Dr. Gilberto Barbosa and Lawyer Andréia Candida Vitor
In the 1960s, legendary, iconic human rights activist Malcolm X once made this statement that still appears to hold true today. “What would you call an educated Negro with a BA, an MA, a BS or a Ph. D? You call him a nigger. That’s what the white man calls him.”
This famous quote is what came to the minds of a lot of black folks when Harvard University professor, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, was arrested for “breaking into” his own home back in July of 2009. The images of a 58-year old Gates, a man who walks with a cane, handcuffed on his front porch, seemed to validate the words of the slain activist more than 40 years after his death. Regardless of whether the incident was a misunderstanding or a reaction in the heat of the moment, the question to be asked is if this incident would have happened to a white college professor with similar credentials of Professor Gates.
In Brazil, two incidents that occurred approximately one month apart probably have a black doctor and a black lawyer asking the same question. For those of you who haven’t read the various articles dealing with racism on this blog, there is a three-pronged popular conception within the Brazilian population that posits: 1) racism doesn’t exist in Brazil, or, 2) discrimination is based on class rather than race, or 3) once non-whites attain money and social status, racism ceases to exist or 4) racism is far worse in the United States.
Although the facts of these incidents will not speak to number 4 (which is still up for debate), numbers 1 through 3 will be clearly identified in these two cases. As you read these two separate incidents, remember these details: 1) racism is a discriminatory reaction based upon perceived notions about a certain race or ethnic group, 2) the professional status of the two black people involved and 3) the reaction of aggressors when faced the status of these black people.
Woman is arrested for racial slur against black doctor
October 24, 2012
A 45 year old teacher Creuzenilda Lima da Silva was arrested on Tuesday (October 23), suspected of a racial slur against a black SAMU (Serviço de Atendimento Móvel de Urgência or Mobile Service Emergency Care) doctor in Juazeiro, (located in the northeastern state of) Bahia. According to police chief Flávio Martins, head of the 1st Precinct, the service was requested to provide medical care to the woman’s ex-partner.
According to Martins, the doctor reported that during the treatment, the teacher called him a “negrinho metido a besta (cocky, stupid little negro)”. The police chief said the verbal assault occurred after the doctor requested that the woman step back because she was disrupting the team’s work. The two argued and the assault occurred. The doctor filed a complaint with the military police, who arrested the suspect in the act.
“I directed the patient to the inside the ambulance so that we could begin treatment, when we were trying to administer an IV, she opened the door of the ambulance and started yelling back because the patient was still there and had not been taken to the hospital. With that, I asked her to close the door of the ambulance so that we don’t expose the patient and so that we could finish the procedure in tranquility, this was when she said I was a cocky little negro and slammed the door of the vehicle,” said Gilberto Barbosa, of Samu.
According to police chief Flávio Martins, the teacher testified and was released on bail in the amount of one minimum salary R$622 (US$311). “In the statement she said she argued with the doctor, but that she didn’t make that racial connotation. She denied the racial slur”, said the chief.
The doctor evaluated that the SAMU team had been disrespected. “The team was attacked, so this has to stop, a physical assault has already happened once at SAMU. What happens is that we need more security,” says Gilberto.
Flávio Martins said the teacher responded to the investigation after being released. The 1st Precinct of Juazeiro said the penalty for the crime of racial slur can go from one to three years in prison in a closed regime. According to a family friend, who declined to be identified, the teacher’s ex-partner came to death after hospitalization.
Lawyer accuses PM of Curitiba black racism and torture
November 30, 2012
Lawyer Andréia Candida Vitor, was arrested, called names and humiliated by military police of Curitiba (located in the southern state of Paraná) on Saturday night and Sunday morning (November 25). She said she also suffered physical and psychological torture and was called “negra vadia (black bitch)” by police. Lawyer Elias Mattar Assad, was consulted by Andréia and has already filed a complaint against the police officers at the headquarters of the Special Action Group and Combating Organized Crime (GAECO). He said the police action was not guided by law “and when it’s not guided by the law it’s barbaric.”
After being released on Sunday morning, the lawyer sought the Brazilian Association of Criminal Lawyers (Abracrim) to denounce the attacks.
Violence and barbarism
Police violence began with the invasion of a family home in Bairro Alto, in Curitiba. Even without a warrant, 11 people were beaten and arrested, including a 72-year old woman.
According to locals, the police raided the house after a motorcyclist refused to show documents of the vehicle. The motorcyclist fled into the house. “They went in with batons on one side, and kicks on the other. Everything was already knocked over. They came in and (started) slaughtering,” said the still shaken retiree Zulmira Floriano, adding that she was preparing to serve dinner when the invasion occurred.
Neighbors recorded the aggressions. In the images, a resident indignantly tells the police, who arrested a boy, “Now you’re gonna say that the piá (the boy) resisted arrest.” One of the military police went after who uttered the phrase. “What did you say, huh, filho da puta (son of a whore)?”, asked the police.
According to the lawyer, she went to the house to see what was going on, and was arrested and sent to a military police unit. “They slapped me in the face and swore at me. ‘A lawyer with this color, you negra vagabunda (black vagabond), you preta vadia (black bitch) (1),” they said.
Police violence was accepted by the General Inspector of Police, César Kogut. “There are indications that there was abuse of power and abuse of authority. This will be investigated, an open investigation,” he said.
Now just for the sake of covering the bases here, for those who might say something of the sort like, “but they never actually called them niggers”, as we have discussed in previous articles here, it is not necessary to use the term “nigger” in the US or in Brazil where the term doesn’t have the same historical significance in insulting someone. Tone of voice, or in this context, using the words negro and negra along with other derogatory adjectives or terms is meant to denigrate the persons with whom the altercations took place. As in other incidents featured on this site, it is the color of the skin that signals that someone doesn’t deserve respect or is in some way out of place.
In the context of both incidents, race should have had nothing to do with the situations, but as blacks are still relegated to inferior status in Brazilian society, an insult which includes the term negro or negra substitutes for the single term “nigger”. If it were true that in Brazil, discrimination is based simply on class status, neither of these incidents would have occurred as both Barbosa and Vitor have earned positions of status and one would assume, respect. But as the skin color is not white, it is often assumed that the person is of lower social status or doesn’t deserve the treatment that said status is supposed to bestow upon the individual.
I must also point out in using the famous Malcolm X quote that Vitor is a lawyer and different from in the US, in Brazil, it is common to hear people address lawyers with the title doutor, meaning doctor. After all, lawyers earn JD’s (Juris Doctorate). In both scenarios, blacks of highly regarded social positions (doctor and lawyer) were basically reminded that regardless of their positions, they were still black. In these two situations, it’s difficult to argue which insult was worse. Was it the black man who was recognized as a doctor but still insulted or was it the woman who, because of her color, wasn’t accepted as being a lawyer? Does it really matter which was worse? Such is the situation in Brazil.
1. While the term vagabunda can be literally translated as vagabond, for some people the term is even more aggressive or pejorative. In relation to the term vadia, the dictionary of Informal Portuguese defined the word as a “term of profanity to refer to a class of women who are dedicated to being male sex objects (either visually or literally).” Thus, in some ways, this term could be compared to the street usage of the English word “bitch”.
Source: Diário da Região, Paraná Extra