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A Brazilian Girl Who Endured Racism at School Was Forced to Apologize to Her Aggressors

Lorena, 12 years-old, and her mother Camila. (Photo: Facebook/Image used with permission)

Lorena, 12 years old, and her mother Camila. (Photo: Facebook/Image used with permission)

Since Camila dos Santos Reis can remember, her daughter Lorena, 12 years old, has always been a sweet girl, who likes to run through Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo and watch Disney cartoons. However, since her return to classes this year, Lorena has been different — more quiet and withdrawn. It was an evening in March when Camila received a phone call from the school informing her that Lorena would be transferred to another class because “her classmates didn't adapt to her.”

It was difficult for Camila to understand. The two had always been very close, and it was strange that Lorena hadn't said anything. When her mother asked her about it, she explained that she was ashamed. Since the beginning of the school year, Lorena — who is black — had been suffering bullying and racism at school.

On the same day that Camila got the phone call, Lorena had gone to the school administration to complain about the attacks. But, according to Camila, the school only took measures to identify who was behind the attacks two weeks later. When the other students found out that Lorena had had to name her aggressors, she ended up being confronted, according to a post on the blog Preta e Acadêmica (Black and Academic):

No espaço da escola, seus “colegas” começaram a questionar sobre o ocorrido, e como ela pode ter os dedurado, iniciando uma gritaria contra a criança, que correu para os braços da diretora do colégio. A diretora, que “já está de saco cheio dessa história” (palavras da própria), resolveu fazer uma acareação. O resultado? Lorena teve que pedir desculpas para seus agressores.

At school, her “classmates” began to question her about what happened, and how she could have told on them, starting a shouting match against the child, who ran into the arms of the director of the school. The director, who “was already fed up with the story” (in her own words), resolved to confront the issue. The result? Lorena had to apologize to her aggressors.

In the end, the director asked if the girl would like to change classes, and Lorena, tired of the conflict, accepted.

Four days later, things got worse. As Camila described on her Facebook profile in a post shared by more than 74,000 people, Lorena sent her a message with the phrase: “Look at how I suffer,” followed by a series of audio recordings.

(…) coloquei meu fone no ouvido, e apertei o botão “REPRODUZIR”, que susto eu levei… logo a primeira frase gritada em alto e bom som foi “SUA PRETA, TESTA DE BATER BIFE DO CARA*****”, foram 53 segundos de ofensas horrorizantes, palavrões ofensivos, a nível físico, racial e por incrível que pareça sexual, vinda de um garoto de aproximadamente 13 anos morador do condomínio onde vivemos.

(…) I put my ear to the phone, and pressed the “PLAY” button, what a shock I suffered… right away the first phrase was shouted loudly and at a high volume “BLACK GIRL, FLAT-FOREHEADED*****”, it was 53 seconds of horrifying offenses, offensive curse words, on a physical and racial level, which incredibly also seemed sexual, coming from a boy of about 13 years old, a resident of the same complex where we live.

A group of 20 children — some from Lorena's school, others, her neighbors in São Bernardo do Campo — used a group on mobile messaging platform WhatsApp to continue hurling abuse at Lorena. Camila writes in the same post:

Pedi para ela me mandar todos os áudios que tinha recebido, uma sequência de mais de 20 áudios aproximadamente, então percebi que os áudios estavam sendo enviados de um grupo de amizade da qual ela faz parte. Todos os participantes do grupo são do condomínio, onde 2 meninos a ofendiam enquanto alguns outros incentivavam as ofensas.

