Note from BW of Brazil: This case is so very Brazilian. I say this based on so many past incidents of the sort. So that you can get an understanding of this case before we proceed with the follow up below, please see the original report on this headline-making conflict that was shared 7 million times on social networks when it went down almost two months ago. As with other cases of this sort, I wanted to wait and see what other details would come out before I posted a follow up on the story. So before I weigh in on this case, let’s get an update on what’s happened since the incident blew up in late August.
Rio public prosecutor denounces pedagogue that verbally assaulted a woman at Praia de Reserva
Courtesy of Jornal Floripa
Caught on video after insulting the travel agent Sulamita Mermier, 31, being filmed saying bigoted words against the victim, the pedagogue Sonia Valeria Rebello Fernandes, 54, was denounced by the State Prosecutor to the 39th Criminal Court for crimes of racism, racial insults and threats. It happened on August 28th at the Praia da Reserva beach in Recreio. On this day, a sunny Sunday, the travel agent recalled that she went to the beach with her sister and a friend and, after stretching her beach wrap on the sand, she started to hear a woman sitting a few feet from her tent saying “negro era uma sub-raça” (black was a sub-race) and “negro não deveria esta na praia” (blacks shouldn’t be on the beach).
Earlier, Sulamita was in doubt, not knowing if she was the target of name-calling. But when the middle-aged lady, a blonde, insisted that “não entendia porque mulata pegava sol” (didn’t understand why a mulata take in sun), she was sure she was the victim of racism. Filmed and shared the video on social networks, the episode angered internet users and organizations fighting against discrimination.
In the denouncement, the state MP (public prosecutor) requested that the court judge Sônia for racism, based on Article 20 of Law 7.716/1989, which provides for imprisonment of one to three years and a fine. The prosecution also denounced Sônia for a racial slur (Article 140 of the Criminal Code) for the attacks and name calling made not only against Shulamith, but also against the victim’s sister, who was on the beach at the time of the attacks, and against the travel agent’s husband who Sônia called a “branco sujo” (dirty white man) and “Alemão de M…”(German of shit), according to the text of the MP’s accusation.
Also according to the MP, the fact that Sonia had affirmed that she was from the militia and said she would take revenge if the two went to the police station configures a crime of a threat (Article 147 of the Criminal Code).
In the complaint, the prosecution points out that there were some aggravating circumstances, due to the fact that the accused had committed libel in public. The penalty of the accused may exceed five years, and with that, she is at risk of being imprisoned with no possibility of seeing substitution of deprivation of freedom, explains Sulamita’s lawyer, Igor Morgado dos Reis.
For him, the fact that the accused had made general statements against blacks led the MP to understand that there was also a crime of racism. In the complaint, the MP stressed that Sonia would said “in a loud and clear” to be “prejudiced, racist and a descendant of Germans” as well as having said that “black was a sub-race.” Globo news couldn’t locate Sonia Rebello for a comment on the case.
“Racism happens when one makes offensive statements that attack a race, collectively, in a generic way, without addressing a specific person. But when she insults someone black, as was the Sulamita’s case, she commits injury,” explained the lawyer. The video was shared on social networks by a friend of the victim. In one of the excerpts, Sonia says: “Sorry, you’re a mulata. You have a complex, because of having cabelo duro (hard hair).” She also challenged the victim: “Record this shit. We’ll go to the station and you will be embarrassed. Because I don’t know who you are, I know who I am. You I’ve never seen.”
Sonia Fernandez Rebello, a 54 year old educator, was arrested in flagrante delicto (act of committing an offense) and charged with injúria racial (racial injury/slur), with an estimated imprisonment sentence of one to three years and fine. After paying bail of R$ 500, the accused was released and will respond in freedom. In the document, the MP stressed that, realizing she was being recorded, the accused continued her aggression, calling Sulamita and her sister “macacas” (monkeys), saying they were jealous that she had white hair and the two had “cabelo duro” (hard hair).
Note from BW of Brazil: On the following Sunday (September 4th) after the incident happened, two popular Sunday evening news journals covered the story. Fantástico covered the story for Globo TV and Domingo Espetacular featured the story on Record TV. Interestingly, the victim, Sulamita Mermier, didn’t want to speak to Domingo Espetacular on camera but did sit down and speak to Fantástico. On the other side, Sonia Valeria Rebello Fernandes didn’t want to sit down and discuss the incident with Fantástico, but consented to an interview with Domingo Espetacular although requesting that her image not be shown. Below is a transcript of the interview that Fernandes gave to Domingo Espetacular telling her side of the story.
