After being suspended because of the Covid pandemic this year, the carnival in Brazil will return in 2022. And it also means the return of Nega Maluca, a racist tradition seen in many places in the country. 

Meaning crazy Black woman in English, Nega Maluca costumes date back to the early years of the 20th century. To some it’s considered funny, but white men and women paint their face black, wear Afro wigs, and apply red lipstick in a very flamboyant way.

Now, Black activists are bringing it light and exposing the level of racism within Brazilian society. 

Facebook Page Nega Maluca

In Brazilian culture, Nega Maluca— typically worn as carnival props— is seen as an excuse to mock and ridicule Black people.

“Nega Maluca costumes are a symbol of aggression and humiliation against an entire people,” Afro-Brazilian Dandara Tonantzin wrote in an article.

“It reinforces the structural racism in Brazil, which presents a set of practices, customs and terms “naturalized” in the society. This racist tradition shows why our bodies, our features, our culture bother others so much.”

For Nina Vieira, a member of the Manifesto Crespo (Black Hair Manifesto) collective, movements and associations, as well as society in general, need to utilize this tradition as a way of educating people about different faces of racism in Brazilian society.

“After all, racism is not a problem for Black people, it is a disease of our society and a structural process of our culture,” she said.

Brazilians cross-dressed as ‘Nega Maluca’ during carnival | Photo Credit: Facebook

“Hair is a part that represents and communicates who we are. A carnival costume implies a caricature, something funny. We are not a joke to be represented in an empty and disrespectful way, because this degrades the process of struggle for respect in our society.”

Over the past few years, the movement to eliminate this tradition from the carnival has increased in many cities in Brazil. In many blocos (organized carnival street parties), wearing Nega Maluca costumes is not allowed.