“May I speak to the lady of the house?” Video satirizes Brazil’s belief that a black woman in a middle-class home must be a maid or cleaning lady
By Marques Travae
As many of us no doubt know, sometimes it’s necessary to smile or laugh in order not to cry or to conceal your anger or outrage. The video featured in today’s post illustrates this quite well, but in order to understand what’s happening here, a little background is necessary.
The video called “A Dona da Casa” was produced by a group from Salvador, Bahia, known as Ouriçado Produções and the clip pokes fun at an all too common situation that, in reality, isn’t really funny, but it IS a reality that many black Brazilian women are all too familiar with and once again demonstrates how Brazilian society is clearly divided in the minds of its people into those who are perceived to be “the haves”, usually white, and those perceived to be “the have nots”, usually non-white.
The video speaks to a few other issues that must be pointed out. 1) The rise of what has been called a “new black middle class“, black consumers that in the past decade and a half have been making their presence felt in many places that black people aren’t expected to be seen. And 2) the video’s producers are from Salvador, Bahia, in Brazil’s northeast; a city in which, even having a black majority, it is expected that white people exclusively make up the middle classes while blacks are still expected to serve them.
The name of the video, “A Dona da Casa”, means ‘The Lady of the House” or “Owner of the House”, and when one sees a nice, middle-class or luxurious home, it is often automatically assumed that the owner or resident must be white and that if a black woman opens the door she MUST be the family maid. As such, situations often become quite awkward, embarrassing or infuriating when, say, a salesperson when greeted by a black woman a the door continuously insists on seeing “a dona da casa” because Brazil as a whole believes that ALL black women must be servants of white families if they answer the door in a middle-class neighborhood.
We’ve seen or read a number of examples or variants of these sorts of situations. Journalist Cecília Oliveira recalled such a situation here. Singer Michele Mara described it as one of the things that black women go through all the time. Another black woman details always having to identify herself in her own apartment building because people think she “could only enter that kind of building where I live as an employee”. Another journalist, Isabella Barboza, was actually impeded from entering the apartment building where she lived when the behavior of two white men clearly expressed the idea that this neguinha (little black girl) couldn’t possibly live there.
These incidents, assumptions and reactions are so common throughout Brazil that any black woman watching the video will immediately understand its meaning. But just to sum up the video frame by frame, a young white woman rings the doorbell of a house and, after the door is opened by a black woman with braids, she identifies herself as a saleswoman of Maria Kátia products. She then requests to see the “lady of the house”. The black woman then allows her to enter the house.
Once in the house, the black woman re-affirms that the saleswoman wants to see the lasy of the house and goes to call her. Clearly annoyed, she then calls upstairs to “Juliana” and says that a saleswoman from “Maria Keila”, wanted to see her. Note that she purposely said the name of the company wrong. The scene then shows another woman coming down the stairs. Arriving downstairs, another black woman, with an afro, greets the saleswoman.
Seeing another black woman, the saleswoman says that there must have been some mistake as she was looking to speak with the lady of the house. The second black woman then calls to another person, “Thayná”. She then informs the person that a businesswoman, “Mariana Keisia”, wants to speak to her.
A few seconds later, a door inside the house opens and another woman, wearing a red outfit and also black, comes out and announces that she loves “Maria Karen” products. Clearly annoyed, the saleswoman makes a correction of the company’s name that had been misspoken three times, again asks to see the lady of the house and on top on that, asks for some water. After all, the woman in red must surely be the maid.
The woman in red says the “Dona DONA da casa” as if to say “Oh, you wanna see the owner lady/real lady of the house.” She then calls out to someone named “Fátima”, who turns out to be the first woman who answered the door. “May I help you?”
Realizing that the lady/owner of the house was in fact the first woman that answered the door, the saleswoman reacts in a manner that anyone would after realizing she had put her foot in her mouth: She faints.
As I wrote above, it’s funny, but as these scenarios play out across the country every single day, it’s actually not funny. See the full video below or here. Ye another great example of how Afro-Brazilians are no longer waiting on a mainstream media that continues to ignore their existence, their perspectives and stories that portray Brazil in another way.