Note from BW of Brazil: As has been documented continuously on this blog, Brazilian society has a problem with natural, afro-textured, black hair. In American comedian/actor Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary Good Hair, veteran comedian Paul Mooney stated: “If your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed, if your hair is nappy, they’re not happy.” Needless to say, he could have easily applied that statement to Brazilian society as well. As a plethora of jokes and cruel comments prove, Brazil is the “racial democracy” that dislikes African features. The difference between today and Brazil of 20-30 years ago is that nowadays more black people are likely to stand up and denounce racism, racist comments and actions. The incident below actually took place nearly a month ago with an in store meeting taking place on March 8th, coincidentally, International Women’s Day. Add this incident to the thousands of comments and incidents that happen everyday throughout the country.
Here is how Globo news reported the incident.
On Wednesday (February 26), a stroll through Plaza Mall, in Niterói, ended in a frustrating way for salesperson Thayná Trindade, 25. The young woman says that she passed in front of the Ponto Frio store, on the 1st floor of the shopping center, when one of the employees started making prejudicial comments about her hair.
According to Thayná, the man, who identified himself only as Tito, pointed to her and said “she had to be a sponsor of Assolan!”(1), referring to her black power (afro) hair style. He would have still made a gesture by pointing his finger on the backs of his hands, in reference to Thayná’s skin color.
After the comments, the young woman says that other employees laughed at the situation. She searched for store management, but without success. One witness went with her to the Delegacia de Atendimento à Mulher (Precinct for the Assistance to Women) police station of Niterói, where the case was registered as “injúria por preconceito (injury or slur due to prejudice).” The case was also forwarded to the Coordenadoria Especial de Políticas de Promoção da Igualdade Racial (CEPPIR or Special Coordinator for the Promotion of Racial Equality) of the city.
Asked what would have led the man to make such prejudice comments, Thayná had no doubt.
“Racism, what else could it be? Would I come out laughing at someone wearing long, straight hair, down to their back? No, right? There are still serious debates about racism in Brazil. People are used to closing their eyes to everything, this story of a ‘mixed race and happy people ‘ is a lie! Veiled racism is what happens here. It’s enough to compare public policies that take place in the United States and what is done here,” denounced the young woman.
Note from BW of Brazil: In an online interview with the Prioridades femininas blog, Thayná also revealed these details
How did you know he was about you? Was anyone else around?
Because everyone was looking at me and he said the offenses looking at me and some people looked in a mocking manner and others sympathized with me.
How did you feel at the time? What went through your head?
I was frustrated, embarrassed! But I was cool-blooded enough to go after him and ask for his identification. But he refused and I also couldn’t speak to the manager, who was unavailable to meet me.
Have you ever gone through a similar situation before?
Yes, but not as directly and that had left me disconcerted before.
Note from BW of Brazil: In the aftermath of the incident, this is how the Mama Press blog reported Thayná’s actions
Racism in Niterói Plaza Ponto Frio store: Women’s Day of a black woman that fighting for her rights
By Marcos Romão
Thayná Trindade, a young black woman of 25, mother of a baby a few months old, was racially discriminated against on February 26th by a salesperson at the Ponto Frio store at Shopping Plaza in Niterói (Rio de Janeiro state).
She sought the store manager and didn’t find him. She also didn’t find solidarity with other employees for her pain and suffering. A passer-by who had witnessed the racist situation, offered to help Thayná, a Rio resident who was passing visiting Niterói.
As she didn’t know the city well, the person who was now prepared to be a witness, walked her to the 76th precinct station and had to get back to work, leaving his personal information and address to register the occurrences.
At the police station they directed her to DEAM (Women’s police station), where she reported being very well attended, and as such began to tell what had happened, all her strength sapped and collapsed into tears remembering the humiliation that she went through and not having received any help from any store employee Ponto Frio, present at the time of the aggression. “Some even laughed,” she reported.
Even in the middle of Carnival, she sought friends and competent organs of the Movimento Negro (Black Movement) who were made available to help her. And she put her mouth on the whistle, because as each one would say, “they cannot get away with it. Every day it’s happening and people discriminated against prefer to let it go.”
The process is moving forward and the police summoned the management of Ponto Frio to present the name of the suspect for confrontation.
By monitoring the social networks, the communication sector of Ponto Frio of São Paulo learned about the case and contacted her, so that she could have a meeting that would happened, Saturday, March 8, International Women’s Day, when management of the region of Niterói and São Gonçalo would make known the steps that were being taken against the employee for whom Thayná Trindade seeks dismissal.
In this meeting with the regional manager, besides Thayná’s lawyer, Dr Bruno Alves, were representatives of young black activists from Rio and the staff from Ceppir- Niterói as well as townspeople who had demonstrated their solidarity against racism.
To the displeasure of the group, management was not prepared to receive Thayná and her supportive entourage, because they tended to them standing in the middle of the store due to lack of a private room. The manager had also not been informed by São Paulo that the presence of Thayná was to hear personally from a representative of the Ponto Frio branch, about the steps being taken by the company in relation to the case, as had been agreed to by telephone, with PR in São Paulo. Mistakenly the regional manager would ask her for a written account of what happened so that after being directed to the judicial sector, Ponto Frio could give a response.
After a short discussion, questions were answered and Thayná gave a deadline of Friday, March 14 for Ponto Frio to respond to her demands regardless of the judicial process, which in summary are:
- Internal fact-finding.
- Name and measures taken against the author of racism.
- Information on employee training and what measures that will be taken so that humiliating cases like what happened with her and do not recur beyond the fact.
- Special training for other employees who failed to help her, although they were witnesses of the racist aggression she suffered.
It was also agreed upon with the regional management a meeting to be held in another environment, which would be presented and discussed with Ceppir-Niterói, lawyers and activists against racism a plan so that the Plaza Ponto Frio store has more black employees, and that in all stores there be special training so that such chaos like this will not occur, and if they do occur, they have a plan for immediate assistance to the victim of racism.
In the middle of the meeting the Shopping Plaza Niterói administrator also attended, with whom the representatives of the Coordenação de Igualdade Racial (Coordination of Racial Equality) of Niterói , together with black activists of the city, took the opportunity to schedule a meeting to deal with cases of racism in the mall, which are not taken to police stations and to think together about how to encourage more blacks to work in the stores of Plaza-Niterói , besides preparing trainings for all employees of the mall to know how to treat customers with black skin.
There came to be a time of general relaxation, when those present noted the stir caused among the guards, with the presence of that compact group of black women, accompanied by a few black men, walking through the mall, because in case there were accused of doing a rolezinho (2) it would cost them R$10,000 (US$4,293) per head.
Source: Mama Press, Prioridades femininas. Photos also courtesy of Mama Press and Prioridades femininas
1. Assolan is a brand of steel wool scouring pad used for cleaning pots, pans and household items. Like Bombril, it is common in Brazil that persons make derogatory comments about natural black hair by making comparisons with one or the other brand. Throughout the blog, one will note that references to Assolan and Bombril are quite deeply rooted throughout the country. A while back, a fashion designer provoked outrage in Afro-Brazilian circles for paying “homage” to black people using models who wore these products on top of their heads representing afro textured hair.
2. This connection to a rolezinho is a reference to the controversial gatherings of young, primarily black teens who would get together in large quantities in various shopping malls. Authorities began to screen black teens and prevent access to ritzy shopping malls in what activists repudiated as clear racist actions and restriction of the freedom of coming and going and public get-togethers. It speaks to the fact that in even taking an official stance against racial discrimination, a group of blacks could be accused of participating in an act that would attract more racist retaliation.