Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

Dear white “boss”: We know you didn’t mean to come off as a nice “master”, but….: The case of the blond TV host and her black nannies


Model/TV host Fernanda Lima with her children (at left) and her nannies (right) Angela Dias and Tayane Dias

Model/TV host Fernanda Lima with her children (at left) and her nannies (right) Angela Dias and Tayane Dias

Note from BW of Brazil: It’s stories such as these are really key for understanding how the racial hierarchy works in a country like Brazil. A few days ago we reported on the uproar surrounding model/TV host Fernanda Lima when she posted a photo of her black nannies on her Instagram profile. And in typical Brazilian fashion, opinions were sharply divided on the issue. There were of course those who believe that black people see “racism in everything” as well as those saw the incident as yet another example of how Brazil’s racial hierarchy continues to hark back to its 350 plus years of slavery. It’s kind of funny this controversy appeared just after a similar controversy surrounding American pop legend Madonna after she posted a photo with her adopted black children rubbing her feet

Although this writer has already opined on this issue in a previous post, allow me add something directed at those who just don’t see any issue with these types of displays. Reading the comments sections on websites discussing the Fernanda Lima controversy, I frequently read comments of the sort saying: “If she would have had white babysitters, you all would be calling that racism too!” Here’s the thing. No one is saying that Fernanda Lima can’t have black employees working for her. Who knows, maybe a connection with the famous model could present other opportunities for the girls. But that’s not the point. 

Painting depicting slavery in Brazil

                     Painting depicting the slavery era in Brazil

The issue here is that because of Brazil’s near four centuries of slavery and the current racial hierarchy that continues to keep white Brazilians perched at the top while non-whites remain on the bottom in a position of servitude almost equal to the days of slavery, it is almost impossible to escape the history and the manner in which these racial relations continue to influence lives, inequality, treatment and “place” still today. It’s simply unavoidable. Because of this legacy, something as simple as changing the skin color of the people presented in a given photo can present an entirely different meaning. And this is the point which appears most people don’t comprehend. 

Dear white “boss”

By Leopaldo Duarte

Mode/TV host Fernanda Lima

                            Model/TV host Fernanda Lima

Although not understand very well what makes someone feel the urge to expose the image of her employees, I will reveal this instance of abuse for understanding that, for you being an TV artist, the concept of privacy may have been lost to throughout your trajectory. At the most, it’s a hint: it’s not cool to try to promote yourself as good mistress exposing the image of your employees. No matter how happy and satisfied that they could be with their functions, the relationship between boss and employee is not one where the second can say no, casually, to the first.

As you have expressed genuine surprise at the criticism you received, it is also necessary to comment: it is not because you treat their nannies with respect and dignity that others should congratulate you. You didn’t do anything beyond your obligation. Not only for legal reasons, but mainly because it is the best way to treat other human beings. I thought that someone who is so keen to project an image of “peace and love” would know that.

Now let’s go to the facts that they denounced and your enormous ingenuity and racial illiteracy … The simple fact of you glorifying yourself to adopt a posture that should be trivial – how to treat employees as human beings – it’s a glaring (reminder) of the slavery heritage in our culture. Expecting that the reproduction of an image – worthy of Debret – would not generate criticism is laughable, if not deplorable. In case you didn’t know, the black community is tired of only recognizing itself in the media – the same that exalts your blondness so much – exclusively through subservient roles to white protagonists. And if you don’t see problems with that, it must be because, even if unconsciously, you are too accustomed to associating nonwhite people to service to see the root of the problem.

The questioning raised by (Afro-Brazilian actress) Tatiana Godoy was not made to cause controversy or generating an audience, it came from a growing indignation of our black population. Accusing her of opportunism not only sets off all of your insensitivity to racial oppression that built this country, but also the magnitude of your hypocrisy. Remember that the one who thought it would be cool to post on Instagram your well-dressed maids was you. And as I don’t see what benefits they would have in being recognized on the street as your employees, I deduce that those who expected garner ‘likes’ and followers was you.

