Note from BW of Brazil: The piece below is a follow up to a story I posted a few days ago. In that story, we learned of the controversial statements made by a black hairstylist during an event in which he was styling a black model’s hair. In this day and age in which everyone has access to a video recorder via cell phone handy, the comments were recorded in a video and soon it was all over the internet.
There’s so many things that could be said about this case, much of which I’ve already said in the previous post, but there are still other angles I didn’t touch on in that article. Another side is the fact that, we often hear Brazilians dismiss ever-present racial inequalities in the country with the idea that slavery was something that ended so long ago, as if the fact that the era of human bondage, which represents about 75% of the time of the country’s entire existence has nothing to do with the positions of white, black and brown people as a whole today.
As we see time and time again, as in this case, slavery continues to have an indelible mark on the nation’s psyche. How could it not? The slavery era is most responsible for the wide variety of phenotypes that we see in Brazil today. As one report showed us, because of the show life expectancy of black men in Latin American and the proclivity of slave owners to rape their slaves, black women were 4-17 times more likely to reproduce than black men.
This whole controversy stems from the comments of a hair stylist saying that the texture of a black model’s hair was due to a slave master having sexual relations with his black female slave. My thing is, he shouldn’t have said such a thing publicly for all to hear in such a matter of act manner as it is such a sensitive topic. The other side is that I’ve heard black folks say these types of things and worse from time to time.
Some time in the early 2000s in Detroit, for example, I remember a particular day when a friend of mine and I were working out in a gym. As we were finishing up and preparing to leave, we heard a conversation between two black girls who were probably somewhere in their teens. The two young women were going back and forth about why they had certain physical features in terms of skin tone and hair texture. It was almost as if the two were bragging about the European ancestry they carried in their bloodlines, regardless of how it got there.
As most of us know, considering US race relations, there was a high probability that that European ancestry entered their bloodlines in a violent manner. The same applies and even more so in Brazil, which is the reason the hairdresser’s comments weren’t necessarily shocking, although they were very crude. For me, this situation provides another clear example of the psychological effects of centuries of slavery and racism, the lack of honesty and openness about the topic as well as an unwillingness to deal with it.
Model denounces racism and hairdresser explains: ‘I repeated what I’ve heard’
Wilson Eliodorio, the hairdresser of celebrities like Sheron Menezzes and Taís Araújo, was accused of racism by Mariana Vassequi
Courtesy of Universa and Yahoo
A model accused the hairdresser Wilson Eliodório of racism, who takes care of celebrities such as Taís Araújo, Sheron Menezes and Cris Vianna. Mariana Vassequi participated in the campaign for a cosmetics brand recorded at the professional’s salon in São Paulo. Eliodório apologized and said that being black doesn’t exempt him from structural racism.
According to Mariana, Eliodório, a specialist in kinky and curly hair, gave a lecture on “how to treat ethnic hair” when he began to say “several very offensive and racist phrases”.
In a video that circulated on the internet, reposted by the Rainha Matos profile, it is possible to hear Eliodório saying that the black model’s hair, was that of “the master’s child”.
“It was really sad! We heard everything, realized everything but at that moment for fear of being fired, for fear of ending the daily rate and not receiving it and also because it’s a work environment where the model is already seen as just the doll without a voice ( …) I remained silent. But when I got home I was falling apart and reflecting. Why did we remain silent? And why didn’t anyone say anything at the time? Not only us, but why in a hall with + 10 people, no one intervened?,” asked Vassequi, on Instagram.
See Varrequi’s post on the situation as well as Eliodório’s full apology in the original story here.
“What country is this where you hear someone say that ‘that hair or that person is a master’s, because the boss fucked a slave and generated this’. How can this be normal? Simply saying that is legitimizing the culture of rape!”, continued the model, in a long outburst where she still claimed to have experienced “hours of a horror show”.
Frozen at the time the scene went down, Mariana was static while trying to process what was happening during what should be a job to promote products of a cosmetics brand. In an exclusive interview with Marie Claire magazine, she says that she maintained her professional attitude and that it took her a long time to believe what was going on, due to the gravity of Wilson’s statements. “I was afraid, very afraid”, she reports.
