Note from BW of Brazil: When one really analyzes and gets to the root of Brazilian society, the evidence is abundant that people very much feel that each segment of society deserves and should remain in their “place”. Anthropologist Roberto DaMatta’s famous essay “Sabe com quem está falando?” (do you know who you’re talking to?) perfecting captures this idea throughout Brazilian society of recognized place. This famous phrase exemplifies any sort of confrontation between persons of different social classes in which the person of superior class is quick
to put his social inferior in his/her place by asking, “do you know who you’re talking to?” And as race and gender are a part of this social hierarchy, it’s not difficult to understand why it is so common that persons who regard themselves as white so often insult or degrade persons who they deem non-white in everyday social interactions. This is what’s so funny about Brazil: everyone knows that such hierarchies exist but people still want to maintain the myth that “we are all equal”.
A few weeks ago, psychologist Lia Vainer Schucman touched upon this obvious hierarchy that she found in her research when she declared that “almost every white person is racist, even not wanting to be”. Schucman went on to detail numerous examples of how deeply-rooted this hierarchy functions within Brazilian society and the ironic ways that justify their attitudes while simultaneously denying the necessity of addressing and taken actions to overcome this hierarchy. Researcher Juliana Teixeira adds yet another piece to the puzzle in her findings about social networks that reveal how Brazilians feel toward their social inferiors and the fruits of their superiority in the social ladder. The social networks known as “A minha empregada” (my maid) made headlines a few years and they revealed the often times prejudicial ways that middle/upper class Brazilians think of “the help”. And although we would all like to believe that “we are all equal”, the photos used on the front pages of the social networks, the comments as well as reactions to newly won maids rights and reaction to the recent social ascension of the lower classes reveal a certain nostalgia for 350 plus years of human servitude in Brazil’s history!
Brazil still has “nostalgic feeling about slavery”, says researcher
By Mel Bleil Gallo
In study on prejudice against maids, Juliana Teixeira says that the ‘empowerment’ of domestics contributes to worsening of relations with employers
About to complete her doctorate in Administration from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), Juliana Teixeira did research on “the arts and everyday practices of living, resisting, taking care of and deeds of maids.” In her study, she analyzed the publications of a virtual community of the extinct social network Orkut, entitled “vítimas de empregada doméstica” (victims of maids). The conclusion is that even today there remains a feeling of “nostalgia of slavery relations” when it comes to employers and maids in Brazil.
According to the Administrator, the internet only facilitates the display of a “prejudice that is still veiled in our country”, rooted in gender, race and class inequality. Among the factors contributing to this exposition, Juliana cites the feeling of Internet users talking to friends and people of the same social circle, besides a humorous mask and a lack of impunity.
The researcher also explains that the rise of the poorer classes and a certain “empowerment” of domestic workers contribute to an increasing intensification in the relationship with their employees. “You hear all kinds of nonsense like ‘it’s no fun going to Miami anymore, because even my doorman is going’ or that ‘airport or bus’ thing. In fact, this empowerment brings a kind of threat to exclusive access to certain areas. People don’t want to lose their exclusive status,” she criticizes. “This needs to be faced by those who always denied prejudice and defended the myth of racial equality, because it’s a way to get them out of their comfort zone.”
Check out the interview
Why do these people feel so at ease in making these kinds of comments on the internet?
I think that the fact of being on the internet makes this prejudice much more explicit, but in truth they are actually manifestations that have already been in the society for a long time – against blacks, poor, women in general. What changes is that these people have found a new space to demonstrate it. There, while they make explicit a prejudice that is still veiled in our country, on the other hand they’re not putting a face to slap. It’s not as if it were a personal conversation where people can be easily identified.
Where can we observe this veiled prejudice?
In fact, we have a serious problem to deal with in the situation of prejudice in the country. For a long time, was sold this image that Brazil was a racial democracy. It was the myth of racial democracy. Even UNESCO came do research in the country, to try to learn from experience and take it to other countries. But, when they came, this fell to the ground. It was observed how we have a very unevenly structured society. When we pick up the race issue, we still have a “gap” and a very large distance in relation to social position occupied by blacks and whites. Imagine a few years ago, in which it was even worse.
Do you think social networks people feel more comfortable because it is as if they were talking to a group of friends?
