AFRICANGLOBE – Why does this story seem so familiar? Hmmm, let’s see…Now I remember! This exact same contest was the subject of controversy this time last year. If you didn’t read it last year or don’t have the background, here’s a quick rundown. Due to its majority of African descendants and its vibrant African culture, the northeastern state of Bahia is known throughout Brazil as the African center of the country.
According to the last official census, the state was classified as 76.2% Afro-Brazilian (pretos/Blacks + pardos/browns). But in a total reversal of the ethnic representation of the state, in the May 2013 Miss Bahia competition, out of 30 candidates from 30 cities, a maximum of 8 women could have been classified as Afro-Brazilian, with only 2 having skin tones on the darker side of blackness. After widespread protest on the internet against the majority whiteness in the contest, one of the darker-skinned black women, Priscila Cidreira Santiago, was named the winner of the contest.
Fast forward a year and a few months and in the same contest the representation was a basic repeat: Only 7 of the 28 candidates were Afro-Brazilian. In the end, one Black candidate entered the top 5 finalists but 20-year Anne Lima of Caetité took the crown and the won the right to represent the state of Bahia in the Miss Brasil contest. Yes, Lima is pretty, but she can’t be considered Afro-Brazilian by any stretch of the imagination.
Thus, a White woman will represent Black Bahia in the Miss Brasil contest, a pageant in which only one Afro-Brazilian woman has ever won in the 60 years of the competition. Bahia’s ethnic representation is quite well-known throughout the country and when someone wants to mention a person’s physical appearance without specifically stating the term “negra” or “negro”, they will sometimes say “baiana” or “baiano” in reference to a woman or man from the state of Bahia. This connection between race and region has long been the irony of the popular 1939 classic song “O Que É que a Baiana Tem”, meaning “what is it that the Bahian woman has”, sung by a very White-skinned Carmen Miranda.
So what is the message one is to get from this latest example of efforts to render the Afro-Brazilian population invisible? Well, first, as ridiculous as it seems, if there isn’t constant protest against the relentless “dictatorship of whiteness,” the status quo will continue implementing its Eurocentric standards across the board. It’s almost as if because of the protest from last year, contest organizers and judges backed off as if to say, “OK, negros…you brought so much attention to the color issue this year that we’ll crown a Black woman just to shut you up…But next year, we’ll crown who we really want to win!” Why is it so difficult to allow the color of Bahia to show in percentages equal to its population? The population of the state of Rio Grande do Sul in the country’s south declares itself 83% White, so one would actually expect their contest to look as White as it does.
But the objectives of minimizing the visibility of Bahia’s darker majority are obvious not only during Carnaval in the media focus on popular White singers, the segregation of the crowds but also lack of political power where a Black governor of the state or Black mayor of the capital city has never been elected.
The company Morgado Booker, from Rio de Janeiro, attracted attention when advertising on the social network Facebook six openings for receptionists in Salvador in which the women could only have “White skin”, between the ages of 18 and 28 and above height of 1.70 m (5’7”). In the capital city most people are black, is this a lack of common sense? The answer is yes.
According to the labor lawyer, Karine Goes in some cases companies that work with models can discriminate against the candidates according to the product. If the ad is for a gym, it doesn’t make sense to have fat models. What it cannot do is discriminate for no reason. “If it were for reception, there’s no reason for being blonde, brunette…It has to do with the product they are selling,” she says.
The company’s social network reported that vacancies are for a receptionist who will work at events at Hotel Pestana, the Luiz Eduardo Magalhães International Airport and the Feira Enagás. In contact with Morgado Booker, a producer who identified himself only as “Ricardo” states that “White skin” was a requirement of the customer, whose name he didn’t reveal.
“We suggested that they could be Black girls. All of our contractors are dedicated people, I particularly like black power (afro hairstyle) alot. We don’t have this problem, it’s not the agency’s fault, we provide service,” he argues. At the end of the conversation, Ricardo decided to erase the post from Facebook, to avoid more “headaches”.
The Bocão News story was forwarded the case to the Secretaria de Trabalho Emprego e Renda (Department of Labor Employment and Income), which promised to follow up on the complaint.
“It’s flagrant,” says Silvio Humberto
Councilman Silvio Humberto (PSB), who supports the movimento negro (Black movement) cause, was not surprised when he learned of Morgado Brooker’s requirement. For him, this is more “flagrant” than the covert (actions) that happen. “This is absurd and hence this was in an explicit way, because before people hid it. This is clear racism and we have to fight it, take action with the Ministério Público (Public Ministry/prosecutors) and go to the top of the contractor. When you arrive in these places and don’t see Black people and wonder why they don’t apply it’s because they in the selection (process) this happens there. A criminal practice,” he vents. Still in contact with Bocão News, Silvio said he would formally denounce the company.
A new contact
In a new contact with site, via email, the company apologized to Bahia for the requirement and believed it had been the victim of a “misinterpretation”. They also say that Black women will be sent to the customer, even if it requires otherwise. At the end of the matter, Morgado Brooker removed the requirement for only White women in the opening published on Facebook.
By: Terena Cardoso