Challenging Words

I interviewed two people—Geovana and Igor (two white-passing friends of mine in their 20s) and Alice and Albert (two more-or-less white passing Uber drivers)—about the words “viado” and “preto.”

The word “viado” is very similar to the “f” word in English that acts as a slur towards queer people. Everyone to whom I presented the word knew exactly how the word could be used to offend. Igor says that he although he does not use the word himself (finding it incredibly offensive and inappropriate), he hears the word used a lot at bars as a slur if someone is trying to either de-masculinize another man or if they are trying to outright offend a gay person. Geovana said that the word viado, though a very offensive slur, can only be appropriately used in conversation by queer individuals. She explained to me that she used the word herself as a queer woman. Straight individuals using the word would be an automatic “no-no.” Alice said that the word should never be used and gave a similar response as Igor, while Albert was much more straightforward in saying the word. He said that he although doesn’t use it much, he doesn’t think it is as bad a word as everyone makes it out to be, as the term can also be used as a highly informal greeting amongst friends.

The word “preto” is a way to describe a Black person in Brazil. Geovana explained that the word is highly offensive and should never be used to describe a person. The word literally means “black” in Portuguese, but she explains that unlike in other languages (such as, English), the adjective black should only be used to describe objects like chairs, the sky, or a TV—never a person. Igor explained the same thing to me. He compared it to the n-word in English. When I asked Alice about the word “preto”, she began listing people she knew who were Black, throwing the term around as she pleased. Obviously, using the word was not a problem for her. When I asked her if the term was appropriate to use, she only explained that within the Brazilian Black community, there exists two types of people: “mulatto” and “preto.” Considering I had only ever before heard the term “moreno” used to described Black people of fairer skin, I instantly assumed “mulatto” was also not a word I should be caught saying to describe people. Albert simply described the word as a way to describe Black people. He also gave no hint to me that the word might be offensive.