Black professor wins legal victory against racism; director called her a monkey*

Over a period of years analyzing Brazilian society, I have heard more times than I can remember that the tone of racism that exists in Brazil is more subtle than that that exists in the US. I hear this from many common folks and even academic works attest to this belief. While I don’t deny that subtle racism clearly exists in Brazilian society, it is clear that blatant racism also exists. From vigilante death squads that seem to have a mission to exterminate the black population in northeastern states such as Alagoas, Pernambuco and Bahia, to every day verbal aggressions, it makes no sense to me how people insist that racism is more subtle in Brazil. It is also a common belief that once black Brazilians attain certain credentials or improve their socioeconomic situation, racism will not affect them.

To illustrate this point and debunk this belief, I will highlight just one incident that happened last summer. This incident is by no means an isolated incident as various newspapers, television news programs and hundreds of academic studies have divulged countless examples of the prevailing practice of racism endemic in Brazilian society. Last July, the teacher and educator of social sciences, Neusa Maria Marcondes (photo), 62, won a suit for the crime of racism against her by the director of the Benedito Calixto School District elementary schools, Frances Silvana Teixeira. The ruling came on July 6 (2011) in the city São Paulo.

Marcondes explained that she was verbally abused by the director because she was black:
“She [the director] called me into her office for me to sign a document, and then said this: ‘come here and sign this document, you macaca (monkey).’ I am a militant, unionized and I am active in the Movimento Negro** (…), (and I) could not in any way let this disrespectful act go unpunished.”
In March of 2009, the teacher filed a racial crime against the director and waited for the decision to go public. During this period, many people told her to give up because it would be of no use to pursue the suit and that she should simply excuse the behavior of the director.  Marcondes did not give up and continued with the suit.

The director was sentenced to one year imprisonment but the sentence was reduced to community service. The defendent worked out an agreement and agreed to pay one minimum salary (R$545 which is about $300) for the damages.  

“Unfortunately in this country nobody goes to jail, but I’ll continue fighting against impunity”, Marcondes said.

Neusa said that in addition to criminal prosecution, she  will demand a position from the Coordinator of Education of Itaquera (state of São Paulo) and the Ombudsman of the Department of Education on the case. The teacher hopes that people have the courage to stand up against any kind of prejudice:

“Whoever suffers from homophobia, racism or sexism, they have to react, we cannot suffer in silence; if we accept the prejudice we will not get anything, we need to fight and not back down.”

Neusa said that unfortunately there is prejudice against blacks in Brazil, in a veiled way, but it exists:

What is it to be black in Brazil? It is being discriminated against and subdued. We need to be strong to overcome all of this (…) we have to be warriors and keep fighting. The legal proceeding of this racial crime that I won in court is a victory not only for me, but for the whole black movement.”

There are key several things to consider in this case. First, it is important to realize that Marcondes is a teacher, which tells us that she is educated and that she has a certain level of status. This debunks the idea that social status eliminates prejudice. The second thing that caught my attention was her belief that prejudice against black existed in a “veiled way.” Everyday in Brazil, Afro-Brazilians are accosted with all sorts of insulting terms besides the aforementioned macaca (monkey).

Here are only a few of those terms:

Negro safado: shameless, dirty and mischievous
Negro de merda: black piece of shit
Negro nojento: disgusting black.

Another common insult that one hears throughout Brazil is:

Só pode ser coisa de preto or só pode ser preto: Meaning, in a negative situation, “It could only be a thing of the black/black thing” or “It could only have been a black”, or “Only a black would do such a thing.”

Between the years 1998 and 1999, University of São Paulo professor of Anthropology Antonio Sérgio Alfredo Guimarães studied complaints of racial insults at a São Paulo police station. He found that racial insults are most commonly used in work environments, neighborhoods and in stores or areas of consumption. The term macaca (feminine) or macaco (masculine) are the most commonly used animal insult against Afro-Brazilians. The objective of this type of insult is to demean the subject, classify them as less than human and/or maintain them in the inferior social place that Brazilian society has historically reserved for the person of African descent.

In my view, there’s certainly nothing subtle or “veiled” about that.

* –  Article and court decision from July of 2011

** – Collective group of Black Brazilian civil rights organizations

Pieces of this article were translated from the Portuguese

About Marques Travae 2895 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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