Note from BW of Brazil: The issue of hair, hairstyles and hair textures has been one of Brazil’s longest-enduring signs of its slave past and social/racial inequality in which each group is treated according to its “place” in the hierarchy that privileges those that possess phenotypes closest to the European ideal at the top and everyone else at or near the bottom. Over the year and half of the existence of this blog, there have been a number racist incidents and accusations pertaining to hair, hair texture and the question of who society deems as having “cabelo bom” (good hair) or “cabelo ruim” (bad hair). The story below is only the latest.
Winner of TV variety show says she suffered racism in market
“He commented about my hair, saying that it looked like I had been shocked,” says singer. Michele Mara was voted “Best Imitator of Latin America”, in 2011.
by Thais Kaniak, of G1 PR
Singer Michele Mara, 32, claims to have been the target of racist comments made by workers at the Condor Supermarket, in Curitiba (state of Paraná), in southern Brazil. Michele says that she was in the store to shop and, upon entering the store’s parking lot, a group of employees who were nearby made jokes in relation to her appearance and her hair.
“He commented about my hair, saying that it looked like I had been shocked,” she said. According to Michele, only one person made the comment, but the whole group was laughing. Shortly after the incident, a female employee who was nearby approached the singer and said that she didn’t agree with the situation and that if Michele filed a complaint, she would be a witness and confirm the story. “The clerk said that they always do that, that they always crack this joke.” The event took place on Saturday (13), on Nilo Peçanha street in the Centro Cívico (Civic Center).
Michele was voted the “Best Imitator of Latin America” in a contest sponsored by the TV variety show Domingão do Faustão in 2011. She won the competition with a cover version of American Soul singer Aretha Franklin’s song “Respect”. Michele is a vocalist of the Big Wilson Soul Band, a group from Curitiba.
After the incident, the singer went to the Serviço de Atendimento ao Cliente (SAC or Customer Service) of the supermarket to make a statement about the situation. “I spoke with the person from SAC. After speaking with one and another, I made the statement of what happened and asked for an employee to sign, but she wouldn’t out of fear of losing her job. Almost an hour later, a man, who I think was the manager, signed. I went straight to the police to file a boletim de ocorrência (incident report) at a police station downtown,” she says.
The singer has already contacted a lawyer, who is handling the case. Michele told that, still on Saturday, she sent an e-mail to the company’s SAC. She received a reply on Monday (15), with information that action will be taken, that those involved had been identified and the person responsible for the comments had been fired.
“They want to talk to me to clarify.” A meeting was to take place on Monday (22), according to the singer. Michele said the idea for now is to sue the supermarket. However, she and her lawyer are waiting for this meeting before making a decision.
“We go through situations like this all the time. From ringing the bell of my house and asking to speak to the lady of the house, to being asked to go through the service elevator (1). People make jokes in relation to skin color, hair. This was the last straw. Chubby people and people outside the standard also go through this. I was very sad. I’m very upset,” explained Michele.
She hopes that this story serves as an example for others to have the courage to speak out and claim their rights. “They are constrained by shame, the humiliation. They don’t know where to turn,” she said. Michele said some people are supporting her, but others are criticizing her. “Social network was my great ally. My family, too.”
On Saturday, she posted the story of what happened on Facebook. As of April 17th, the post had over 500 comments and nearly 300 shares. “People are commenting and sharing”.
In a statement, the Supermarket Condor said it regretted the incident and that it had contacted Michele as soon as it learned of the situation. Condor also reported that the board of the supermarket will receive singer in the following week and that all necessary steps have been taken.
See the note in its entirety:
“Condor deeply regrets what happened in relation to the singer Michele Mara and emphasizes that once it had knowledge of the case it contacted the customer and immediately took all measures. Next week the director of Condor will receive the Ms. Michele at the company’s headquarters. The case is an isolated incident and Condor does not condone any action that may cause discomfort to people. The company reaffirms its commitment to respect for people and continuous improvement of service to their customers.”
Michele was born in Curitiba. She is from a family of musicians and began to sing Gospel music as a child. She is graduate of a course of Canto Popular (Popular Song) at the Conservatório de MPB (Conservatory of Brazilian Popular Music) in Curitiba in 2007. Michele and her band are popular for their versions of classic Soul and R&B hits like “Hit the Road Jack,” “Play That Funky Music” and “Respect”, among others.
Below are a few samples of Michele doing her thing
(QST) Qual é seu talento 05/09/11 – 4ª Temporada – Michele Mara
Domingão do Faustão – Michele Mara imita Aretha Franklin
Making Of – Pensando em Nós Dois – Big Wilson Soul Band
Michele Mara – Teaser da canção “Jura”
1. The elevator in Brazil is in some ways a place of social and racial segregation. There are two types of elevators: the service elevator that employees and maids are expected to use and the social elevator which residents and guests of residents are expected to use. See here for a discussion of “place” in terms of usage of elevators and here for another example.