Note from BW of Brazil: One could say it’s a shame that it has to come to this, but on the other hand, it’s utterly ridiculous that people have to deal with such abuse. One of this blog’s aims is to expose the regular occurrence of racism and racial offenses that happen in Brazil particularly for non-Brazilians who are not familiar with it and for those Brazilians who will continue to scream, “não existe racismo no Brasil, pois isso é coisa dos Estados Unidos (racism doesn’t exist in Brazil, because that’s a thing of the United States)”.
Perhaps one of the most interesting facets of Brazilian racism is the successful manner in which rhetoric, manipulation and the belief in a “racial democracy” have fooled much of the black population to actually believe that they haven’t experienced racism when they in fact have. Or, when they realize that they have experienced it, refusing to do anything about it because 1) it was an isolated incident, 2) they don’t have a chance to fight/win such a case, 3) the belief that they in fact were the ones who didn’t something wrong.
Outlets for the exposing of racism such as the Disque Racismo (Dial Racism) hotline in the capital city of Brasília have made this process more accessible and it’s good to know that changes in consciousness are happening within the population and people are beginning to stand up. There’s still a long ways to go, but considering where the question of racism was 2-3 decades ago, a lot of progress has been made.
Blacks raising their voices against racism
by María Martín with contributions from the newsroom of Afropress
Victims of racism are encouraged to report attitudes of discrimination. The latest sentence condemned a supermarket to pay $20,000 reais (US$8,611) to a customer who was called “negrinho ladrão (little black thief)”
Cauã was just a baby when his uncle Robson went to a supermarket, in front of his job, to take advantage of the offer of a liter of milk for one real (US 43 cents). He bought two boxes, straightened the apron of the diner where he worked and crossed the street to go back to the kitchen. But the screams that he heard at his back stopped him. Among the screams, three words were repeated: “negrinho (little black)”, “ladrão (thief)” and “safado (bastard)”.
Two employees held Robson by the arm and accused him of stealing the milk. He showed proof of his purchase and they apologized. But the supervisor of the property, a Walmart store in Carapicuíba, in the metro São Paulo region, put the icing on the cake with his comment: “Sorry, we confused you with another neguinho thief.” Robson trembled in the middle of the parking lot, almost to tears.
Accustomed to being followed around in the stores he frequents, the black young man decided not to submit a police report on the matter. But, a veteran lawyer in the area knew him on sight and convinced him to go to court.
Five years later, when Cauã is already able to hold in his arms his little sister – and to Robson, at age 26, becoming accustomed to the nickname “neguinho de leite (little black with the milk)” given by his neighbors – a judge ordered the US multinational to pay R$20,000 (US$8,611) to its customer. The judgment considered the moral damages for the unlawful and discriminatory attitude of the employees. Robson, according to the Court of Justice of São Paulo, “suffered public humiliation” and it was “a motive of scorn” because of the color of his skin.
With the money that remains after the costs of the case, Robson wants to finish building a brick residence where a muddy soccer field once stood.
The case of Walmart, which had already been convicted in 2009 for another case of racism against a black client accused of stealing, was the last to become public. But a sequence of similar episodes has marked the last few months, in a country where almost 51% of the population is preto (black) or pardo (brown).
“There is a growing demand or workers’ actions, although still modest, for claims of punitive damages. There are dismissed workers or those who were forced to resign in the face of racism in the workplace,” says Maria Aparecida Vargas, director of the Secretaria da 64 Vara do Trabalho (Secretariat of the 64th Labor Court) of São Paulo that Robson’s case. “Sometimes employees suffer pejorative nicknames on the part of colleagues or superiors themselves, as they are also passed over in promotions in detriment of a colleague that is not more competent, but that is white,” she reveals.
Carmen Dora, president of the Comissão Racial da Ordem de Advogados do Brasil (Racial Commission of the Order of Lawyers of Brazil) in São Paulo, also believes that the complaints are increasing. “We try to do a statistic because we have received many complaints, but there is no official data and we still haven’t managed to finish it. It seems that is a subject that doesn’t matter. All of us, including the media, have to be more forceful to end the false discourse that Brazil is not a racist country,” she said.
In February, the conviction of an elderly woman (see video below) to pay R$28,000 (US$12,055) for calling three customers in a mall “negros imundos (filthy blacks)” and “macacos (monkeys)” set a precedent because the judge ordered the immediate entry of the defendant to prison. The law provides severe punishment against this type of crime, calling it heinous and non-bailable, and the offender caught in the act is not entitled to bail. But the fact of the accused being 72 years old could have mitigated the penalty. The woman’s lawyer finally got habeas corpus for his client, but one of the victims, the broker Karina Chiaretti says that she will not stop until she sees the woman behind bars. “I just believe that this episode will count for something when that person is arrested. As long as there is no one to stop these attitudes, they will continue happening,” said Chiaretti.
