Note from BW of Brazil: The story we present today is a follow-up to a story presented here in December of 2013. It involved an eight-year old black child whose hair was deemed “inappropriate” by the director of his school. Said director actually attempted to impede the child’s registration for the then upcoming school year because his mother refused to cut his hair. As we’ve seen over the entire period of the existence of this blog, “cabelo crespo”, meaning “kinky/curly hair”, is one of the principal targets of racist sentiments, jokes and insults when Afro-Brazilians refuse to conform to Brazil’s ultra-Eurocentric aesthetic values. The struggle for self-acceptance and acceptance by the society has also also a rallying point for a number of black activists and organizations whose goal is to promote self-esteem among a black population that has been psychologically assaulted since the first Africans arrived in Brazil nearly five centuries ago. A clear indication of a rise in black pride, the results of these groups and campaigns have been immensely successful as, throughout Brazil, black children, women and men are finding a new self-love and affirmation in accepting themselves as they are.
Below is the follow up story along with a few more black children who have learned to love their hair!
Director of school that ordered boy to cut his afro punished
By Fernanda Canofre
In mid-2013, Lucas Neiva, only 8 years old, asked his mother, Isabel Neiva, to help him to have a similar hairstyle as Justin Bieber. Izabel explained patiently that he wouldn’t have the singer’s straight hair, but that if he let his hair grow it would be beautiful in its own way. He accepted. The mother, however, didn’t imagine that Lucas’s new afro would cause problems in school he attended for three years in Guarulhos, a city in the metropolitan region of São Paulo.
The first surprise came on the day that she received a teacher’s note requesting that Lucas cut his hair – something that Isabel refused to do. The second came when trying to enroll the child the following year, when she was informed that there were no longer vacancies in school. The case ended up in court.
Last week – a year and a half after the fact – came the decision of an administrative lawsuit filed by the state of São Paulo itself, which regulates the operation of educational institutions. The Commission of the Department of Justice and Defense of Citizenship understood that there was racial discrimination against the child and punished the director with a fine of R$45,000 (US$15,000) and the school, R$63,000 reais (US$21,000).
The principal of the school, Alaíde Ugeda Cintra, can still appeal this decision. In parallel, runs another suit, this one criminal, initiated by the Ministry of State, whose first hearing is scheduled for July.
Although the issue is far from being completely resolved, the Lucas case can already be considered a milestone. Not only is it one of the few cases of racism within the school environment brought to justice, but it is also one of the first to blame those who practice it.
As Izabel Neiva said in an interview with Global Voices:
People end up not going back, because they think it will go nowhere. Hopefully now they will change the way they think.
Despite the law defining hate crimes in Brazil having been in force since 1989, only in recent years is it that formal complaints of racism have become common in the country.
“A more appropriate cut”
The discussion around a haircut synthesized racial discrimination in the case of Lucas. At the time of the incident, in an interview with the G1 news website, Izabel said she tried to reason with the school and received a warning from the director saying “cabelo [Black Power] (meaning afro hair styles) were not used at the school by students.”
In an interview with a television network, also in 2013, she explained:
He sees normally, the hair is not in his eye, it doesn’t hurt at all. But she said that it ‘hinders colleagues from seeing the blackboard’. She [the director] said that his hair ‘is crespo (kinky/curly), full and inappropriate’.
The director Alaíde Ugeda Cintra denied being racist, but confirmed that she referred to the cut as “inappropriate”:
I think I used that damn word [referring to the term appropriate]. I think that word bothered her.
Without cutting his hair, Isabel went back to school to register her son the following year and was informed that there no more vacancies. Other parents, however, testified reporting that they enrolled their children after hers and there were indeed available vacancies. As soon as she was informed of the incident, Izabel sought a police station and registered a police report which led to the criminal case brought by prosecutors.
Movimento Black Power
It is common to see testimonials from young blacks who are discriminated against because of their hair, but it’s only been in recent years that the movement for the assertion of black identity among black children has taken shape. And this has happened especially on social networks.
An eight year girl, in Minas Gerais (state), is one example. In a video with over 100 thousand accesses, Carolina Monteiro tells how she replied to a school friend who asked why her hair was “duro” (hard):
“I said, my hair is not hard, no! My hair is not hard. Hard is having to keep enduring an ignorant person saying that my hair is hard. (…)”
In her YouTube channel, with 2,639 subscribers and 254,000 views, Carol share testimonials and stories of other black children, in addition to giving tips from children’s books extolling identidade afrodescendente (African-descendant identity).
Off the internet, fashion campaigns such as Quilombo dos Meninos Crespos and events like the “Encrespando” (organized by the collective Meninas Black Power) discuss empowerment through cabelo afro (African hair). In the video of the meeting held in 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, one of the participants states:
Alisamento (straightening) is not an option, [leave your hair natural] it’s the only choice that we have to be seen in the spaces.
According to Izabel, Lucas never recognized himself in his idols on television. After letting his hair grow and experiencing prejudice, however, he ended up finding himself. In an interview with GV, she says:
He affirmed even more his identity, recognized himself as black (1), sees himself as he is and not how society wants.
So the mother decided to wear a “black power” like his:
I left my hair full hair like. We learned that parents are references. He feels proud to walk with me, so that people comment about our hair.
Since the episode at school came up, Lucas is having psychological counseling. In the new school, he found support from colleagues and ended up becoming “more athletic” according Izabel. However, during the hearing of the criminal case in July, he will have to give testimony and his mother fears that this could leave certain memories. But Izabel has already taken a lesson:
That the only way to end racism is through education, because no one is born racist, they learn it.
Source: Global Voices Online