I confess that initially I was going to pass this episode into blank, but after reading her response to Tatiana I couldn’t remain silent. Proudly she claimed that “they live with our family, we eat at the same table and talked and exchanged confidences as friends and even pay them well. No complaints, no crises on anyone’s part,” despite her clear intention to appease her detractors it could not have backfired more. It’s not because her madam-friends treat their servants with disdain and ignorance that you should be commended for not reproducing this immeasurable error. Paying people who you trust to raise your children well doesn’t make you a better boss, nor the fact that you share moments of your life with those who take care of your little ones. None of this makes you eligible for a Nobel Peace Prize or anything. Again: You do nothing more than your obligation to treat your employees as human beings, because – guess what – they are. And they deserve the same respect that you offer to your co-workers and those responsible for paying your salary on TV.

I imagine that nothing I say here will be able to shake the blind racism of someone who constantly evades the debate on the subject. But I hope you understand that people of color do not enjoy the same privilege of pretending not to see a reality that affects us daily.

I sincerely hope you have learned something from this controversy, but remembering how you evaded that same debate last year when you said: “Just because a I’m a branquinha (white girl)?,” I imagine that, once again, you will pass up the chance of accepting that the hard fought demands don’t revolve around your navel. At most, if it weren’t beyond demanding the goodwill of the members of the Casa Grande 2015, I recommend to the sinhá (missus/missy/ma’am) – who sang “Cada Macaco no Seu Galho” (Every monkey on its Branch) on her program after being involved in a controversy between FIFA and the Movimento Negro (Black Movement) – , avoid future embarrassments and become conscious. For one thing you and yours can be assured of, silencing and racism: it will not blow over!

Racial literacy: the case of Fernanda Lima and the black nannies

The problem is using an example that supposedly respects the otherness of others to highlight how a white boss is a good girl, an old colonial-Portuguese gimmick of instituting a “softer slavery.” It is to reiterate the seat of power of the heir to the casa grande (big house) and the place of subordination and acquiescence of those who had their ancestors enslaved.

By Cidinha Silva

Tayane Dias with João, one of Fernanda Lima's children

Tayane Dias with João, one of Fernanda Lima’s children

Laziness has always been an abominable sin for people who work a lot, but I must admit that the case of Fernanda Lima and her statements about her black nannies, her posing at the side of a black security guard, the gossip and drama of the big house and its heirs causes laziness in me. I feel like a marmot slithering down onto the foot of a tree, slower than a boa constrictor with a full stomach. How do I beat this laziness and even open my eyes to read the bunch of mediocrity emanating from the case, to put my hand on the mouse to open a file? This is how I feel taken by the beast of laziness.

Angela Dias and Tayane Dias (I overcame laziness and moved the mouse to find the name of the professionals), the nannies in question, are two nice and beautiful young black women, apparently full of the energy required to care for young children in movement. They must be enabled to work, because whoever can afford it, chooses to pick the professionals of whom to surround themselves, especially to take care of such precious beings as children, even if Fernanda states that they didn’t work and she taught them the service (pointing out the favor that she did for them). But if they are all this, what would be the problem with Fernanda Lima putting them on display, dressed in sophisticated way, as she probably feels at ease, and saying that her workers aren’t required to wear white uniforms?

The problem is using an example that supposedly respects the otherness of others to highlight how a white boss is a good girl, an old colonial-Portuguese gimmick of instituting a “softer slavery.” It is to reiterate the seat of power of the heir to the casa grande (big house) and the place of subordination and acquiescence of those who had their ancestors enslaved. People’s attitudes are not disassociated from time and space. Still the other day, there were rumors that Fernanda substituted for her black colleagues, a racist choice to star in the 2014 FIFA (World Cup) games Final Draw. Fernanda Lima completely dismissed the possibility of, even accepting the job, questioning the existence of racism and practices, albeit indirectly. Rather, all that one heard from the model and host was the jocular indignation: just because I’m branquinha (white girl)?