As frases que mais marcaram e mais me assustaram foram:

“SUA PRETA, TESTA DE BATE BIFE DO CARA******!”
“EU SOU RACISTA MESMO, QUANDO EU QUERO SER RACISTA EU SOU RACISTA, ENTENDEU?”
“TODA VEZ QUE EU ENCONTRAR ELA NA MINHA FRENTE EU VOU ZUAR ATÉ ELA CHORAR”
“VOCÊ VAI FICAR NESTE GRUPO ATÉ VOCÊ CHORAR”
“CABELO DE MOVEDIÇA, CABELO DE MIOJO, CABELO DE MACARRÃO”

Muitos dos colegas ficaram quietos e preferiram não se manifestar, um deles até saiu do grupo quando as ofensas começaram, teve outro que se revoltou e disse que estavam passando dos limites e que aquilo já era desrespeito demais.
Entrei em choque, diante de tantas agressões psicológicas, tamanha inconsequência dessa juventude que ainda nos dias de hoje se comporta de maneira tão cruel, não posso encarar essa situação como “coisa de criança”, racismo nunca foi coisa de criança.

I asked her to send me all the audio recordings that she had received, a sequence of more than 20 recordings approximately, and I learned that the audio recordings were being sent from a friend group of which she was a part. All the participants of the group are from the condominium, and two boys insulted her while others encouraged the insults.

The phrases that left the greatest impression and scared me the most were:

“BLACK GIRL, FLAT-FOREHEADED*****!”
“I AM RACIST, WHEN I WANT TO BE RACIST I'M RACIST, UNDERSTOOD?”
“EVERY TIME I SEE HER IN FRONT OF ME I'M GOING TO INSULT HER UNTIL SHE CRIES”
“YOU'RE GOING TO STAY IN THIS GROUP UNTIL YOU CRY”
“QUICKSAND HAIR, RAMEN HAIR, PASTA HAIR”

Many of her classmates stayed quiet and preferred not to say anything, one of them even left the group when the insults began and there was another who got angry and said that they were crossing the limits and that it was already too disrespectful.
I was in shock, in the face of so much psychological aggression, the scope of which is reckless for the youth of today who behave in such a cruel way, I can't face this situation as “child's play”, racism was never child's play.

Because it involves minors, the case was sent to the Guardianship Council. Inside the school, there was no mention of punishment for the aggressors or an attempt to deal with the behavior of those involved.

In an interview with Global Voices, Camila revealed that this is what left her most indignant.

“É o errado vencendo o certo, trocou de turma, mas os alunos não foram conscientizados do erro que estavam cometendo, e nos corredores da escola quando se encontrassem, como seria? Eles iam continuar ofendendo ela? Recebi uma ligação da escola no período da noite me informando que ela seria trocada de turma porque não houve uma adaptação. Como assim? E na sociedade aonde eu coloco ela?”.

It is wrong prevailing over right, changing her class, but the students weren't made aware of the mistake they were committing, and in the halls of the school where they will meet, how will it be? Will they continue insulting her? I received a call from the school at night informing me that she would be moved from her class because there wasn't an adaptation. How so? And in society where do I place her?

‘It's not bullying, it's racism’

Camila and Lorena. (Photo: Facebook/Image used with permission)

Camila and Lorena. (Foto: Facebook/Image used with permission)

What happened to Lorena is a childhood experience shared by thousands of black girls who go through years in school hearing jokes about their hair and skin color. All victims of racism, not bullying.

To differentiate the two forms of prejudice, in 2013 a group of 21 black women resolved to gather their own school stories in the book “Negras (in)confidências: Bullying, não. Isto é racismo” (Unconfident Black Women: Not Bullying. This Is Racism). In it, they explain:

As organizadoras fazem questão de afirmar que o que ocorre com as crianças negras não é bullying e sim racismo, pois, no primeiro caso, a maior parte das agressões acontece sem a presença dos adultos e os que sofrem a agressão tendem a cometer atos de agressão por terem sofrido agressões, mas não falam sobre o assunto. O racismo, no entanto, é uma ideologia que afirma uma raça superior a outra; a ideologia é tão difundida que as agressões ocorrem tanto na presença de adultos, como os mesmos as promovem, assim, mesmo que as crianças procurem ajuda na escola, não a obterão, o que aumenta a sensação de injustiça e solidão. Acreditam que o bullying inferioriza e o racismo, para além de inferiorizar, desumaniza o ser humano.

