“Being black interferes in life”: A public prosecutor, Maria Bernadette Figueroa discovered early on in her life the obstacles constructed in front of black people

ser negro interfere na vida procuradora de justia maria bernadete martins de azevedo figueiroa
ser negro interfere na vida procuradora de justia maria bernadete martins de azevedo figueiroa
Ser negro interfere na vida - Procuradora de Justiça Maria Bernadete Martins de Azevedo Figueiroa
Maria Bernadette Martins de Azevedo Figueroa

Note from BW of Brazil: In Brazil, it’s very common to hear people, black or white, verbalize the idea that “we are all equal”.  Even today there are millions of people who still believe that opportunities are equal for all Brazilians regardless of their race this in spite of all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. But there are also those who were able to figure out from the time that they were young that there was something a little bit different in the way that they were treated by the society. Today, increasingly more Afro-Brazilians are starting to come to terms with these sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant differences and are calling this difference of treatment for what it is. In today’s story, our subject shares a bit of her own struggle and what she’s been doing to combat this difference ever since. 

“Being black interferes in life”

A black woman, the prosecutor of Justice of MPPE Bernadette Figueroa is a reference in the fight against racism in Pernambuco

By Marcionila Teixeira

Ser negro interfere na vida
“Being black interferes in life”

Maria Bernadette was 10 years old when she began to notice something wrong in the school she attended in the city of Agua Preta, in the Mata Sul region of the state of Pernambuco. Despite receiving the highest grades in the class, she was always excluded by the teachers it was time to carry the flag on the Seventh of September (Brazil’s Independence Day) or play the role of protagonist in the plays. The girl, eager to play a key role in the school, gradually realized the reasons for the negative things. The selected children were always brancas com cabelos lisos (white girls, with straight hair). It was not her case. A woman, black, cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair), Bernadette grew up. This month, she received the Medalha do Mérito Heroínas de Tejucupapo (Heroines of Tejucupapo Medal of Merit), handed out by the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil  (Lawyers Guild of Brazil) (OAB-PE). At 65, she is happier and more accomplished than at the age of ten, when she was valedictorian.

For 13 years, the prosecutor of Justice of the Ministério Público (Public Prosecutor) of Pernambuco (MPPE) Maria Bernadette Martins de Azevedo Figueroa has helped train people in tackling racism. Bernadette is the coordinator of the Working Group (GT) on Racial Discrimination of MPPE, a project proposed by herself to the then Attorney General, Romero Andrade. The service consists of training and sensitizing prosecutors and servants. Much has changed since the installation of the GT, she thinks, but not enough. “Racism has been here 500 years and we have little time,” she contemplates.

In the country where famous people like futebol player Ronaldinho are classified as white, something is wrong, considers the prosecutor. “It’s as if he were in a place where the black is usually not. Then he calls himself white to suffer less. It’s hard being rejected all the time. Emotional suffering is great,” she reflects.

Bernadette cites concrete examples, not always explicit, of racism to be faced. “The press highlights the murder of a young white man by a police officer, but there is no space for the majority of blacks murdered in the state. It’s as if it was natural the black being a hoodlum, being killed. A black in the university cannot. The point is that whoever gets there on quotas is a survivor. Managed to finish high school, was not killed by the police or violence in the periphery. Besides this, getting in by quotas does not mean he will come out by quotas. He will come by knowledge, the same that empowers,” she reflects.

If the situation of racism involves gender, it’s much worse. Tending to the black woman in health facilities, for example, is much faster and superficial than that dedicated to the white woman, says Bernadette. “Worse is that it should be the opposite, because the black woman is more likely to have hypertension during pregnancy,” she said.

Bernadette like numbers to prove her words. She requests a minute in the interview and asks one of her aides to give her data from UNICEF. With them in hand, she shows the gap size between blacks and whites: in Brazil, 54.5% of children are black, but among crianças brancas (white children) poverty reaches 32.9% and among blacks it reaches 56%. A criança negra (black child) between 7 and 14 years are 30% more likely to be out of school than a white child of the same age.

“If I were not a person with self-esteem, had no family structure, I would hardly get to where I am. This balance makes the difference. But it’s not always what happens. For example, 54.5% of abandoned children are black. Everyone wants to be the father of a loirinho (little blond)”, reflects the prosecutor, the oldest of eleven children.

“Of five thousand homeless people, for example, how many make it out of this situation? Only very resilient people. Besides, no one is obligated to be a monster to be something in life. Research shows that when white and black children are born poor in the same place, the chance of the white child getting out of conditions of poverty 70% higher,” she estimates. Maria Bernadette, one of the few self-identified blacks at the tables of MPPE, is right when he says: “Being black interferes in life.”

Source: Diario de Pernambuco

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. What a powerful read. I like the part about self-esteem and family structure – these factors help define us from an early age. So many people are disadvantaged as to how to survive in a racial world. You need a strong will and mind to deal with hateful actions and comments or else you will break.

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