‘’Are you breeding cockroaches in that hair?’’: President Bolsonaro accused of racism after making a comment to black supporter
By Marques Travae with information courtesy of Yahoo, Poder 360, and Correio Braziliense
When I first heard about today’s story, I got the news from someone who had posted it in one of my social networks. After reading the headline, I thought, ‘Oh, she’s posting this story that was reported back in May; this is old’. Or so I thought. It was a report about President Jair Bolsonaro ‘joking’ with a black supporter about his afro. He was heard telling the man that there was a cockroach in his hair. The people standing around are seen laughing about the comment.
I was gonna do a story on it but I never got around to it. Again, that was in May. Bolsonaro just being Bolsonaro. But then, a few hours after having read the story that the girl in my social network group posted, I realized that this story was actually new. After I did a quick read through and learned the details, it hit me again. Ok, so Bolsonaro made another comment associating a cockroach with a black man’s hair.
In reality, I stopped being surprised with anything this guy says a few years ago, to the point that I pretty much ignore anything he says. What I was more intrigued about was the supporter’s reaction. What I came to realize was, not only did Bolsonaro make a similar comment, but it was actually to the same man back in May that he made this most recent comment to.
On Thursday May 6, Bolsonaro jokingly told a supporter with an afro that he saw a “cockroach” in his hair. The ‘joke’ was made during a conversation with supporters at the Alvorada Palace. After the man asked to take a picture with the president, Bolsonaro looked at the supporter’s hair, aimed at the security guards, gave a smile and made the comment. “I see a cockroach here”.
On Tuesday, May 4, Bolsonaro made a joke with another supporter with what Brazilians call ‘black power’ hair, meaning afro. Laughing, he said, “What do you breed in that wig there?”
“There’s a lot of stuff,” replied the man, laughing, who then took a picture next to Bolsonaro.
The president has a history of statements considered racial bigotry. In 2019, he was ordered to pay BRL $150,000 for collective moral damages due to a racist phrase uttered on the defunct CQC program, of TV Bandeirantes, in March 2011.
Asked by singer Preta Gil how he would react if one of his children fell in love with a black woman, the president replied: “I’m not going to discuss promiscuity with anyone. I don’t run this risk. My children were very well educated and didn’t live in an environment like, unfortunately, is yours.’’
Then on July 7th, as he was leaving the Alvorada Palace, the president asked the Bolsonaro supporter: “How’s the cockroach breeding, there?’’ Laughing, the Chief Executive continued: “Look at the cockroach breeder here. You can’t take ivermectin that’ll kill all your lice,” he claimed. The drug is recommended to combat worms and lice and is advocated by the president in the treatment against covid-19, despite having no scientific proof of effectiveness against the virus.
The supporter who was the target of the comments posed with Bolsonaro for a photo and says that Bolsonaro has the “intimacy” to joke with him.
“Just because you have intimacy, so, just to emphasize that the president has this intimacy to joke, in the same way that he gives freedom for people to joke. To say that I’m not a black man that plays the role of victim, and that everything I have achieved in life is because of hard work and meritocracy. Nothing makes me different from a white person, as they want to separate us”, he said.
Minutes later, the president looked at the man again and said: “How many times a month do you wash your hair? The man replied: “Not per month, per week, president.’’
According to Maicon Sulivan, the man whose hair Bolsonaro commented on, the President “has the intimacy to make this kind of joke” with him.
According to Maicon, the report on the incident “defames” both him and the president and induces the conclusion that Bolsonaro is a racist.
“The president and I have an intimacy to joke around. I went there with affection for the president. I take pleasure in visiting the President and I love the affection he has for me,” he said.
“Globo published the joke that the President made with me inducing that the President is a racist. He is not a racist. For the lack of respect, I will denounce you, I will denounce you for slander,” he added.
Well alrighty then. There you have it. If the man who was on the receiving end of having his hair compared to a roach doesn’t have any problem with it, I guess that’s the end of the story. I said a few months ago that I wouldn’t have been offended by someone wearing a caveman wig and saying their wig was similar to my hair, but I wouldn’t have taken kindly to having my hair being called a breeding ground for roaches.
Later, in a live chat, Bolsonaro commented on the case: “I made a joke with his hair, you have to do it. Look at his hair. If I had hair like that, my mother, at that time, would beat me up, right, man?’’
Frei Davi of the NGO Educafro explains that the speech qualifies as “recreational racism. He quotes Harvard University Professor Adilson Moreira, PhD, to explain the term. In an interview with the Carta Capital magazine in 2018, Moreira defined recreational racism as “a cultural policy that uses humor to express hostility toward racial minorities.”
So, in the end, it seems that Bolsonaro actually made three comments about black hair in connection to roaches and even as the media reported on it and the incidents were shared perhaps thousands of times on social networks, as the very black people involved in the incidents rejected accusations of racism and defended the president, the whole thing will no doubt just blow over.
It’s a curious thing. Even with years of accusations of racism, Bolsonaro still has a sizable black support base in Brazil. Besides the millions of black Brazilians who voted for him, Bolsonaro has two black associates (see here and here) who consistently defend his policies and deflect accusations of their leader being a racist. It’s worth noting that one of those loyal supporters said blacks should cut their nappy hair. Figures.
All I can say is, black folks are most definitely not all alike.