“I’d like to see the judge”; “You’re talking to her” – In Brazil, “people are shocked to see a black woman judge”, reveals 35-year old magistrate
By Marques Travae
Brazil is literally full of these sorts of stories. Because the country has been able to maintain its black population in “the place” of subordination for so long, when people see an Afro-Brazilians in a place of prestige, power, influence or authority, they don’t know how to act.
“I lost count of how many times when they came into the room, didn’t even say good morning, just saying they wanted to talk to the judge. Sometimes I was harsh, sometimes I would turn my chair around and say, ‘Good morning, I’m the judge.'” The woman telling this story is Mariana Marinho Machado. As she sees it, reaching a position of such authority as a not only young, but also being a woman and black, people get “confused” when they meet her. The fact is that this “confusion” is simply another element of the typical Brazilian prejudice that so many people instinctively insist doesn’t exist.
Mariana is 35 years old and responsible for the town of Itainópolis, located in the small northeastern state of Piaui. The town is about 365 km from the capital city of Teresina and also serves the municipalities of Vera Mendes and Isaías Coelho. Originally from another northeastern state, Bahia, which is known for its large black population, Mariana has also worked as a judge in the state of Pará and has already lived in Piauí for seven years. Not lacking for work, the judge had 2,000 cases distributed and already completed 980 cases in 2019 alone.
“Today people already know me in the region, I’ve been here for two years, so these situations are rarer,” she ponders. But the fact is that the discrimination she experiences is based on her physical appearance and it’s always been like this. Ever since she was a child, she’s had to endure ugly comments at school, but then she noticed something strange. After she passed the competition for magistracy she noted how the prejudice got even more evident.
The point here is that, many black Brazilians will experience the racism simply due to being black. That’s the part of Brazil that simply doesn’t like its blackness. But many have argued that the real racism comes out when black folks happen to ascend into positions that black Brazilians aren’t expected to be seen. It’s one thing simply being black and living in a shack in the favela. It’s another being black and having a certain authority over people. That’s something Brazil as a whole can’t deal with.
“I always went through situations like someone talking about my hair, for example at school. It was bullying, but it didn’t have that name. But I felt the most prejudice was when I entered the judiciary because it is a place of authority. Several times when they saw me working, they thought I was an advisor. When I was a teacher, I also felt the looks. The first time I entered a classroom, people looked at me differently. It’s so institutional that people get shocked seeing a woman, black, young, and a judge,” she explains.
Mariana passed the exam at the tender age of 27, and did so without the assistance of affirmative action. But even though she succeeded, she still understands and she supports the quota system which would open the door for more blacks to enter the realm of public service. “My parents are black. We have always been very proud of our race. My brothers and I studied in good schools. When I did the competition there were no quotas, but today I see that it is necessary. Blacks are the majority in Brazil, but are a minority in public office. In the judiciary we are only 1.6% in Brazil”, she points out. I’ve already argued that saying blacks being the majority in Brazil may be a bit of a stretch, but however you slice it, 1.6% working in judiciary positions is still an extreme minority.
For the judge, the biggest problem in fighting prejudice is that most Brazilians don’t accept or at least admit that it even exists, especially when people speak of themselves. “When you walk into a store, people don’t come to you, the saleswomen of the chic stores aren’t black. This is how it happens,” she summarizes.
In everyday life, Mariana prefers a more sheltered life, avoids a lot of exposure, but doesn’t remain silent when she witnesses situations of discrimination and prejudice.
“In cases of racism and racial insult, I certainly push for imprisonment, but it never came to that. Once, a person who works with me was cursed at and I believe that the person wanted it to reach me, but I said that it would generate case a and I went after it. I have tried several cases of racism and racial injury, several,” she highlights.
One of the worst problems in dealing with racism in Brazil in dealing with the issue of whether a particular should be judged as racism or racial injury, which have varying degrees of punishment, the latter having a harsher penalty.
The judge recalls once when a lawyer in a case questioned her capacity for judgment. “A lawyer started to get excited and said, ‘I don’t know if you have the capacity to judge.’ He wanted to want to raise suspicion of me, but I’m not one to lose my head, so that no one can say I’m not impartial. I just said, ‘Don’t you want to rectify what you said?’ A friend of his gave him a tap and he calmed down, backtracked,” she says.
As we can see, even having managed to get to such positions of authority, black Brazilians will continuously have to prove their capabilities in a racist society. For cases like these, Mariana always serves people in the presence of someone, never going it alone.
“We magistrates are always in the eye of the hurricane. If I do anything, even away from home, it’s not Mariana, it’s the judge. So, preserving myself is a matter of security. Here in Piauí, besides racism there is also a lot of machismo and this is reflected in the femicides. Here in town, a man judge arrives, goes to the gym and it’s normal. A magistrate arrives, she goes to the gym because she wants to show off”, she analyzes.
“Sometimes I hear: ‘You’re so young, coming to Piauí alone, how does your husband let you?’ How can that be? Does my husband have to let me come to work? There’s no such thing”, she says clearly perturbed with the thought.
Despite all the challenges she’s faced in her career trajectory, Mariana Marinho has little to complain about when the subject is the life she leads today.
“Here in Itainópolis people have gotten used to me and treat me very well. I’m flattered with recognition, respect and affection. I took 12 days away taking care of my father and when I arrived, I got a note: ‘Glad you’re back’. People ask me how I can stand being on the interior (of the state). It’s because of all the affection I receive. I just request a lot of health so I can do my job. When I go to a school where the children see me, they feel represented, that is rewarding. They know they can get there too,” she says.
Info courtesy of Cidade Verde