Maria Augusta Arruda is a professor of pharmacology at the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (State University of Rio de Janeiro). In October of 2008, in the Golden Room of the luxurious Copacabana Palace, Arruda was presented with an award at the 10th annual L’Oréal-Unesco-ABC Prêmio Para Mulheres na Ciência (Program for Women in Science). With the slogan “The world needs science. Science needs women”, the international program For Women in Science was launched in 1998, as a result of the partnership between L’Oréal and Unesco. The program is considered the Nobel Peace Prize for women in science and in the past decade, 52 researchers from 26 countries have won this international award. Winners of the award are given a grant of $20,000 in which to invest in projects and their professional development. Since 2006, 19 Brazilian female scientists have been nominated for the award in the categories of Biology, Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry.
Arruda won the award for her work entitled NADPH oxidase activity in inflamatory response to vascular illnesses and cancer. The irony of Arruda’s being given the award at the Copacabana Palace is that only months previously she was denied entrance into the building because the luxury hotel’s personnel mistook her for a Samba school dancer. Like the American Hip Hop video vixen, the image of the Samba school Carnaval dancer is that of a physically attractive, scantily-clad woman (usually of African descent), that dances and gyrates to music, is always the center of attraction and often has an image of ill-repute.
This incident was yet another example of the image of the black woman in Brazil. This image relegates Brazilian born women of African descent to status of semi-nude dancer, cook, domestic servant or prostitute. In the view of the hotel’s personnel, if a black woman is inside of this 5-star hotel, she must fit into one of these categories.