BW of Brazil: Since the initiation of Brazil’s “Mais Médicos” program to increase the country’s number of doctors per resident rate, a tidal wave of controversy has exploded on the internet. The program touched off protests by the Brazilian medical establishment all over the country who took to the streets in several cities to express their outrage at the government’s latest experiment. While some sites have pointed out the politics involved in this program, other controversies have surrounded comments being made about the Cuban doctors themselves. The Cubans have been called “slaves” that need to “go back to Cuba” and one journalist took to her Facebook account questioning their skills and saying that they looked like maids. Really? Why? What is it about the appearance of these highly trained doctors that would make someone say they look like maids? Here are a few clues: 1) In Brazil, the slavery of Africans lasted for about 350 years. 2) A common saying in Brazil is “white woman for marriage, mulata for sex and black woman for work”, which leads to 3) Brazil has the largest number of maids in the world, which leads to 4) black women are the majority of maids in Brazil and 5) Until a very recent law, Brazilian maids worked in conditions that many say were analogous with slavery.
Journalist says Cuban doctors look like ‘maids’
from G1 in Rio Grande do Norte
‘Are they really doctors?’ asked Micheline Borges on Facebook. After more than 5,000 shares, she deleted her account on the social network.
The declaration of a journalist from Rio Grande do Norte about the appearance of the Cuban doctors who came to Brazil to work in the “Programa Mais Médicos” (More Doctors program) sparked controversy in social networks on Tuesday (August 27). The journalist Micheline Borges published that the doctors have the face of “maids” and questions whether the women were really health professionals. “Are they really doctors?”, she contested. She deleted her account on the social network after the impact of the message, which generated more than five thousand shares until 4pm on that Tuesday.
“Forgive me if it was prejudice, but these Cuban doctors have the face of a maid. Are they really doctors? Afe, how terrible. Doctors usually have a posture, like a doctor, they impose themselves from their looks … Poor thing of our population. Do they understand dengue (1)? Febre amarela (Yellow fever)? God protect our people ! (sic)”, read the message posted in the morning.
At the G1 news site, the journalist apologized to those who were offended and said she had been misunderstood. “It was an unfortunate comment, I just want to apologize, I was very distressed. I received a very large proportion in social networks, where people interpret it the way they want. I have no prejudice against anyone, I did not want to hit anyone or hurt the image or the profession of anyone,” she said.
The director of the Sindicato das Empregadas Domésticas (Union of Domestic Employees) of Rio Grande do Norte, Israel Fernandes, said he will examine the possibility of going to court against the journalist. “This is absurd. In the 21st century a person still has that kind of thinking. I don’t think this girl is really a journalist. Racism, discrimination is a crime. I’m going to get together with the other members of the union to examine the possibility of going to court. She will respond to these crimes.”
Note from BW of Brazil: Of course there will be those who will argue that there was nothing actually racist about Borges’ comments as, after all, there are also white maids in Brazil. But here’s the point. White women are not stereotyped as maids. When people knock on doors of households in Brazil, people don’t automatically ask white women if the “lady of the house is home” or assume any black woman in a luxury apartment is a maid. White women are not overwhelmingly cast as maids on Brazilian television (2). And the last point, which is actually a question. If one puts two women in the same attire and asks the average Brazilian which woman works as a maid, which woman would they most likely point to? (3) Case closed!
1. Dengue fever, also known as breakbone fever, is an infectious tropical disease caused by the dengue virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and a characteristic skin rash that is similar to measles. In a small proportion of cases the disease develops into the life-threatening dengue hemorrhagic fever, resulting in bleeding, low levels of blood platelets and blood plasma leakage, or into dengue shock syndrome, where dangerously low blood pressure occurs. Source
2. Carmen Sívia Moraes Rial found in her research that black men and women only appeared in Brazilian commercials in the role of low paid employees, mostly as maids (drivers, gardeners, cooks). Source: “Racial and Ethnic Stereotypes in Brazilian Advertising e Manezinho: de ofensa a troféu.” Da Silva, da Rocha and dos Santos also point out that “The Brazilian discourse constructed, in the symbolic plane, a space of almost total subordination to the black women, in which the character-types are the domestic (or slave in narratives of the era) and the prostitute (with variations of voluptuous or hyper-sensual women). Source: “Negras (os) e brancas (os) em publicidades de jornais paranaenses” by Paulo Vinícius Baptista da Silva, Neli Gomes da Rocha e Wellington Oliveira dos Santos.
3. The subordinate position of black women in the social imagination was the focus of a campaign in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul in 2010. This image is also at the center of discussions of the need to adapt policies to improve the image of black women.