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”.
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.
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.
“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.
‘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?”
‘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.