The everyday benefits of whiteness in Brazil: Five recent examples
Note from BW of Brazil: From time to time the question will arise in the comments section on this blog, “why talk so much about race?” Well, race is in fact the principle topic of this blog. Since the early 20th century Brazil has long had a discourse of denial of the effects of race and color on the daily life experiences of its citizens. Race and its byproduct racism wasn’t part of the Brazilian soul we were told. Besides being a blatant lie, one of the outcomes of this mythology is the fact that many of the people who racism directly affected, pretos and pardos, or blacks and browns, combined representing Brazil’s black population, also bought into this mythology. But over the past few decades, more and more Afro-Brazilians have awaken to the existence of racism and its key pillars, whiteness and white supremacy. In a manner that Brazil still continues to deny, having white skin, particularly in combination with light-colored eyes and blond hair continues to bring advantages for those possessing these features. Not surprisingly, the media plays a prominent role in spreading this overvaluing of whiteness but we see blatant as well as subtle everyday examples of how this white privilege plays out among the population.
For example, at the beginning of the month, after the news broke of the brutal lynching of a black man in the northeastern state of Maranhão, many noted that interestingly, the white guy who was also beaten and tied up actually survived and lived to tell about the lynch mob assault. Was there a reason that the white victim didn’t die? Was he spared the savage beating given to the black man who lay dead only a few feet away from him? Did the group that assaulted the two spare no expense in taking the life of the black victim while holding back a little more on the white victim? We can’t say for sure, but the question must be asked. This lynching and how race may have a played in role in this brutal attack is one of the topics approached in the post below. We will approach a number of other recent incidents in which we cannot ignore the role that whiteness may have played.
A place called whiteness, do you know about it?
By Verinha Kollontai
You are there, accommodated in a very comfortable place called whiteness. A top, a high place of a privileged view of where the rest are considered exotic, simply because they are not white, don’t meet the requirements to enter this special and protected place.
With yours you form such a strong brotherhood as strong as the brotherhood that women complain of about men, where they protect each other, and to ensure this privileged place, these brothers when they hear black people complain about racism they say in unison:
– Racism doesn’t exist anymore!
– Blacks are everywhere!
– They have more voice than me!
You don’t know exactly why does they do this, right? But I’ll tell you why: The denial of racism and counterattack of denouncements of racism have a motivation of keeping their place of privilege safe.
The black woman cries leaning over the cold body of her dead child that the police shot in the back, he was running, not from the police, but was playing with friends in the community where he was born, and because of barbarism, there he also died.
The black man stole for the first time in his life, was poor, lived in a simple house, dreaming of consumer goods that rich people show off, thinking about how to take what is on the other side of the window, in another way, if it were not the crime? Nobody wanted to know his history of exclusion, of dehumanization, beating him to death, not even for the crime he was lucky, tied to the post lifeless, is not the way to heal the wound. It is curious to note, the white man, a partner in the activity, was beaten, but not to death and neither was he exposed in a cowardly way, for him, a second chance, detention, for the white man, the crime has forgiveness.
From the top of your whiteness, you don’t care about any of that …you don’t care about Cláudia, nor Amarildo, what happened to them can’t touch you, you shake your head watching the scenes on television, with this denial demonstrating regret, turning your back on the scene and making yourself a nice dinner.
Why does it matter?
When violence is far from your safe place? When it’s here in the periphery and in the favela (slum), no one cares, but when it comes down the hill and reaches the elite, it becomes a real schizophrenia. Selective and hypocritical vision is in this privileged look upon which you have seen life pass by, from this place where your color manages to place you.
Note from BW of Brazil: Continuing on the theme and analysis, the stories below were recent reports that made headlines in the media. Let’s take a look…
“Hot dentist” released eight months after drug trafficking in her office
Young woman was arrested in November 2014; she got involved with crime after her husband’s arrest
The dentist Marina Stresser de Oliveira, 27, was parole after eight months in prison on Thursday, July 16th. She was arrested in November 2014 for drug trafficking and illegal arms in Curitiba, Paraná
The young woman, who was nicknamed the “dentist gata”, meaning “hot dentist”, will have her steps monitored by the court. The dentist was arrested suspected of using her office to distribute weapons and drugs. The arrest happened when she gave a rifle to another woman.
The investigation began after police received anonymous complaints. In the office, they found 30 rifle ammunitions. In two other houses maintained by the dentist, a submachine gun, other weapons and ammunition were seized, in addition to crack, marijuana and precision scales.
The involvement of dentist with the world of crime would have started when her husband was arrested for drug trafficking. She had resolved to continue his business. To the family, she said she was working in another city.
