Black power is big in Brazil.
In the United States, black power is most associated with raised fists, social revolution and political demands. When Americans think “black power,” they generally think about the movement named and popularized in the 1960s by Southern Christian Leadership Conference founder and Black Panther Stokely Carmichael.
The concept of black power spread through the music of James Brown and Curtis Mayfield, the trial of Angela Davis, the speeches of Malcolm X and the food drives hosted by the Panthers. The movement was able to transcend boundaries. The music, culture and pride that were emanating from African Americans also began to gain popularity with young black Brazilians.
But when Brazilians saw African Americans taking pride in their blackness, owning it and wearing it with gusto, what they most identified with about the culture was the hair that many of the men and women wore: Afros.
Today in Brazil, when folks talk about black power, their symbol is their hair—natural hair. For Afro-Brazilians in general but black women especially, to wear an Afro or to wear their hair naturally is to wear black power.
“Many women [who wear] black power are adhering to the culture, others for political attitude, but there are also those who wear it simply because it is stylish and on point,” says Danielle Cipriane.
Crespos e Cachos (“frizz and curls”), Cipriane’s blog and Facebook page, is fast making her one of the most prominent voices in Brazil’s growing natural-hair movement. It features stories by black Brazilian women about hair care, as well as horror stories about using chemicals and fake hair. Her Facebook page has so far received more than 200,000 likes, and Cipriane says she gets around 90 messages every day from women who want to share photos of themselves with “black power” or are seeking advice on how to care for their hair naturally.
She is far from alone. A number of other groups have sprouted a challenge to Brazil’s preponderance of straight hair and are advocating for a quarantine on chemicals. One of the best-known is Meninas Black Power, or Afro Girls, a group founded by Elida Aquino to empower young girls to embrace their natural hair. Aquino started Meninas Black Power while she was a student studying nursing and midwifery in Rio de Janeiro. The name is “a mix of femininity and the strength that we extracted from our ancestry,” she says.
“Meninas Black Power was created to bring together Afro-Brazilian women with different backgrounds who understand that naturally curly hair is also a weapon of political positioning,” says Aquino.
Hair as political positioning or protest is nothing new for Brazil’s black population. American black power and black soul came to impact much of the country’s culture in the 1970s and 1980s, despite the existence of a military dictatorship until 1985. In Rio de Janeiro’s historically poor North Zone, young people started throwing parties with protest themes straight from Oakland or Los Angeles in California or Harlem in New York, which led to the importing of black music, literature and style from the U.S.