Store representative apologized and said it had been a ‘misunderstanding’. ‘This is no place for you. Get out,’ the manager reportedly told the child, who is black.
by Henrique Porto and Lívia Torres
A trip to the Autokraft BMW dealership in Barra da Tijuca, in the West Zone of Rio de Janeiro, on Saturday afternoon (12), left the couple Ronald Munk and Priscilla Celeste. Parents of five children, they went to the store accompanied by their youngest, a 7-year old black child that is adopted, in search of a new car for the family. While chatting with the sales manager about the cars, they say they were surprised by the prejudiced attitude of the employee when the child approached the three.
The BMW Group sent a note to G1 news apologizing to the couple.
The couple told how the conversation went with the manager. “He said, ‘You can’t be here. This is no place for you. Leave the store.’” The salesman then told Priscilla that poor children often come into the car lot asking for money. When they told him that the boy was their son, his “mouth fell open in embarrassment,” the couple said, pointing out that the manager had not realized that the boy was their son.
“Immediately I grabbed my son by the hand and left the store. We have been their customers for years. We even have a salesman who always attends to us. We waited days for a retraction; we didn’t take any immediate action and we didn’t go to the police to protect our son,” she added.
Ronald, who is a consultant, says it’s not the first time that this kind of situation has happened with his son, and asked the manager about his attitude.
“I came to ask for the reason for that reaction. When I stated that that black child was our son, he was completely helpless, stammered and apologized. Without understanding anything, our son asked why they didn’t accept children in that store since there was a television on showing cartoons,” says the consultant.
In the note from the press representative, sent on Wednesday (23) to G1 news, the BMW Group said it has taken note of the incident in an email sent by Ronald and Priscilla, in January this year. See the full text of the full note below:
Note from the company
“The BMW Group would like to clarify that it learned of the facts reported in the material below, through an e-mail sent on 16/01/2013 by Mr. Ronald and Priscilla Munk and promptly requested clarification from the dealership Autokraft through a notice delivered on the same date.
“The BMW Group informs still that none of its officials was present at the time of the event narrated, so it cannot attest to the veracity of the facts reported by customers….
“We confirm that the BMW Group, despite having no knowledge of the facts in regard to their customers, sent a message to them, apologizing for what happened and explaining its legal and business relationship with the dealership, which is governed by Law No. 6729/79, which prohibits the BMW Group from adopting any position to influence the administrative management of the dealership and disallows the company to intervene or influence the daily activities of its dealers.”
Retraction from BMW
Ronald and Priscilla waited four days for a retraction from the dealership. According to them, the intention was not to take the matter to court, but not letting it happen again and with others. They decided then to send an email to BMW Brasil reporting the incident.
The response came quickly through the regional sales manager. In the email, the company says it laments that the incident occurred, apologized for the situation and emphasizes that BMW’s commitment is to provide care with excellence.
The couple thanked them for the response, especially by recognizing the fact that it actually occurred on the store premises, but didn’t think that only this was enough. The parents then demanded an answer about what measures would be taken against the employee and how the company would act so that this does not happen again.
Seven days after the incident in the store, a new e-mail with the subject “apology” was sent to the couple, this time by an Autokraft representative. In it, the company said that it was aware of the incident and said that the store manager “understood that the couple was not accompanied by anyone, including the child. And since the child was absolutely unattended in the store, the employee warned the boy that he could not stay there and that it was all a misunderstanding.” The post ends with the following message: “I am immensely pleased to always have you as a customer friend.”
E-mail sent by the dealership apologizing to the couple treating the case as a ‘misunderstanding’
The term “misunderstanding” particularly outraged Priscilla and Ronald, who created last Sunday (20), the Facebook page “Racial prejudice is not a misunderstanding.” The intention, according to them, is to gather stories of prejudice and warn people not to accept excuses and inappropriate explanations. The page had 1,200 hits, she said, in three days. By the end of Wednesday night, 230 people had “liked” the page.
“We share the page with friends only. Now you have a lot of people telling stories very similar to ours. Racial prejudice is a crime. People have to be aware of this and not remain silent,” concluded Priscilla.
The sad thing about this case is that with certainty, this type of incident happens in Rio and throughout Brazil on a daily basis. Of course there will be naysayers who will claim that this wasn’t a case of racism, but the question here would be, if the child was white (blond hair/blue eyes), would the salesman had reacted in this manner? As we have shown in several articles here, poverty and begging are associated with persons of brown skin.
Most black children don’t have the benefit of a caring white couple who can stand up in their defense at the moment of racial discrimination. Due to this fact, there are countless cases of explicit racism that go unreported everyday because many people believe that nothing will result from their complaint. Not everyone is willing to pursue a case of racism to the end as Simone Diniz did many years ago.
I also wonder if this white couple would have stood up in this situation if they didn’t have an adopted black child. Let’s imagine the incident was the same, but the black child belonged to a black couple that was not in the same room as the child. If the salesman had ordered the child out of the store and the white couple knew that the child’s parents were in the other room, would they have checked the salesman in the same manner or simply turned away as if to think, “not my problem”? Often times, white persons don’t have knowledge or don’t concern themselves with incidents of racism unless they have a child, friend or partner that society deems to be non-white. Racism in Brazil continues to happen on a daily because it is a country based upon privileges in which the society accepts that everyone has their determined “place” (1). (For further examples of this idea of “place” see our article “What are you blacks doing here?”)
The other detail in this case goes back to the treatment of blacks in Rio and Brazil in general. As we have seen from the countless Military Police and death squad murders of young Afro-Brazilian men, this same black child will become a “suspect of the standard color” later in life (if not already), a phrase and ideology that gives Brazil’s authorities justification to harass, hunt down and indiscriminately kill persons of visible African ancestry. This is also a blatant display of white privilege (in the sense of the white parents who were able to procure justice and also the freedom from this type of harassment) that continues to victimize a population that is half of Brazil’s population.
1. A fact that is recognized in the old saying, “In Brazil, there is no racism because blacks know their place.” See See Roberto DaMatta (1991). Carnivals, rogues, and heroes: an interpretation of the Brazilian dilemma or Seth Racusen (2003) “The Ideology of the Brazilian Nation and the Brazilian Legal Theory of Racial Discrimination”