A question that has happened a lot is the strengthening of the idea of a collective sense, of belonging to a group “that thinks like me.” When I analyzed Orkut (1), it was a community created specifically for this function. It was bosses talking about their employees. There, they felt super comfortable in making explicit prejudice with respect to their employees. On this page “A minha empregada” (my maid) it’s funny because it brings together random publications that used the words “minha empregada” and we realize how people are feeling free to say this. So I’m going to hit this key to be “people who think like me.” There on Twitter you are among friends, family, usually people of the same social group with which you know you will not reject to what you are talking about. While these networks can have a major impact, at first it’s as if they posting things among friends, in a restricted environment.
When these comments end up having more impact, many people try to justify saying it was “just a joke”.
It’s that it has other roots for us to try to understand why these people feel at ease. Most of the time, they play with prejudices which are well rooted and that will very easily go to the sphere of humor. If you notice these posts, they are almost always directed to the question of humor, which is a discursive tool historically used to awaken prejudice. When I put it on the grounds of humor it’s as if I opened possibilities to say what I want and leave from the barrier of politically correct. I’m going to another dimension, I justify it saying that’s not what I really think, I was just kidding.
In your research, you studied precisely prejudice against domestic workers. What explains these relationships?
I think it has three important dimensions for us to think about. First, the issue of gender. It is an activity marked by historical division of male and female roles, with a woman’s subordination in relation to man and a naturalization of allocation of household chores to women. So, we see that over 90% of maids are women. With this naturalization, their work is undervalued because it’s as if they were simply doing what their role is.
In the second place, it has an important view of class and a prejudice of the rich towards the poor. These posts usually have a stereotypical view of the poor, closely linked to the issue of ignorance, of not knowing how to write, speak. There is always a mockery of the lack of education, in addition to the dangerous stereotypes that relate these poor, with fewer resources, to someone who would be more likely to steal, as criminal people. Finally, it has the issue of race and the naturalization of the role of servitude of domestic work. Although we are the years from of the abolition of slavery, this view that the domestic is someone who will serve me, in a context where the majority of domestics are black, comes from this era.
Has the conquest of more labor rights and this change in the relationship between domestics and employers contributed to an exacerbation?
Today, the maids ended up getting a little more autonomy, in the sense that there is an increasing level of education, a decrease in the number of women who want to pursue domestic activities as a profession, especially among young people. It also has another dimension, which is the fact that there is a shortage of domestic workers who want to work as monthly workers, for a good part now wants to be a daily laborer. This is interpreted by prejudiced people as if these women don’t want to work, as if refusing that role of care and servitude that to them was natural. Then they will say, “Oh, now, they are tired of nine hours.” That course offered by the woman (Lisa Mackey), has everything to do with it. Today, they refuse certain activities, break with the ideal of servitude and provoked negative reactions. So it’s much easier to turn a mockery.
Contrary to what you studied in Orkut, the assembled comments on Twitter are made mostly by young people and adolescents. Does a lack of educational bring these people together?
There are several studies that talk a lot about this matter, about how this bias is perpetuated in families. Even if you don’t speak out openly against the maids, children observe how the relationships are because they live with this reality in the house – where this primary socialization occurs. This child grows seeing who is of the function of dish washing, preparing food, tidying up my room, my house, doing the things the way that I want. When I have a family that completely distances itself from the activities of the maid from the activities of the other residents of the house, the child sees it. It’s a complex relationship – there is always a myth of affection and inequality, proximity and distance.
There’s even a sociologist, Ronaldo Sales, calling this Brazilian relationship the “complexo de Anastácia” (Anastácia complex), referring to the Monteiro Lobato character. The maid is almost one of the family, as if she were family. However, the condition of “almost” is always present. This brings a very complex relationship in the sense that it is someone who is close to me, but is different. These young people who are writing this on the internet learned it indoors. But, in the school, where secondary socialization occurs, this also is not discussed.
Really because in schools these same people generally perform the functions of cleansing, doormen and so-called general services, right?
Exactly. In schools we also identify the poor black women with these functions. We naturalize, there is no question. Why do I go into places and black women are involved in precarious activities? We don’t stop to think about it in elementary school or in higher education. There is always a great difficulty of putting this into discussion.
Let me give an example. I am of a professor of an Administration course at the Federal University of São João Del Rey (in Minas Gerais) and I created a course called “Gênero, raça e trabalho” (gender, race and work). This caused a great alienation and resistance from students, because we’re not used to talking about it. And, as it is constantly perpetuated, I’ll find it a little funny to speak ill of my servant, because this is, implicitly, a sign of status among friends. Saying ‘I have a maid’ in a context in which it’s becoming increasingly difficult to have a maid because now we have to pay labor rights.
This prejudice against the maids would be a way of demonstrating this status, then?
