Woman is a victim of racism during lunch at work
“He said he wanted slavery to come back so I could have sex with him, while pretending to whip me,” says Eunice Oliveira.
Stories like the one I present today are very revealing in a number of ways in terms of race relations in modern day Brazil. The story speaks to how 1) Brazil is still very much influenced by the master/slave relations upon which the nation was constructed, 2) the lack of desire to treat the matter with any real importance in the workplace as well as in the society as a whole, 3) how race relations, in essence, haven’t changed in nation’s collective imagination and 4) the black woman is still seen as being only good for work and/or sexual relations.
On the 10th of this month, Eunice Oliveira, 30, was a victim of racism at the Club Med office where she worked in the Botafogo region of Rio de Janeiro. Eunice, who works as a travel agent says she was in the kitchen finishing up her lunch when she was approached and assaulted by a former employee of the company.
“The man held my arm and said that he wanted slavery to come back, so I wouldn’t have to talk, I would have to have sex with him while pretending he was whipping me,” she said in an interview.
“He, who must have been with the company for more than 40 years, used to make macho and sexist jokes, so some women wouldn’t talk to him. When he assaulted me, I said I didn’t want to hear that. He spoke as if it were a ‘joke’, as if it were normal.”
After the aggression, Eunice tried to go back work at her desk, but after the incident, she couldn’t manage to do so.
“I was overcome with despair and a felt very much like crying. I called my direct boss to explain what had happened, and he called a superior. They both wanted me to go and talk to my attacker, which I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want him to see me in that situation, I didn’t know what my reaction would be when I saw him. So, the bosses went to talk to the employee. What was resolved was that, when he would see me at the company, he would apologize. That was it”.
Even though Eunice managed to go and work at the company for two more days in a row, she remained shaken and lost sleep. “I looked for a psychologist who told me that I was under post-traumatic stress and referred me to a psychiatrist, who prescribed medication so that I could sleep, and gave me a doctor’s note that had me spend five days away from Club Med.”
As we can see from the details of Eunice’s experience, it appears that the aggressor had developed a reputation for approaching women in an unacceptable manner. That is quite apparent, but what is also important to point out here is the specifically racialized sexual connotations in the manner in which the offender decided to speak to Eunice. Many black women have shared their experiences with men approaching them through social networks in ways that suggest they were sexually available simply because they were black (see here and here). Yet, even in the face of so much evidence suggesting how much race figures into how people deal with each other, nowadays, people will often dismiss such discussions and demands that touch on race, slavery, racial inequality or reparations, by arguing that 1) “we are all equal”, 2) slavery ended a long time ago and 3) there’s no need to implement any sort of affirmative or reparational actions.
I also hope that she managed to see a black psychiatrist, as more and more black Brazilians are coming to the conclusion that white therapists often fall under the category of not believing racism exists or not knowing how to deal with race-related matters. Coincidentally, I just approached this issue in yesterday’s post. As Brazil is the country that still, to a degree, sees itself as a ‘racial democracy’, this is a pretty common complaint of black Brazilians seeking therapy to deal with a racist society.
People like to believe that remnants of the slavery era no longer have an influence to today’s society, but it’s intriguing considering the number of times we’ve seen Brazilians make remarks relating to slavery when they want to demean black people (see here or here). In fact, we’ve seen a number of incidents in recent years that show that Brazil still has a certain nostalgia for its near four centuries of slavery. For example, there was the hotel with the slavery-themed suites. Then there was the woman who turned her home into a slavery era tourist attraction. And we won’t even discuss the everyday comments in which people make references to slavery directed toward black people.
Given the fact that slave masters often raped, sexually exploited and initiated their sons sexually with black women, it should come as no surprise that the master/slave relationship is often invoked when men imagine sexual relations with black women still today. After all, although people like to declare that slavery ended sometime in the Middle Ages, in fact, slavery in Brazil ended just 131 years ago. These attitudes that are held in relation to the black population are often re-enforced by authorities, employers, etc. when they should be acting in manners that promote non-discriminatory environments.
For Eunice, this is not exactly what happened, as, upon her return to the office, she was in for another shock.
“I thought I could trust my direct boss until I found out that he had cursed me and called me a pain in the ass. I never expected to go through this, he was a person I trusted. So far, I’ve had no support from Club Med. The HR only contacted me because of the doctor’s note, I got no support from them.”
Instead of making itself fully available and willing to support Eunice in whatever she needed to address the situation, it seems that the company took issue that she didn’t just “get over it”. As such, Eunice filed a lawsuit against the former employee who assaulted her in the cafeteria, at the Racial Crimes and Intolerance Police Station, in Rio de Janeiro, and is planning on filing another against her direct boss.
Approached for a comment on the situation, in a note, the company stated that the employee in question was removed from the company and that they don’t condone racism. As we’ve seen time and time again, a company deals with a situation by issuing an almost template type response to the situation. You know the kind. Simply replace the company’s name and all these notes read alike. Repeat after me…
“We at Club Med vehemently repudiate racism as well as any act of discriminatory reason, whether based on gender, race, creed or any other nature, having terminated the employee in question as soon as we become aware of the case. Other measures in relation to this case are in progress. We pride ourselves on being a multicultural company.
“Since it became aware of the case, Club Med has been at the forefront to try to welcome and provide all necessary support to the collaborator and, to this end, has invited her on several occasions to open a dialogue after the event. Unfortunately, she chose not to talk to our Human Resources team. The company continues respecting her at this moment and is at her disposal at any time to support her”.
It goes without saying, I hope Eunice sees some sort of justice for this situation, but quite frankly I don’t have much faith in the way the system treats these sorts of cases. I don’t see this company that Eunice’s concerns any more serious than the gerontologist who expressed disappointment in how her company dealt with her concerns in the necessity of her interacting with possibly racist clients. In general, these sorts of situations are addressed with a simple ‘slap on the wrist’ that won’t resolve any future occurrences and the companies move on. We’ve seen how journalists can make openly racist statements, get fired and then simply get another job at another station (see here and here).
Unfortunately, if I were a betting man, I could see Eunice actually being the one who will be treated as if it were she who actually created the problem.
With information via Justiça de Saia