Blacks are crazy, some of her friends would say. They, influenced by Obama’s victory, no longer know what they want (their place) and think they can do anything. You see: if we show that we have black servants and treat them just right, they don’t like it. Okay. When we show that we have black friends who eat at the table with us and play with our children they also don’t like it. What do you want, anyway? If people like us have black friends it’s because they are on our level, people born without a pedigree, but fought with great effort and climbed the social steps to where we are. These people are lost, they don’t enjoy the freebies of being blacks of the middle class.

They say that men are perplexed over a young woman, they don’t know how to act, how to be manly and not be sexist, how to be sweetly masculine without overwhelming. This thing is difficult for them and I think that’s true for whites in relation to blacks as well. It’s very complex for whoever was accustomed to commanding and being obeyed, to provide employment at home and commit the children of the person employed to be employed by their own offspring in the future. Very gaudy aesthetics (in the sense of that which is not silent and screams); very straightforward confronting the whining of whiteness; resistance marches to acts of resistance, to the reduction of the legal age of criminal responsibility, against the genocide of black people, crespo (kinky-curly haired) empowerment, violence and racism imposed on women and for well-being.

For well-being! Black people vociferate in each act of resistance and tigritude that don’t accept condescending crumbs to their existence, demanding well-being. Hence the feeling of discomfort and perplexity of whiteness, shaking up their recalcitrant privileges. Stop with your tears! The tigritude is in the place (and for a long time).

Note from BW of Brazil: A short time after the controversy broke, one of the babysitters, Ângela Dias, came out in support of her boss….

Ângela Dias responds to criticisms of Fernanda Lima

Ângela Dias responds to criticisms of Fernanda Lima

After publication, the TV host received a shower of comments accusing her of racism. Irritated by this, one of the nannies came out in defense of her employer on social networks. “During work I don’t wear white clothes, I feel very good! And if I did wear them, what’s the problem? The important thing is the quality of my performance, and the confidence that they deposit in my work!! This picture was last week, I have freedom in everything, I thank Fernanda for the opportunity she gave me!” He wrote Ângela Dias in her Instagram profile.

The adoptive mother of girls, Flordelis also spoke about the wrong interpretation by the follower. “My husband and I are surprised by the critical comments of this controversy around the Fernanda post with our daughters, Ângela and Tayane. This shows how some people use the internet to interpret (things) in an unfortunate way, that they don’t know,” she told the “Retratos da Vida” (portraits of life) column of Extra newspaper.

Note from BW of Brazil: Now just be fair, this writer totally respects the feelings of Ângela Dias. She probably means them in all sincerity. But on the other hand, are we to simply accept without scrutiny her personal defense of her boss when she is financially dependent upon her? Really, if she felt differently and agreed with the criticism made of Lima, would she have been daring enough to admit this and risk her employment? The very fact that so many black people depend on whites for their very financial existence again re-iterates the point that is at the center of this whole controversy in the first place. Just one week ago we saw another example of this when a black gymnast was basically told to remain silent on an issue of racism he had experienced at the hands of his teammates. And like that case, the case involving Fernanda Lima provides yet another example of why it is pointless to discuss the idea of black people being just as racist as whites. Simply put, there is nowhere in Brazil where whites must depend on blacks for their sustenance. Period. And I’m quite sure that someone like Fernanda Lima would never understand that. 

SourceVarela Notícias, Revista Forum, Revista Forum (2)

2 comments on “Dear white “boss”: We know you didn’t mean to come off as a nice “master”, but….: The case of the blond TV host and her black nannies

  1. Brazilian
    August 14, 2015

    This reminds a passage on Charles Darwin’s autobiography. Darwin was against slavery and he once met a slave owner who wanted to convince him that “slaves liked to be be slaves”. To make his point, he asked each of his slaves in front of Darwin, if they liked to be slaves. Unsurprisingly, each one of them said “yes”…

  2. Breno Nakao
    August 15, 2015

    Another alternative to Angela Dias’ comment is that structural racism and its power dynamic can be harder to perceive when it’s happening with you. In a type of blind spot, where you don’t notice because it does not cause constant disconfort and you don’t think it would happen with you.

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