Note from BW of Brazil: More from the land of “we Brazilians aren’t racists!” Today’s latest example of unbridled, in your face racism is not at all shocking to me as I have always been on the side of the fence that says both subtle and blatant racism have ALWAYS existed in Brazil! Today’s case, once again, reveals so much about race relations in Brazil, much of which has been covered in numerous previous posts. Before we get into the analysis, let me first share with you the latest racial incident from the ‘racial paradise’.
“Next time, be born white! You have a complex because of being born mulata with hard hair!” Woman is verbally assaulted on Rio beach by middle-aged white woman, a Hitler supporter who didn’t agree with her presence
Courtesy of Metropoles, Pensador Anônimo, O Dia and R7
It was supposed to be a Sunday of sun and fun at the Praia da Reserva beach, but the passage of Sulamita Mermier, 31, became a real inconvenience when phrases like “be born white next time” and “you have a complex because of having hard hair,” were uttered in her direction. These “pearls” were uttered by a woman who was revolted when she realized that the travel agent was recording some of her racist insults, making her the target of the woman’s fury. Finally, officers of the 16th Precinct picked up the woman, identified as Sonia Valéria Rebello Fernandez, a 45-year old pedagogue, for clarifications and she was arrested in the act of injúria (injury) and injúria racial (racial injury/slur), but provisionally released on bail of R$500.
According to Sulamita, the woman was speaking to her husband and two young women in a volume loud enough to be heard clearly. And as she reported being proud of being of her German descent, she went on to repeat the famous Nazi salute “Heil Hitler.” This was when she decided to record what she witnessed.
The victim realized that she was the target of the racism when the lady, blonde and middle-aged, said loud and clear that she “didn’t understand why a mulata needed to get sun.” The case was registered with the police and the aggressor could get up to three years in prison.
“I didn’t do anything. I was with my sister and my friend, who are white, so I saw that it was for me,’ said Sulamita. “I had just got there and already I heard her commenting, looking at me: ‘Heil Hitler’. ‘Preto e mulato não são raça, são sub-raça (black and mulatto aren’t a race, they’re a sub-race). I don’t understand why blacks get sun. These ones with cabelo duro,’” Sulamita said in an interview with O Globo.
According to the travel agent, the aggressor was saying the whole time that “she paid for an expensive condominium” and “suburbanos (suburbanites, those from poor regions) should go find another beach.” After a few minutes putting up with the offenses, Sulamita decided to pick up the phone and start recording. “When her husband told her I was recording, she got up and came to me. She continued (verbally) assaulting me. Everyone on the beach was watching. It turned into a show. She even said, ‘You can record it, I have money and this won’t do anything,'” she reported.
“She didn’t stop saying the biggest racist nonsense and I started to get annoyed. Until her husband came to warn her that she would eventually be arrested, but she didn’t stop. I said nothing to her, but decided to record an audio. When her husband saw she got exalted and decided to direct the insults to me,” Sulamita explained.
The travel agent says she decided to make the video when the police was already on the way, and ended up recording about a minute of the confusion that, according to her, two hours had already been accounted for. The woman defiantly came toward the camera throwing a kiss before she started to speak: “I don’t blame you for feeling assaulted for being mulata, love. Você é uma complexada (You have a complex). Be born white. Understand? You were born mulata, do what?” she said.
“I have no problem with being mulata, but I didn’t understand all that rage with people of another color,” Sulamita explained. “The way she judged the skin color of people was more than absurd, especially in a country like Brazil. I didn’t know what to do, so I recorded what she said, but when she came to me I didn’t know how to defend myself. I didn’t want to offend her,” says Sulamita, remembering some of the moments that she considered most offensive: “She came to tell me to go sunbathe on the potty, that she’s disgusted by my husband, who is foreign (Swiss), that she loathed him for touching me,” she said.
In another section of the recording, the woman denies it was directed to Sulamita. “I didn’t call you mulata, I was talking to my family and you were offended. Sorry, you’re mulata. It’s not my fault. Give thanks to God that you picked up a German (in reference to Sulamita’s husband, a Swiss).” Then she challenged the travel agent to go to the police station.
Sulamita listened and recorded the offenses on video and then responded. “You called me dingy, favelada (favela/slum resident). What else?”. The exalted woman continues: “Record this s***. And even go to the police station and be embarrassed. Because I don’t know who you are, I know who I am. You, I’ve never seen…Make a potty in the back of your house to get sun,” she mocks.
It was late afternoon when police arrived at the beach and got clarifications at 16th Precinct police station, where the case was registered.
“I couldn’t listen to everything without doing anything, and I don’t really want her to have to pay only food baskets at the end of the process. I want justice. I didn’t assault her, but I sought my rights. The worst is that, on the internet, people have commented on the video as if it were my exaggeration, and as if I hadn’t liked to being called mulata. I am proud of my color, it’s not ‘mimimi’ (whining),” she says.
The last moments of the video are striking. “Be born white next time. You’ve got a complex, understand? Because of having cabelo duro (hard hair)”, the woman snapped.
