Note from BW of Brazil: Yet another great example of how two countries deal with racism. Recently, a popular host on a US-based Hispanic audience TV network was fired for comparing the First Lady to an ape. In Brazil, on the other hand, there is a talk show host who is known for his below the belt, sometimes racist “humor” who has yet to be punished for his antics. The dealings with the two situations are very typical of how the two countries deal with issues of race. In the US, a nation that is recognized globally for its horrific treatment of black Americans, the host was fired. Racial problems in the US continue an intricate facet of the nation’s social fabric, but because of this history, they must at least pretend that they are fighting racism. On the other hand, in Brazil, where racism against black Brazilians has been historically denied, a judge ruled there was no racist intent in an incident concerning a TV personality who has a reputation for making such jokes. More on this topic later…
Gentili, his black assistant and the TV host fired for racism in the US
By Marcos Sacramento
Univision, the largest Hispanic television network in the US, did not hesitate to dismiss one of its stars, Rodner Figueroa last week. Figueroa made a racist comment about First Lady Michelle Obama in a program aired in Miami. Michelle, he said, could be part of the cast of O Planeta dos Macacos (The Planet of the Apes).
He was fired in less than 24 hours. He wrote an apology to Barack Obama’s wife and his audience. No one was shocked. There was no insane debate about “free speech” etc.
In Brazil, we have a talk show host who offered a black man a banana, compared black futebol (soccer) players to King Kong and then called a candidate of the Globeleza contest “Zé Pequeno” (1).
He never apologized. He always preferred to victimize himself saying that he is being persecuted by pursued by leftist fanatics or something. Racism? Imagine that.
With this record, it’s curious that Danilo Gentili has a black woman as stagehand on The Noite (late night talk show). Juliana Oliveira joined the Gentili crew in June 2013, after winning the “Teste do Sofá” (Sofa Test), promoted to choose the program assistant on the late-night program Agora é Tarde (meaning ‘now it’s late’) on the Band TV network. One of the only black women of the event and having a silhouette distant from television standards, she competed for the post among 26 other girls and a golden retriever dog.
No doubt it was a memorable victory for her. Juliana went straight from Araçariguama, a São Paulo city with 17,000 inhabitants where she lived and was a waitress, to working on television. She is fulfilling the dream that thousands of model-actresses that will never materialize, especially black women. Charismatic, she has nearly 30,000 Facebook fans and 200,000 Twitter followers.
The one who won the most with Juliana’s presence, however, is Gentili himself. With her, Danilo Gentili can throw up his prejudice and take shelter in the cliché that “he’s not racist because he has black friends.”
Gentili says he is knowledgeable about the American Richard Pryor, one of the greatest comedians of all time. But it is impossible to believe that he would applaud if Juliana behaved like Pryor. Pryor had nothing to do with Uncle Tom, as Americans call the black who is submissive to whites, and knew how to insert heavy criticism of racism in his presentations.
He was never good boy and had problems with cocaine and alcohol, having set fire to his body during an binge. Politically incorrect, he made lucid, aggressive and at the same time humorous social criticism.
Once, during an interview on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show he took the opportunity to make a witty comment about the police of Detroit, the city where he spent a season recording a movie: he asked the police not to shoot him accidentally when he was making his early morning run.
Can you imagine Juliana Oliveira talking about something similar, for example, the police violence that kills young black men in a reactionary program such as Danilo Gentili’s? Hardly. Her boss would cut her immediately and say that this is a thing of “coitadismo” (playing the victim), a leftist thing and “feminazi”.
Note from BW of Brazil: There’s so much to touch upon with this incident, so I’ll pick up where I left off in my previous comments. Recently, Rodner Figueroa came forward and offered what appeared to be a sincere apology about his choice of words, which is commendable considering the fact that Danilo Gentili routinely make jokes in bad taste, never apologizes and is never punished. On the other hand, I won’t let Figueroa off the hook simply because he apologized. Here’s why.
As we have seen repeatedly in the US, Brazil, Latin America and various countries in Europe, black people in the 21st century are still regularly compared to gorillas, monkeys and apes and Figueroa’s willingly to participate in denigration of a race of people with a dehumanizing comparison that has existed for centuries cancels out his apology. The fact is, I even wonder if he would have been fired had he not made the joke about the First Lady of the most powerful nation on the planet.
The next reason why I wouldn’t forgive Figueroa is that his comment is so typical of the attitude towards black people in Latin America. Figueroa is from Venezuela, a Latin American nation that has its own history with African descendants and as such, he no doubt is familiar with the disparaging manner in which African ancestry is dealt with throughout Latin America. Different from a nation such as the US where very few whites have and/or admit to having any substantial African ancestry, a large percentage of Latinos carry very recent African ancestry whether or not they proclaim themselves black or Afro-Latino. In Brazil, as in the rest of Latin America, it’s very common to hear lighter skinned people say things such as “Oh, my grandmother/great grandfather was black”, but often saying it such a way that it is understood, “but I’m not black.” African ancestry for millions is something to distance oneself from, a thing of the past after one has been sufficiently whitened even if they aren’t quite white.
These same “almost, but not quite whites” will be the first to say, “I can’t be racist because my grandmother was preta (black)”, which is what Figueroa did in his apology when he stated he wanted “to make it clear that I’m not racist” going on the state that he’s “from a bi-racial Latin family, with family members, like my father, who is Afro-Latino.” Typical of Latinos but just as absurd! Let me explain. Simply because one has certain people in one’s family that have stigmatized attributes in the face of society this doesn’t automatically exclude said person from possibly harboring derogatory feelings toward others who carry the stigmatized trait. One could have a blind mother, love her very much and be thankful that they are not blind. One could have a mentally-challenged son, love him very much but still be thankful for not being in this condition. Sympathy and compassion for that one person for whom one loves dearly doesn’t automatically mean this love and compassion extends to others in the same condition or having other defects. I want to make it clear that I don’t see blackness or African ancestry as a disease or defect, but it’s clear that many around the world continue to see blackness in this manner. And as such, I won’t surprised if/when Figueroa returns to TV. But thanks for exposing a dirty little secret out of the Latino community!
My final observation on this topic would be the fact that the situation of blacks on television around the world will never improve as long as there are black people out there willing to do and accept anything just to be famous, earn a check and appear regularly on TV. I’m speaking here of the participation of Juliana Oliveira on Danilo Gentili’s program. I don’t watch the Gentili program as I know what to expect from him but people have long questioned how Oliveira can continue to participate in this program knowing the types of things Gentili finds funny. Does she believe, “oh, it’s all in fun”? Is she one of those types that would say, “I know him, he’s not at all racist”? Or does it not matter what he says as long as she collects a paycheck? Her participation in such a show speaks volumes considering recent comments by black actress Raven Symone who recently came out in defense of Figueroa saying he wasn’t racist because “some people look like animals”. Shameful! Disgraceful! Sometimes its better to say nothing at all if all you have to offer is stupidity!
In closing I will just say, black folks, the choice is yours. No amount of complaining about the situation of blacks on TV will ever do any good because, as we have seen, black people are about willing to do anything to get their chance in the spotlight. And if that means a man wearing a dress, playing a hyper-sexual mulata, dancing with a huge grin while pushing a broom, or playing the gun-toting gangsta stereotype, so be it! And if you don’t want to do it, the next negro surely will!
1. For an explanation of the Globeleza girls and contest see various posts here. 2013 Globeleza winner Nayara Justino was brutally criticized by the Brazilian public after having won the contest in a reality show styled popular vote. “Zé Pequeno” was the character made famous by actor Leandro Firmino in the 2002 blockbuster film Cidade de Deus (City of God).