A restaurant, racism and the question of “place”: Is a “sit-in” necessary in 21st century Brazil?

Capa 2

Note from BW of Brazil: The origins of today’s post are actually from July 4th in a Facebook post that ended up being shared more than 400 times. The topic is not new to this blog but it speaks to the blatant types of racism that people still try to deny in Brazil. As usual, I must point out that regardless of how often these types of blatant displays of racism happen, the average Brazilian will still ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist and point the finger at the United States, a country that everyone believes to be more blatantly racist than Brazil. But this incident actually reminded me much of a shameful period in American history when black Americans were being segregated into certain areas of buses and restaurants.  

The 2013 Lee Daniels film "The Butler", released as "O Mordomo da Casa Branca" in Brazil
The 2013 Lee Daniels film “The Butler”, released as “O Mordomo da Casa Branca” in Brazil

Coincidentally, just before receiving news of this incident I had finally sat and watched the much talked about 2013 film, The Butler. In one scene from this movie there was a re-enactment of the so-called 1960s “sit-ins” in which primarily African-American customers would sit in areas of restaurants in which the service was reserved for only whites. Angry whites began spraying ketchup, mustard and dumping different types of food on black Americans who dared to sit in an area outside of “their place”. These confrontations sometimes ended with these consumers being violently removed from the establishments.

1960 photo of African-American students during a "sit-in" in a North Carolina FW Woolworth store after they were refused service
1960 photo of African-American students during a “sit-in” in a North Carolina FW Woolworth store after they were refused service

But that was in 1960s segregated America. Surely this type of thing wouldn’t happen in Brazil…in the 21st century….right??? Well, it didn’t happen in the exact manner, but the idea of “place” (which is still woven into the fabric of Brazilian society) was much too similar for me to totally disregard the comparison.

Our place is in the periphery: when subtle racism is no longer subtle

By Mirela Oliveira

(Originally posted in Blogueiras Negras)

The Diplomata bakery in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais (southeast Brazil)
The Diplomata bakery in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais (southeast Brazil)

Our majority are used to only giving attention to instances of racism when they gain greater media exposure.

These cases make news when they reach extreme situations like deaths, kidnappings, tortures and arrests “by mistake”. I don’t say that these cases don’t deserve due attention; it which happens in the day to day of negrxs (black men and women), acts of racism are masked, subtle and occur with an absurd frequency. The dirty looks, people keeping their distance, the rich firmly holding their bags, locking the door of the bank, undue “beating” of the police, rejection in job interviews, and sexual tourism and expulsion from the middle class bakery are examples. Yes, expulsion from the bakery!

On July 4, 2014, I and some friends of a black majority went to the Padaria Diplomata (Diplomata Bakery) in downtown Belo Horizonte to buy some drinks when we decided to sit there to eat and talk. The bakery was filled due to it being a game day of the seleção (Brazilian soccer national team) and, in besides employees, we were the only blacks there. Even with everyone having their bills in hand, a supposed manager of the bakery didn’t stop questioning exclusively us blacks, if we had paid for the product. I emphasize that throughout the questioning, we were still consuming. Our conversation was interrupted several times to know if we had intended on leaving without paying. A friend politely told the manager that the situation was getting extremely uncomfortable when she was startled with screams. The guy said he was only keeping an eye on his bakery, was just doing his job and didn’t need us there. He then ordered us to leave.

Mirela Oliveira (red flowers) with friends, Carol Bitencourt, Mathaüs Caricate, Catarina Melo Dos Prazeres, Dú Pente, Carolina Shirlenson, Tipo Frois Shirlenson and Veridiane Vidal
Mirela Oliveira (red flowers) with friends, Carol Bitencourt, Mathaüs Caricate, Catarina Melo Dos Prazeres, Dú Pente, Carolina Shirlenson, Tipo Frois Shirlenson and Veridiane Vidal

Clearly we didn’t comply because we were paying like any other ordinary “white middle class” customer of that establishment and had the right to finish our snacks before leaving.

