Note from BW of Brazil: This is actually a follow-up story to a piece from several months ago. It exemplifies how the privilege of whiteness can give someone an advantage even when someone is part of one of society’s rejected groups: homeless beggars. Like the majority of persons who are murdered in Brazil, the majority of persons living on the streets are also Afro-Brazilian. But there is a clear difference between how black homelessness and poverty is viewed as opposed to when the beggar is a handsome white man. In December, residents of a major city were so fed up that they actually organized a protest rally against the homeless. While you read the details, consider the kindness that a Canadian visitor in Rio showed toward the homeless in Rio versus how Brazilians themselves reacted to their own. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Canadians in general automatically deal the situation better, but it’ still an interesting contrast.
The case of the hot, handsome (white) beggar and the trash – black beggars: the color of those who deserve or not to stay on the street
By Higor Faria
On December 8 there were reports that residents of Florianópolis (1) protesting against the presence of homeless people in the region. For those who complained, people living on the streets led to “dirt, drugs, disagreements and murder” and therefore, it was an attempt to “clean up the beach for the arrival of tourists.” These and other inhuman terms used by protesters were brought forth by the report published on the website of Fórum Magazine.
Interestingly, the next day, the G1 website reported that “mendigo gato de Curitiba (handsome/hot beggar from Curitiba) (2)” returned to rehab to receive medical treatment and announced his marriage. I was happy and congratulate his recovery and wish many happy returns alongside his future wife. What I deal with in this text has nothing to do with the person, Rafael Nunes, but with his condition. It has to do with all of us who define to whom our tears and efforts will be directed, to whom the opportunities will be offered and what kind of other beings we want to leave from the state of vulnerability and reach status of heroism.
In stories about the protests from Florianópolis, all the images that showed the homeless were black people. No doubt most of the victims of the protests are black – 67 % (According to the Pesquisa Nacional sobre a população em situação de rua or National Research on the population living on the streets). In Brazil, we are the majority when it comes to areas of vulnerability.
The homeless have a pre -established color: it is black.
This is what differentiates the “handsome beggar from Curitiba” from the rest of the beggars in the country. He is white. And, being white, he is treated humanely while black homeless people don’t get even this basic type of treatment. Racism operates well.
In the majority of the articles, the “handsome beggar from Curitiba” is also addressed by name – his name is Rafael Nunes. Being called by the name is the same thing as recognizing the other, regardless of his or her situation, is a person that has an identity, history and trajectory. The black homeless of Florianópolis don’t have a name. Looking like the “loads” of enslaved Africans who received the same name when they came to Brazil – one load of Francisco, another João, another Maria, etc. They also look like that only black friend that is always treated by a generic nickname – neguinho (little black), negão (big black), pretinho (little black). This historical form of invisibility is not a coincidence.
The Curitiba beggar is given the status of “gato” (meaning “cat” or hot/handsome guy) because his phenotype has reproduced the deified European standard for decades. Moreover, in our racist setting racist, his light skin and eyes put him in a situation of not belonging to the streets. After all, it is naturalized that blacks should occupy this space and not white. Also due to this, the “hot beggar” had support and outrage in social networks and in the media throughout Brazil. From this national uproar, opportunities arose: he got a job at a modeling agency, paid rehab, finished high school and even got someone with whom to share the hard times on his journey to stop using drugs.
Others have no name. Achieving a title of beauty restricted to those who weren’t born white is unthinkable. “Now they’re messing the city, making it uglier”. The story of the dirty, old black is old, but it is avenged in the imagination of many today. There is no national uproar, but racism, prejudice, stigmatization and neglect abound. From this intolerance, the results were these protests. In Florianópolis protesters admitted that. Instead of fighting for better conditions for those who are in vulnerable situations (as fought for in the case of “hot beggar”), they asked for the cleaning the streets, for exportation or by any other measure – in other words, extermination – in order to clean the beaches of Canasvieiras. For people on the streets, there was minimal humane treatment because they are not like the “hot beggar”. They are not white.
And the selectivity does not stop there. The “mendigo gato” turned into an “example of overcoming”, a hero: he left the streets, quit drugs, got a job, is finishing his studies and going to get married. The beggars of Florianópolis don’t receive half the aid or the opportunities and are vagabonds, nuisances, trash that deserve to be swept from the beaches; all of this because our look is different than that of different ethnic groups.
When I say that skin color defines what types of opportunities will be given or what obstacles will be imposed to the individual or to a certain group it is to cases such as “mendigo gato from Curitiba” and the protests against those from Florianópolis that I refer.
And there are those who still believe that the issue is merely social class.
Note from BW of Brazil: One would think that it would be true that there is no difference between black poverty and white poverty, but in reality, this is simply not the case. Whenever there is a discussion about racism in Brazil, those who deny its existence are always quick to point out that about 30% of Brazil’s favela (slum) population is made up of poor whites. But what does this really prove? Regardless of this fact, because whites make up almost a third of the poor doesn’t somehow magically remove the image of wealth, beauty, power, intelligence and prestige from whiteness. We see this everyday in Brazil’s media that is overwhelmingly white. We see it in the country’s richest people, its political leaders, body of college professors, and also its diplomats.
When considering that the homeless, drug-addicted Rafael Nunes was picked up, dusted off and helped to return to a normal life because he’s a “hot, blue-eyed white man”, I find it ironic in a country that has a reputation for being the home of millions of beautiful people that no one found an attractive Afro-Brazilian man on the streets, after all, they are the majority of homeless. Could it be the fact that, as a prominent advertiser admitted, blackness is associated with poverty, no one even bothers to look at a homeless person whose skin is a little too dark? Before one disregards the possibility, consider that Brazil has only had one black Miss Brasil winner in 60 years.
Also consider the popular Istoé Gente magazine (featuring popular celebrities) that annually publishes “Os 50 mais sexy”, or the 50 sexiest Brazilians (25 men, 25 women) every year. It’s routine. Whether it’s 2002, 2008, 2009, 2010 or 2012, or any other year, usually there are only a few persons of visible African ancestry that make the list. I wonder if there’s even been 50 Afro-Brazilians total chosen in the past 10 years!! But then, why would this be surprising considering what the modeling runways look like? Of course no one can say what goes through the minds of 200 million people as they walk past the homeless everyday, but it is clear that Brazil values white skin and blue eyes much more than the physical attributes of the majority of its population.
1. Florianópolis is the capital city and second largest city of Santa Catarina, a state in southern Brazil. Source
2. Curitiba is the capital and largest city of the southern Brazilian state of Paraná. Source