|Fátima Oliveira: Doctor, writer, feminist in Belo Horizonte, Brazil
by Fátima Oliveira
Bete, a manicurist that brags about being a black racist
“I don’t like to do the nails of blacks. I left a salon in Rio because, there, I only did the nails of blacks.”
I dozed off. I woke up to hear this phrase from manicurist Bete (Elizabeth da Conceição Vaz Soares) in a salon on Prudente de Morais Avenue, in the neighborhood of Cidade Jardim*, of which I have been a customer for about 12 years. It was November 29th, around 3pm. It was shocking because Bete is black! Here are excerpts from the clash.
Sitting beside her, as she did the nails of a white customer, I heard about the “filthy sight” of black people’s fingernails, cracked, dirty, thick-skinned feet, in a hateful and false generalization. A prototype of the denial of blackness; the display of racial hatred. I signaled that the conversation, at the least, bothered me, “Bete, you don’t live in a land without laws, in Brazil, there are laws, and racism is a non-bailable crime. Anyone can denounce it.”
She gloated, recounted her disgust of ingrown nails, cuticles and hard feet of blacks! I thought about leaving. I stayed. I wouldn’t allow racism to prevail. I warned her once again that she could be arrested and prosecuted and that I was not obliged to hear that because my money was worth as much as that of whites, perhaps more valuable than many people, black or white, because it is honestly earned.
Angrily said she wouldn’t talk to me, so I didn’t have to get involved. “I’m not deaf; here is a public place where many people are being forced to listen to racist insults.” I asked if she identified herself as a black racist. She replied: “Yes, I really am a black racist. I really am.”
“So, you’ll never do my nails again.” She said okay. And, angrily, she threw a challenge-threat: “I want to see who is going to report me!”
“Me! I will denounce you for racism! Everyone here is a witness. I don’t accept being victim of your racial hatred.”
Upon leaving, standing before her: “In order not to say that I am intransigent, I will give you a chance to apologize, because, for public offenses, it’s worth a public apology.” She barked that she wouldn’t, that she had not spoken to me, because I was not negra (black), but morena (brown).
“Oh, I’m as black as you, that has already eaten much at the expense of my money, and I benefited from your good work. You’ll never eat again because now you’ll do nails in Nelson Hungria if you don’t apologize” (I couldn’t remember the name of the women’s penitentiary).
“I’ll call the police, and from here you’ll leave handcuffed.” Once again she said that she would not apologize. The peacemakers said: “Apologize, Bete, she was offended.” I replied: “It’s not that I was offended, I was offended freely, and I’m being charitable, giving you the opportunity to apologize.”
In a half-assed way, she apologized: “I was kidding.” In front of her, by phone, I reported the incident to the owner of the salon, stressing that it her salon would closed because, for the second time, I was the victim of racist practices here: the first, two years ago. Another manicurist, despite my having scheduled an appointment and her having been advised three times by the box of the salon, that the appointment was mine, she turned a deaf ear: she tended to a white client that made an appointment after me! It was a racist practice, but she, who is not white, acted silently. You can’t prove it!
The “sisterhood” between blacks and gender is a fallacy. I acted in compliance with the law and communicated to the Municipal Coordinator of the Promotion of Racial Equality of Belo Horizonte, which has sufficient facts on hand to press for “zero tolerance against racism” in beauty salons of Belo Horizonte**. This was for yesterday. Racism is an abominable faith bandit! And whoever remains silent gives consent!
* – Prudente de Morais Avenue and Cidade Jardim are located in the city of Belo Horizonte, in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais.
** – Belo Horizonte is the largest and capital city of the southeastern state of Minas Gerais. In terms of population, the city is the sixth largest in Brazil and has the third largest metropolitan area.