Perhaps there is an intensification, really, of this prejudice, much due to us being in this political context in which there was a certain empowerment of this class. Unfortunately, I see that the trend is the intensification of these manifestations of prejudice. Even in a country which is co-existing with racial quotas, we see that people are not used to discussing race. We observed intensification in the discourse that the poor are lazy, they aren’t trying hard and taking advantage of programs like Bolsa Familia; this thing of meritocracy.
There is a context which itself increases the expression of these prejudices. There in Orkut, when it was in the (President) Lula (da Silva) government, they spoke openly about how hard it was to find a maid because now they didn’t want to know work anymore, because of Bolsa Familia. You hear all kinds of nonsense like ‘it’s no fun going to Miami anymore, because even my doorman is going’ or that ‘airport or bus?’ thing’. In fact, this empowerment brings a kind of threat to the exclusivity of access to certain areas. People don’t want to lose their exclusive status. This needs to be faced by those who have always denied the prejudice and defended the myth of racial equality, because it is a way to get them out of their comfort zone. It’s very easy to keep a maid, often times informally, with the myth of affection.
Pedagogically speaking, how do you think this prejudice should be fought? Is it interesting to think about judicial punishments?
One thing that needs to be discussed is the limit of freedom of expression. In the educational level, even, what is this freedom and what is disrespect for others’ rights, especially when you commit criminal acts of racial insults, for example. Another question is on what is this politically correct? These groups will almost always speak ill of the politically correct, call it “mimimi” (whining) and make a kind of mockery, as if you could no longer say what you really think; only that the politically correct cannot be mistaken for a restriction of what you can say, it should be seen as a simple attention to what cannot be perpetuated. In the educational sphere, it is still rarely discussed. Schools put this on the agenda near the 20th of November, which is the day of racial consciousness.
I’ve seen black teacher reports of basic education that there is a view that this issue has to be put on the agenda by black teachers – but no, it has to be thought of as a cause of all. And have a sphere that needs to be regulated yes, which is the question of legal punishment. Are we talking about arrests? Not necessarily. There are several other possible socio-educational measures, but impunity also generates this comfort for me to make explicit my prejudice. And today, there is a great impunity.
Source: Notícias do Último Segundo
1. Orkut was a social network created by Google that became very popular among Brazilians from 2004 when it debuted until September of 2014 when it was deactivated. Source
2. Although Paraíba is one state in the Brazilian northeast, the term is often used in the southeast in a way to referer to the Northeast in general. It usually occurs when the person does not know the origin of the individual, that is, if one is in doubt about another person, particularly an immigrant from the northeast, he is labeled “paraíba”. It is often a pejorative designation of people from the Northeast and migrants (migrants), regardless of the state. The term is used primarily in reference to manual laborers, people from lower classes and little education of Northeastern origin. It is sometimes used in a non-pejorative way.
This is not all bad in a sense. Before social media and blogs, we would know about this sort of thinking but never having documented. I can guarantee that every person that commented, if ask in real life, would reply they are not racists. If the racial movement is to go anywhere it needs to getter intelligence. That is one way to do it, since on the internet people are really themselves by using the invisible cloak.
Thank you for another fascnitating and timely article! I have been observing and trying to understand the relationship between the “rich white” person and his/her dark domestica since I got here. It is, indeed, quite a complex relationship. Some of this “longing for the old days” is due to the heirarchal racism that exists here. But, as I have observed, much of it is due to the bad / non-existant emotional relationships “rich white” Brazilians have with their own parents. Much of the warm or loving feelings, childhood rites of passage, etc. are experienced via the maid.
As well, here in the northeast, I have seen poorer women and men almost BEGGING to be taken in by an upper-class family that will take care of them – possible through many generations! This was a dynamic that I was not expecting, and which I have not seen written about. While the domesticas are not at the same level of the families they serve, there are often surprising benefits like:
1. All expense paid travel to other countries (though they have to look after children, etc.)
2. Living rent-free on a family “sitio”, in exchange for looking after it. And if the family throws a party, they will often be able to keep the food that they helped prepare. If there is a farm or fruit trees, they can eat freely from them (and sometimes, even sell the products for their own gain!)
3. If it is a maid that has been with family for many years, she might receive a
house, paid for by her rich employer! I have seen this scenario several times
with my uber-rich clients.
4. Have the education of the maid’s children paid for by the rich employer throughout childhood and university.
5. Receive job opportunities for other disenfranchised family and friends.
In return, the maid must be, seemingly, at the beck and call of the employer all the time (at least, that is how it appears to me).