Rio street cleaner calls attention for her beauty and becomes a success on social networks
By Julia Zaremba
She’s “the” sensation of web in recent weeks: the photos have been shared by thousands of people in Whatsapp groups and social networks, the girl ended up gaining more than 12,000 followers on Facebook, and nearly five thousand in Instagram. About to turn 24, the gari (street cleaner) Rita Mattos was elected by web users as the muse of Companhia Municipal de Limpeza Urbana do Rio de Janeiro (Municipal Company of Urban Cleaning of Rio de Janeiro). She, however, questions the reason for the repercussions.
“People get scared when they see a pretty girl working as a street sweeper. They say I could get a better job than to keep sweeping and weeding. Why must street cleaners necessarily be ugly? There is a prejudice. But, in spite of the work being quite heavy, I have so much fun. I’m proud of what I do,” she says, noting that the female contingent in the company increases every day….
“At first I thought it was a joke in bad taste, that they were criticizing me. But then I saw that the comments were positive, complimenting my beauty. I’m taking it good, I hope that some opportunity for a cool job turns up with this whole disclosure. But I don’t want to raise expectations, I’m very anxious,” confesses, noting that, in 2011, she was winner of a beauty contest called “Garota Zona Oeste” (West Zone Girl).
Woman offends black Military Police soldier in the Federal District after being caught with marijuana, “Your color says it all”
She said police would take the cigarette home and smoke it, said the victim.
By Raquel Morais
Caught using drugs, a woman ended up imprisoned in the Federal District because of the racial epithets she used with a black Military Police soldier who stopped her. “You have to get rid of this marijuana cigarette in front of me, because otherwise you’ll take it home and smoke it. Your color says it all,” she reportedly told the MP. She also allegedly assaulted and scratched on the neck of a soldier who tried to search her. The case happened on Friday, July 17th, in the DF administrative region of Santa Maria.
She continued: “There are more serious crimes happening and you coming up behind us here. Go there [to the station], I’ll leave before you, by the front door, and even smoke a joint at the police station.”
The woman, who is married to a black man, was in the square QR 309 when she was stopped. Besides the marijuana cigarette, she had a small portion of the drug. Sergeant Antonio Vantuir Clemente de Souza says that they approached the site after receiving a complaint.
“We were driving to a (check out) a complaint that there was a couple smoking a toxic, marijuana. When I approached her, I took the marijuana cigarette out of her hand. We made the request for support of a female police solider to be able to search her, but the car was taking too long to get there. Then she offended me,” he said.
The military account that was startled by the comment and reacted. “Are you calling me ‘negão maconheiro’ (big black pothead)?” he asked, before making the arrest.
Sergeant Antonio Vantuir Clemente de Souza said he was surprised by the situation. He also said it was the first time he had suffered discrimination because of skin color.
“I’ve been with the police for 22 years and this had never happened to me. We feel that racism exists, that even the dirtiest environment there is prejudice. If I was a white policeman with green eyes, she would not had not taken this attitude,” he says.
Middle-class youth arrested with 300 kilos of marijuana in Tijuca region of Rio
They are accused of integrating a gang of middle-class youth who works in the traffic in North Zone neighborhoods
By Guilherme Santos
With Pedro Henrique Sequeira and Thyago Barcellos about 300 kilograms of marijuana were seized along with two pistols, four clips and a luxury car
With fixed address in upper-middle-class apartment, in the north, and wearing expensive designer clothes, two young men were arrested red-handed by officers from the 25th Precinct (in Engenho Novo), accused of drug trafficking. Pedro Henrique Sequeira, 29, and Thyago Barcellos Teixeira, 27, were arrested in a building garage located on Avenida Almirante Cochrane in Tijuca. They had 300 kilos of marijuana.
According to researchers of the 25th DP (Engenho Novo), who were in plain clothes waiting for the duo, Peter and Thyago down the apartment to move in Hyundai Santa Fe parked in the garage of the building. Perceiving the traffic, the police approached the pair and located in the car, in addition to 300 kilograms of marijuana, two pistols and four clips. The vehicle was seized.
Also according to the specialized agents, the duo works in a gang of middle-class young people of traffickers who distributed drugs in Engenho Novo, Méier and Tijuca regions. They supplied drugs to communities with Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (UPPs or Pacifying Police Units) like Mangueira and Jacaré. They also provided small amounts of marijuana for residents of the North Zone neighborhoods.
Note from BW of Brazil: So what each of these cases mean and what are the relations with whiteness? In the first case, we note how the woman is nicknamed the “hot dentist”. Being white and dentist, one would assume that she was a good, law-abiding citizen. Add to this the premium placed on white females and even in crime she will still be considered the “hot dentist”. She was in fact caught with drugs and weapons but because she is white and “hot” how long did she get away with her crime spree before she was caught? It’s a benefit that black Brazilians simply don’t get as they are always immediately associated with crime (see here, here and here for examples).
