Salvador Diaries: Someone Called Me Morena…?


So, it happened. I had heard about Brazil’s many definitions of Black, but I personally hadn’t experience being called anything other than , Black while I was here. But, when my friend (I made friends w/ only other Black woman in my program btw) and I went to the beach, we ran into this Black Brazilian guy. He said he gave tour guides, so he knew some English. He told us that he had rarely seen a Black American woman in Salvador before, most of the Black Americans he encountered were men.

Anyhow, he said he would take us to these shops along the beach and help us talk the prices down IF we agreed to have a drink with him afterwards. So, we were talking, shooting the breeze etc when he referred to us as Morenas…

We’re both Black women. So, we asked why a sub-definition of our race would be Morena, and not just Black. He basically said that Morena was like a compliment. It was like a pretty brown-skinned woman or something. I had to wonder WHY morena would be more of a compliment as opposed to just Black being a compliment… I said in the US, we just have one term for Black pretty much…Black.

In Spanish, Morena means brown-haired, so it was odd to have someone refer to me that way. I personally prefer to be African-American or negra.

Anyway, after we got to the store, he did talk down the price of the shirts, flip flops that we wanted and we got a good deal. However, my friend didn’t want to have drinks with him afterwards… So, she told him that we may not be able to have drinks because we had already planned something with the rest of our group, which was sort of true. She told him please don’t be offended if we don’t show up, it’s not that we don’t want to see you, it’s that we just had already made plans.

Anyway, we didn’t end up going for drinks, maybe next time.

10 thoughts on “Salvador Diaries: Someone Called Me Morena…?”

  1. Actualy, you can have “morena escura” or “morena clara” (dark brown or light brown), “parda”,”mestiça” “mameluca” (black with indian)”cabocla” probably many others

    Peanut, for sure you know how you want to identify There is no dobt that racism and colorism exsist in Brazil , in a big way …at the same time, understanding that their way of identifying is right for them… there are things like sensuality and mixture , that Brazilians have special insights into that a lot of other cultures dont


    1. thanks for the clarification B.R I don’t know how I would react to the racial system in Brazil, its kinda different from the way Blacks are classified in the US, but at the same time we both have colorism issues. I actually haven’t run into too many people who have gotten into the whole color skin issue here. this was the first time anyone even brought it up.


  2. The question you might want to ask , Peanut, how much do you want to take a stand in Salvador whether people refer to you as “negra” ou “morena”? Its very interesting in Brazil, there are so many things that are instantly recognisable as an American, and, your insights as a black American woman are really special in these reports. There are also things that are very differant and can be confusing…and dont completly opisite of what you might expect….Suggest a black woman shouldnt go out with a white man in Salvador and you might get a hostile reaction……


  3. Beleve me, Peanut, its a long and complex discusion about the differance from black American ways to deal with racism and black Brazilian ways.Since you are staying 2 weeks, I dont think you will run into actual confrontations of concepts. But I can tell you, its not that I know how black Brazilians think, they are not monolithic also like black Americnans with many differant points of views, but,, Ive seen enough accouts and reports and my own personal experiance , that indicate that Brazilians dont want to be like Americcans,even if they end up doing just that. And, for example, I waswatching the TV coverage of the debates about quotas, which were passed, a good thinkin my opinion, but, a women who was probably darker than you (I dont know what you look like, only based on your description and the picture you put up once, if that was you), came up representing mesticas, and, said she doesnt want to be classified as “black”, and she was very firm about it.

    The thing about “morena”, women that have obvious Afro diasporic features , and everyone knows it, can also be called “moreana”. They arnt mutualy exclusive. Its funny, that guy was trying to be charming and said morena is like “pretty brown girl” .

    The thing is, Peanut, you can be black American, and want to be called “black”, and , confront people about it, or you can be a “morena in Savador” for two weeks and observe how people react to how you look.

    The bottom line is what ever works for you

    Like I said its a deep complex discusion,it would take a long time to go over all the complexities and tell you some of the stories Ive heard of black Americans in Salvador who didnt understand why black Brazilians dont think like they do


  4. (I cant see what Im typing some of the time so I misstyped some words…but, dont ever take my spelling in Portuguese as the correct way, you know how bad I spell in English…its worse in Portuguese)

    Actualy Peanut, you are coming at a very interesting time in Brazil for black Brazilians. Just in the last few years, the presence of black Brazilians in the media is just now staring to get bigger. They passed quotas in universities, which means it is part of the Brazilian discusion…racism…if you had come 6 years ago, there would be even less black Brazilians in the media. Unfortunatly, even now,in Salvador, the top entertainers representing Salvador Carnival, are three white Brazilian women..

    To be sure, in the Movimento Negro in Brazil, you would find black Brazilians in agreement with you on many concepts, but, many other black Brazilians might might have great differances , or, preocupations about what affects them than what affects you in the USA.

    Like I said, its very complex, and, I hope we can discuss this for a period of time, because Im sure when you leave Salvador, you will only be starting your curiosity and desire to know about Salvador and Brazil…I still feel that way after 26 yearsliving in Brazil, and, that is why I apreciete reading your accounts, its really great for me to hear a black American woman talk about how she feels traveling to Salvador for the first time.


    1. it’s timely that you would leave this comment BR because i just had a conversation with the security guard at our hostel and he is a very nice guy who is also a Black Brazilian and we talked about the same thing, not enough black people on TV both in the US and Brazil, he told me about the affirmative action in Brazil and i compared it to the US affirmative action and how it works and doesn’t work, we talked about a lot actually.

      Interesting he called me a morena as well and i also told him that I’m more black than anything else and in the US both he and I would be considered BLACK. I have no connection to my European ancestors.


  5. I’ve heard Americans divide black people into terms like “light skinned”, “dark skinned”, “redbone”, “high yellow”, or “mulatto”, especially since mixed people usually still end up being considered more black than white.


    1. yes, there is a big problem with colorism, light skinned vs. dark-skinned, but they’re still considered black in terms of their classification.


  6. I am a Black American woman and the same word differentiation (morena vs. negra) exists in Spanish. I remember when I first started studying Spanish and I would refer to myself as “negra.” People would correct me and tell me that I was in fact “morena.” I don’t have a problem with being called morena; I just don’t like the fact that there seems to be a stigma in using the term or calling someone “negra”. I understand that Blacks in other cultures have terms and views on Blackness and I’m trying to be more respectful of that. But yeah I get where you’re coming from. I’m proud to be a Black woman in any language. :^)


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