In revisiting this case that actually began 15 years ago this month, I highlight the fact that when court cases bring justice to anyone whose rights have been violated, one can be assured that the person who finally won justice wasn’t the first to be denied their rights. While it is Rosa Parks that many give credit to for initiating the modern Civil Rights Movement in the United States, it is a well-known fact that Ms. Parks was not the first to have her rights violated and she was also not the first to take a stand against injustice. In Brazil in 1997, another black woman made a stand for herself and thousands of black women like her who had routinely faced racial discrimination in a country that proclaimed itself a “racial democracy.”
On March 2ndof 1997, a friend of student and domestic worker Simone André Diniz told her that she had seen an ad placed in the Folha de São Paulo newspaper in search of a domestic worker. In the fourth line of the ad it was made clear the racial preference of the person sought for the job: “preferência branca” or “preference for white person.” Diniz, in search of work, called the phone number listed to inquire about the job. When she was asked about her color, she replied that she was black. The person on the phone, Maria Tereza, immediately replied that Diniz did not meet the requirements of the job. Tereza had been assigned by Aparecida Gisele Mota da Silva to handle all calls regarding the job posting.
Domestic. (In) Home. To live in employer’s home. With experience. Routine, taking care of children, with documents and references. Preference white, without children, older than 21.
Diniz immediately filed a complaint with the Subcommittee on Blacks at the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (Lawyer’s Guild of Brazil) and together with her attorney, made a report to a special unit of police that dealt with racial crimes. On March 19, 1997, a report was sent to ajudge and on April 2, 1997, a statement was issued requesting that the case be archived because “it was not possible to find in the record that Aparecida Gisele has engaged in any act that could constitute the crime of racism, provided for in Law 7,716/89…” and there was “… no basis for the complaint”. Article 20 of the 7716/89* (1). Law in the Brazilian Constitution defined the practice of discrimination or prejudice of race to be a crime.
Summoned to make a statement of her actions, on March 18th, 1997, Aparecida Gisele Motada Silva, acknowledged that she had indeed placed the ad and also acknowledged that she preferred someone white to fill the position. Asked why, she claimed that in the past she had hired a black domestic to take care of her children and that her children had been mistreated and thus traumatized by the former employee. The former employee was never heard from and da Silva never filed a complaint. She went on to say that she never meant to “offend, discriminate or demonstrate any form of prejudice against persons of the black race.” Da Silva concluded her statement by mentioning that she was also married to a black man, a fact included in the judge’s official decision to dismiss and archive the case.
Diniz and her representatives decided to denounce the case at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the grounds that the Brazilian state had not secured justice and equal access to justice as prescribed by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights because she was a black woman. As argued by Fábio Feliciano Barbosa, traditionally, in the history of Brazil, nothing, absolutely nothing happens to those who discriminate against black men and women. Although there is a law that is supposed to protect against racial discrimination, in reality, the law is and has been at the mercy of its interpreters. Rarely is this law interpreted and applied in manners that are favorable to the black men and women who are victims of racial discrimination. In the end, legal interpretation of racial crimes by highly conservative judges and prosecutors result in unfavorable results when the struggle is against institutional racism. Today, in Brazil, thousands, if not millions of Afro-Brazilians, when discriminated against, routinely proclaim that racism is a crime in Brazil perhaps not understanding that the simple existence of this law doesn’t automatically erase the practice of racism or even punish those that practice it.
Nine years later, in 2006, the Inter-American Commission of the Human Rights of OEA condemned the Brazilian state for habitually not assuring its victims of racial discrimination and racial crimes full access to the legal guarantees and thus broke international laws of human rights. Simone Diniz was awarded R$36,000(Brazilian reais) from the state although the process is still pending. She expects to receive a scholarship to attend college, which was one of the recommendations of the Organization of the American States. Although Diniz fought and finally won this long and hard fought case, she believes the situation of racism and racial justice in her country hasn’t changed. “Between a white woman and a black woman, they choose the white woman and say ‘it’s not your profile that we want’. It’s always like this.”
The Simone Diniz case is also key in understanding the differences between both racism and the battle against racism in the United States and in Brazil. First, one could say that Diniz eventually got justice but in order not to treated as thousands of black Brazilians had been routinely treated everyday, she had to go far and beyond the Brazilian justice system and all the way to an international organization to secure these rights, a process that took nine years. Second, Brazil’s system of dealing with racist acts was the denial of its very existence and to do nothing even in the face of obvious discrimination. Third, racism, the fight against racism and the black heroes involved in the fight against racism in the US are all well-known throughout the world. As racist as the United States was and continues to be, one could say that at least those in the struggle for justice against injustice had a voice and were able to rise to national and international prominence in connection to their struggle. In Brazil, the very denial of racism and the silencing and invisibility of Afro-Brazilian leaders assured that these leaders would never attain the same global recognition as their American, African and African descendant counterparts. So while people all over the world are familiar with the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, very few people around the world, and even within Brazil itself, have ever heard of the late, great Abdias do Nascimento or the would be Brazilian Rosa Parks, Simone André Diniz. Hopefully, even if it’s only a few thousand, more people will at least know and honor the long-fought struggle of Ms. Diniz; an invisible struggle that rages on in Brazil to this very day.
1. Also known as the Lei Caó (Caó Law), named after the Afro-Brazilian lawyer Carlos Alberto Caó Oliveira dos Santos that created the law to establish racial equality and also protect against religious intolerance.
Source: Black Women of Brazil