Before presenting the interview, a Domingo Espetacular journalist introduces Fernandes by saying that, according to her, what happened is completely different from the story told by the victim.
Fernandes: “I’m living an absurd nightmare, accused of being a racist … I was humiliated, harassed on social networks…my life has changed too much, my family is being threatened…”
“What I did was fight back 20 minutes of continuous aggression…in the moment of rage, you end up having attitudes (…) as I wanted to have gone back…What happened? What I can say is it was a Sunday on the beach, I was with my family, I didn’t attack anyone, I was conversing with my family, and people came who were not that girl…a group…and I afraid because…I didn’t like the situation I found myself in there with a minor under 13 years of age… and I’m not obliged to like certain things such as profanity, obscene attitudes … yes, I do not like funk proibidão (1), I don’t like these things…I don’t think it’s good for a child under 13.”
“I was afraid because we were alone and the group was big, so I told this minor, who is my granddaughter, to leave the beach. From the moment she left the beach, this group, in fact, that I feared, did nothing. Whoever did was this one I hadn’t seen and he began to incite the beach and say that I was racist…Sulamita, in question, no, she was with the group…this other group started saying ‘racist! racist!’ and recording it.”
“I took three punches in the face, I was thrown to the ground, they put my face in the sand…my husband reacted and was also grabbed…he fell… because there were many people … it was a huge act of cowardice… (…) No…we weren’t lynched because the police came …”
“I’ve never been racist …What irritated me most was that she said she would call the police…then you can see the video again…I got up from the chair and said, ‘call (them), for the love of …’ because I couldn’t stand to listen to those insults anymore… call (them) for God’s sake, go ahead and call the police because you will be embarrassed at the police station …(…)
Domingo Espetacular: Were you insulted by her previously by her?
Yes…I was very much insulted, I kept quiet for a long time, you know? Then came a time that…unfortunately I lost my head…”
“I even apologize if you felt offended by it. I apologize…But you didn’t need to have mad all of this ‘escarcéu’ (fuss)…”
Note about interview: A witness of the incident also spoke to Fantástico and revealed the following. Fernandes also insulted Sulamita’s sister: “She spoke very loudly, for everybody that was around to hear. I heard her saying that they were mulatas encardidas (dingy mulatas), that she pays for a very expensive condominium to be on the beach with…those people, that they certainly didn’t have an education, because they were mulatas, and mulata was a sub-race, wasn’t even a race.”
The witness continued and then described the scene when the police arrived:
“The police was applauded. Everybody around was applauding and calling her prejudice, racist, telling her to go away, booing her.”
On the Fantástico report, Fernandes didn’t want to appear, but said on the phone, again, that she wasn’t a racist and that the Sulamita’s version of the story was “totalmente adulterado e incompleto” (totally adulterated and incomplete)
Note from BW of Brazil: So there you have it. In the victim’s interview, she basically affirmed the story that was originally told when the incident happened. To be fair I wanted to at least hear the accused woman’s side of the story to see if there were any details that could help us sort out more facts of an incident of which we didn’t see the whole thing and had previously only heard the victim’s side. I have already discussed in detail how Brazil’s particular brand of racism often disarms black Brazilians from reacting because of a certain acceptance that ‘racism doesn’t exist’ or that ‘we are’ (all Brazilians) ‘are equal’.
This could possibly explain Sulamita’s reaction. She was shocked, didn’t know what to say and comes across as being completely devastated. Now, after hearing the accused side, I will come to own conclusion about what happened.
First of all, the accused made it known from the beginning that she was afraid of a group of people that arrived on beach but then found that her fear was unfounded as the group did nothing to her. As the beach in Rio has long been an area of a sort of unofficial segregation in which poorer, darker beach goers are consistently harassed by police when they arrive from Rio’s slums. Over the years, there have been various reports of the so-called “arrastão” when groups of beach goers make a sudden dash and begin stealing the belongings of more well-off Rio residents. There is no denying this fact. It has happened. The problem is when people make the assumption that ALL darker, poorer persons are out to organize an “arrastão”. In this case, the accused, Fernandes, let her “fear of the dark” get the best of her for no reason.
