Note from BBT: Another. Black. Woman. ENSLAVED. To be quite honest here, I don’t really even know what else can be said here. I actually learned about this story back in February when it first broke, but it didn’t seem to have garner nearly as much press as a similar story that had made headlines back in November. In that story, Madalena Gordiano, a 46-year old black woman had been enslaved by a pair of university professors in the state of Minas Gerais for 38 years.
She was rescued by authorities in November and now the case in the middle of sorting out how the couple will compensate the victim. In my last update, the couple guilty of enslaving her and even using a pension she was due to receive to pay for the medical school expenses of their daughter. The details behind how she was due this pension were just as crazy as the story itself, but I’ve already discussed that.
As I was already reporting on that case in Minas, I decided I would wait to expose this story which is just as outrageous. I mean, when I first read the story I thought up to a certain point that it was simply an update on the Madalena story. I mean the details were just to similar to have happened and come out at about the same time. Black woman enslaved. One for almost 40 years, another a little more than 40 years. White enslavers. University professors.
Hold up, let me clarify. In the case that happened in Minas, the names and faces of the perpetrators have been revealed. With this case in Rio, the press has yet to release a name or a photo, so I can’t say for absolute certainty that the perpetrator is white. But we DO know that, in Brazil, black or brown professors represent only 15.8% of federal university professors and the professor in this scandal does teach at a federal university.
The glaring difference that I’m curious about is why the story I’m presenting today from Rio isn’t getting the same coverage as the case in Minas.
In the Madalena case, the professors were exposed and Madalena was featured on news reports, interviewed and had her face shared all over the media. This story out of Rio is being kept under the rug. We don’t know who the professor is, what her name is or the real name of woman she enslaved. Maybe the victim is being protected or has requested to not have her identity revealed. But what explains why this professor’s identity is being guarded? For such an act, she should be exposed for all to see. I won’t make any assumptions at this and just hope that some of these questions will be answered some time in future.
For now, another example of how it seems that Brazilians still look at the era of slavery with a nostalgic sentiment.
Press omits name of UFRJ professor who enslaved a black woman for 41 years
By Euler de França Belém with additional info courtesy of Diário do Rio
“Ana” is 63 years old, is in a shelter of the City of Rio de Janeiro and speaks naively about the doctor who enslaved her
There are stories, one gets the impression, that even the press doesn’t want to tell in its entirety. This is the case of the 63-year-old black woman, who was the slave of a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). This is a rumorous fact, commented on in the corridors of justice and in the newsrooms of Rio de Janeiro. Even so, only the magazine Época decided to register it.
The name of the enslaved woman is not known, as Época, to preserve her, named her “Ana”. Why the reluctance to tell her odyssey? We don’t know. It’s necessary to underline that, with a rich history in defense of democracy – with important academic works dissecting, therefore criticizing, slavery -, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro has nothing to do with the scandalous history. The responsibility is exclusive to the doctor who is part of its staff. But it is terrifying to know that a professor, who may preach equality and even criticize slavery in the classroom, has done what she has done. It is the story that, in practice, the theory is different.
It’s not known why the doctor’s name is being preserved. The journalists doing the reports know her name. Maybe she doesn’t want to speak, but she needs to present her position, because, even though she is indefensible, she has the right to defend herself. In covering other stories, the press has not behaved with the same caution, preserving the name of the “suspect” or “accused”.
After the first report, Época took up the subject in another article, “The marks of the woman who lived 41 years worked in a condition similar to slavery”, published on Friday. Given the seriousness of the magazine, the text is respectful, careful – even if it is lacking.
A family without a crisis of conscience
At the professor’s house – let’s call her “Jezebel” – “Ana” was a kind of handyman. She was up at 7 am, every day of the week. After taking care of the six dogs, she cleaned and sometimes weeded the yard and then did the house shopping. As a slave, even though she was presented as a domestic worker, “she helped raise at least five children, now adults, and assisted two elderly people until death. All this without gaining anything in return.” It’s still strange that no one in the family has taken a stand against the enslavement of “Ana”. There is no talk, at least in the reports, of any crisis of conscience.
Ana lived with the family that enslaved her in Abolição, a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. “Abolição”? (which means ‘Abolition’) So it is. Now, she is in a shelter of the City Hall of Rio de Janeiro.
An anonymous report revealed the story of “Ana” and a task force from the Labor Tax Audit and the Labor Prosecutor’s Office decided to verify it. It was all true. The elderly lady lived in a “situation similar to slavery”. “At the house, she slept in a room without electricity at the back of the terrain, close to the dogs’ kennels”, revealed Época. It was the “senzala” (slave quarters) – far from the “casa grande” (“big house”).