In the second case, we see yet another example of a white female who earned attention because of how she looks. Although one sees white Brazilians that work in garbage collection and street sweeping, it is menial labor that is associated with blacks and no one’s going to judge a black Brazilian as being “hot” working in such an occupation. Like the drug-addicted homeless man and the former model turned crack addict, we see here that white skin brings benefits even in the lowest positions in the society.
In the third case, the woman makes clear the image she has of black people even being married to one. Her comment “your color says it all” says it all! Her reaction to a black police sergeant is a stark contrast in comparison with the first case where we had a “hot” white woman who was actually involved in a life of crime that most never suspected because of her status as white and “hot”. With the Military Police soldier, he was automatically thought to have bad character simply because of his skin color, a fact that he himself noted.
In the fourth case we again have a situation in which a group of middle-class white guys (“playboyzinhos”/little playboys) were caught red-handed with drugs and weapons. The fact is that, in Brazil, violence, weapons and drugs are associated with dark skinned favela (slum) residents whereas middle-class whites are always placed upon a pedestal as society’s “good citizens”. The headline itself didn’t even refer to them as “traficantes”, or drug traffickers, but rather as “jovens de classe media” or middle class youth. The article did refer to them as traffickers later in the article but the headline emphasized their class status, and thus highlighted their assumed “good background” in a way that those of the lower, mostly black classes usually don’t get (1)
We came across the last case only a few days and again, it’s very obvious in its privileging of white skin. In a photo meme shared by SKY FM, the caption labels the girls on the top as “girls that live far away” while the girls on the bottom are labeled “girls from my neighborhood”. Without a background in the value that whiteness has historically held in Brazil, one could interpret this one way or the other. Either the creator is complimenting the girls on the top or is complimenting the girls on the bottom.
But with an understanding that whiteness clearly has more value in Brazil, it becomes very clear that the author is complimenting the white women on the top to the detriment of the girls on the bottom, the funk group Bonde das Maravilhas, of which at least four of the five members are clearly not white, with a fifth member who could possibly pass as white in Brazilian society. The group has been as heavily criticized since they made their debut a few years ago and the meme clearly makes an association that says, the girls in the bottom photo are the types of women one has access to when one is poor; the women on top would be the more desirable type that one would prefer upon improving their social status (2). That’s the way people on social networks interpreted as well, as we see below in the comments about the photo.
Andre – Whoever out this together or whoever sees sense is another deluded by the false values of the system, racist yes, in which we live.
Baobá – Very racist including. Here in the area, I am more like those from my neighborhood. Those from top are the paty (patricinha) (3) of the south zone…
Dálete – So good is white and blond … tststs
Yrae – Legacy of Eugenics of Dom Pedro !! But one says that it’s taste. A clearly racial taste.
Celso – More racist than this assembly, impossible…. Without saying the black girls much prettier than these white girls.
Daniela – The majority of FB memes are strikingly racist
Sabrina – Such bullshit! Down with racism and this ridiculous beauty standard, it’s foolish to think that neighborhoods define generalized beauty
Nicolle – Undervaluing a black girl and taking as the white girl with straight hair as the only one to extol beauty is called racism. And it’s not just a joke no, it’s an institutionalized racism that demonstrates the most direct form of the solitude of black women. You guys are the kind of people good citizens who thinks racism is just putting blacks on the whipping post. You guys are the kind of people laughing at at black woman and only remember her when it comes to hyper-sexualizing her body, you guys are the kind of people who disgust me.
Helbert – In the image, actually the ones of the top are much more beautiful than the bottom. And what type of loneliness of the black woman is this? My mother, some relatives and my friends don’t suffer from that. What about the sexualization of the body of the black woman, starts with this, they do what they do of their own free will.
Ester – Sexism and racism! Because it has nothing to do with exposing the image of girls and classifying them as if they were objects and on top of that in a racist way.
Note from BW of Brazil: So as we can see in these latest examples, whiteness in Brazil clearly has its advantages and more and more people are taking note and speaking out about it!
1. Alberto Carlos Almeida’s 2007 book, A Cabeça do Brasileiro (The mind of the Brazilian) provided clear evidence about how Brazilians associate skin color with images and functions in life. The book was featured in a previous post.
2. Many black women have been very vocal about the idea that this is one of the prime reasons that so many black men seems to choose white women in their relationships.
3. Term refers to girls of the middle to upper classes that always like to dress in the latest fashions, are pampered and well-taken care of by their parents. The South Zone is the area of Rio de Janeiro where the ritzy, middle-upper class famous neighborhoods such as Copacabana, Leblon, Ipanema, Lagoa, Botafogo and Flamengo are located.