Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

“Doctor, are you Cuban?”: Woman is first black doctor in a town in Bahia and people assume that she must not be Brazilian


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Note from BW of Brazil: In a society like that of Brazil that has purposely created barriers to leave its black population behind those who are white (or something close to white), stories like those shared by a black doctor in today’s post are nothing surprising. We’ve already seen numerous stories in which black people are told that they don’t look like this or that (doctor or lawyer, for examples) and whether people want to admit it or not, it is directly due to the fact that Brazilians are still not accustomed to black people occupying certain occupations. Jogador de futebol (soccer player)? Of course, that’s believable. A samba or funk singer? That’s also believable. A security guard, Carnaval dancer, maid or the street sweeper? These are all positions that Brazil expects to find black people. But when they start wearing doctor’s jackets or judge’s robes, THAT cannot be possible! “Those are not the places of black Brazilians” is the immediate reaction, even if people don’t actually say these words. Sometimes these cases are not specifically about racism as much as the fact that Brazil is decades behind in advancing the position of its black population. If this were the case, we wouldn’t need to talk about the “first black” this or that because it would be seen as normal. 

Just a little background for the story below…A few years ago, the Brazilian government implemented a program entitled Mais Médicos, meaning ‘more doctors’, the aim of which was make more doctors available to serve the country in more remote towns and cities outside of the capitals and large cities of the states. A large number of the doctors participating in this program came from Cuba, which explains the question that is the name of this article. 

“Doctor, are you Cuban?”

The doctor Maysa Teotonio Simão shared in a social network the strangeness of her patients when they came across her, the first black doctor of the municipality of Jandaíra, in Bahia

By Juliana Gonçalves

“The first question of almost 70% of my consultations in my first 2 months of medical care in the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) Program was: “Doctor, are you Cuban? “. Then mine: “No, uai” – as a good mineira (native of state of Minas Gerais), it was always my turn to ask, “Why are you asking me this?” And the answers were of an impressive variety. Sometimes they blamed meu black (afro hairstyle), sometimes my way of dressing, sometimes my accent (very mineiro and very Brazilian), a few had the courage to say upfront that it was my skin color that was the reason for strangeness – these were the ones I most admired. However the vast majority of patients answered only: “Because you are different.”

This is the way the post written by doctor Maysa Teotonio Simão that went viral in a social network in the beginning of January of this year began. The text, which might have a tone of a rant at the annoyance of insistent inquiries, however, was a statement full of optimism. “… may we have more and more different doctors, or rather, have more and more doctors who look like the people!”, she wrote in the closing passage.

Maysa says that by talking to her co-workers and patients, she discovered that the municipality of Jandaíra (in the state of Bahia) had never seen a black doctor before the Mais Médicos program. This explains, according to her, the strangeness, but more than that, reflects the affective bonds that she created with her patients. “I think when they look at me, they see each other and representation, yes, it’s important, transformative and revolutionary,” she says.

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Maysa with her patient, Pedro Soares. “One of the most vivid and intense men I’ve ever met! Funny and festive,” she says. Image / Personal Archive

In an interview with Saúde Popular, Maysa revealed how she decided to be a doctor, the challenges she faced when she decided to take a place that socially is not for black people and decided to become a doctor.

Saúde Popular: How and why did you choose to study medicine?

Maysa Teotonio: I remember the exact moment that I decided to be a doctor. I was accompanied weekly by a friend of my grandmother Maria’s church during her visits to an asylum near the São Judas Tadeu Church in Belo Horizonte (capital of Minas Gerais). I was about 15 years old and had a lot of fun spending the afternoon with those older women and men. Sometimes I would paint their nails, listen stories, sometimes just hold some of their hands. I liked caring, listening, watching. I always liked it and I thought medicine was that. Today I’m sure medicine is that. Medicine is the great social science of caring, listening and observing. I like the feeling I had in that place so much that it made me want to take the medical course.

Saúde Popular: What is it like to be a black doctor in Brazil?

Maysa Teotonio: Being a black doctor in Brazil is to face Brazilian racism, as Professor Kabengele Munanga said, one of the most sophisticated, the “perfect crime” – the racists themselves do not recognize themselves as such and the blacks have their blackness massacred everyday – to reconstruct our negritude (which has been mutilated through all these years of exclusion and social marginalization) is extremely necessary and it prepares us to face the day-to-day when we escape the place destined for blacks in our society.

Saúde Popular: Tell us about your graduation.

Maysa Teotonio: In a class of 160 students, we had only 10 blacks. It is the empowerment of our blackness that enables us to question the reason for this. Being that our class was the first group with racial quotas (in the Bônus era) at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). But it didn’t add up. I remember when I questioned this in a group of white friends, they told me that they had never noticed that. I would perceive this every day.

Saúde Popular: Was there any specific episode?

Maysa Teotonio: Yes, that is why the empowerment of our blackness is essential. So that we question. It was the empowerment over our blackness that allowed me to question why I had a single black medical professor throughout the course. It was the empowerment about our blackness that allowed me to question and problematize when a teacher suggested that I wear the neatest hair. Or when a patient refused to be attended by me – at a stage of the course where patients were already attended to by the students and cases passed on to the professors – and at the end of the consultation, hearing in a supposed compliment, “she realized that knowledge has nothing to do with appearance. ” Only with empowerment over our blackness can we continue to move towards the great transformations that we aim for.

Source: Gama Livre

One comment on ““Doctor, are you Cuban?”: Woman is first black doctor in a town in Bahia and people assume that she must not be Brazilian

  1. Brazille Musumba
    January 28, 2017

    I am truly empowered by this article. It is my wish to visit this beautiful country, especially Bahia

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This entry was posted on January 27, 2017 by in black Brazilians, black women, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .
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