunity to be equal, mind you, but the opportunity to be white.
More on race in Brazil: Black women of Brazil
Telles, Edward E. Race in another America: the significance of skin color in Brazil. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006. http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7846.html