Note from BW of Brazil: OK, so here we have another incident of a racial insult of a Brazilian woman. As reports of racism are a regular feature on this blog, this in itself is not surprising. But the internationalization of the incident, as other incidents over the years, is something worthy of looking into a little deeper because of its implications on global understandings of race vs. the way many Brazilians like to see the country. Before we get into that, let’s first just delve into what happened.
Science Without Borders student says she suffered racism and abuse in Italy
28-year old Baiana (woman from Bahia) participates in exchange program at Università degli Studi di Siena. She was compared to a monkey in a post by an Italian woman in a social network.
By Henrique Mendes
A student of the Universidade Federal do Recôncavo Baiano (UFRB or Federal University of Reconcavo Baiano) of the campus located in Santo Antônio de Jesus said he was the victim of a racial slur in Italy. The young woman filed a complaint in the Siena police station. Débora Reis da Cruz, 28, has been in the country since the August 24, 2013 with the “Ciência sem Fronteiras (Science Without Borders)” program, which offers scholarships to Brazilians. In an interview with the G1, she details that there was a photo published on Facebook that compared her to a monkey.
The complaint was registered at the police station on May 23. In the account given to the police, a student of Interdisciplinary Bachelors in Health (BI) explained that she is being persecuted by the author of the publication. According to her, the story began soon after her arrival in Siena, on August 24, 2013.
At the time, she says she met several people, among them a young man who was willing to show her around the city. The woman suspected of posting the photo, according to the Brazilian woman, is the ex-wife of the Italian man.
“I accepted the invitation and he took me to see a futebol game. He told me he was divorced, he lived alone and had a daughter with his ex-wife. One day she [ex-wife] saw a publication, added me on Facebook and started to humiliate me, saying offensive things about my skin color, hair, teeth and the way that I dressed,” she describes.
Student of Science Without Borders says she suffered racism and abuse and opens a complaint in Italy
The student states that besides being compared to the macaco (monkey), she was called a black chicken and a cockroach.
The reporting of racial slurs was issued by the student to UFRB. In the text, the student says that the fact has affected her development at the Università degli Studi di Siena (University of Siena), in which she is an exchange student. .
“Nevertheless, I’m not a monkey! Absolutely not! Not a monkey nor a black chicken, nor cockroach, nor any beast. And not because of the fact of being NEGRA. I’m human and want to be treated with respect, because underneath the skin color we contain the same DNA and it this makes me equal to everyone else. Still not satisfied, she keeps sending me messages and humiliating me through the social network with all the previously cited adjectives. The feeling I had was as if they had passed a tractor over my self-esteem,” she declared.
Still in the text, she requested help from UFRB so that the alleged aggressor is punished. “Honestly, I feel my hands are tied in regards to the fact, as I’m not getting support and therefore I come to ask this of my university, UFRB, because I would not want this unfortunate and shameful episode to go unpunished. We should take of the opportunity to preoccupy ourselves with the insidious, real racism that we experience daily in our country, especially against poor blacks, and that is not exposed properly in the media,” she says.
Débora da Cruz reports that the woman responsible for the offense is Italian but has already lived in Brazil. In Siena, she lives with four Brazilians. Sought by G1, the UFRB said, through a spokesperson, that it already has knowledge of the case and will contact the local consulate to assist the baiana.
Note from BW of Brazil: So, let’s take a look at a few things and analyze this incident from a more globalized perspective rather than simply an incident involving a Brazilian woman. Considering the commonly held Brazilian position on race, we would be led to believe that the woman involved, Débora da Cruz, wouldn’t even be considered negra, or black. BW of Brazil’s position has always been the idea that regardless of a person’s physically notable racial admixture, if the phenotype denotes African ancestry, whether they can be labeled “mulata”, “morena”, “parda”, “mestiça” or any other common term used in Brazil (and Latin America in general) to distance said person from the term negro/negra, that person can still be subject to racial discrimination or slurs, which as such marks this person as “other”, in this case, an afro-descendente, or black.
A number of posts about racist incidents on this blog show that a person does not have to have jet black skin, extremely tightly coiled hair or any other feature associated with a certain generalized image of African people to be subjected to racism or racial slurs/insults. The case above proves exactly this point. Now one might argue that this incident didn’t actually happen in Brazil, but rather in Europe, specifically Italy. But questions would have to be immediately considered before accepting this excuse as justification. First, does Brazil’s concept of race function in a vacuum completely separate from the rest of the world? And second, as mentioned previously, do we have similar incidents occurring in Brazil in which “mixed race” person is discriminated against in a way that denoted the person’s African ancestry?
In response to the first question, I would argue that Brazil’s anti-black bias and discrimination against it’s pardo/mulato population would show that it cannot be labeled as completely different from other racial classifications in the world, even if we accept that color/feature variances that distinguish certain phenotypes are popularly verbally expressed among the population. In response to the second, we have one recent case (among others) in which a lighter-skinned woman, with long, straight/straightened hair was called a “nega”, meaning negra, as a racial insult, which would show that regardless of the woman not being “pure” African, she was still classified as black.
Another detail that played out in this incident is that the aggressor, the Italian woman, chose to insult Débora with a slogan that made headlines a few weeks back meant to push back against a racist incident. The “we are all monkeys” slogan initiated by soccer star Neymar was rejected by militants of the Movimento Negro, even though it was embraced by countless every day Brazilians, white celebrities and even black celebrities such as Alexandre Pires and Erika Januza. This blog’s position was that promoting such a slogan does nothing to further the discussion about racism besides perhaps making a joke of it. It allowed white celebrities to join into an “anti-racist campaign” without having to actually do anything that would damage their own popularity. And ultimately, as also argued by this blog, it would not be white people who would feel the sting of being called a monkey.
Yet another detail in this incident worthy of analysis is the fact that it happened in Europe, where countless Afro-Brazilian soccer players have been the target of racist actions and gestures in soccer stadiums. Again, regardless of Débora’s so-called “mixed” appearance, she was insulted as a black woman in Italy. Interestingly, further exploring the international ramifications of the incident, many African-American women have recently commented on how they attract far more attention from white men in Italy than from white men in America, where they feel, for the most part, invisible. As one African-American woman put it: “I’d felt invisible for such a long time, and then when I came to Italy, Italian girls felt that I was competition…In America, a white girl doesn’t feel threatened at all by a black woman.” Other articles discussing Italian men’s perceptions of African-American women pondered if the the attraction was simply the “jezebel” stereotype that associates all black women with hyper-sexuality.
Applying the African-American woman’s opinion that her difference, i.e. status as “other”, made her a competitor for the affections (or sexual attraction) of white Italian men, it seems that the hidden subtleties of racism played itself out completely in the case of the Afro-Brazilian woman. As noted, the former wife of the Italian man saw fit to insult her would be competition by connecting her to the global image of the African (descendant) as being part of the animal kingdom. It is also fitting to remember the recent controversy surrounding Italy’s first black minister, Cécile Kyenge, a much darker woman, who has been referred to as both a prostitute and an orangutan. As we all know, Brazilians, Americans and Europeans all make it no secret that they continue to associate Africans and their descendants with the monkey family, thus, ultimately, the question would remain, what really makes Brazil any different in this respect?