Note from BBT: So, I came across this story a few days ago and felt that I needed to cover it, for several reasons. One, I think it demonstrates the type of treatment that black Brazilian women are consistently subjected to. Two, it speaks volumes of how black women are seen in the collective imagination of Brazilian society. Three, it illustrates that as much as things have changed for black women in terms of opportunities, the more things stay the same in that Brazilian society continues to want to maintain the same image of them that hasn’t existed since the arrival of Portuguese colonizers.
What does this mean exactly? Well, consider the well known saying, white woman for marriage, mulatto woman for sex and black woman for work. When we consider that mulatto women, regardless of a different term being used to define her, is also a black woman, this phrase is a perfect demonstration of how the racial hierarchy functions in Brazil. I discussed this in an article many years ago that asked the question, ‘The Brazilian mulata: black woman or something entirely different?’
Let us remember that, in the Brazilian context, the term ‘mulata’ doesn’t have the same meaning as in the American context of the light-skinned, nearly white-looking ‘tragic mulatto’, but that’s another topic. What I’m simply saying here is that, if you really look at, this phrase tells us that Brazilian society relegates the black woman to two places: the bedroom and the kitchen.
But surely, Marques, you must be exagerrating, I mean, really? Really. I mean, the evidence is overwhelming. Besides all of the films and novelas that present black women as maids or sexually available women, we have the historical records of the custom of slave masters arranging for young mulata girls with whom their sons could be introduced to the joys of physical love.
But surely things have changed, after all, slavery in Brazil ended more than 130 years ago. Well, maybe widespread slavery, but stories about people being coerced and forced into years of free servitude continue to make headlines, but that’s also another story. The bottom line here is that, for many Brazilians, the association of the black female body with sex and work remains prevalent in Brazilian society.
We know this from the thousands of women who have detailed the comments and gestures that people have made to them over the years. They have shared countless experiences via social networks, blogs, websites, youtube, etc. There’s no way I could ever feature all of these recollections, but over the years, I’ve featured several examples of this.
I won’t go into all of these articles, but I’ll touch on a few of them.
This first example is from 2016. A black woman was awarded a brand new house from the city of rio de janeiro. In front of a crowd of people and cameras rolling, the mayor at the time, Eduardo Paes, is heard saying to her, ‘You’ll be doing a lot of effing in this little room.’
In the 2013, a black woman that was a university professor was celebrating a night out with friends at one of her favorite clubs in São Paulo, when the club owner started getting a little too personal. First, the owner asked her if she would have breakfast with him. When she reminded the man that he was married, he replied that his wife had nothing to do with this. To escape his advances, the woman went to thwe bathroom, but when she returned he continued. He asked her about her waxing. Embarrased, she replied that she didn’t have any hair, to which he replied,
“I bet you do and down there it must be hard as that on your head.” the woman’s colleagues present at the restaurant hadn’t noticed the harassment, then the bar owner continued, asking “when was the last time you had came really good,” before she finally left the club.
In yet another example of how black women are seen in Brazilian society, in 2010, a now infamous beer ad provoked so much outrage that the beer company responsible for the ad was ordered to change it. The ad appeared in the December issue of the Brazilian edition of Rolling Stone magazine.
On pages 6 and 7 of this issue, one sees in the lower left corner, a photo of the Devassa beer brand in a bottle and in a glass with foam at the top. On the right side of the page appears a large drawing of a black woman in a long, revealing red dress, red stockings and high heels. The dress is cut down to the beginning of the woman’s derriere, her left leg is bent at the knee on a table and the she is looking over her left shoulder. In big white letters in the top left corner of page 6, a sentence reads: “It is by the body that one recognizes the true negra.”
The ad makes use of a double entendre with the usage of two words: “body” and “negra”. “Body” in one sense is the mouth-feel and texture of a beer. “Body” also applies to the physical structure of a person or animal. The word “negra” can refer to the dark color of the beer but it also means “black woman.” The problem with the ad for black activists was the use of a common stereotype of Brazil’s women of African descent.
In 2016, public servant Mônica Valéria Gonçalves, a woman with two degrees and a legal advisor revealed how she was touched and openly harassed by a man even as she strolled on the beach with her husband. Shocked, she yelled at him. The man apologized saying that he thought she was there with a white man fazendo programa (turning a trick),” she recalled.
In 2017, historian Luana Tolentino shared how a woman stopped her in the street and asked if she did cleaning work, to which she replied, ‘No. I’m taking my masters. I’m a professor.’ there are too many examples of this to go into each of them, but the point here is that in Brazil, black women are automatically assumed to be sexually available or available to provide cheap labor. Which leads me to today’s story in which a model was able to record the moment in which she was harassed by hotel guest.
Model films the moment she was harassed by hotel guest
Courtesy of Terra
Samen dos Santos recorded the incident that went down in a hotel in the city of Araçatuba in São Paulo state. In the video you can actually hear the man saying to her, “I am dying to make love to you. According to what Samen described in her Instagram profile, she had never been through a situation like this before and at the time was even a little unresponsive.
Via Instagram she wrote
“There’s no age! There’s no time! There’s no place! If a man thinks he has the right to harass a woman, he will harass her. This recording was just an excerpt of all the harassment I suffered with this man in a hotel in the city of Araçatuba, on July 13.”
She continued, “Watching the video after it happened, I felt like a complete idiot. Why didn’t I yell at him? Why didn’t I confront him? Why wasn’t I more harsh with him? I’m the one who always takes a stand on things, and I was left speechless,” she added.
The model was approached by the man in the pool area, but, as she reported in an interview to the local newspaper Hojemais Araçatuba, the recording was not the first moment of harassment she experienced from the guest. According to her, the man had an employee approach her four times before going to talk to her personally.
According to the model’s account, in the first approach the man requested that the employee tell her he was into her; then he asked him to ask what she wanted, and that he could give her anything; in another approach, he told her that he was a landowner in the region and had a lot of money.
Samen said that, each time, she emphasized that she was not interested and that she was bothered by his gestures. She then called her boyfriend, who is a lawyer, and he advised her to try to record the advances.
By the time the man came up to her, the model said to him that this was sexual harassment and that he was being disrespectful, he then tried to justify himself by claiming to be “outgoing”.
Obviously caught off guard by the incident, Dos Santos wrote, “I, who am always ready for a fight, froze. At that moment all my resilience was gone. I felt weak. I felt bad. The situation shook me. It got to me in such a way that the only reaction I had was to cry. Anyway, aggressors don’t have faces or ages. Take care of yourselves, girls!”, she concluded in her publication about what happened.
When the story first broke and was picked up by major media outlets, the hotel in question didn’t immediately issue a statement on the incident. Days later, the following response was released
“Mariá Plaza Hotel informs that it repudiates all and any act of harassment, of any nature, in our establishments. We emphasize that the guest in question is no longer present in our establishment and is prohibited from making new accommodations. We also reinforce that we are taking all the necessary steps to give the victim the support she needs,” said the hotel.
Unfortunately, this is obviously not the first time this has happened in Brazil, and it won’t be the last. Don’t hate the messenger, just reporting the news and the facts.