“A passenger didn’t get what he wanted and threw a banana at the black flight attendant”: “Black Flight” group wants to give black flight crews visibility

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Note from BW of Brazil: Since September of 2000, I’ve frequently flown to the northeast and southeast of Brazil. In all of those trips, I can’t say that I remember being served by a black flight attendant. I can’t say for certain that I was never served by one, but I can say with full certainty that I could count the total on one hand. Mind you, right now, I’m specifically speaking of Brazilian crews, be they on an international flight or a connection flight within the country. What does this say about Brazil’s airline system? Would it be fair to surmise that there is an inherently racist, exclusionary organizational culture within these airlines?

Well, let’s consider a few facts. The airline industry is clearly not immune to racist thought and behavior, be it from the airline crews themselves or the passengers using their services. What evidence do I have? Well, first, if we can find racism in the organizational culture of numerous other industries in Brazil, why would the airline industry be any different? Two, although I haven’t focused on the airline industry in my reports over the years, there have still been a handful of articles that focus on this.

There was the incident back in 2016 in which actor Érico Brás and his wife Kenia were kicked off of a flight for being deemed a ‘threat to security’. Then there was the incident from 2015 in which passengers on a flight from the capital city of Brasília to São Paulo were clearly agitated with the presence of a group of black students on the plane. In that case, not only did the passengers express their disapproval, but later the flight attendants also treated the student group with more hostility that understanding when they began a protest right on the plane. Then, last year, social influencer Rene Silva heard a woman express her opinion that planes used to be only for “chic” people, but that nowadays anyone can fly.

So, I guess we can say that “flying while black” is still an issue for people in Brazil. So, you can just imagine that this attitude extends to working on planes as well. Flight attendant Kenia Aquino was featured in an article on this blog back in 2017 so I’m sure she’s had plenty of experiences in which she came to understand that her presence isn’t always accepted on planes, even occupying a status that Brazil continues to reserve for black people: service. Similar to other initiatives meant to give black Brazilians a sort of support network, Kenia’s experiences have led her to do the same for black flight attendants. Check out her story below.

“A passenger didn’t get what he wanted and threw a banana at the black flight attendant”: “Black Flight” wants to give black crews visibility

By Gabrielly Ferraz; Interview by Gabrielly Ferraz, Editing by Silvia Nascimento

The barriers to be faced by blacks who decide to become a flight to arduous resistance and head towards mental illness caused by veiled racism.

The racism that occurs on board is not yet a motive for the big airlines to put on the agenda, thus causing a deafening silence of black flight attendants, who unfortunately are subject to the naturalization of such situations.

We spoke with Kenia Aquino, a stewardess with more than 10 years of experience, founder of the ‘Voo Negro’ (Black Flight) project that assists, encourages and contemplates thousands of black crew members in Brazil. And listening to their reports in all these years of experience it was possible to notice that racism in Brazil, continues to be fed and grows incessantly.

In addition to this ‘subtle’ racism that flight attendants suffer from passengers, recruiters, and even staff, there are other issues that make the profession even more daunting for blacks. Requirements for superior behavior, underestimation of their ability, and the limitations that only fall onto black bodies are one of them.

“I realize, indeed, that there is a difference in valuation and demand. Because one thing is directly linked to another, since I’m a comissária de voo negra (black flight attendant) I need to keep the demands that are made on board in the same way for all our customers, but I’m not the same as all other flight attendants.” Kenia says she still remembers a time when a passenger turned down the water she was offering and then requested a glass of water from another flight attendant, who, by an unexpected coincidence, was white.

Kenia Aquino
Kenia Aquino, a flight attendant for over 10 years (Photo: Personal Archive)

“In general, I’m the only black girl on the passage, rarely do we have two black people on the same crew. When I, as a black body, come up to a passenger and need him to do something he doesn’t want to do, he usually has a much greater tendency to send a complaint to the company because he feels very offended by my ‘NO’,” Kenia says of a situation of tension between her and a passenger who refused to respect the standard flight rules that she had given him.

As in many other areas of activity, blacks continue to be underestimated and summarized as “inexperienced” in aviation companies.

While there is a black person striving for excellence in his/her ranks, there is a white person doing average work and receiving much more merit for it. And this ‘no’ recognition can generate frustration that consequently discourages many black flight attendants from pursuing their careers.

“There are flight attendants who are getting sick because they are experiencing scenes of institutional racism, it is not the institution of the Airline, but Brazil, the people, the passengers, the employees, the service providers, the whole Brazilian system is racist.”

The subject ‘Cotidiano dos comissários de bordo negros’ (daily life of black flight attendants) is not something we hear constantly, after all, how often do we see them? And what besides the fact that we live in an extremely racist country would justify the lack of these black professionals on the airlines? We can point out some factors, such as: social inequality, which often prevents a black, poor, person from the periphery from being aware of what is required to become a flight attendant, or also the financial difficulty that will prevent him/her long before being able to enroll in a course because of the lack of languages, but often will always return to the skin color that will take away your well-deserved position and put in place a white, blond and probably blue-eyed person.

This was the case of Kenia in her first flight attendant selection process.

“I am aware that we are not all that many, but we do exist,” says Kenia as she reminds us of the reason that led her to create the “Voo negro”, meaning ‘black flight’: The lack of representativeness.

“There are several pages and profiles on social networks that talk about the profession, which encourage the sflight attendants, the student flight attendants, extol the beauty of the Brazilian flight attendants of the world. And at the time, I didn’t identify any profile that contemplated the black flight attendants. They are several distinct profiles there that have 200, 300, 400 posts and some of them had no photos of black flight attendants and some had one or two photos.”

VooNeg
Posts from the VooNegro page

It is feasible to point out that the subtlety with which many cases of racism happen on board, may directly influence the lack of repudiation measures against this practice, from the airlines. But it would be a little unrealistic to believe such ingenuity from large aviation companies. Racism must become an agenda among these companies, inform passengers about the consequences of this practice and support black commissioners who are often exposed to such situations is something that should already have been done.

“There is no anti-racist policy in Brazilian airlines, it doesn’t exist. It has never been, never been an issue for these companies, nor for the organs that permeate airlines, trade unions, or associations. There is a collective awakening, and there is a huge need to do more.”

With the initiative of Kenia, in the creation of the ‘Black Flight’ today, the aspirants to the black flight attendant of Brazil, have someone with whom to be inspired, to remove their doubts and to discover more about the daily life of the black crew members.

Good results have been proven since the project’s inception, the black flight attendants, who once found themselves alone in a daily struggle, can now count on the support of other crew members who understand their pain. It’s about comfort, understanding, representativeness and endurance.

“We are in contact with airlines and some African-descendant entities and school of flight attendants to get airlines to open selection specifically for black people, because there would be no ‘excuse’ that there are no black people in aviation because they don’t take the course, there are a lot of black people who took the course and are ready to start, they just don’t have the same opportunities.”

‘Black Flight’ is not limited to just one profile on a social network, Kenia also told us about the new project that is already in effect in partnership with the ‘Palegre’ school of flight attendants.

“This would be the second part of my project, we intend to create 100% scholarships for black people in aviation schools, we need to break this financial barrier, and convince peripheral people that it is possible to follow this path, currently I already conduct a work of lectures with people who aspire to become flight attendants, I work with people from all ethnic groups, but I will always assume that black people face more difficulties.”

Courtesy of Mundo Negro

About Marques Travae 3221 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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