Last month, 19-year-old student Ana Carolina Bastos Soares said she was a victim of racism at her school. As she was attempting to enter the campus at the Unidade Integrada Estado do Pará, Bastos claims the school’s director kept her from attending the first day of classes because of her hair.
The blog Black Women of Brazil reports:
According to Bastos, on February 23rd, the director, Socorro Bohatem, stopped her at the entrance of the school and told her that she was dressed in an “inadequate” way. Following an objection by Ana Carolina, who defended herself by saying that another young, (white) girl, wore a more low-cut dress than hers and was not barred, to which the director explained that she could not get into school because of the “black power” hairstyle. According to the student, the director was astonished by her choice of hairstyle, asked why she wore her hair “in that way” and told her leave the building. “The other student wore a top and a very low-cut dress. It was my style that didn’t please her. It was a case of racism. Later I found out that this was not the first time something like this happened”, said the student.
Soares was eventually allowed to attend classes, but she has filed a complaint with the authorities and the secretary of state of the northeastern state of Maranhão is investigating the incident.
Although the incident was hurtful, Soares says she will not let anything make her ashamed to be black.
“When I was barred, my sister cried and I was horrified. A lot of people were looking at me. It was a massacre. I wasn’t start anything. I go to school to be someone in life”, Soares said. “I have a black identity and I will not change it,” she added.
After the incident, students and members of Movimento Negro took to the streets to protest Soares’ treatment and other incidents of racism in Maranhão.
According to Claudicea Durans of the group Raça e Classe do Maranhão (Race and Class of Maranhão), these incidents aren’t new, but like Bastos has shown, they must be confronted.
“Black men and women have experienced situations of humiliation and racial slurs on a daily basis in different public spaces and these acts are often expressed in different ways: racist jokes, police beatings, moral and physical aggressions, that often go unreported because of the embarrassment, humiliation, sadness and frustration that its causes the people that denounce them”, she explains.
Despite the contentious atmosphere, Durans insists these incidents “must be reported in order to serve as examples and may in fact be punished because racism, according to Brazilian law, is a non-bailable and imprescriptible crime.”
Brazil has a very complicated history with race and despite being home to the largest black population outside of continental Africa, racism continues to be an issue in the country. Although the country touts its history as a “racial democracy,” colorism and racism remain a problem.