“Ana” didn’t receive “enough food and was heard crying, asking for help”. She also revealed not having access to drinking water. Upon finding her, the auditor Alexandre Lyra was shocked. “I have never had such an impactful experience as with this lady. There was no physical impediment to come and go. Many still link slave labor to this. But there is an invisible wall, which prevented her from leaving that environment. It was her only reference for life and work, in disgraceful conditions,” he stresses. The question remains: go where, at 63 – with no money, no education and no contact with family members?
According to the agents of the MPT (Ministry of Public Labor Prosecution) task force, she was found sleeping in a room with no electricity and with her belongings stored in a cardboard box. The neighbors of the house where the woman worked told the authorities that she suffered abuse, physical violence and performed exhausting work under the sun.
When she was “hired”, at the age of 22, “Ana” received the information that her employer would register her – she would have a work card. In fact, there is no contract or any record on the employment card. To take care of the “Jezebel” family, “Ana” had to give up everything – she didn’t get married, she doesn’t have children, she doesn’t have a home, she couldn’t make friends.
In the shelter of the city hall, “Ana” talks to everyone, and is identified as a “sweet and gentle” person. To Época reporter Ludmilla de Lima, she naively said: “The husband of the lady of the house, when he was going to sign my (work) card, had cancer and died. Cancer is a disease that exhausts everyone. She said she was going to sign my card, but she had a lot of problems. She had to pay for a crosswalk, a cleaning lady and a cook. It would get very heavy. Because she teaches in college and her money is low. Then she said to me: ‘It’s no use to pay you or sign your work card, because I’m going to have to pay for two maids and a crosswalk. I don’t have that kind of money’”. But, apparently, there is no shortage of money. Or rather, it just wasn’t for paying “Ana”.
As she didn’t receive a salary, “Ana” decided to pick up cans in the streets, which earned her 4 to 9 reais a day. “She picked up a lot of cans and bottles, and she [the boss] asked: ‘Ana, how much was the can? Will you lend me the money? ‘ I gave it to her, she didn’t borrow it. I knew she wasn’t going to be able to pay me.” The task force even caught “the elderly woman handing over the money she got from selling scrap to the professor”.
“Ana” reports that the university professor “paid all the bills on her own, had to buy the dog food and still had a cigarette addiction. She made a hell of a sacrifice, said he had no money, went to get loans. And I was left by the wayside,” she says, resigned. “The employer took out installments of the emergency aid on behalf of the domestic worker,” says Época.
In the 41 years that she worked at the professor’s house, “Ana” says she remembers that she went to the doctor only once. Possibly, she didn’t even go to the doctor. Because, according to her, she was taken to the Family Clinic just to be vaccinated. The mother of her “ex-owner” – Época prefers “employer” – accompanied her.
Social worker Thaiany Motta and psychologist Yasmin França – from Cáritas Arquidiocesana – are monitoring “Ana”.
“A relationship was built with this family of domination and subordination. It’s a symbolic and subtle violence, of a psychological nature. She only had one choice in her life,” says Thaiany Motta.
Yasmin França stresses that, by leaving “Ana” without a support network – there are no contacts with her siblings – the “Jezebel” family committed an act of violence. “Ana’s” family became the one that enslaved her. It’s as if, being “of” the family, her only reference, one could do everything with (against) her. “Among those rescued, it’s very common for this experience to be reinterpreted later.
With some it’s faster, with others it takes longer to understand that, yes, this is a situation of violence. Many are unaware of the law, that the situation in which they find themselves characterizes slave labor,” analyzes the psychologist.
Psychologist Diego Gomes, from the shelter, reports that, “at all times, ‘Ana’ feels guilty about something and apologizes”.
Alexandre Lyra, of the MPT, maintains that the professor “showed no remorse”. The auditor told the magazine that the ex-boss “tried to ‘disqualify and disparage’ “Ana”, saying that if she left money in the maid’s hand, she would spend it on ‘nonsense'”.
“Ana” can receive 1.3 million reais, as compensation for moral and material damages, if the MPT’s recommendation is accepted by the court. The MPT also asked to put a block on the professor’s assets. “The Regional Labor Court (TRT) has already granted an injunction determining the payment of a monthly pension by the employer until the final decision of the Court”, notes Época. But it is possible to appeal.
MPT attorney Isabela Maul states that “Ana” “doesn’t get a social security benefit because there was no payment of the INSS (National Institute of National Institute)”. She informs that the elderly woman is unable to work.
“Ana” was unable to tell the magazine reporter what her future will be. At 63, debilitated, she will certainly have to be protected by the State. Perhaps it’s the case to locate someone in her family.
On May 13th, 133 years ago, slavery was “abolished” in Brazil. Quotation marks are a way of respecting “Ana”, that is to say, there are still slaves in the country. The Época report is correct, the magazine had the courage to face a delicate topic, but, by not publishing the professor’s name, it suggests much more than is thought about Brazilian society. It’s as if some people, close to the “owners of power” (and it is not just talking about political power, as there are other powers, such as the intellectual), despite the horror they practiced, deserved some kind of protection and condescension.