The same perseverance was demonstrated by the white couple, Priscilla Celeste and Ronald Munk, who denounced last year, the employee of a BMW dealership in Rio de Janeiro, who ordered their black, 7-year old son, to leave the store. The couple, to preserve the minor, decided not to submit a police report, but their story earned such repercussions that the Secretaria do Estado de Assistência Social e Direitos Humanos (Secretary of State for Social Assistance and Human Rights) brought the case to court. They lost due to lack of evidence, but the couple became activists for respect for racial diversity.
“There comes a time when you no longer go to a place because people don’t stop looking at your son, because she cannot leave him alone because she knows he will be stopped (by those) thinking that he is stealing. We have to hear in the club that he is not a member, but the son of an employee …,” explained the mother in a telephone interview. The boy, adopted by an upper-middle class family, is, according to the mother, the only black boy in the school, in the pool, in the club, at birthday parties … “Today I know that not going to the police station was a mistake. I didn’t report it, (that) I’m protecting the abuser. But at the time was I ignorant, I didn’t know the law,” Celeste says.
For her, with others victimized by discrimination, “the courage to tell comes from the desire to change things” and because the perception of her child is much bigger than they thought. The boy, recalls his mother, once told him: “Mom, I wanted to take off this skin and put on your color.” (2)
In an emotional interview a few weeks ago, the referee Márcio Chagas da Silva said on TV that he was called a “macaco selvagem (wild monkey)” during a soccer match between Esportivo and Veranópolis, teams from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. He found the bodywork of his car dented and with bananas on top of it when he looked for it in the parking lot. It was the second time that he was insulted in a game for being black and for the second time, he reported it. “I have to show my son the importance that I, as a parent, had in denouncing a practice that subsequently happens in Brazil,” Chagas da Silva told Globo News. The prosecutor Alberto Franco will take to Esportivo to court for racist discrimination.
When Robson was calmer, after being approached in the supermarket and accused of theft, he called the police. “It took them over an hour to arrive when the store was about to close,” said Robson. “Instead of talking to me, they went straight to the supervisor to talk and then asked for my ID, but to see my prior incident!” he complained.
The people involved in the cases against racism heard by this newspaper agree with the unpreparedness of the police when dealing with an instance of discrimination against a citizen. “The police are not properly qualified to receive this type of complaint, which already intimidates those discriminated against to appear before a police station,” laments Vargas, whose 64th Labor Court of São Paulo, took on the Robson case.
“You see that from the police, through the assaulted black person up to security are unprepared. One of the biggest states in the country is not prepared for the racial issue,” critiques Karina Chiaretti. “Arriving at the station I was asked to leave because the lady already had four cases that led to nothing. The police don’t know that this is racism. They cannot handle the situation. The agent who had to take the lady to the station ended up taking her home.”
1. Davina Castelli, 72, a retiree (video below) – who was became known in social networks as the racist from Avenida Paulista, in São Paulo, for assaulting and insulting blacks customarily at the door of the Top Shopping Center – is going to jail: this is what Judge Giovana Oliveira decided, determining her immediate arrest for “contempt and disrespect to Justice” and sentenced to four years in prison in semi-open regime for attacks and racist insults.
The decision of the judge at first instance, is not considered common in judicial means. The Public Defender of São Paulo, who served in the case because the retiree didn’t hire a lawyer, said he will appeal the decision because he believes the judge overstepped in suspending Davina’s right to appeal free. The Ombudsman has filed a Habeas Corpus to avoid arrest.
The aggression that resulted in the conviction of the retiree was made by broker Chiaretti Karina, 36 (photo above), niece of the Movimento Negro militant Hélio Santos, the salesperson Suelen Meirelles and the building supervisor Alex Marques da Silva, 23. The three were verbally abused with the following phrases: “Macaca (monkey), I don’t like blacks, blacks are unclean: the entry of blacks in the mall should be prohibited; I hate blacks, blacks are favelados (slum dwellers).”
Besides the prison sentence, Davina will pay R$28,960.00 (US$12,468) – equivalent to 40 minimum wages – in compensation for moral damages to each of the three offended.
Interestingly, according to Chiaretti, as the police are so unprepared to deal with such cases of racism, had she not been the niece of Hélio Santos, who is friends with both former São Paulo governor José Serra and former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, made a call to current governor Geraldo Alckmin, to complain. Without this connection, it’s probable that nothing would have happened to the elderly racist.
2. Celeste’s memory of the child’s comment is a noteworthy detail in her description of the incident at the BMW dealer. The child’s comment is telling because they are very similar to a comment made by another black child only a few weeks later after suffering a similar incident in a pharmacy with his white grandmother. In that case, the child told his grandmother, “that’s why I don’t like being preto (black)”. It is evidence that black children often have a keen understanding of what it means to be black in Brazil from a very early age. It also speaks to a stigma and lack of self-esteem that would mark many of these children as they grow up.
Video of the Avenida Paulista racist who verbally abused blacks, a handicapped man and police