Note from BW of Brazil: Very creative text! Today’s piece is a work of fiction written by Stephanie Ribeiro who has been featured on the blog previously. Stephanie weaves into the story a number of everyday color-coded phrases, words and thoughts that are so ingrained in Brazilian society that the racial connotations they can imply probably don’t even register in the minds of their users. I can already hear how people would most likely react: “you guys see racism in everything”, or, “I didn’t mean it that way.” Are you sure? Granted, it IS possible, but perhaps people should think more about how things sound before they say such things.
Whipping your racism
By Stephanie Ribeiro
Pedro got ready for work and Clara was still trying to sleep, even with all the noise he made, between putting on his shoes, having breakfast and run around the room looking for a tie. Oops, we need to make the presentation.
Clara and Pedro, a young couple who shares an apartment in greater São Paulo – both white of the upper middle class. Clara Lima is still in college studying Social Sciences and Pedro Gonzales worked in his father’s architecture office. Their routine was quite hectic, they adored nights and more bohemian nights on Augusta (street), underground parties and, ultimately, they were going to quite a few demonstrations. They felt more engaged, they needed to fight.
“A violência só aumenta” (Violence only increases), the morning paper carried this headline. Pedro, as he read aloud, heard Clara complaining from the bedroom. He loved annoying his girlfriend, so he always answered her dissatisfactions with: “Hoje é dia de branco, amor” (Today is the day of the white, love) (1).
What came to be ironic: one worked in the family business and always came home after 10pm, the other had never done her own bed. But back to our story…
Pedro went out and Clara waited for the maid to come as she ate breakfast. At least twice a week, Joana would clean the couple’s apartment. Clara used to say that she was even quase da família (almost part of the family), even though the phrase almost leaves it explicit that she wasn’t; and because of this she didn’t deserve to enter the front door, only the Porta de Serviços (service door), as the young housewife always required. Joana was a black lady of about 57, who had a granddaughter on a scholarship in the same course as Clara, her name is Stella. Clara doesn’t like this girl, she’s jealous of Pedro and believes that moreninha (little brown girl) is on top of everything when it’s a man (besides being a pretinha metida a inteligente, (little black girl who thinks she’s intelligent). Just thinking about the girl, Clara lost her appetite.
Clara read her magazines and Joana cleaned everything (2). It was an ordinary day, despite the fact that today the young woman would have lunch with her mother, so she wouldn’t have to supervise Joana’s cleaning. For this, she just shouted: “Don’t waste the cleaning products, a coisa está preta (the thing is black) (3)”. As he entered the elevator and the maid closed the door, Clara thought “how hard it is to trust in the poor, something could always disappear.” Moreover, she was sure that Joana always left work early when she was not there to watch. After all, the popular saying used to say: “Preto parado é suspeito, correndo é ladrão” (The black stopped is a suspect, running he’s a thief).” (4)
Pedro had come to the office building, but the doorman was not at the gate, which made him very mad. He was tired of all that neglect, serviço de preto (black service). At this he laughed, remembering that Tião at the gate was black, almost tição (black smoke), then started screaming on the intercom: “Tião Tição, open this gate!”.
Back in his room, Pedro was informed by the secretary that his father had looked a project that was his responsibility and found some errors. Pedro was infuriated, the boy had asked for an intern to do his work and she did it wrong. Impressive that moreninha jambo (5) was so incompetent, “preto é uma merda, quando não caga na entrada, borra na saída” (Blacks are shit, if they don’t shit at the entrance, they shit on the way out), he thought.
About this, she remembered a guy from his course, João, that was a nice guy, was black, but tinha a alma branca (had a white soul) (6), was not one of those who kept complaining about everything, just talking about racism. In addition, he was a friend from the club, a ladies man. Pedro always thought that his friend had privileges because, after all, the reputation of being a pauzudo (well-hung man) helps a lot when it’s time to pick up women. While the guy remembered the old days, the intern arrived in his office. Pedro scolded her, but of course in a tactful way. She was da cor do pecado (of the color of sin), the mulata gostosa (hot mulatto woman) that for fucking should ser quente (must be hot). If she played hard to get, Pedro knew that she wanted it. “These women are all the same,” he thought as the girl paid attention to her mistakes and tried to correct them desperately.
Clara had lunch, but unfortunately it wasn’t much what she wanted. After all, the maid’s daughter, who was about two years old, was in the kitchen. Her mother couldn’t leave her in the nursery, so she took her to work and she didn’t stop crying. She was a mulatinha manhosa (a tricky little mulatto girl), her mother was white. Once, Clara’s mother even said, “It is, sadly, this woman has a barriga suja (dirty belly)”. “A white woman with a dark daughter could only be a disgrace, macumba (voodoo), magia negra (black magic),” reflected Clara, who even felt sorry for her.
