Between the late 1990s and early 2000s, in the neighborhood of Coelho Neto, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, I attended the former elementary school, now primary education, at the General Osório Municipal School. When I was in the former 2nd grade, and now in the 3rd grade, I was a student of “Aunt” Maria Teresa, a white woman with slightly gray hair and a Chanel haircut. She appeared to be around 50 years old, wore glasses with beautiful wine colored frames, always wore elegant and discreet clothes. Her nails were always well done: I paid a lot of attention to that detail, because my mother, in addition to being a cleaner, was also a manicurist.
Currently, in the second decade of the 21st century, when this article is being written, there is a wave of nostalgia for the 1990s, partly due to the fact that today, due to the intractable problem of public security in Brazil, the acceleration of the “culture of isolation” (due to the covid 19 pandemic) and easier access to equipment and digital media as a form of entertainment, work, learning and social interaction, bit by bit we lost the pleasures of this decade, perfectly expressed in music producer Marcus Eni’s parody of the song “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” by the singer Cyndi Lauper:
“I dreamed / that I traveled in the 90s it was incredible / everything was different and full of colors / just like the picture of my parents / the parties were much nicer / And at night no one stayed at home, mostly they went out to play / flew flag, burnt, warning color / until mother screams to come in / because it was dinner time / tube television / Super Nintendo / general exchanged love letters, no cell phone / to watch movies you had to rent / arcades / rental companies”.
Marcus, the creator of the character “Macaco Severino”, who is very successful on social networks, managed to perfectly express the greatest qualities of the last decade of the 20th century in his parody. He spoke of the dead decade using the same euphemism used to speak of the dead: highlighting their good moments and leaving aside anything that would embarrass their trajectory. The parody, which is a clever and timely insight from its producer, is also a portrait, ultra-photoshopped, of the Brazilian urban middle class of the period, and many people chose to remember the 90s in this way, which is a metaphor, practically perfectly, of how our society deals with its own memory.
It’s true that the 90s were much more than just entertainment. If we were to compress this decade, the most diverse types of bullying, racism (although it is redundant to mention, right) and other types of violence would emerge. Almost everything was hostile, even more so if you were a kid like me: “wretched”, “favelada”, “little black girl with stiff hair”, “machete sharpening testão”, “mule lips”, “uglier than a cannon” and “Raimunda, ugly in the face, but good in the ass”. All these pejorative nicknames depict very well the pain of being a black girl in the 90s. Now let’s remember “Aunt” Maria Tereza, a teacher in a class of children under 10 years old. I ask what came out of her thin lips for those mostly black children of the wonderful 90s?
The main clientele of the General Osório Municipal School came from the favelas located around it, such as Favela de Acari, Morro do Jorge Turco, Pedreira, Faz Quem Quer and Cafúa. Most of my colleagues, like me, did not know their own father and were exposed to the war between the factions and the military police, in some cases they could not even go home together because they were staying in the territories of rival factions. Some lived with their grandparents in wooden shacks, others lived in small houses with many people, and many had to be alone at home, waiting for their mother to return from a long day of work. In this whole context, the teacher Maria Tereza entered the room, looked at us with a look of contempt and superiority, left her things on the table and began her daily terrorism. She started the day by organizing the classroom, not to provide a better learning environment, such as putting shorter students in the first row or with vision problems, but to keep away from ugly students, according to the teacher herself.
On the first day of lectures with Marija Tereza, I sat in the first row, right in the middle of the room, facing the blackboard. I’ve always liked sitting in the front because of my tendency to get distracted easily. When I sat in the front row, my direct contact with the professor and the content on the board made it easier for me to concentrate and study. I didn’t happen to be synonymous with beauty according to Maria Teresa’s racist standards. I was not what she called a “tetéia”. For three or four days I dared to repeat the feat of sitting in the first row, and Maria Teresa shouted day after day: “What are you doing here, girl? I already told you that your place is back there, you can get out of there, where are my tits and tits?” Then she would extend her index finger and begin to lower: “you, you and you, back. you, you, you and you, forward, very close to my aunt, I like to work very close to beautiful and fragrant people”, soon opening a wide smile. So all the white and light-skinned students remained in the front rows, while the others went to the famous “fundão”, into which the teacher rarely bothered to look and where it was much easier to be kicked, pulled by the hair, and still hear not-so-gentle nicknames from other classmates, who, despite being excluded like me, had already learned, before me, that their places were not close to those with power and knowledge, and they should not have to go through, day after day, the humiliation of being taken back to the back of the classroom under a shower of screams and curses, also from classmates who, perhaps in an attempt to alleviate their own shame, attacked me. That experience for years conditioned the way I presented myself in front of her of smoke, always trying to hide and showing very strong shyness.
