For the second time in two weeks, we have a situation in Rio de Janeiro where a white relative witnessed racism against a black child when a business didn’t recognize their relationship and assumed the child was “out of place”. Story and comments below.
Elderly woman accuses pharmacy employee of racism against child in Rio
Racial crime occurred at the Pacheco drugstore on the Avenidas das Americas. Less than one month ago, a couple accused a car dealership of the same crime.
An 11-year old boy was the victim of racial prejudice in a pharmacy in the Recreio dos Bandeirantes region of West Zone Rio de Janeiro. Retiree Carmen Maria dos Santos accused a Drogaria Pacheco employee on Avenida das Americas of approaching and asking if her grandson was bothering customers, as CBN Radio reported on Tuesday (5). The incident occurred less than a month after a case of racism at a BMW dealership in Barra da Tijuca, also in the West Zone of Rio.
According to the retiree, while she paid for purchases, an employee of the establishment came over and put his hands on the boy’s shoulders and asked the cashier twice if the boy was bothering him, unaware that the child was with his grandmother.
Carmen Maria dos Santos accused the officer of racism and received support from other customers that were in the drug store. She said the child was shaken and began to cry.
“He (the officer) put his hand on his (the child’s) shoulder and asked if he was bothering (someone). I said: ‘I do not believe you’re saying this to him. If he were white with blue eyes you wouldn’t be saying this. Now, because he’s black you’re saying this? My grandson turned to me said: Grandma, be quiet (sic), let it go, that’s why I don’t like being preto (black),” said Carmen to CBN radio.
The family will file a complaint against the officer on Wednesday (6). In a statement, the drug store said that it is in the process of determining the facts and taking the necessary measures.
See the note below in full:
“With respect to the alleged case of racism occurring in one of its units the company makes it clear that it is already in the process of determining the fact and taking the necessary measures. The company reinforces that has as one of its values ethics in its relationships, with commercial responsibility and administration. The commitment to serving its customers is well validated with training and constantly monitoring all network service teams to provide the best service.”
In a statement, the Secretaria de Estado de Assistência Social e Direitos Humanos (Secretary of State Department of Social Welfare and Human Rights), and Superintendência de Igualdade Racial (Superintendency of Racial Equality) said it repudiates any kind of discrimination and said that negrosand pardos (blacks and browns) are special victims of this type of crime, as shown in the Relatório de Desigualdades Raciais no Brasil 2009-2010 (Report of Racial Inequality in Brazil 2009-2010) of the Laboratório de Análises Econômicas, Históricas, Sociais e Estatísticas das Relações Raciais – LAESER (or Laboratory of Economic, Historical, and Social Analysis and Statistics of Race Relations).
Racism in dealership
A trip to the Autokraft BMW dealership in Barra da Tijuca, in the West Zone of Rio de Janeiro, on the afternoon of January 12th, the couple Ronald Munk and Priscilla Celeste left outraged. Parents of five children, they went to the store accompanied by their youngest of 7 years, who is black and adopted, in search of a new car for family. While chatting with the sales manager about the cars, they say they were surprised by a prejudiced attitude of the employee when the child approached the three. The BMW Group sent a note to the G1 that apologized to the couple (story here).
So once again we have another situation of a person of visible African descent, and again, a child, being discriminated against due to the idea of his being “out of place”. And once again it happens in the view of a white caregiver. And once again in the West Zone of Rio de Janeiro not that it matters as there are reports of everyday racism that happen throughout the country. As we’ve seen numerous times on this blog, if Afro-Brazilians aren’t being called monkey somewhere, or being killed in alarming numbers by police, death squads or everyday murders, they are victims of the ideology that says blacks are poor and/or beggars that don’t belong in areas/positions that are assumed to be the domain of whites, even if they have education or credentials.
What is particularly revealing about the case above is that the child, unlike the other child from a few weeks back who didn’t understand the situation, immediately recognized that he was being discriminated against because he was black. His comments are revealing for a few reasons. One, it speaks to how virulent racism is in Brazil that even a child already knows what it means to be black. Two, in telling his grandmother to “let it go”, it seems that he had already accepted that this type of everyday racism is a consequence of being black and that it’s not even worth the energy in fighting it. And three, his saying, “that’s why I don’t like being preto (black)”. In the comments of an 11-year old boy one can detect how difficult it is to be black in Brazil. His comments could perhaps be indicative of another topic all together: the ideology of embranquecimento or whitening. This is an ideology that has been in play since the era of slavery in Brazil and particularly immediately before the end and after the abolition of slavery in order to whiten the population (see more here).
The point here is that many black families in Brazil pass on the ideology of “limpando o sangue (cleaning the blood)” or “melhorar a raça (improve the race)” by marrying a lighter or whiter skinned person and producing progressively lighter/whiter children. Often times, black mothers and fathers tell their children this is necessary so that their children’s children don’t suffer the consequences of being black in Brazil.This has been documented in countless studies. For instance, Petrônio José Domingues (1) cites from the book, Memória da Escravidão em Famílias Negras no Estado de São Paulo (Memory of Slavery in Black Families in the State of São Paulo), an interview with Geraldinha Maria Patrício da Luz in which the respondant said:
“[…] meu pai achava que as filhas tinham que casar com branco (my father thought that his daughters had to marry white men)” and her father telling her “Você não vai casar com esse negrinho..(you won’t marry this little black guy).” (1)
From the same source, he cites the comments of a Maria Cristina that said:
“um preto que tá numa situação financeira boa, ele não vai procurar uma preta, pra melhorar a raça (a black man that is in a good financial situation, he won’t seek a black woman, to improve the race)…”ele vai procurar uma branca, porque ele quer melhorar a cor dos filhos (he will seek a white woman, because he wants to improve the color of his children).” (1)
Domingues leaves it clear as to why the passing of this ideology is so strong within black families:
“Future generations of blacks, according to relatives, would have to distance themselves from their racial origin. The escape indicated by black families, generally, was well intended: they imagined that the children and grandchildren of marriages with a lighter person would lead to a life with less pain, suffering and more chance of succeeding in life.” (1)
This is something to keep in mind for those who insist that interracial marriages in Brazil are “proof” that racism/racial relations are less of a problem in Brazil than in other countries. Put in another way, the high rates of interracial marriage perhaps hint at another issue that has nothing to do with only love that one would assume brings these couples together. To the contrary, as Domingues explained, “the racial frustrations generated by the ideologia of branqueamento/whitening caused the feeling of inferiority of the negro” (1), which, as the previous comments suggest, often leads blacks to procure relationships with persons of lighter skin color.
Referring back to the original story of this post, it’s amazing how a simple comment by a black child can explain so much. Such is the experience of being black in Brazil. I think the great singer/songwriter Dorival Caymmi put it best when he wrote, “Vida de negro é difícil (the life of the negro is difficult).”
1. Domingues, Petrônio José. Negros de almas brancas? A ideologia do branqueamento no interior da comunidade negra em São Paulo, 1915-1930. Estud. afro-asiát. [online]. 2002, vol.24, n.3 [cited 2013-02-06], pp. 563-600.