Note from BW of Brazil: 40 years. Four decades. That’s the amount of time that has passed since the city of Mogi das Cruzes recorded its first case of racism. Mind you, no one would dare claim that it was the first case of racism in a city that has existed since 1560, but in a Brazil that has always denied its racism, it was simply the first time someone registered the incident. Stories such as one below are always fascinating to me because Brazil has always denied having practiced any form of segregation or racial exclusion in establishments, but when you start digging into the history, you discover that that, like or widespread beliefs about Brazilian society, it is also a myth.
Roseli da Silva, 40 years after a scene of racism in the city of Mogi das Cruzes
By ELIANE JOSÉ
Roseli de Souza was 20 when, at the door of the Clube de Campo de Mogi das Cruzes, next to her blue-eyed sisters, someone said, “She can’t enter.” But why? Someone replied that it was because she was not a member. The sisters didn’t understand, because from the age of seven, when she became part of the family of businessman João Manoel dos Reis, they were accustomed to attending the Club (see note one). The sisters and a friend, Regina Origoshi, insisted that Roseli enter. One of the security guards, she says, “had the courage to say: É por que ela é preta (It’s because she’s black).” They returned to the house, the father asked if the dance wasn’t good, and soon he learned the truth. He went to the Club, enraged and remembered the Afonso Arinos Law. This episode, one of his statements, didn’t leave Roseli’s memory anymore, when directors apologized to the enraged Portuguese man and said she could enter the dance: “You mean that because she is my daughter, now she becomes gone white, she can come in? No, she’s still black, she won’t change color.”
This dialogue has been going on for 40 years. João Manoel dos Reis went to the police station and registered the complaint for racism, which would be known as the first one in Mogi das Cruzes.
On Friday afternoon, when asked by O Diário to tell this story, which highlights the cover of our December 3, 1977 edition, Roseli recalled details surrounding the complaint, which didn’t go forward after a public retraction, and served for her to understand what until the age of 20 she didn’t have the perception to really understand. “What happened today is solved, but at the time it showed me that I was different because I was black, and it strengthened me in such a great way that I owe what I constructed to it all.”
The building to which Roseli refers is a successful career in the Magistrate, where she worked until retirement, as a school principal, and the family consisting of three children of blood and two children of the heart (adopted), just as she is to João Manoel dos Reis and his wife, Meire.
Her father, now 84, is paying special attention. It was he who said that other similar scenes would come. And how they came. On Friday, the same day she gave this interview, she was entering the apartment where she lives with her family and a visitor asked if she worked there. “This, when they didn’t think I was someone’s lover, and that’s why I lived in a building that is not high standard, but where the majority is white,” she says, but without rancidness: “This is nothing compared to how much prejudice blacks face and will continue to face.” For her, the racism of 40 years ago has softened, but persists among many people who “cannot bear to co-exist with black.”
Get to know the story of Roseli, who gave no interview when the complaint made by the Reis family became known as the first for racism in Mogi:
O Diário has a column that shows what happened in Mogi 40 years ago, and the Sunday headline is the first complaint of racism made against the Country Club.
But it’s already been 40 years?
Really? I didn’t even remember. What happened was very shocking, and it’s settled, but imagine, when we were going to join the Club, for a dance, myself, with my blond and blue-eyed sisters. Then they told me: you can’t enter. Rita (Reis) didn’t settle, and our friend Regina (Orighoshi) was very embarrassed, someone said it was because I was not a member. The problem is that I was always with them in the Club. Then someone else said: It’s because she’s preta (black) (the usual denomination of those times). When they said that, we were gone.
We went to the house and my father, asked: “was the dance bad, it didn’t even take long”, and he kept asking, and we told him. But he is a Portuguese who when he gets mad, he already saw it, right? He went back to the Club to complain. Then, it was a big mess.
And what happened?
They wanted me to come in, but he said: just because she’s my daughter, she turned white. No, she won’t change her color, and he quoted the Afonso Arinos Law, which provided for the crime of racism, and went to the police station on another day to make the registration. It was a mess, many friends were outraged, wrote a letter in the newspaper, which said was the first case of racism registered in Mogi. My dad told me not to give him an interview. The Country Club was closed for a few days, because of the confusion. And one day, everyone from the board went there to apologize. When they arrived, they wanted to know, who was the ‘pivot of crime’, and it was me, but I confess I didn’t understand very well, because since I was a child, I was raised as being in a family, I didn’t recognize myself as a black woman. I studied in Washington Luís, had many friends, lived with friends of Japanese families. Only then did it hit me.
Did you change after this episode?