The dispute extended when we refused to remove our black presence from that place that was so purely white, and to top it off, the manager directed himself toward a black woman and said in a loud tone, “This bakery is not for you, your place is in a periphery bakery.” (1)

After the expulsion and racist statements of the manager, we proceeded to the Military Police (MP) to register a BO (Boletim de Ocorrência or incident report). Another battle: dealing with the MP who was also racist. When talking to the cops we had to hear that “it’s not even such a big deal, you’re already all black” and that it was best if we leave this for later because the police station was very crowded. On the way to the station to express my outrage of the situation in a conversation with another officer, I had to hear that what I was saying was “being racist.” Once inside the station, the same policeman who said that “we’re all black”, filling out our record, marked us down as pardos (brown), not as negros, disrespecting once again our identity and will. He claimed that according to the system we were not negros (2). Even with our complaint he said that he could not change it.

Belo Horizonte (dotted), the capital city of Minas Gerais (orange)
Belo Horizonte (dotted), the capital city of Minas Gerais (orange)

The manager of the bakery already had an arrest warrant for failing social-educational measures and for this reason he was detained. We registered the police report and now we are awaiting decisions of prosecutors.

Society will say that the thing is our head and we see racism in everything. The police will say that we are all black people who are being racist to ourselves, that we are not even so black and treat us as low priority. All these attitudes we already know. Having undeserved in dealing with humiliation, taking a Friday night trip to the police station, hearing words of contempt from the aggressor being unpunished is not something on our heads. It’s something in your heads who judge this as normal. For us it is not. It is illegal, it is unacceptable and it is painful.

This type of humiliating situation is quite everyday. After we talked about it, many commented other blacks commented that they had been through something like this and unfortunately did not take the necessary measures. This exclusion of blacks from certain spaces is evident and it’s enough just to look to your side to realize that there are blacks being excluded in every square meter. Restaurants, banks, art galleries, expensive shops and the like are of such a high level that our color does not allow us to reach them. We are all suspects that will steal, rob, or leave without paying. The idea is to keep us segregated in the periphery not to end the forced white scenario in the south zone. If you were to enter, it’s only to clean and serve, never to consume.

I really feel better and much better treated in establishments of the periphery, from there that I come there and there that I feel at home, however, we don’t limit ourselves to occupying other spaces only in menial positions. The bakery in the south zone is also ours as those who mainly work in the operation there is our people. That we can occupy both unquestioningly, and that when questioned, mistreated or expelled, that have complaints, that those accused be judged and that there is, above all RESISTANCE. That racism, even though subtle, is pointed out. We don’t accept spending even one more day “under the bloodthirsty eye of the lookout”.

Source: Blogueiras Negras

Notes

1. Periferia or periphery is another common topic on the blog. The terminology refers to areas on the outskirts of cities where poorer, mostly black people live. As the group consisted of black men and women, the manager’s prejudice connected skin color with perceived social class and clearly suggested that this parcel of the population didn’t belong in an establishment patronized by persons of white/whiter skin color.

2. Here, the author notes another common facet of Brazilian society in regards to racial classification. As 19th century Brazil had an official plan to “whiten” its population via European immigration and the promotion of racial mixture, blackness has long been a stigmatized classification that many persons of visible African ancestry themselves have attempted to avoid, preferring to define themselves with more socially “acceptable” color-coded/racial terms such as “pardo”, “mulato” or “moreno”. It is also common for many white Brazilians, also seeing the term “negro” as an insult, to persuade persons of visible African ancestry to call themselves “morenos” when they are considered physically attractive or have some sort of class status. As the author of this post and her friends define themselves as “negros”, the politically accepted term for Brazilians who accept a black identity, it was a double shock to first be discriminated because they were blacks deemed to be “out of their place” but then to be defined as “pardos”. As a woman from Salvador also realized, this is not a rare incident. The incident in the Belo Horizonte bakery is symbolic of this blog’s stance on the issue of who exactly is considered preto, pardo or negro. The point here (again) is that persons of African descent experience discrimination due to their African ancestry not their European ancestry which in turn subjects them to acts of discrimination.

About Marques Travae 2894 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

3 Comments

  1. Another glaring point in this story is that because these people were Black they were perceived as being unable to pay for their purchase. There wasn’t an unwillingness to serve the Black clients, but there is also an expectation that their stay should be short; do not linger, do not stick around, just buy and get out. I wont refuse your money, but I refuse your presence in my establishment for any lengthy period of time. Even more interesting is the name of the bakery “Diplomata” which would seem to be a diplomatic place, the irony of it all.

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