Black models at modeling contest in nation’s capital are compared to slaves on social network; case being investigated as case of racism
By Marques Travae
I always find it amusing when people will say, “Why do you guys keep talking about slavery? That was centuries ago. That’s a thing of the past!”
There are number of legitimate reasons why the topic continues to provoke discussion among BP. First, Brazil being the last country in the Americas to abolish the institution, it was only 130 years ago that the last slaves were liberated in Brazil. That’s only about 6 and half generations ago. With slavery having started in Brazil in about 1538 and having ended in 1888, a total of 350 years, the reality is that the lands colonized by the Portuguese were under a regime forced labor for 230 years more than years in which slavery DIDN’T exist.
Two, the inequalities that were enforced according to race continue to have an enormous difference today between those considered wh and those considered non-wh. And three, and just as important as one and two, people still make references to the slavery era (as we have in today’s article) and, in many ways, Brazilian society continues to treat its bl. Population as if the racial hierarchy based on slavery still exists.
The latest example we have of this mentality that continues to posit black Brazilians as slaves happened in a recent modeling even that took place in the Taguatinga shopping mall in the nation’s Federal District. Once again, a user used the WhatsApp phone app to make disparaging remarks about a group of black people. This time, a group of black women compared to slaves in messages shared between three men on the popular phone app.
The case is similar to another incident from March of this year in which a man took a photo of a black student on his college campus and wrote the following comment on his WhatsApp profile: ““I found this slave in the smoking area! Whoever the owner is let me know!”: The student was suspended for a racist comment. The photos and comments were then published on the internet. It is also reminiscent of another incident back in May of 2015 in which a woman posted a photo of herself on her social network profile and read a comment that read “Quanto está esta escrava?” (How much is this slave?). There have been numerous such incidents that have made headlines in recent years. Just imagine how often this happens but never makes the headlines.
In the modeling event, 180 women, aged 16-25, competed in the first selective process of the NGO Top CUFA, a contest destined to women that live in the peripheries of major cities, which a special emphasis on blackness.
The WhatsApp conversation went something like this:
Alex: They’re having a black parade here at JK. A horrible thing
Other person: Alex, stop saying ….
Alex: But it’s really horrible.
Muniz: Alex took a picture of the runway
And in the photo included in the conversation is posted a famous photo of Brazil’s slavery era depicting a group of enslaved black women holding baskets on their heads.
In another comment, one of the guys in the group wrote: “Now the guy is obligated to think black women are pretty?”
The case is just the example of how many Brazilians continue to think of Brazil’s 350 year history of slavery whenever the topic is black people. In a similar instance in which the WhatsApp phone app was used to divulge racist content, back in March, a college student made headlines when he comment on a photo of a black student on campus. The caption read: “I found this slave in the smoking area! Whoever the owner is let me know!”: The student was later suspended for the racist comment on the photo.
As the act of racism is a crime in Brazil, the incident is being investigated by Civil Police. The suspects have yet to be identified.
“It seems that this was a school WhatsApp group,” head of police Erica Macedo. “If it is, we will refer the case to the Child and Adolescent Police Station.”
Bruno Kesseler, the contest organizer and president of CUFA in the Federal District, denounced the offensive comments and said that the schedule of events will continue as a show of resistance. “I think the contest gains more force, right? We have to show that the women of the periphery have force,” said Kesseler.
Semifinalist Yanca Assem Haidar agrees. “It’s dreams coming true. Even those who didn’t go to the second round didn’t lose, because it is an opportunity to parade on stage, to have people there to be able to evaluate you.”
As is standard procedure in such cases, the incident was registered at the Special Precinct for Repression of Crimes of Racial Discrimination on Monday (15th) by Kesseler. In this case, the incident will be interpreted as racism rather than injuria racial, meaning racial injury/slur, which carries a stiffer penalty. Erica Macedo, the police chief explains the rationale for the decision.
“They didn’t affect a specific pessoa negra (black person), but they used elements of color to offend all as a collective, black women in general.”
Rapper Thábata Lorena was a judge and is also a partner of Top Cufa. In her view, the controversy “seems to be a way of denying the acceptance of black beauty” and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“Everything that is related to success is a disputed field for the black population. What you have to do is stop laughing, stop naturalizing, and stop thinking that a contest with black women is exotic. They are the majority of the population.”
Although Top CUFA does seek to represent the beauty of black women, it doesn’t represent exclusively black women, also featuring other types of women that one would find in the peripheries of any city, including white, blond girls and girls with kinky/curly and straight hair.
Rebeca Soares won the Top CUFA DF 2017 event in the category of street style and was also disappointed with the controversial comments in relation to the event.
“It’s sad to see this kind of repercussion in a shopping mall in Taguatinga that was mainly made to serve the public of Ceilândia, which is the largest periphery of the Federal District,” said Thábata said. “There, you see an audience that is compatible with what was being represented on the stage by those women. The strategy is to have an afrocentrado (African centered) thought and, little by little, to undo these nodes of ignorance.”