Sometimes when I walk through a few corridors of shops in the malls of Porto Alegre, I’m don’t feel Brazilian. In the posters and advertisements, I see only blond, red head people or brunette people with very pale skin and extremely thin. They are alone or in a family setting, and this family is also white, thin and straight. I see the color of my skin in these windows, I see my straight hair, but I don’t see the 50.7% of the population that declared itself black and brown in the 2010 Census in these window displays, I don’t I see myself, as a person of African descent, I don’t see the black population, which by phenotype is considered black and upon which falls so heavily Brazilian racism.
June 27 I submitted myself to a test, I visited a large, newly opened shopping mall in Porto Alegre. This mall is considered one of the largest in Latin America. They are in all 230 stores, and over 45,568 square meters. I went with my husband to see if the black population was represented in this space, since this is one of the largest malls in Latin America. To note this presence, I considered the visible materials visible aimed at the public that circulates throughout the corridors of the mall. I observed all of the material that was on the main walls and display windows.
Right at the main entrance located on Avenida Assis Brazil, we find some billboards with the Official Campaign of this mall, these billboards are covering spaces that are still empty shops that were not yet open. To the right of the entrance, we find a large wall with these billboards with the phrases “Coming soon, another store” etc. And on these billboards some white women, blondes and redheads hold these words. These same signs are repeated throughout the mall, exchanging the phrases and the clothes of the models.
In a shop window outside store C, we have a black man illustrating a certain promotion of pants. Passing through the corridors, we found a space where the store J will soon stand, this space was covered by a photo of some people all hugged up, in this image there were five white people and one black man. Continuing my walk I came across store R, which was completely covered with Father’s Day advertisements and this ad was being illustrated by a black athlete and his family. In this store, black representation is well marked, I think not because of the fact of being a black family, but because the man was an athlete of high visibility at the moment.
Of the more than 200 stores open in this mall, only three have black people in their windows being featured in advertising campaigns. These were black men; on that day there were no black women on display in the windows or the corridors of the mall. The beauty salons and their store fronts were full of blond, extremely thin women.
The official advertising of this mall had NO black men and women in their campaigns, which reinforces the symbolic violence of the “non-being” or of “being invisible to society”, and also the misappropriation of space, instilling the idea that this is not your place. This is Brazilian racism. It’s worth remembering also that an online supermarket linked to this same enterprise has been sued a few times for not hiring blacks on their staff.
I cite here a post of the blogger Lucia Leiro on the symbolic violence of gender:
“symbolic violence of genre, a form of violence that is, undoubtedly, one of the gender violences most difficult to detect, analyze and, therefore, fight. Maybe even because the ‘bombardment’ is so much from all sides, that we end up becoming numb, inert, impassive, unable to perceive it as well as its destructive power.” Taken from the text: “Discurso, Cerveja, Gênero e Raça” (Discourse, Beer, Gender and Race).
Some years ago, I probably would not have noticed this violence excluding black women and men from certain spaces, the absence was in a status of normalcy in my childhood and adolescence. They say ignorance is bliss? At that moment it was quiet and ignorant. Today, perceiving racism with their strong and immobilizing claws removes me from the slumber, annoys me and motivates me. It reminds me that the lack of black representation in the windows of this mall was broken in one moment: next to the windows, without any representation of the existence of black people, black women were cleaning the windows.
Affirmative action policies are necessary, social projects are necessary, discussion and education, engagement and activism. This mall is just one of many in Brazil, this experience shows us a bit of Brazilian racism. This racism is present everywhere and it foments so many human rights violations.
Ana Rita Dutra is a researcher, educator, an expert on Social Memory and Cultural Identities and a feminist blogger! Advocate for sexual and reproductive rights, religious freedom, the rights of women and girls! Fighter and a dreamer! I do believe in a better world now!
Note: Photos added by BW of Brazil and not featured in original post.
* – Mixed martial arts champion Anderson Silva and his children were featured in an Dia dos Pais (Father’s Day) ad for the retail store Riachuelo back in July.
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