Note from BW of Brazil: Today’s feature is a quick interview with the Afro-Brazilian activist and businesswoman Ruth Pinheiro from Rio. Ruth speaks of her activism, success, memories and also unfortunate experiences with prejudice. One of her experiences touches on a little talked about type of prejudice that is also rooted in white supremacy: blacks who don’t like to see other blacks in positions of command or direction.
Ruth Pinheiro, business administrator: ‘They said, now here comes this negra to be our boss’
One of the main articulators of the black movement, militant see in the democratization of culture the path to reparation
By Celia Costa
“I was born in Engenho Novo, in the North Zone of Rio, I’m 66 years old and I am a militant in the struggle for reparations to African peoples. My involvement began in 1968, when I was a victim of prejudice at work. Then I went on to fight to change this and to act on social causes.”
Tell something that I don’t know.
There is a huge cultural movement in Brazil that needs resources, which is the Afro-Brazilian. When we talk about reparation, society the society doesn’t understand that this is a right. You have to know the context and the reason why blacks are still the majority in the slums, in the brothels and in drug trafficking.
What can be done to change that?
There must be democratization of the access to culture. Unfortunately, only a small portion of the Ministry of Culture of the budget is destined to the diffusion of the production of this segment. There is a lack of access to cultural agents, and also there is no interest of the business sponsors.
Why is there no interest?
Companies need to know that cultural projects are not exclusive to blacks, but are for those who work in spreading afro culture.
How did begin your activism?
In 1968, I was 18 and worked for the telephone company when I was promoted to supervisor of a sector. To my surprise and indignation, two black women said: “Telefónica (company) is not the same. Now here comes this negra to be our leader.”
And what was your reaction at the time?
I was surprised, angry, but not furious. Then I helped to form movements until, in the 1980s, I was invited to join the group Kizomba, which (popular Samba singer) Martinho da Vila was part of and promoting cultural exchange between Brazil with Africa, the US and the Caribbean.
Have you experienced other episodes of prejudice?
Countless times. One of the cases I denounced to the police. Four years ago, I had moved to a new building. In the social elevator, one person said that one was not for me and pointed to the service (elevator) (1). In another case, a friend from Bahia, a black man with Rastafarian hair, would stay in my house. I saw him come in front of me and asked him to wait for me in the lobby. When I got home, I found that the neighbors had called the police.
You participated in the Vila Isabel parade in 1988, with the theme “Kizomba, a festa” (the party)?
I participated. It was a great joy. Not even the samba school members believed we would win with such simple costumes as simple as the baianas de chita.
How was it to work in the Kizomba group?
I worked with exiles from South Africa and Angola keeping up with artists. I helped in the creation of the Palmares Institute of Human Rights. Then, we created Cadon, whose mission is to support the culture and promote reparation, which includes public policies to tend to people who were dominated.
The quota system, criticized by some segments of society, would be a form of reparation?
Yes. It is an initiative to minimize the damage, but it should not be restricted to education. The Afro-Brazilian movement requested quotas in culture and other initiatives. We will collect signatures for the elaboration of a bill that considers historical and financial repair. I don’t work in complaints. My advocacy is to bring visibility.
Source: Maria Preta
1. Many, if not most, middle and upper class apartments in Brazil have separate elevators. One, the social elevator, is for residents and guests, while the other, the service elevator, is used by domestics workers of the apartments. The elevator structure has been a consistent location of racism and prejudice over the years with black residents/guests consistently being directed to service elevators due to the association. In other words, if a black person is seen in a luxurious apartment, he or she could be ‘the help’. A number of articles touch on this topic. See here.