All this showed me that I was different, I was very sad, and my father told me, prepare yourself because this will happen many times in your life. I owe it all to him, who always said that I had a chance, that I had to study. And I owe what I am to him, because I almost gave up studying, but I got to the Magisterium, I took a test, I passed, and after a few years, a friend, Maria Eugênia Focchi de Araújo, told me about a test for director of a school. She encouraged me to participate, I didn’t want to, she said: sign up. I didn’t want to order anyone around, I knew I would have trouble being black, but, I signed up, there were ten vacancies, I came in third.
And did you feel prejudice when you were a director?
I started to feel what other black teachers going to my school felt (laughs) and insisted a lot with the students, said that whoever wants to be someone, has to study, has to learn, has to know things. I said, inside the gates of the school they eram todos iguais (were all equal) (see note two), I was defending them, but when they put their foot out, no. I met many former students who didn’t forget what I was saying. I’ve always talked, and I believe in the power of education. Anyone can be the president of the Republic, but you have to study, to get over it.
And did you return to the Club. Are you a member?
You know I don’t. They gave me a lifetime ID, but I did not feel more comfortable knowing they did not want me there. Only a few years ago, when I received a major award in education, I set foot in there, and then I felt a little vindicated. People think that just because they are black, they have a lower position, and this is a very difficult subject, because it is something internal, I have studied more on this subject, about Africa, where the enslaved people came from. Among these blacks who came, many were princes and kings in their lands. I married a good man, a white man, and sometimes I think, unconsciously, I wanted my children not to be born black, not to suffer like me. But, they know they are black, everyone has studied, the youngest is doing postgraduate studies in Architecture at USP, and I taught them that education is a way for people to be what they want to be.
How did you become a part of the Reis family?
My mother, Maria Severina, was their maid and died after a heart attack, in the house. I was orphaned at age 7. My blood father stayed with my brother, whom I never saw again, and I was afraid to look for. My father was very confused, he drank. Then my father (João Reis) and Mrs. Meire, raised me.
And your sisters, how did they receive you?
The older one, Adriana, felt my presence more, the younger ones, no, because when they were growing up, I had already lived in the same house. But the other day, 50 years later, she apologized for anything she had done in the past. And, I’ve already said it’s been 50 years. The past is past, and I understand it, because I was a person who was not in the family’s plans.
In those 40 years, has prejudice reduced?
A little, yes, but it’s still very strong, and it will not end either. I will not see it end in this life. It is something that I can’t explain, there is a person who has real horror, has revulsion against black people, there are people who do not want to co-exist with black people. But, there are changes. My children, for example, have all studied, two are musicians, one is an architect. They spoke today of Mariana (by Souza Ferraz de Silva) on TV Diário. She is recognized for her talent, she will sing in Luís Carlos (at the opening of the Christmas decoration, held on Friday). They are well-settled children who know they are black. However, they are a minority, most blacks are excluded. I had breast cancer, and I’m recovering for life, I’m dedicating myself to social action, I’ve become a spiritist. I would like to be born again, black, and feel like when I traveled abroad. In other countries, and even in the United States, I didn’t look different from other people just because I’m black. In Brazil, prejudice is very present.
What are you doing today?
I have retired, and now I work with a group formed by popular legal promoters, who empower women victims of violence in Itaquaquecetuba. We take courses and learn how to guide these women when they need it most. It is a social and political work, but without being partisan. Our work is to defend women’s rights, we show the strength of the Maria da Penha Law to them.
Were you a female candidate in Mogi? Do you want to go back to politics?
I did, for the PV (Green Party), it was a good experience, I had 700 votes, I went back to communities where I taught and directed school (Jardim Santa Teresa, Jardim Rodeio), but politics is not for me, no. It is a very difficult means, I intend to continue working in this group with the Public Defender, in the referral of women who can change, if they want. I always tell my story, use humor, to show them that, just like me, they can be whatever they want. I say that they cannot bother with others, the black woman must seek her space, and she has to prepare for it, she can’t get offended herself, if she gets offended, she must improve, learn, always improve. If there is another life, I want to come back the same color, because you give more value to what you achieve.
The Afonso Arinos Law
The Afonso Arinos Law, number 1390/51 was proposed by Deputy Afonso Arinos de Melo Franco (1905-1990) promulgated by President Getúlio Vargas in 1951, which prohibits racial discrimination in Brazil. It is considered the first Brazilian code to define the criminal contraventions to the prejudice of race and color of skin. Arinos was born in Belo Horizonte, was a professor, historian and a jurist.
Source: O Diário
- From the 1950s and 1960s, to 1977 and finally up to 2016 and 2017, we see that discrimination continues to affect Afro-Brazilians, whether they are in a country club or a nightclub.
- As I have repeatedly shown, the phrase “we are all equal” is thoroughly embedded in the minds of millions of black Brazilians regardless as to how much incidents such as the one above show the contradiction in believing this idea.