Luislinda Valois became the first black woman to become a judge in Brazil in 1984. Born in the northeastern state of Bahia, a state with a 70% black majority, Valois was a 9-year old girl when her school teacher told her that she should stop studying in school so that she cook feijoada* in the homes of white people. In Bahia and Brazil in general, black women are stereotyped as domestic servants, cooks and Carnaval dancers. But instead of taking her teacher’s statement to heart, this statement fueled Luislinda’s determination. She earned her law degree at the age of 39 and for six years would live and work in Curitiba, Paraná, in the south of Brazil as municipal attorney, deputy chief and chief of the National Department of Roads and Railroads (DNER). Becoming the first black female judge in Brazil in 1984, she has won numerous awards and honors for her tireless dedication to the defense of black people and the oppressed.
Despite the gains of Afro-Brazilians in the past few decades, Valois laments the small numbers of black lawyers and doctors, and a lack of black ministers and ambassadors in Brazil. She believes that those who still don’t believe in the existence of racism need to be black for 24 hours, thus, as a Brazilian and a black woman, “one of the themes that enthuses (her) the most is to speak about blackness in order to open the mind of Brazilians.” In 2009, she released her first book, O negro no século XXI (The Black in the 21st Century) (detailing the current situation of black people in education, work, social justice, public policy and sports) and in 2010, she won the prestigious Claudia award** in the category of Public Policy.
*Feijoada is a national cuisine in Brazil made with black beans, beef and pork, usually served over white rice. The origins of feijoada are a source of controversy. While some say that the dish was a legacy of Brazil’s black slaves creating a meal based on the scraps that their slave masters disregarded. Others believe that the dish has Portuguese origins and still others believe it was inspired by the French cuisine known as cassoulet.
**The Claudia award was created by the women’s magazine Claudia to recognize the conquests of women that dream, achieve and transform the lives of Brazilian people. 15 finalists compete for awards in the five categories of science, business, social work, public policy and culture.