“It was a free hatred. She was annoyed because I’m mulata. I’m not ashamed of who I am. I will take the case to the end because she doesn’t have the right to act like this,” she says. In addition to having the images as evidence of the crime, Sulamita reports having several witnesses in her favor. These are people who were in place at the time of the verbal abuse and are predisposed to testifying in her defense.
According to spokespersons of the Tribunal de Justiça (court), the suspect can’t leave the city of Rio de Janeiro without judicial authorization during the process and will have to present herself to the judge every month.
The scenes were shared on Facebook by a friend of the victim, who was outraged by what happened. As of a few hours ago, the footage had been seen by more than 5 million people and shared more than 35,000 times.
In the comment section of the video, people were outraged by the woman’s attitude. “In the 21st century, there are still racist people…How can (it be)?” wrote one. “Unbelievable! Send her to jail,” another commented.
Still another wrote, “This misfortune has to be punished, jail for her to learn.”
Another user lamented the presence of the women in the environment: “Too bad there are still people like this lady. An unfortunate lady who speaks only s***, from what I saw and heard there in the video!! Unfortunately we have to live with people like that in society!!! But I hope that one day this ends and people know how to respect each other!!”
“Meanwhile this ‘branca’ (white woman) in the sun tanning to have skin like the mulata. These people are really hypocritical,” said another web user.
Note from BW of Brazil: So much to discuss here…Where should I start? Well, for starters, here we have yet another example of a white Brazilian seeing a Brazilian woman of color as being “out of her place”. The issue of race-oriented segregation and access to spaces of leisure such as malls and beaches has been covered again and again here on our little blog and today’s post simply throws a another stone at the glass house of ‘racial democracy’. There are so many things happening in this story that simply aren’t supposed to exist in Brazil.
First, there’s the aforementioned idea of ‘race and place’ in which whites feel it is their natural born right and privilege to occupy all desirable spaces whereas non-whites should naturally be restricted to less desirable regions. Second, we have a white woman of German descent with clear allegiances to ideologies associated with Hitler-era Germany. Although it shouldn’t come as any surprise, as Brazil was a major destiny for German immigrants before and after the war, Brazil’s carefully constructed image would have us believe that the nation’s spirit and culture somehow magically erased any sort of racist sentiments and ideas of racial superiority. If you haven’t read enough material that completely debunks this idea, you haven’t followed this blog long enough!
The next point that should be noted touches on the idea that the less black one is physically, the less discrimination said person will experience. But as we see, in this woman’s own words, even making a distinction between black and mulatto, persons of African descent belong to a ‘sub-race’ and the victim’s ‘mulata’ status didn’t spare her from a racist verbal assault that sought to put her back in ‘her place’. Often we read comments on this blog arguing that negros/pretos (blacks) are completely different from mulatos/pardos (browns/persons of mixed race) and thus shouldn’t be categorized under one umbrella classfication. The stance of this blog over the term of its existence has been the fact that while persons with more salient African features and those African descendants of a more mixed race appearance differ (sometimes widely, sometimes barely), the discriminatory treatment they both receive are based upon those features associated with African ancestry. As such, in socio-economic statistical terms that measure life expectations, pretos and pardos have always been at an almost identical disadvantage vis-à-vis the white population.
The fourth point here once again speaks to the widely divulged idea that “all Brazilians are equal”. We read this deviously misleading slogan uttered when black Brazilians experience prejudicial treatment. We see it when Brazil wants to pretend that all accomplishments made by any Brazilian represent all Brazilians. We see when Brazil wants to downplay a particularly overt incident of racial animosity. But again, as we can clearly recognize in the aggressor’s comments, she clearly doesn’t see all Brazilians as equal. She, like so many other Brazilians (white and even many non-white), clearly see whiteness positioned at the top of the racial hierarchy, as is the case whenever there is a case of racism. And this woman wants her victim not to forget this hierarchy. Is there anyone out there who would define this woman’s behavior as ‘cordial’? Or would this be an example of the veiled racism that we are so often told more accurately represents Brazilian racism?
The fifth point that caught my attention was the fact that this woman is an educator! With women like this, is there any wonder why the Brazilian school system is one of the first places that Afro-Brazilian children experience racism? Is there any wonder why so many teachers completely ignore the racist acts of white children against black children, don’t interpret it as such, downplay it or that there are those teachers who actually harbor such racist sentiments themselves? I would be curious to know where this woman teaches and the class and ethnic makeup of her students. Would it be going too far to say that this woman’s career in teaching should be placed under review if she is responsible for the education of black (or even white) children?
The sixth thing I want to discuss provides more evidence as to why I will continue to say that it doesn’t matter which nation’s racism is the worst, but rather that Brazil’s brand of racism is far more effective because it totally disarms its victims. Case in point: Not only did Sulamita not know how to react to such a racist aggression, but even after being publicly humiliated, she says that she didn’t want to offend her aggressor! This is not to fault her because, in reality, she probably really didn’t know how to react. Brazilian society has so thoroughly instilled in its black population that “all Brazilians are equal” or that “racism doesn’t exist” that, for those who have bought into this mythology or who had never been taught about racism or how to react when it happens, this reaction is actually not surprising.