The organizers make a point to affirm that what happens to black children is not bullying and instead racism, because in the first case, a large part of the attacks happen without the presence of adults and those that suffer the aggression tend to commit acts of aggression for having suffered the acts, but don't talk about the problem. Racism, however, is an ideology that affirms that one race is superior to another; an ideology that is so propagated that attacks occur even in the presence of adults, as they too promote them, such that even if children seek help at school, they won't get it, which increases the sense of injustice and isolation. They believe that bullying makes others inferior, and racism, in addition to making others inferior, dehumanizes the human being.

A study undertaken by the Fundação Institucional de Pesquisas Econômicas (the Institutional Foundation of Economic Research) in 2009 showed that ethnic-racial prejudice is the second strongest in Brazilian schools, only coming after prejudice for physical reasons, such as obesity. The study included professors, employees and students from 500 schools from around Brazil. Only 5% of those interviewed were black.

In 2003, Law 10.639, which made the teaching of “Afro-Brazilian History and Culture” a required subject in schools, seemed to announce a change in the system. But not so. Ten years later, professor Dennis Oliveira, a member of the Núcleo de Pesquisas e Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre o Negro Brasileiro (Nucleus of Interdisciplinary Studies and Research About Black Brazilians) pointed out for Revista Fórum that the problems with the implementation of the law stem from the resistance of university pedogogy programs to including the material in their curriculum and, consequently, the lack of teachers with an education in it.

Viviane de Paula, in an article published on the site Blogueiras Negras (Black Female Bloggers), states that “the school environment is still an oppressive agent for many identities,” something that the government and school communities still are unable to recognize:

A escola, sem dúvidas, é um espaço sócio-cultural que deve aceitar e, sobretudo, discutir amplamente a pluraridade cultural, até mesmo como uma maneira de desconstruir preconceitos. O que muitas vezes presencia-se nas escolas são atitudes de descaso e silenciamento por parte da gestão escolar. Observa-se que os gestores de instituições públicas e privadas não se posicionam: é mais fácil esconder, do que problematizar.

School, without a doubt, is a socio-cultural space that should accept and, above all, amply discuss cultural plurality, until it becomes a way to deconstruct prejudice. Often times what is present in school are attitudes of negligence and silencing on the part of school management. Observe what the directors of public and private institutions don't acknowledge: it's easier to hide, than to make an issue of it.

#SomosTodasLorena (#WeAreAllLorena)

After everything that happened at school, Lorena only wanted to see her father, her mother and her best friend. “This created a huge insecurity in her, in addition to her resistance to going to school, she is having a lot of difficulty sleeping, she wakes up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep, and her appetite has diminished a lot,” Camila said in her interview with GV.

Even so, the support that Camila has found on social networks since she told her daughter's story gives reason for hope. “Given the proportion this case has taken and the amount of messages of support, help and kindness that we have received, there are many more good people than bad,” she said.

Campaign in support of Lorena on the page Preta e Acadêmica. (Photo: Facebook Preta e Acadêmica)

Campaign in support of Lorena on the page Preta e Acadêmica. (Photo: Facebook Preta e Acadêmica)

Soon after the publication of the story on Facebook, a sociologist wrote to Camila offering to hold a training session with the faculty of the school about socio-educational measures to be taken in this kind of situation. School officials originally accepted, but then changed their minds.

According to Camila, there is still much that needs to happen before the conclusion of the case. The hashtag #SomosTodasLorena (#WeAreAllLorena) began to circulate, showing mothers and communities dedicated to praising black curly hair, such as the group As Vantagens de se Enrolar (The Advantages of Rolling).

Since her story appeared on the internet, Lolô (as Lorena is lovingly called) has adopted an afro — a good way for her to discover how beautiful and powerful she is.

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