Rewinding the clock almost exactly one year, it was on December 15th, 2010, that I learned of the outrage caused by an advertisement of placed in the December issue of the Brazilian version of Rolling Stone magazine. The ad was placed by the Brazilian drink company Schincariol, the makers of a beer called Devassa. On pages 6 and 7 of this issue, one sees in the lower left corner of the, a photo of Devassa beer in the bottle and in beer in a glass with foam at the top. On the right side of the page appears a large drawing of a black woman in a long, revealing red dress, red stockings and high heels. The dress is cut down to beginning of the woman’s derriere, her left leg is bent at the knee on a table and the she is looking over her left shoulder. In big white letters in the top left corner of page 6, a sentence reads: “It is by the body that one recognizes the true negra.”
The ad makes use of a double entendre with the usage of two words: “body” and “negra”. “Body” in one sense is the mouth-feel and texture of a beer. “Body” also applies to the physical structure of a person or animal. The word “negra” can refer to the dark color of the beer but it also means “black woman.” The problem with the ad for black activists was the use of a common stereotype of Brazil’s women of African descent. During the 350-year period of slavery in Brazil (1538-1888), black women were continuously physically and sexually exploited. They were sexually abused by white male slave owners as well physically assaulted by the jealous white wives of the slave owners.
Black and mulata women were constant victims of rape as well as physical assaults in which their teeth were smashed, breasts mutilated and countless other forms of physical abuse. Young Afro-Brazilian girls also served as the sexual initiates of the male offspring of slave masters. During and after slavery, black women were relegated to the kitchen as cooks, breast fed the children of slave owners and by and large were forced into employment as domestic servants. Black women were stereotyped as having special sexual powers in the bedroom and every year, millions of people around the world see scantily clad Afro-Brazilian women dance during Brazil’s wildly popular, yearly Carnaval. An old Brazilian saying says that “White women are for marriage, mulata women are for sex and black women are for the kitchen.”
One must also understand that in Brazil, the term “mulata” can be applied to any attractive woman of African descent regardless of her skin color or hair texture. Today, Afro-Brazilian women continue to attain the least education and earn the smallest salary of the four main demographic groups (white men, black men, white women, black women) in the country. It is against this backdrop that the organization, the Rede Nacional Feminista de Saúde Direitos Sexuais e Direitos Reprodutivos (National Feminist Network of Health, Sexual Reproductive Rights) repudiated and demanded the removal of this image from future Devassa advertisements.
According to the group, the ad was:
“….explicitly disrespectful toward these women, whose process of racism and discrimination that they are historically subjected to in Brazil is characterized, amongst other manifestations, by the broadcasting of stereotypes and myths about their sexuality; a way to maintain barriers to their inclusion in the process of citizenship as people with equal rights.
“This culture legitimated the enslavement of black people that were brought from Africa for nearly 500 years, when black women, since they were girls, served as the sexual initiation of whites, affecting their lives, health, and violating their dignity as persons. Racial and gender discrimination are added making the fight for equality for black women a difficult challenge to overcome.”
The organization also created an online petition that people could sign in support of the discontinuation of the ad. In several social media outlets and blogs, the ad was a topic of discussion and outrage in the black Brazilian community.
For example, the professor, historian and feminist blogger Bárbara Machado wrote the following:
“Devassa Beer is running an advertisement in magazines with the illustration of a highly sexualized black woman next to the following sentence: “It is by the body that one recognizes the true negra.”’ This advertisement is a speech filled with a racist and sexist discourse that reduces the ‘real’ black woman to her body. This body must be thin, beautiful, curvy, sexy and, as suggested by the product-woman association, is a body object to be consumed. According to the advertisement, a black woman has no mind, no soul, has nothing besides a body. The company should be punished for such a racist and sexist manifestation.”