“At first, I thought, ‘Am I really hearing this?’ You’re doing your job, you don’t expect to be verbally assaulted in this way. Also because it came from a person I didn’t think would say such a thing. Then there was a standstill, out of fear. If that person feels comfortable talking about it and nobody is saying anything, then it’s because everyone is very comfortable too,” she says.
Everything that happened there was emblematic, the touches on the hair, the comments talking about the enslavement of black people and even the sexual abuse of enslaved black women. Everything in the form of a “joke”. The weight hit Mariana with everything, who said that she is going after her rights to legally deal with the situation. She didn’t elaborate on the process, but said she would seek justice.
“Racism isn’t a mistake, it’s a crime. I would like all people who have been through this situation to be aware of their rights. A lot of struggle and a lot of sadness happened so that racism was considered a crime, so that the victims could be supported, and we must take this history into account,” she says.
The relationship between women and hair, especially black women, is a delicate matter. There were years of oppression, aesthetic straightening procedures and the struggle to accept natural hair. Mariana describes the relationship with the curls as that of conflict, understanding, awareness and acceptance. She cites the fact that black models are photographed, most of the time, with straight hair or bald.
For Mariana, the words of the hairdresser don’t only affect her, who created a loving relationship with kinks and curls, but all the black women who received the video – and who experience prejudice, but without the support of the media and famous personalities, as happened with the model.
“The humiliation of such a horrible scene is very painful. We have to see the cost of things. A model hopes that one day people will recognize her work for its potential, not for a scene of humiliation. However, the loving comments gave me a lot of strength. I’m not alone. If at that moment I thought I was at a disadvantage, today I feel in a completely different position,” she says.
She says she was very happy to see actresses like Taís Araújo taking a stand against the act of racism, which brings more strength to the cause. “There are low-income, low-income black women. They felt what I felt, they’ve also already accepted jobs that they didn’t like for the money. I felt I had the duty to speak for these women, who represent most of Brazil,” she explains.
Mariana started her modeling career just four years ago, in 2016. She aimed to pursue an academic career and graduated in social sciences. “I even saw fashion with eyes of futility, I had a lot of criticism against fashion. I was approached a lot on the street because of my height, but I always denied it. Until, on a beautiful day, I said yes. From there, my life changed. I discovered in fashion a form of empowerment. Photography has this thing about registration,” she says.
She has paraded in countries like France, Spain, Italy and, in Brazil, in places like the Copacabana Palace and in the Paço Imperial, in Rio de Janeiro. Mariana mentions that it was there that, on May 13, 1888, after signing the Golden Law, Princess Isabel announced to the people the abolition of slavery.
In spite of feeling caught up in the moment, Mariana felt welcomed with the demonstrations of support, of anonymous and famous people such as the actress Taís Araújo, who has worked with the hairdresser and been friends with him for a long time. Araújo, 41, later referenced the case publicly.
“The racism committed by my friend and hairdresser Wilson Eliodorio floored me and left me speechless,” she said. “It hurt. And that’s why it took me so long to speak. And even though I love him, I can’t put my hand on his head”.
“He must take responsibility for his actions and rethink himself as a black, gay and professional beauty man”, she evaluated. “I also took my time because, first of all, I am a black woman and this crosses me. It crosses all of us. I took my time because it’s terrible to see that the racist structure of this country perpetuates itself even with our own, the ones we love”.
Racial Injury vs. Crime of Racism
While racial injury consists in offending someone’s honor by using elements related to race, color, ethnicity, religion or origin, the crime of racism affects an indeterminate collectivity of individuals, discriminating against the entire integrality of a race. Unlike racial injury, the crime of racism is unenforceable and imprescriptible.
Racial injury is provided for in Article 140, paragraph 3, of the Penal Code, which provides for the penalty of imprisonment from one to three years and a fine, in addition to the penalty corresponding to violence, for those who commit it.
The crime of injury is often associated with the use of derogatory words about race or color intended to offend the victim’s honor.