“I have to dress so people don’t mistake me for a thief”: Young black Brazilians vent on how choice of clothes can make a huge difference in how they’re treated

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Note from BW of Brazil: This is an intriguing topic that someone brought up and definitely deserves to be fleshed out. We know that black Brazilians often face discriminatory behavior simply for being black. This discrimination often leads people to try to excel in various areas of their lives, such as in the job market or in colleges or universities because they know that, due to the issue of race, they will often be judged by a different standard that those deemed as white.

Racist situations in Brazil, while often assumed and declared to be of the veiled variety, often times are very blatant. In the more subtle situations, many black Brazilians have described scenarios in which they felt their race played a role in the way they treated. Looks, comments and behavior by the dominant society often signal to black people that they are judged to be “out of their ‘place‘”. The examples of situations are endless. Salespersons assuming that black people don’t have sufficient funds to pay for high priced items. Security guards attempting to bar people from entering an establishment. An airplane stewardess speaking to a black man/woman in English because it is asumed that a black person on a plane cannot be Brazilian and must be from the United States.  

Regardless of how much education a black Brazilian may have, the type of car they may drive, the nice apartment they may live in or the position they may hold in a company, none of this will necessarily exempt them from being treated in a discriminatory manner. The use of certain types of clothes is another area to be explored. Wearing expensive clothing also doesn’t automatically exempt a person from facing racial discimination, but many feel that, being black, it is necessary to always be dressed in a presentable manner to, in some ways, “compensate” for what Erving Goffman defined as a “spoiled identity”.

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The post by the student Laressa Teixeira went viral on Twitter when reporting the concern of black people in choosing the clothes they will wear

Young blacks vent on the issue of the clothes they are wearing: ‘It’s not a matter of vanity’

By Vitor Tavares

For economics student Laressa Teixeira, choosing a suit to travel by plane goes far beyond comfort or practicality. “It’s necessary. If I’m well dressed, neat, people feel more obliged to treat me well,” says the 22-year-old from Rio de Janeiro.

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“Last week I caught a plane wearing flip flops. mNot that I forget this on other days, but in the airport I remembered in a bizarre way that I’m black and that I know how little I, even being from Rio, wear flip flops in the day to day. How many flip flops do we avoid because of our skin?”

Likewise, forest engineer Lucas Cauan, also 22, worries about going to the university in Aracaju. He abolished slippers, shorts, and T-shirts from his wardrobe. “I need to be well-groomed to not be mistaken for a thief.”

Black, the two came to these conclusions after experiences that make them reflect, every time they leave the house, about which clothes they will wear.

Testimonials like theirs came to light after a Twitter posting by Laressa on the social network. “How many flip-flops do we avoid because of having skin (black)?” she asked when reporting how she was treated when embarking on a work engagement. The reason, according to her, was the flip flops she wore.

Image rights @laressa@LARESSA

According to Laressa’s report, the difference in treatment still began in the VLT, a vehicle on rails leading to Santos Dumont airport. Laressa would have been the only one to have the ticket checked by the inspectors who entered the train.

At the terminal, the nuisance came with the persecution of security and the treatment given by the airline’s employees.

In less than 24 hours, the publication had hundreds of comments from other young blacks telling how they worry about clothing – and how they try to suffer less street discrimination.

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Economics student Laressa said she notices the difference in street treatment when she is wearing chinelos (flip flops)

“The airport is not an environment where there are a lot of black people. People don’t usually see us there. And the clothes turn out to be our armor against racism,” Laressa told BBC News Brasil.

During the day, according to the young woman, she traveled more casual because she would stop by the hotel and change before her appointment. On other occasions, when she wore shoes or sneakers, there were fewer “strange and crooked looks”, she says.

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Political scientist Nailah Neves had a panic attack when she needed to wea flip flops

‘It’s not vanity’

The foot is also an issue for political scientist Nailah Neves, 27. The only place she’s going wearing flip flops is the terreiro.

During college, in Brasília, she noticed that her classmates, the great majority of whom were whites, went in bermuda, shorts and flip flops. She always wore flats, sneakers, and pants – and she attributed this difference to a question vanity.

That’s until she hurt her toe and need to go wearing flip flops. “That’s the moment I realized it wasn’t that. The security guards kept looking at me, I felt intimidated. I had a panic attack and I started to cry,” she says.