After lunch, Clara went to the university. As she walked, she noticed a man staring at her, became angry and shouted: “I am not your Nêga”. Such anger she had over these cantadas de pedreiro (construction worker street harassment). She got there late and furious. She gave a look to Stela, the granddaughter of her maid, who was presenting a seminar on racism. Clara was finding it all a bore, the sole purpose of Stela’s life was that “mimimi” (whining).
So she decided to ask a question, only to cause the neguinha metida a intelectual (little black girl who thinks she’s intelligent): “Stela, don’t you think you’re only denigrating whites? And (what about) racism against whites? I think that you’re racist!?”.
Stela ignored her. However, Clara, distraught, screamed: “Oh, cabelo duro (hard hair), it’s with you yourself. Respond, morenina fedida (stinking little brown girl)!” (7)
At this, Stela just accused her of racism, which made her even angrier. Clara was tired of those criolos (niggers) in the university. “After the quotas things got worse.”
Anyway, this story ended up at the police station. People who think the world is fair are mistaken. Clara made a complaint regarding the Stela for libel and slander. She didn’t accept being called racist, she was not racist, she even had black friends and a distant relative was black, how could she be racist? She had even cried watching 12 anos de Escravidão (12 years a Slave)”! She was anything but racist!
Pedro was angry with the situation, he would miss the Grêmio (futebol) game, his favorite team and thought that Clara had a inveja branca (white envy) of Stela. But after what happened he only felt anger. “Preta metida (stuck up black), nega maluca (crazy black woman),” he thought and he said to his girlfriend, trying to calm her down: “They deserved to be fichados (blacklisted) these neguinhos (niglets) that enter the university and keep meeting themselves. It’s all because of these damn quotas, only stupid people get in and don’t make an effort, with no merit, they want everything easy.”
A wise man was his grandfather who would say: “Preto só faz negrice, para ser um macaco só falta o rabo” (the black only does negrice (8), to be a monkey he’s only missing the tail).
H e laughed, because deep down knew that the crook would pay for this. The downside was that his chances of fucking that exotic moreninha had diminished. Then he lit a cigarette as he watched his wife screaming that she wanted to fire the maid, that she wanted justice and that Brazil was shit.
NOTE: This text is an irony, I would never write something as positive. The intent is to denounce. I am a black woman, poor and cotista (quota student). I’ve heard and went through some situations that are reported. I am the result of over 300 years of slavery, I carry with me scars of my people forever and I use the words to express my outrage and lash out against the racist reality in the face of many people who say, “No, I’m not racist.” But they will read the text and identify with many of the racist expressions, words and attitudes mentioned here.
I am only sure of one thing: this text is a black woman’s thing to white people.
Source: Festival Marginal
1. Meaning a work day; expression originating in the Navy which meant that the next day one had to put on a white uniform to go to work. The origin is also domestic, referring to the washing day of bedding, all white, and reason for the earlier rest on the previous day before.
2. Meaning something doesn’t come out very well
3. References to Brazil’s reserved “place” of black women as domestics, service workers or “the help”. Numerous articles deal with this association. See here, here or here for a few examples.
4. Another variation of this saying is “A white man running is an athlete, a black man running is a thief.”
5. Morena is very commonly used term that can describe a wide range of phenotypes. Jambo is a fruit that comes in three varieties: jambo-rosa (pink), jambo-branco (white) and jambo-vermelho (red). In reference to skin color, morena jambo or morena de cor jambo (morena of the color jambo) refers to a person who appears to have a year round tanned color.
6. Meaning “blacks with white souls”, ie, “oreo cookies”
7. Numerous racists insults heard on a daily basis in Brazil suggests that black people “stink” as we see from other examples here.
8. Meaning that blacks don’t do the things they should do, or do something in a wrong way or badly done.
When it’s strung like this it all sounds so horrible, but growing up you see and hear so frequently expressions and anecdotes like this that it just becomes part of day to day life. Reality.
Black insults never went away in these 300 years, in fact they thrived and adapted becoming even more ingrained in the popular vocabulary. It gets very specific and creative, which only increases the contagion of the racist meme.
Nicknames like Oreos, Nescafe, Ovaltine, expressions that imply black people being criminals or comparing them with animals and implying they are entitled or stuck up because they are achieving “white people stuff” are depressingly real. It starts at an age where they don’t realize the full implications, the weight, of what they’re saying. And some people don’t learn it. Instead they alter their mental framework to accept those expressions as true; when faced with the contradictions of their learned racism, they rather accept it as reality than change the whole mind set. The people they meet that do not fall into it are exceptions between the brazilian blacks.