Ronald and Priscilla Munk: couple’s black child told to leave a BMW store
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.
Facebook profile page against prejudice created by 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 waswhite (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”
Sign: “eu preciso de Cadiveu (I need Cadiveu)”
In several of our blog posts over the past 14 months, we have given consistent examples of how the aesthetic and image of the black woman is overwhelmingly devalued in Brazil. From outrageous song lyrics that denigrate physical attributes of black women, media ads that play on centuries long stereotypical images of black women’s sexuality, to the consistent racial insults such as “macaca (monkey)” and job discrimination, there is simply no way to deny the deep seated racist, sexist tendencies that regularly attempt to denigrate the very existence of black women in Brazilian society. But what’s amazing is that these insults and forms of disrespect don’t cease and always evolve into new methods of updating these attacks. So, in reality, this latest scandal should come as no surprise. But still…
Recently, it seems that the Cadiveu Brasil line of hair products saw it fit to use the example of natural, afro textured, curly/kinky hair to promote the necessity of women with this type of hair to use their product. In an ad campaign, various people were photographed using huge afro wigs and holding a sign that says “eu preciso de Cadiveu (I need Cadiveu)” clearly provoking the idea that this type of hair needs to be “treated” or “fixed” with Cadiveu’s products. As we have shown in previous examples, hair texture is a HUGE issue in Brazil for women who don’t possess the type of hair (straight) that fits into Brazil’s very Eurocentric ideal of beauty. Over the years, countless campaigns, seminars, lectures, essays and books have been addressed the self-esteem issues of persons of African descent that don’t have long, flowing hair. And along comes Cadiveu, like other brands before them, demonstrating EXACTLY why these issues exist.
Black Brazilian women were quick and straight to point in denouncing this latest attack on their image. Below are a piece and an excerpt of a piece by Winnie Buenoand the group Meninas Black Power that we have previously featured here at BW of Brazil. Between Winnie’s and Meninas Black Power’s pieces and are a few of the photos posted in the “I don’t need Cadiveu” mobilization drive.
No Cadiveu, I don’t need you.
By Winnie Bueno*
Caption: “No Cadiveu, Yes Natural”
When I was little, quite a little girl, I wore my hair braided. Tied down. I would always panic going to school without my hair being braided, although my mother always worked a lot on the construction of my identity as a black woman, I had a lot of trouble with my cabelo afro(African textured hair). As a teenager I started to wear my hair loose at the cost of a lot of chemicals (sodium hydroxides, guanidine hydrochloride and so on) and I lost a lot of hair, until finally I understood that I could only change my history, that of my cousins and my future daughters when I freed myself, when I was free of the “dictatorship of straight hair.”
Caption: Não precisamos de Cadiveu (We don’t need Cadiveu)
Imagine then, my indignation when I come across a photo of a cosmetics company in which a white girl wearing an afro wig and carrying a sign that says: “eu preciso de Cadivéu (I need Cadiveu)”. In (these) times of Facebook, where thousands of young black women are building their identity and with great difficulty coming to understand that they don’t need to straighten their hair, they don’t need name brand straightening irons to feel good about themselves.
Nós não precisamos de Cadiveu (We don’t need Cadiveu)
Cadiveu did a disservice to women with this propaganda. Cadiveu showed in a photo how racism has profited at the expense of the self-esteem of black women. It demonstrated how European the standards of beauty are and how it imposes even upon black women who are in the media a Caucasian standard of white features and which is not naturally their own, using our anxieties for profit. It’s not a problem that black girls want to have their straight hair; the problem is when it becomes an imposition. The problem is when the only way to understand is beautiful with her hair stretched (straightened). The problem is when girls panic at (the sight) of their natural hair, the problem is having to escape the rain from fear of revealing the real essence of their hair.
Caption: “I don’t need this Cadiveu shit, and neither straightening of any way: I LOVE MY AFRO”
My hair has a history, it carries in its roots the marks of a warrior people, my hair, like me, is free, has attitude and has life. It doesn’t need the marks of the straightening iron like my body doesn’t need the iron marks of slavery. We say no to Cadivéus that insists on imprisoning us. We are cabelo duro (hard/thick/nappy hair), we are crioulas doidas (crazy niggas or black women) we are black power (1).
Caption: “We don’t need Cadiveu!! We are natural beauties…That’s just how it is”
* Winnie is a law student of UFPEL (Universidade Federal de Pelotas – Federal University of Pelotas) in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul and activist of Juntos, a national youth movement organization.
And from the Meninas Black Power blog…
When a brand name and/or company uses a ridiculous image that affects an ethnic group, this same brand name needs to recognize the error. We receive daily photos of children, young people, men and women showing us how important it is to accept kinky/curly hair as a form of personal appreciation. These same people are mobilizing to say: “I don’t need Cadiveu.”
There are various black hairstyles in the streets that are being ridiculed and the brand name (Cadiveu) seems to support this. It’s clear that the company is suggesting that whoever accepts their natural curls needs to use chemicals that reverts kinks/curls to straight. There is no diversion in the daily suffering of those who accept their roots and receives denominations that the brand seems to consider acceptable, such as: “cabelo duro (hard/kinky hair)”, “palha de aço (steel wool)”, “nêga maluca (crazy, black woman).”
Photo at left: “I am black, I am/have kinky/curly (hair), I’m beautiful and I DON’T NEED CADIVEU!”
The women went on to request that readers and members send in photos of themselves with their natural hair to which was added the slogan “Eu não preciso/não precisamos de Cadiveu (I don’t need/We don’t need Cadiveu)”, a direct response to the slogan of the Cadiveu ad. The women went on to flood the Cadiveu Facebook page with countless photos of these proud black women (and men) rockin their natural ‘fros. There were also countless comments posted on Cadiveu’s Facebook fanpage denouncing the brand for its racist content. Now, to be sure, in the Cadiveu campaign, besides white women, there were also photos of black women wearing obvious afro wigs and also holding “I need Cadiveu” signs. But this isn’t the point; there will always be those who unknowingly or knowingly accept a certain standard and it doesn’t nullify the intent of the message Cadiveu is attempting to divulge. And besides that, all 13 photos of people holding “I need Cadiveu” signs wore wigs that emulated afros (as in the top two pictures of this post). If the intent was to show that many types of hair “need” this product, they would have also used models wearing wigs of straight, flowing hair, which they did not. Thus, in this writer’s opinion, Cadiveu is guilty as charged!
Special thanks to Winnie Bueno, Meninas Black Power, Jackelyne Michele, Fernanda Rodrigues de Miranda, Preta & Gorda, Jullyet Souza and Mel Adún.
1. In Brazil, the term “Black Power” can mean exactly that but it is a term that is more often applied to the afro hairstyle. In the 1960s and 1970s, many African-Americans involved in the Black Power Movement of the era wore large, round afros, thus the association of Black Power and Afros.