Note from BW of Brazil: Today’s story is a bit of a flashback for me. Sure, it’s your typical case dealing with Brazil’s “standard” of beauty, but it takes me all the way black to March of 2012, only a few months after the debut of this blog in late 2012. Of all the stories I’ve posted here about Brazil’s rejection of afro textured hair, why does this story take me back almost exactly seven years? A few reasons. 1) The story I refer to also happened in the northeastern state of Maranhão and involved a young black person, then a black teenage girl, being barred from going to a particular school because of her hair. And 2) that particular story was my the first report on this blog that I could say “went viral”. Nikki Walton of Curly Nikki fame took hold of the article and it blew up after that.
Anyway, there is no way to deny that Brazil has tried for decades to cover up its African roots by instilling a sense of shame in all things that remind its population of its African ancestry. There’s simply too much evidence to deny it; more than seven years on this blog alone should suffice to prove the point. But I’m still always cautious about defining a particular situation as absolutely racist without getting all of the facts. In today’s case, I will reserve my complete judgment until I get more details. Here’s why. The story below doesn’t go into detail about what the school’s particular standard in terms of hair is. It would be easy to say that this is a cut and dry instance of a rejection of afro-textured hair, but I would first like to know what other boys in the school look like.
Are all of the boys in the school required to wear their hair at a certain length? What is the skin color of all of the boys in the school? If the school is private and requires payment of tuition, often times, this excludes many black parents from being able to send their children to these schools because of a lack of resources. And when the parents do have the resources, often the black child faces ridicule because his/her physical attributes are considered “outside of the standard”.
So, on the one had, this could be just another racist incident, but I’m gonna wait and see if any more info comes out on this case. But DO feel free to read it and come to your own conclusions.
Boy with afro has enrollment refused; director denies racism
By Aliny Gama
An eight-year-old boy had his registration refused by the direction of the municipal school Professora Augusta Maria Costa, in São José de Ribamar (MA), for wearing his hair in the black power (afro) style.
The case happened last Tuesday (12), when the boy’s mother, Joselma Lima, took him to the transfer school and the director Helenita Rita Sousa reported that he would have to cut his hair to be within the “standard” of the school. The official denies that she acted out of racism.
The child would begin attending classes the same day, but with the director’s refusal, he is not attending. The boy has autism and is in the 3rd year of elementary school. According to his parents, the boy had to change schools because the previous school unit only went up tp the 2nd year of elementary school
The boy’s father, Fábio Lima, recorded an incident report at the São José de Ribamar police station denouncing racism and awaits the conclusion of the police investigation to officially bring the case to the MP-MA (Public Prosecutor’s Office of Maranhão).
Lima reports that his son was embarrassed and that the situation caused panic in the child, to the point that he did not want to hear the word school.
The family says it will not cut their son’s hair and that he doesn’t feel safe in taking the child to school if his registration is released because he fears security with possible reprisals.
“My son is a special child and he understands things his way. He has an attachment to his hair and was desperate when he heard that the director said he had to cut his hair to be within the standard of other colleagues. Since my wife refused to let them cut our son’s hair, the principal returned the transfer documents. When my wife told me what had happened, I was shocked and I went to the police,” says Lima.
“Outside of the standard”
The boy’s mother had already gone to school to inquire about the availability of the vacancy and was told to take the documentation on the day they started the classes. Last Tuesday, mother and son went to school and, according to the parents, when the principal saw the boy’s hair said: “This hair we don’t admit because it is outside of the standard.” The mother argued that the hair in that style is the identity of the boy and heard from the director “you will get the documents and come back if you cut his hair.”
“If it was a military college we would understand. Hair is an important reference for our son. He studied at the other school and received only praise for his hair. Being afrodescendente (of African descent) is no problem for him, the problem is prejudice and what’s worse: within the school community,” says the boy’s father.
Director denies racism
The director of the school, Helenita Rita Sousa, denies that she acted with racism and claims to have returned the child’s documentation because the mother said she would think about whether or not to cut the boy’s hair. According to her, the school has a “social cut standard” determined to be used on all students.
“I asked the child’s mother if she could get a social haircut and she said she would think about it. So I said, ‘think about it, because the social cut is standard here at school,'” said the director, noting that she had never spoken of “racism”.
Attitude hurts ECA, says state secretary
The Assistant Secretary of State for Racial Equality, Maria do Socorro Guterres, analyzes that the case is a manifestation of racism and that the school must know how to work with diversity.
“This attitude violates the Statute of the Child and Adolescent (ECA), as well as other legal frameworks, such as the Statute of Social Equality. The school environment is the portrait of our society and we are diverse subjects. The school needs to be able to deal with everyone with equality,” says Guterres.
Semed (Municipal Department of Education) has reported that it has opened an administrative proceeding to ascertain the facts and that, at the end of the process, it will take the appropriate measures. The secretariat pointed out that the child’s enrollment is guaranteed.
“The school environment is the place of dissemination of knowledge, promotion of peace and respect. No racist attitude in this space will be tolerated,” the Secretariat said in a statement.