A master’s in human rights and researcher on issues of racism, Nailah is the daughter of movimento negro (black movement) militants and has always been taught at home that she would need to know how to dress, behave and “be three times better than others” to be respected.

“I always thought it was a matter of vanity, but it was not. They are the pains of prejudice that made me act like this.”

Although the subject of racism is not so recurrent in Laressa’s house, she has also gone through similar teachings: she would always have to be impeccable with her clothes.

“My parents are always well dressed. But do we really like getting dressed up or is it life that made us behave like that?”

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After being mistaken for a thief, Lucas Cauan changed the way he dressed

‘Looks like a thief’

The main fear, according to Nailah, Laressa and Lucas, is to be accused of some crime.

In the case of the Sergipe engineer, because he is a man, preoccupation is doubled. Adept until then in bermuda shorts and T-shirts, he stopped wearing these pieces after going through an embarrassing situation at the university.

It was night and Lucas was crossing a walkway in a dark place. When he was on top of the structure, he noticed that people coming in the other direction began to run. He ran along but only to realize that they were running in fear of him. “Some people said after it was my freshness, they said that I didn’t really look like a thief, but this remained in my head,” he said.

It was then that Lucas decided to follow the advice of colleagues and started to wear only pants to go to university. “I always think I can’t look like what people think is a ‘marginal’.” In social life, the young man doesn’t dress more comfortable or go to a bar with his friends.

In stores and in shopping malls, strategies go beyond the clothes he’s wearing: cell phone in hand to show you won’t pick up anything, handbags close to the body and avoiding abrupt movements.

“I can’t be just any way, not to be confused with someone who didn’t have the same privilege as me and couldn’t buy those clothes, shoes. Even to go to the bakery, I have to go ‘perfect’,” says Nailah.

Source: BBC

About Marques Travae 3225 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

4 Comments

  1. Great Article and very true. As a thirty something year old African american male living in Brazil, i pass through this everyday when i walk at night . After years of dressing up for work in the US, i prefer not to dress up and mostly wear t shirt and shorts to not put attention to myself. But always have this feeling walking at night of people staring or crossing to the other side of the street when i walk behind or towards them or clutch on their purse or belonging.

    Its one of those sad realities of Brazil but i dont let it bother me and refuse to change my way of dressing to make others feel comfortable. I just laugh at their ignorance and continue with my life.

  2. Truth be told, when you are black you just have to think differently. I have found two things in non-black majority nations, the others really don’t give a hoot about your opinions, your opinions and ideas will oftentimes just not seem to measure up, and simply asking the question, why, to get more clarity on something could be easily interpreted and treated as you being argumentative. Black ppl should never ever get overly comfortable with any illusion of equality, it does not exist when you are not in a black majority nation. So yes, things like putting extra effort into your attire is a reality of black life. Should we have to constantly think about every possible scenario and adjust how we live our lives? No. But the reality is that with some ppl taking it upon themselves to use black bodies for target practice we just have to think and do differently if only to allow us to go home to our loved ones in one piece.

  3. When I lived in Goiania, Brazil with my Black Brazilian fiancee, I was simply sitting with my computer and the white racist Brazilian police came up on me with their finger on the trigger ready to shoot me because they thought I was a Black Brazilian. This pathetic apartheid behavior ONLY ceased when I gave them my U.S. passport, but Brazilian society is Apartheid in almost every facet on par with South Africa. Truth be told, even though a large majority of “Blacks” don’t accept their Blackness, the majority of the country has African ancestry and would be considered Black in actual “white” s-hole countries such as Amerikkka. At least 70% of Brazil fits this narrative, which leaves maybe 20-30% of the rest of the country that has “European” traits that could pass for mostly white in actual white countries, and therefore, a small percentage of the country controls all political life, wealth, and uses the state armed forces to terrorize Black people and murder them, just like South Africa’s apartheid wherein 9% of the population used to and STILL does control all the wealth as I lived there too.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences. Needless to say, your analysis is on point as comparisons between the US, SA and BR were some of the studies that put such measures of white supremacy in Brazil on the map.

      The issue that I see is that, although many people in the “pardo” category face discimination and many are actually black, many I would not classify as black, which contributes to the confusion of who is and who isn’t black in Brazil and thus presents an obstacle to African descendants uniting.

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