Note from BW of Brazil: If you think about it, there are literally hundreds of thousands f great personal history of black Brazilian women that could probably be made into documentaries or full-length films. But as Brazil’s media doesn’t consider the stories of its black citizens important, 99.99% of these histories will probably never told. In today’s post, we bring you three more great stories of overcoming and surviving and succeeding. Enjoy.
Being black and a woman, double discrimination in Brazil
A rapper, a teacher and a seamstress fight the statistics that make black women the most vulnerable group in Brazil
By Beatriz Sanz
Everyday situations like getting a doll in childhood, dance a quadrilha (see note one) at school or buying pantyhose have always been more complicated for Maria Lucia Archanjo. Born 59 years ago in Jundiaí, in the greater São Paulo region, Maria Lucia refused to participate in the junino festivities before, even being invited, because she was afraid of being rejected by the boys because of her color. In her youth, when she and her sisters wanted to go out, they had to dye their pantyhose. “We used to soak them in matte tea so they would be the color of our skin,” she says, who is a seamstress and set up a home workshop. The lack of identity in a country where the majority of women are black encouraged her to be a militant in the Movimento Negro (black movement) since the 1980s in the region of Jundiaí. Since then a lot has changed, some not so much.
In Brazil, a black man earns 40% more than a black woman. If compared to a white woman, the difference is even more pronounced: a white woman receives 70% more than a black woman.
Despite this picture, Mary emphasizes that great victories for black women were achieved through the struggle of days gone by. This is the case of the quota system for blacks and low-income students to go to college. “Today, if there are quotas it is because we started the reparations discussions at that time. People criticize, but quotas are necessary,” she recalls.
The law of domestic servants is also a subject that has been the subject of debates since the 1990s. “At a meeting of the Mulheres Negras do Interior de São Paulo (Black Women of the Interior of São Paulo) in 1995, one of the most relevant topics was the work of domestic servants. After so many years, they have achieved some rights.”
The so-called Domestic Workers’ PEC was regulated in 2015 and guaranteed benefits for those workers that, until then, remained at the mercy of their bosses. Some paid holidays or Fundo de Garantia (see note two), others didn’t, keeping them in a vulnerable situation.
Even with this recent guarantee, many black women have already understood that they can go beyond this ‘goodwill’ of white family homes. Joyce Fernandes, 31, for example, worked for much of her life as a maid. First, in adolescence, helping her mother. Then, taking over her own family home. It is not an isolated case since this the profession of 18% of all black Brazilian women. With less schooling, the fruit of a process that brings the echoes of the slavery that lasted until 1888, the women found in domestic work one of their few refuges.
Preta Rara, as she is known in the cultural scene where she acts as a rapper, decided to create a Facebook page, the “Eu, empregada doméstica” (Me, a Maid), to tell stories of racism, harassment and depreciation that women who work as maids face. “It was always my intention to give visibility and voice to these women, so that they could speak in the first person,” she says. She even heard from a boss that she shouldn’t go to school, but be happy in the position where she was, because her grandmother and her mother had been maids, so her fate was the same. But she decided it would not be. She rebelled and entered the university to study History. The blockade has broken out in a country where only 12% of the black population in Brazil has the same opportunity to attend higher education, and also with the help of racial quotas.
But in both rap and school, the battle is permanent. Once, before going to the classroom in a school in Santos, on the coast of São Paulo, she had to give a “test-lesson”. No other school teacher had gone through the same process.
Studying was also taboo for Cassia Maria Silva, 50. She always loved to study. So much so that she enrolled in her mother’s hidden school when she was 14. She took care of her brothers by day and went to class at night. But she had to stop, because he needed to work and delayed finishing high school until she was 26, when she already had a child. At age 30 she decided that he would go to college. She passed the vestibular (college entrance exam) in chemistry degree and entered the University of São Paulo (USP). “But my ex-husband could not afford to maintain the house. I couldn’t finish,” she recalls, remembering that she worked as a maid to support her home.
Nevertheless, three years later he was able to study Physics at the Santo André Foundation (FSA) and began teaching at a public school in Diadema, São Paulo, where she lives. There she taught mathematics, physics, chemistry, science and biology. But one night in 2003, when she was returning from college, she became part of the statistic which shows that a woman is raped every 11 minutes in Brazil. The assailant only let her go when he saw that her breast was leaking milk as she was still breastfeeding her youngest daughter. “He said he would not kill me because he also had children. I took the cocktail against AIDS for a long time,” she reports.
It was not the only adversity that life imposed on her. In 2006 she discovered breast cancer and went through the treatment journey. “My hair was huge, curly and I was left without a hair. I was very vain and I wondered how I was going to go out on the street bald,” she recalls. “I wasn’t worried about cancer, but about the lack of hair. So I put on a 15cm heel, a miniskirt, maquiagem perua (very colorful make-up turkey) and earrings. And when people would pity me for the bald head, they would look at my legs. I think I’m beautiful! “
Cássia returned to the classroom after the treatment. Until in 2015 she received a new diagnosis of cancer that gave her only six months of life. She defied the sentence, like she did with so many things that she needed to throughout her life. Today, she continues treatment while doing a course in gastronomy.
Maria Lucia also overcame cancer in 2010. But that’s past. Today, she is dedicated to educating her grandchildren to face another disease in Brazil: prejudice. “How do you say it? Empowerment? Because they are becoming more and more empowered!” says Maria, who is proud of her own destiny. “If I were white, I wouldn’t be so happy.”
Source: EL PAÍS Brasil
- Traditional dance between boys and girls at the popular festa junina parties.
- The Fundo de Garantia do Tempo e Serviço, also known as FGTS, which is the Severance Indemnity Fund for employees. It aims to create “personal reserve savings” for employees. It generates substantial funds that are then used to finance programs related to low-income housing, encourage urbanization projects, and develop infrastructure.