Second point. According to the accused own words, someone started to accuse her of being a racist. At this point, one must ask, what had she done that would provoke someone to call her racist? Based on the original report, I’m inclined to believe at that point that people had already heard her racist rant in which she said “blacks are a sub-race.” Before she was even filmed, Sulamita, her sister and husband had already witnessed her making such declarations for the whole world to hear. At a certain point of one of the videos in which only audio of the incident was played, Fernandes is heard saying that mulatas are a sub-race, we can clearly hear a multitude of people began to chant ‘racista, racista!’ This would seem to support the idea that the group was only responding the racist declarations made by Fernandes. Why would a group suddenly start calling someone racist for no apparent reason?
Three. Fernandes says she was punched in face three times and thrown in the sand. If this were the case, did she make a police report of the fact? as she was taken to the police station after people reported the incident. I’m not saying that this couldn’t have happened, but I saw no report of her claim in the subsequent report. If she had in fact been physically assaulted, I would think it strengthen her case as to why she went on the racist rant, but only if she was provoked first, which, from the evidence, is not the impression I get. It sounds to me as if she was caught on film hurling extremely racist declarations and as there is no evidence to support her claim that people suddenly started calling her racist for no apparent reason, she fabricated being punched and thrown in the sand. On the other hand, another witness to the event confirmed Sulamita’s version of the story.
Four. Fernandes says she was tired of being insulted. Again, why would people just suddenly start insulting her for no reason? Could it be that people were reacting to the insults that video shows us she did in fact hurl in the direction of Sulamita and her family? One cannot provoke a group of people with ugly, derogatory insults and not expect for people to retaliate. The question here would be, would this whole incident have even happened if Fernandes wasn’t heard making such rude, racist comments for the whole world to hear? I don’t think so.
Five and perhaps the most ridiculous thing of the entire article is Fernandes’s claim that she isn’t and has never been racist. So let me get this straight. Fernandes wants people to believe that she’s not racist after she called two women “monkeys”, made comments like “blacks/mulatas are a sub-race”, “next time be born white”, “you have a complex because of having hard hair”? This straight-faced commentary is one of the reasons I began this piece by writing that “this case is so very Brazilian”. This blog has been up for nearly five years and we’ve seen this ludicrous claim made over and over by Brazilians who deny being racist after being caught saying something that most would interpret as racist. Remember the one when the girl responded to accusations by saying she “had been a black guy”? How about the professor who called a security guard a monkey and her lawyer argued that she wasn’t racist because she studied African religions? How about, “I’m not racist because I have a black wife and several black friends”? How about the manager that claims she’s “not racist, right”, but posted a photo of her black employee online with a caption comparing her to a slave? This denial of being racist has been documented by numerous social scientists over the years but still a highly influential TV producer still wrote a book entitled We (Brazilians) aren’t racists.
Here’s my thing. For Fernandes to made such comments off the top of her head with such ease all within a short period of time would suggest to me that she has harbored such sentiments for a long time and such declarations reveal how she really feels. People often blurt out things they wouldn’t normally say out loud when they are in a stressful situations. But blurting out such things would mean that these thoughts were already there and as Brazilian society consistently denigrates black people as inferior, ugly, having ‘cabelo ruim’ (bad hair) and referring to them as macacos/macacas (monkeys), her disposition is nothing different from that of millions of other Brazilians who would immediately claim that they too, aren’t racist. This writer has personally witnessed numerous situations in which people say things in the heat of a moment, a heated argument for example, and let ugly things come out. Sometimes people become silent after realizing what they said and perhaps regret it (or even apologize). This doesn’t mean they don’t believe in the derogatory things they said, it simply means they are perhaps embarrassed being caught revealing something that they actually believe but didn’t want others to know. Fernandes uttered one ugly, racist comment after another and didn’t stop until the police picked her up. Her behavior tells me that these sentiments aren’t something that suddenly popped up out of nowhere.
It tells me that she believes the things she said. But just as there are perhaps millions of Brazilian who feel the same way as she, and just as millions of Brazilians learn from very on to uphold the ‘racial democracy’ myth, she’s just embarrassed that her racist sentiments were exposed for all to see.
- Funk carioca; the Rio funk sound whose lyrics portray the realities of living in the favelas, such as drug trafficking, violence and death.
Source: Jornal Floripa