he secretary of state of the northeastern state of Maranhão is investigating an alleged crime of racism against a 19-year old woman. Ana Carolina Bastos, a student of the Unidade Integrada Estado do Pará, on the outskirts of the capital city of São Luís, reported that she was barred from class by the director of the school on the first day of class.
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.
The student who continues to attend classes at the school where the incident occurred, filed a complaint with the police and now intends to enter a complaint against the director in the State Public Ministry of the State (MPE). The teacher also continued performing her duties as normal.
In an official statement, the government replied that it “will hear the parties involved and take appropriate action.” On Friday of last week, dozens of students and members of the Movimento Negro held a protest carrying banners and signs against the action of the director in front of the school. To the students, the director said that she had not behaved in a racist manner. The local press tried to talk to the teacher, but the Secretary of Education reported that she could not give interviews in order to preserve the investigation process.
The young Ana Carolina is part of a group that plays African-oriented music in São Luís. Her dream is to be a sociologist so that she can fight for minorities in the capital city of Maranhão. “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”, said the student. “I have a black identity and I will not change it,” she added.
This is the second episode involving actions of racism in Maranhão in less than a year. In July, the rectory of the Federal University of Maranhão (UFMA) opened an administrative procedure to investigate a complaint that a teacher, José Cloves Verde Saraiva, had humiliated a student enrolled in the Chemical Engineering course, Nuhu Ayuba. So far, the investigation has not been completed.
According to Claudicea Durans of the group Raça e Classe do Maranhão (Race and Class of Maranhão):”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”, but, Durans continues, “they 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.”
“Racism has different facets. The use of negative stereotypes and ridicule of physical characteristics and traits is another aspect of racism, which is in our analysis, at the same time silent, cruel and violent, it acts to deny the black identity, destroys cultural, historical, and physical values of this population, destroying their self-esteem.
“The fact that this discriminatory attitude occurred in school leads us to reflect that this situation is common in the school environment and that the school has historically been an instrument of reproduction of dominant ideologies, and racism, one more element to ensure the oppression and exploitation of blacks.”