I think the worst case scenarios happen with maids of the “nuveau riche” here (or what Americans would classify as merely “upper middle class”). These are the ones who have had money for maybe only 1 or 2 generations, and seem hell- bent on making their status known and looking for opportunities to oppress.
And underneath all of this crappy behavior, I can detect a fear/sadness, because these upper middle class ‘rich” people are also aware that there are places they cannot go in this society, though they may want to. The uber-rich (those who would laugh at class designations like A-B-C-D-E, because their money is so old and present in their lives) do not really mingle that much with the upper middle class here! At least they don’t where I live!! And they are some of the most mentally/psychologically/emotionally screwed up people I have ever MET! I guess I am only shocked because I had never really mingled with “old money” people till I arrived in Brazil. But I have heard stories about these suffering rich people…
Where I am, most of them are born into a family fortune, and are expected to devote their lives to maintaining that fortune – regardless of their individual interests. And many times, because they are born to rich, emotionally stunted parents, whose marriages are often arranged (LAWD the number of gay men forced to carry on the appearence of a straight life!!!…), the only place they can experience the feelings of love or deep companionship is with the maid!
The rabbit hole on this issue is very deep and complex, and I am glad to see this article tending to some of the variables surrounding the Brazilian maid.
@Bamabrasileira: I always appreciate your contributions to these dialogues! Great observations and contributions. I believe that experiences between Brazil, the US and other nations where there are sizable African descendant populations show us that experiences DO have differences but also have many similarities. It is very intriguing to note how Brazil’s white upper classes see themselves. It’s almost as if they’re on a mission to prove that they are as white as any other white population in the world but they know on the world scale, white Brazilians aren’t truly accepted as white. For me, it would be very interesting to focus more studies on this idea of whiteness in Brazil. There are a few studies on this but so much more needs to be discovered.
Also intriguing is this “downlow” lifestyle that you speak of. It’s been very much explored in the US. The black American entertainment industry is FULL of “downlow” black men who would never dare expose themselves for fear of loss of fame. Please check out Terrence Dean’s book “Hiding in Hip Hop”.
On the maid thing, this would also be an intriguing study if more maids were were willing to speak on this. The book “Racism in a Racial Democracy” touched a little on this but there’s so much more to learn!
” It’s almost as if they’re on a mission to prove that they are as white as any other white population in the world but they know on the world scale, white Brazilians aren’t truly accepted as white”
You are DEFINITELY hitting the nail on the head here! And this phenomenon – again – seems to only happen with those who are considered “white” here. As I have stated before, they really seem to hate being Brazilian! The darker Brazilians that I have met do not express this hatred of self and country. Many of the Black Brazilians that I met in Ireland even found ways to capitalize on their culture by introducing the Irish to Capoeira, samba/dance, food, Brazilian – style parties, etc.! They were makin dem coins honey!! They also excelled at artistic expression there (plays, music, painting), as Ireland is a sort of cold, wet, colorless place in need of energy and “flava”.
“Also intriguing is this “downlow” lifestyle that you speak of. It’s been very much explored in the US. The black American entertainment industry is FULL of “downlow” black men who would never dare expose themselves for fear of loss of fame. Please check out Terrence Dean’s book “Hiding in Hip Hop”.”
I have been intrigued by this issue for QUITE some time, as I grew up in a liberal and gay-friendly household. As a result of growing up around gay men, my “gaydar” is quite perceptive. They have a very subtle, almost unperceivable “language” that they use with each other, that I have grown sensitive to spotting over the years. With the Black community in America, I feel irritated that we are in SUCH denial about the mere existence of Black gay people!! They make it sound as though the downlow lifestyle is unique to Black people, but it really isn’t! There have been whispers throughout the years that if you want to make it in hip hop, you must submit to a dude sexually. I don’t how much is true and how much is youtube conspiracy theory, though!
Where these wealthy people are concerned, it seems that there is a familial expectation that they will marry and have children. I was surprised at how limited the lives of the very rich can be. It seems that the majority of them have arranged marriages, sometimes the wives know the men are gay, but they have kids anyway…well, there are a LOT of different scenarios – all of them unattractive, in my opinion.
I would also be interested in hearing more about the subjective experience of the maids. For the ones who have these long, and “close” relationships with the families, I would like to know how they REALLY feel about those families. Now, it is rarer to see these full-time live-in maids up here where I live. I would also like to know more about the difference between how the “new money” folks treat their help vs the “old money” folks. I can detect a difference here but, I am aware that these may be uncommon experiences.
Thanks for the article!