Remember the outlandish video Globo TV released a few months back asking black children to recite racist phrases to the face of a black woman? Remember when the young girl tearfully uttered, “everybody is equal…but don’t perceive this”? The woman in the video aggressively approached Sulamita almost feeling reassured that the young woman wouldn’t doing anything in her own defense. The scene almost brought to mind a 1994 novela that featured in scene in which a white character completely humiliates his black employee while the young man does nothing to defend himself. Whenever discussions or debates about the differences in race relations between the United States and Brazil come up, a Brazilian will be quick to say that “you Americans are the true racists; we Brazilians all get along/don’t have racial hatred.” But is that actually true or is it simply that many black Brazilians still haven’t learn to cope with such devastating situations and as white Brazilians continue to go unchallenged, they continue to behave this way feeling secure that they’ll get away with it without any retaliation? Remember, the aggressor in the video actually told the young woman that she wasn’t afraid of her going to the police and making a report as, one, she could afford to pay the fine and, two, nothing would happen to her anyway (2). My point in bringing this up is pointing out the fact that in the US, a white woman could risk being physically confronted if she were to aggressively insult a black woman in the manner in which this woman in Rio did. Not only have I personally witnessed a more confrontational attitude toward racism among black Americans, but in recent years, there have been numerous videos posted online that demonstrate that the situation in Rio may have played out completely different had this happened in the US.
The seventh thing in this video that should be considered is the fact that not only did the aggressor defined the young woman as a ‘mulata’ but the young woman herself also defined herself as a ‘mulata’. This point speaks to the fact that perhaps this woman doesn’t have the racial consciousness that would have been necessary to deal with such an aggressive assault. As we have seen in numerous posts, Brazilian women who have always had or have made a recent transition into a definitively black identity have long rejected and called for the end of the usage of the term sexually stereotypical term ‘mulata’. Although not knowing Sulamita personally, I would opine that her self-definition as a ‘mulata’ expresses a certain belief in harmonious racial relations and a lack of desire to confront such issues when and if they arise.
The eighth thing that I feel must be discussed is the point that the aggressor made it clear that not only was she disgusted with Sulamita’s white Swiss husband for being with her, but “thanks to God” she was able to pick up a white, and clearly in her view, a racially superior man, which touches on the Brazilian ideology of embranquecimento (whitening) which posits that non-white Brazilians should seek unions with whites in order to “improve the race” but to eventually eliminate the unwanted black element through progressive, generational miscegenation. Point nine speaks to Sulamita’s choice of a white partner. Numerous posts in this blog have shown a clear animosity of many black women at seeing black men consistently choose white women over them and thus contribute to the phenomenon of the “solidão da mulher negra”, meaning the solitude/loneliness of the black woman. Although not being as vocal as black women on this issue, many black Brazilian men have pointed out the belief that a preference for white skin (a phenomenon that has been named ‘palmitagem’) is not strictly a thing of black men (1) and that numerous Afro-Brazilian women fantasize about their ‘white Prince Charming’, preferably from Europe, who would ride into Brazil on his white horse and ‘save her’. Of course, we can’t automatically accuse Sulamita of this, but her romantic choice perhaps adds fuel to the fire of claims by some Afro-Brazilian men.
The tenth and last point I will mention that is so typical of how race relations are perceived in Brazil would be the reaction to the video and one of the comments. The comment I speak of here is the one which someone wrote, “In the 21st century, there are still racist people…How can (it be)?” I’m really hoping that this person is simply being ironic, because this sort of thing happens everyday all over Brazil. This denial in which the entire nation continues to live under is one of the very reasons why such behavior continues to go unchecked.
In closing this whole sad incident, I will once again point out the reasons why I see Brazilian racism as being more effective than that that one sees in the US. I will point out two factors that played themselves out once again in this today’s case that will re-iterate my point. First, Brazilian elites have long sought to maintain a distance between black Americans and black Brazilians as they saw their black population being more docile and controllable than what they perceived to be of a more a racial challenge in the behavior of black Americans. And two, the evil genius of widespread miscegenation was seen as a manner of softening race relations because, a) constant intermingling would stifle militancy because products of mixed families would have more difficulty siding with just one side of their ethnicity and b) with continuous amalgamation, the problem itself would eventually disappear as the black race itself would gradually disappear.
With such factors constantly at play, the question in regards to race relations in Brazil will continue to be, will white Brazilians continue to get away with such blatantly racist behavior that depends on the non-reaction of black Brazilians? Or will the rising tide of black militancy ultimately change the dynamic of future race relations?
- See various articles discussing palmitagem here.
- A problem we consistently see in the system when racial attacks are labeled as racial injury rather the more severe judgement of racism. See here.