“I lost my job because I was black”: Gerontologist details how a company’s lack of action on racist incidents caused her to quit

Thádia Marques
Thádia Marques
Thádia Marques

Note from BW of BrazilI don’t think we can ever truly know what the extent of the damage racism cause black people. I’ve often wondered, after having read about race relations in Brazil for almost 20 years, how is that this country managed to slide under the global radar of racist nations for so long? Some of manners in which white Brazilians racially punish their fellow black countrymen is sometimes shocking.

In the US, after a certain point, black folks will revolt and their actions will lead to the white press labeling such uprising as riots or simply, black people destroying their own communities. It is the media’s job to maintain a certain deception and they do this quite well always downplaying the historically racist manner in which societies have treated their black citizens.

We’ve seen it time and again, racist policies and practices, discriminatory behavior, the open maintenance of the status quo and then to top it all off, make it appear as if black folks are the problem. Never considering what hundreds of years of disrepect and benign neglect have done to this community. The wounds of such treatment become visible in a number of ways. From black folks taking out these frustrations on the only group that they can, themselves, to how perceptions in having to deal with certain environments can often psych us out before we even have to actually deal with the situation.

Today’s piece is a great example of this last point. As I slowly read Thádia Marques’s recounting of a situation she experienced at work as a gerontologist, I wondered how I would dealt with the sitauation. Did she overreact? Was her response understandable considering how many racist situations black Brazilians have to deal with on a daily basis? Should she have at least tried to see how the situation would turn out before immediately walking away? What role might gender have played in this scenario? Not sure. As a man I think I might have went on a few house visits before I decided it wasn’t worth it.

I DO understand her fears and concerns about what could happen by putting herself in a scenario that could be anything from uncomfortable to even dangerous. But my point here is that, racism and just the threat of it will sometimes undermine us before we even get started in a new endeavor or challenge. As such, my criticism isn’t directed at Thádia, but rather Brazilian society for not seriously dealing with its racism and what it does to its black citizens. And this includes the company for whom she worked. On the other hand, how these families treated previous black caregivers is simply another exposé of Brazil’s dirty little secret. 

In a way, a side of me thinks the title of this article may be a little misleading as the young lady didn’t even go on a house visit first, deciding to quit before even testing the waters. Let me not go on and on when you probably haven’t read the story yet.

Check it out below and tell me what you think.

Thádia Marques
Thádia Marques

“I lost my job because I was black”

Thádia Marques

“I was an employee of a women-only test lab. I liked the place, but I didn’t identify much with the work. Until a job opportunity came up that had everything to do with my gerontologist training. And besides, the proposal was more financially interesting and I decided to accept it. A friend with whom I had worked a few years earlier, Marcela*, was leaving the company and asked if I knew anyone who might be interested in the position. I said that I would like to try and Marcela passed my contact to her boss, André*, manager of the company of elderly caregivers.

The job was supervising these employees: those who entered would have to take care of the schedule, organize the work routine and visit all families at least once a week to see if the caregivers were doing the right things, if they were treating the elderly well, how the relationship with the family was, these things.

The interview was on August 14th. André liked me and said that I had been approved. I quit my other job the next day. Five days later I started in this new company and we already visited a possible client. On the second day of the job, I was in the office taking care of administrative matters accompanying an employee who was leaving. She showed me the folder where the patient records were so I could learn more about them and their families. That’s when I saw that some of these records reported that some of these families were prejudiced against black people.

I froze inside. I asked Marcela what that was like and she answered: ‘Unfortunately they are prejudiced. In such cases, we avoid sending black caregivers to protect them.’ Given this information, I went to ask the manager how to proceed because I, as a black person, would have to make visits to these families knowing that I would not be welcome and at the risk of being badly treated. It was then that he replied, ‘I’ll go with you on these visits. As you are a caregiver supervisor and will need to go there, they won’t think it’s bad and will respect you. If you were a caregiver, they wouldn’t like it. ”

I was outraged by this information: How did they accept this condition, this requirement, this discrimination? The fact that the company is conniving already gave me discouragement. I was very afraid and said: ‘Look, in front of all my experience suffering prejudice, I think it would be better for me not to go to these families. If you could meet with Adriana* (who took care of the administrative part) to go in my place, then I would go to the other families’. Of the company’s 20 client families, three of them were racist. I proposed this exchange so as not to harm me or the company. Of the three employees within the company, I was the only black woman.

André said he would talk to Adriana, but stressed: ‘It is important that you have contact with the caregivers of these (racist) families because you will need to deal with their schedule’. I said that was fine, that I just didn’t want to go there because I was afraid and didn’t want to expose myself to an awkward situation. I knew the company would not handle a bad situation. The rope always breaks on the weaker side.

He said he would think of a solution and days later came to talk to me. I had reflected a lot and I thought it was better that we didn’t continue with my work, that I would move on and that he would pay my rights. I figured he could have that attitude, even though I proposed alternatives. As I had already left a job, I needed the money. I wanted to stay longer more for the sake of necessity rather than agreeing with company policies.

I told André that if I had known that these biased families existed at the time of the interview, I would have turned down the job. Then we talked on the phone and I said that I left there very damaged, both financially and emotionally. He apologized and said that he could not measure the pain of the prejudice that I go through and that when he hired me he didn’t remember these families.

And the day I started this job, I had another interview, but I let it go. André suggested that I try to go back to my old job, but there was no way. I am still unemployed because of racism, unfortunately.

This company is a franchise. I talked to a friend who is also a gerontologist who worked in one of the units and she said there were other cases there. It’s not an isolated case. I live with my mother and my sister in the north zone of São Paulo. I worked two days, but I managed to negotiate so that André would pay me at least half of the test period contract. I’m coming around My family helps me as much as possible.

I had been through situations of racism at work, but in a veiled way. It has happened, for example, from people not believing that I was the manager of a company because I was black. But seeing open racism was a pain. I was so emotionally shaken that I got sick. It gives a certain desperation to see how close this is. We get ‘beat up’ every day and try to get back up on our feet. Even more so seeing that, despite all the information, the movements for the struggle for diversity, there is still so much prejudice.

At first, I got scared, felt pretty helpless, not knowing what to do. It’s hard for people to understand how serious this is, how much it hurts. Until I made a post in a Facebook group with only women asking them to advise me on what to do. Many lawyers have contacted me and are advising me. I got better with all this support, I got stronger. Over the last few weeks I’ve managed to re-establish myself.

I think I played a big role play in all that to warn you. I think I have to do something for myself, for being harmed, and for other people who must experience discrimination at work and who have no voice, who have no opportunity to take action. I want to show that no company can do this to anyone because of skin color. I’m going to try to do my part – even if it’s a little job – to end episodes like this.”

* These names have been changed

Courtesy of Notícia de Mato Grosso

About Marques Travae 3201 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

2 Comments

  1. I understand how she feels and could have had a bad experience in the past but since it was only three clients out of twenty I think she should have went with her supervisor and at least seen what these clients were about. She might have changed their perception about Black people and her supervisor could have seen the reactions that came about and might have been willing to follow up with her suggestions.

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