“Buy a leather whip so I can whip her”: Principal of private school in northeast Brazil humiliates black teacher in front of her class with reference to slavery
By Marques Travae
It’s been nearly five years since I posted an article that suggested that Brazilians still have a sort of nostalgia for its three and half centuries of a slave regime in which Africans and their descendants were treated as property. I know a lot people would read such an article and probably brush it aside as if it were simply exaggeration. But then how would you explain the numerous other references to slavery that have made headlines before and since then?
There was situation back in September in which a white man said to a black colleague that he wish slavery would come back so he could have sex with her. In August of 2018, I reported on an infamous motel in southern Brazil that modeled and named its suites after symbols of slavery, complete with chains, shackles and cages. In 2016, we saw a white woman who was a descendant of plantation owners re-create a slave atmosphere on her farm complete with black maids for the purpose of attracting tourists. In August, another man said that a black woman deserved to get 50 lashes. I could go on and on, but this last one is actually the perfect intro for today’s piece as it is somewhat similar to a recent event that took place in the state of Alagoas.
On the morning of Wednesday (February 5) a teacher at Colégio Agnes, a private school in Maceió (the capital city of Alagoas), claims to have suffered racism during a regular school day. The teacher Taynara Cristina Silva, a black woman, reported that, on the her class was interrupted by the principal and owner of the institution, who accused her of being the culprit for her son having crashed his car.
The young man works in the school’s administration and was conversing via a messaging app with the teacher, when the accident happened. According to Taynara’s report, the students at the school came to her defense, questioning the reason that the principal’s son was even using his cell phone while he was driving a car, a very dangerous practice.
The principal of the school replied: “’Taynara is very bold. When you go to Ouro Branco [a city in the interior of the state of Alagoas], that has the best leather, buy a good whip so I can whip her so that she remembers the time she plans to return – and so that she talks a lot about it”.
With students who witnessed the situation and teacher herself accusing her of racism, the principal called herself trying to downplay the situation. “I said it was a test, that it was a joke ‘to see if you [the students] are absorbing the class’”, said the teacher in response to the accusations. “Except that it doesn’t even exist as a joke. When she left the room, some black students cried over the act (principal’s statement). I also cried horribly,” added Taynara.
Also according to the teacher, the principal approached her to apologize for the situation, but again, ended up putting her foot in her mouth without even realizing it: “She said that her maid is like family and that it was a joke. And she further said he could have chosen a white teacher, but she chose me ‘even though I’m black’. And I replied that I am not competent despite being black: I am competent and black,” she said.
If I had five dollars for the number of times I’ve read stories of white Brazilians defining their black maids as “(almost) one of the family”, I’d probably be able to retire…OK, I’m exagerrating, but it’s most definitely not an overstatement to say it’s a very common phrase. This, “she’s (like) one of the family” but not really was one of the main reasons that the maid’s law of 2013 was so important. In essence, Brazilian families claimed that their maids were like a part of the family while simultaneously treating them as if the slavery era still existed.
The principal’s statements are just symptomatic of Brazil’s social disease in which people harbor racist sentiments that are a direct throwback to slavery but refuse or can’t recognize this connection. When the teacher says she hired Taynara ”even though she was black” because she, in fact, wanted to hire a white teacher, she in essence is just co-signing on a racial hierarchy that continues to dominate Brazilian society over 131 years after the official slave regime ended. Slavery was abolished in 1888, but the sentiments of white superiority are seen everyday in race relations between black and white Brazilians. The signs are abundantly apparent.
Silva registered a police report about what happened. The Alagoas Teachers Union also filed a complaint defining what happened as injúria racial (racial injury/slur). Taynara also affirmed that she doesn’t have a formal work contract and that she intends to sue the Labor Court to denounce moral harassment. Not having a work contract is pretty much tantamount to working under the table and not being able to claim any of the rights that official employees have.
The OAB (Brazilian Bar Association) released a statement in which it denounced the event as racial injury. “It is unacceptable that discriminatory and racist acts continue to be practiced. Prejudice and segregation can no longer be tolerated”, read an excerpt from the note.
As a show of support for Taynara, students and alumni of the school organized a protest on the school’s grounds, confirming the outrageous statements made by the school’s principal’s. The school itself hasn’t spoken publicly on the case, but one of its directors, Matheus Oliveira, said that the institution…OK…all together now… rejects “any kind of racial prejudice, class and sexual orientation” and promised to investigate the case. You would think someone would come up with another way to address racist incidents, because I could utter this tired statement in my sleep.
With information from Carta Capital