When she was very angry with the behavior of the class, Maria Tereza would look into the “fundão” and then say things like: “You know what, my role here is to make you at least become garbage collectors for the boys and maids ( maids ), for the girls. And if they’re pretty like my aunts, and they’re lucky, they can be receptionists.” On another occasion, she said: “no student from this school will enter the university. You will never have a basis for it, proof is impossible for you.”
Back then, we didn’t have cell phones to document injustice. Racism and the denial of racism, based on the false idea of racial democracy, was so hegemonic that the students, myself included, could not even understand and/or elaborate in their heads that the teacher’s behavior was inadequate and should therefore be condemned. If I dreamed that I traveled to the nineties, it wouldn’t just be a nice dream, it would be a nightmare. And there are no jokes on the street and tickets paid by adults that make me wish I was 90. From white paquitos to Maria Teresa, Zambi is the one who frees me and saves me from this nostalgic wave of Brazil’s past, not that the present is so good, on the contrary.
Even today, I deal with the school environment very closely and I can say: the school remains the same. Interestingly, my daughter studies in the same school where the singer Anitta studied, which is through her stories on Instagram he praised the mentioned educational institution: “beautiful public school”. In fact, the reason I enrolled my daughter in this school was the “fame” as a model school that it always had here in the region, even when I was a primary and elementary school student. For many, the goal was to study at this school, so it was very controversial and difficult to get a place. Those who succeeded promised a great education, perhaps equivalent to that offered in private schools, where even today, here in Brazil, they are synonymous with the highest quality in terms of teaching and maintaining social and economic inequality.
When I say that the school has not changed, I mean the structure of the school and the mentality of the people who make up the teaching staff and school administration, but the students have changed. Today, they are capable, albeit unevenly, of recognizing situations of harassment at school. Some of them already have smartphones with cameras and recorders, which can be used to document violence in the school environment, either by other students or by teachers and other employees, which is already progress. But don’t think that the school, dare I say it, as the most conservative institution in Brazil, has not moved to prevent students from mobilizing, organizing and empowering themselves in and within the school environment. At my daughter’s school, for example, the principal said at a meeting with the guardians that he was an “extremely conservative man.” Two of the strictest practices in this school are the fact that students are expressly forbidden from talking to each other, even in “unclear” moments, and the fact that there are no more breaks or breaks: students enter school, study, and leave. This school does not promote any interaction between students, discouraging cooperation and favoring individualism. On another occasion, also at a meeting with the guardians, when the other people had already left and it was only my husband and I who needed to solve the problem with the principal, when he asked him if the school was working on drug prevention, he said he showed me on his smartphone a camera system that he could access even from his home and showed different environments in the school and, according to him, this was the drug abuse prevention work that the school was “carrying out”. After that, he admitted to us his opinion about the students of the school he leads. According to the director himself, for many of these boys, “being arrested is an honor, because when they return to the favela, they feel more respected because they have already been in prison.” He continues to say that “these girls don’t want anything to do with education, they want to be the wives of bandits so they can live in the best house in the favela”. As soon as he finished with this nonsense and saw our astonished face, he blurted out: “wow, don’t you notice that in the favela where you live?”.
Every day my daughter tells me difficult things that happen in her school, it would take at least five more articles to comment on everything, but one of these facts was the one that impressed me the most. She once told me what a music teacher told her class, because of their “bad behavior” that one day she would sit in the audience to watch and laugh at their failure, her students. That day, together with my daughter, I was thinking of withdrawing her from school. But, to my surprise, she said that she would not leave the school, but that she would stay and fight for a better education, because, according to my brave twelve-year-old, it is the school that needs to change, not her. This attitude of my daughter showed me that this new generation can bring the winds of renewal, although in a very controversial way, yes, it seems that we have progressed in the anti-racist struggle and in education. At school, and especially today, they still try to impose the old racist mechanisms of reproduction of inequality, but we resist it at home. Here, the child knows where he came from and knows that he has the right to choose where he wants to go. Here the child also brings valuable lessons, such as the idea that sitting in the front row is not a concession by the teacher or even the school, but is one of the fruits of the collective, black and international struggle for civil rights and the emancipation of the working class, without which we would not be in school and faculty benches. Furthermore, the problem of racism cannot be solved by changing schools, because it is everywhere and needs to be faced. My daughter and I are both nightmare Marias Terezas out there, as we defy their racist prophecies to live the dreams of our ancestors.
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