“I didn’t mean to offend anyone”: In the city of Natal, mother dresses her 9-year up as a slave with body makeup, chains and a substance used to imitate whips scars
By Marques Travae
So, tell me, how did you celebrate Halloween? Did you get dressed up as your favorite superhero and hit the streets to collect sweets and goodies? It’s only been about a week since I did a piece demonstrating how, 130 years after the abolition of slavery in Brazil, this brutal, inhumane institution continues to play a prominent role in the Brazilian psyche. Besides that, it also continues to play a huge role in the way that Brazilian society continues to view and treat its black population. Today’s story doesn’t necessarily refer to the previous two conditions, but it does refer to the former.
Halloween is another one of those holidays that wasn’t something that Brazilians celebrated. But because of the enormous influence of American culture in Brazil, the day translated as “Dias das Bruxas”, or ‘Day of the Witches’, like another imported American holiday, Black Friday, continues to rise in popularity.
Apparently, one mother in the city of Natal (located in Brazil’s northeast in the state of Rio Grande do Norte), Sabrina Flor, thought it would be cool combine the theme of slavery and a holiday in which people like to dress up in all sorts of costumes. Even if you hadn’t seen the photos, this already sounds like a disaster.
The celebrate Halloween for a party at her child’s school, this mother, a white woman, thought it would be cool to dress her child up as a slave. And with the costume, she pulled out ALL of the stops. She applied some sort of brown body paint to her 9-year old son’s body, attached a collar and chains around his wrists and feet and even used some sort of substance to imitate welts on the child’s back to give the appearance that he had been whipped by his master during the slavery era. The complete the “costume”, the child was crowned with a mock, white head wrap and a white towel covering his waist down to his shins.
Needless to say, as Brazil is the nation that received the most enslaved Africans during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, about 5 million (12 times more than the United States and at least 40% of slaves shipped to the Americas), the woman’s idea wasn’t well received by many people. The issue of slavery, which lasted about 350 years in Brazil, with the country being the last to abolish it in the Americas, is still terrible scar on the nation’s history as Africa’s descendants in Brazil today continue to suffer racism and enormous social inequalities that are directly linked to the aftermath of slavery.
Thinking her idea would be the hit of the party, the woman went on to publish the photos of her child dressed up as a slave on her social networking profile. Under the photos, she wrote: “When your child takes on the character! Let’s Brazilianize this thing. #Escravo!”. Escravo means slave in Portuguese. After publishing the photos and being slammed by negative reactions, the woman quickly deleted the photos.
For obvious reasons, the woman did not respond to various attempts by the press to contact her. But she did eventually take to her Twitter account to respond the some of the criticisms she had received:
“They don’t read History of Brazil books. They say there was black slavery in the country, but that’s a lie. They don’t discuss it with this affirmation, because you will be being racist, THE WORST PERSON, garbage. I just did not understand if the problem was the costume or the ’17’ in the picture.”
The ’17’ reference refers to the candidate number of the controversial president-elect Jair Bolsonaro. Flor is a Bolsonaro supporter.
As can be expected, the child’s school quickly moved to distance itself from the woman’s poor taste and, as is the standard, expressed that the school doesn’t accept expressions of racism or prejudice:
“Sadly, the choice of the costume for the participation in Halloween, made by the student’s family, touched on a historical wound of our country. We have born the aftermath of this sad period to this day. We don’t encourage or condescend to any kind of expression of racism or prejudice, having the principles of inclusion and coexistence with diversity as the guide for our pedagogical practice,” read a note issued by the school.
In the aftermath, the mother would take to her social network and express her remorse because of the situation:
“II just wanted to apologize for the fact! It has never been my intention to offend anyone, I am extremely sorry for everything that has happened and I feel VERY bad with the insults and threats they are sending me. I apologize to everyone, from the bottom of my heart! #pax (peace)”.
Another expected occurrence was the opposing opinions of people who learned about the controversy. There were those opened supported the boy’s mother for having such creativity in designing such a costume for her little one while others blasted her for her insensitivity in revisiting such a painful part of history in such a playful manner.
One critic voiced disappointed in the woman’s choice with the following words:
“Using the suffering of my people as a costume,” wrote one. Another expressed themselves with the following words:
“Ma’am, I believe you do not have an idea of what you are doing. But this is not a joke, it is a huge disrespect for the history and for those who have died and leave a legacy of pain to their descendants who struggle every day to close these wounds (sic).”
The fact that Brazil still has a hard time presenting the truth about their slavery era in schools, often present the same stereotypical side of the colonizer and say very other things about enslaved Africans and their descendants in Brazil today, often leads to reactions such the one Sabrina Flor. If I were a betting man, I’d bet she knows very little about what the conditions black people endured during slavery and for this reason, would have no idea how her act would offend some people.
But I ask, similar to manner that so Brazilians are so quick to dress in blackface, which in reality, also applies to today’s story, and then either laugh it off or apologize because they didn’t know it would be offensive, in some ways, this woman’s act may not be entirely her own fault. Brazil still doesn’t know how to address its past and its treatment of its black population. As such, such ignorance plays itself in acts such as today’s story. What do think? Is Sabrina Flor totally responsible for her actions, or should people cut her at least a little slack for what she did?