Note from BW of Brazil: The report below involves an accusation of racism against a hotel in Rio de Janeiro that happened last month (June 2) and was reported in the press 10 days later. It’s hard to say how this case will come out, but it’s important to note that hotels and apartment buildings are common locations of racial discrimination throughout Brazil. In fact, a well known case involving legendary African-American dancer Katherine Dunham in a São Paulo hotel in 1950 provoked the country’s first law against racism (1). This latest controversy was reported by the Afropress news agency that reports on incidents and developments involving the Afro-Brazilian community.
Psychologist Ana Paula Patrício was prevented from going up to the roof of the Pestana Rio Atlântica hotel, on Avenida Atlântica in Copacabana, Rio, by security in an attitude she described as “racist and discriminatory”. The psychologist, who lives in São Paulo usually goes to Rio to work, hang out or to visit friends and was accompanied by a friend, the Frenchman Paul Gayet. Both wanted to enjoy the view of the shoreline, and use the restaurant and bar, which is common among the frequenters of the area.
To prevent access, security, initially said the available hours began at 7 pm – a rule that would later be contradicted by management itself. The entrance to the psychologist was authorized only after intervention by her French friend.
The event took place on the first weekend of June (02) and Patrício decided to make it public because she assessed that her silence would eventually allow this kind of practice to continue to happen to black people wishing to attend the public space on the roof of the hotel.
“I work in the social area with at risk and vulnerable children and adolescents; I am a militant for the rights of children and adolescents and cannot stand that kind of situation to happen to anyone, whether for social status, skin tone, creed, religion or any other characteristic which triggers some sort of bias. Because there legislation for this,” she said.
Hotel denies racism
The hotel manager, Álvaro Aragão, denied that the restriction of the presence of a psychologist was motivated by racism, but acknowledged that the actions of security did not follow the standard of operation. According to her, Aragão argued that if the hotel were racist it would not hire black employees, and would not be present in African countries such as South Africa, Morocco and Mozambique. “The manager, however, acknowledged that the security should not have prevented access. The Pestana chain maintains 12 hotels in South America, 25 in Europe, 9 in Africa and 1 in North America.
The psychologist recorded the complaint at the Precinct of Racial Crimes in São Paulo, and announced that it will take the necessary steps to protect her rights under civil and criminal law.
Shame and embarrassment
According to her, the attitude of security – of whom she only remembers his first name, João – “was openly discriminatory.” We passed the reception and were greeted by the staff who were behind us and when we went into the elevator, the security guard came after us, shouting in the middle of the reception area, in a coarse tone, asking where we were going and saying that we could not (go),” she said.
Patrício said she felt embarrassment and humiliation because of the scene and approach of security that occurred in front of the hotel guests and employees, including those in the reception area.
“After my friend was very insistent I pointed out that all this was happening because I’m black. Besides being discriminated for the color of my skin, I was also being mistaken for a garota de programa (prostitute) (2). There was a desk clerk who looked at João and said “libera, libera (let them go, let them go)” which to me sounded like “let them go so that they stop causing a fuss”, she said.
According to psychologist, what would have been a nice afternoon turned out to be a shameful and embarrassing situation. “We are in the 21st century and we cannot allow or condone such situations,” she concluded.
At a meeting held on Monday (10) with Paul Gayet, the psychologist’s friend, the manager of the Hotel Pestana, Álvaro Aragão, tried to explain and denied that the attitude of security had been motivated by racism. In defense of the Hotel, he argued with the fact of the number of black employees and that the Pestana chain is present in African countries.
Aragão promised to gather the staff to deal with it, an attitude which the psychologist considers insufficient. “I want Hotel Pestana, to make amends with me for the shame and embarrassment I went through and take action training and capacitating their employees, especially security guards – so that it never happens to anyone again,” she said, adding that she will consult an attorney to take care of case.
1. In 1950, renowned African-American dancer Katherine Dunham, on tour with her company in Brazil, was refused admission to the Hotel Esplanada in Sao Paulo, where she held reservations. This was not unusual treatment for African Americans – or, for that matter, Afro-Brazilians – travelling in Brazil in the 1930s and 1940s. But Dunham’s international stature placed her in a category apart, and her vigorous denunciation of the incident provoked a national uproar and the passage by Congress the following year of Brazil’s first anti-discrimination statute, the Afonso Arinos Law.
In typical Brazilian fashion of denying the existence of racism, the Dunham incident was blamed on the racist influence of US industrialism and commercialism in Brazil (not Brazil’s own racism). Consequently, the Lei Afonso Arinos did not acknowledge native Brazilian racism nor seek to address it, despite the fact that it was Afro-Brazilian social justice activists who caused the Dunham incident and others to be called to the attention of public and media outlets. Indeed, the law that was passed was a diluted version of a 1946 anti-discrimination bill that Afro-Brazilian activists themselves had tried to introduce.
Owing to loopholes in its enforcement provisions, the impact of the anti-discrimination law was quite modest, both at the time and afterwards. In the the 46-year period following the statute’s enactment in 1951, only 9 defendants were convicted under the statute.
2. Here, Patrício makes an accusation that is common amongst professional black Brazilian women who are often mistaken or discriminated against because they are thought to be maids, prostitutes or one of the thousands of scantily-clad, Afro-Brazilian dancers on display during Brazil’s yearly Carnaval. See related stories here, here and here.
Sources of note 1: Andrews, George Reid. “Brazilian Racial Democracy, 1900-90: An American Counterpoint”. Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Jul., 1996), pp. 483-507. Dávila, Jerry. Hotel Tropico: Brazil and the Challenge of African Decolonization, 1950–1980. Duke University Press Books, 2010. Hernández, Tanya Katerí. Racial Subordination in Latin America: The Role of the State, Customary Law, and the New Civil Rights Response. Cambridge University Press, 2012