vogue brasil director throws racist birthday party

February 11, 2019
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On New York Times’ list of places to visit in 2019, Salvador was featured among the recommended cities. For rich white Brazilians, Salvador has been an oasis to “recharge vital energies” and “connect with ancestral cultures” long before Michael Jackson stepped on the Pelourinho and recorded the video “They Don’t Care About Us”, directed by Spike Lee in 1996.

Situated in this “mystical Bahia” aura, Brazilian social media was recently stunned with by the actions of Style Director of Vogue Brasil Donata Meirelles.  Meirelles celebrated her birthday party in a fancy Salvador hotel decorated with symbols of Afro-Brazilian culture. And for us mere mortals, as we follow along peering through a keyhole, the result was actually a shit show.

The theme of the party was not merely “colonial Brazil,” as the photos suggest, but in fact, a huge mess of cultural appropriation and bad taste — which is already present in the Brazilian white elite. But the aftermath of this racist fete revealed that the Brazilian Black community will no longer accept being placed in a position of subservience and is more attentive to racism disguised as homage.

The white Brazilian elite like to revive this country’s slavery past, which ended only 131 years ago. And we must ask if slavery has fully ended for all. Brazilian apartments continue to feature “rooms for maids,” now referred to as the senzala — which literally means “slave quarters.”

It is important to remember that until 2013 there was no law to protect a domestic worker’s rights. The current Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, then only a deputy, voted against this law. In Chile, this same law was put in the books but was also accompanied by a law that banned domestic uniforms for these workers. Brazil could have learned a little bit from its neighbor.

Meirelles’ birthday exposes an open Brazilian wound. When white Brazilians travel to Europe and visit places like the Holocaust Museum, tourists are overwhelmed with pity by the pain cast upon the Jewish people, who were enslaved and exterminated by Nazis.

But those same white Brazilians rarely feel the same pity for the horrors inflicted on the Africans enslaved in their own country. White people cry, they put all indignation on the social media and then they are able to spend a night in a fancy hotel being served by Black women dresses as baianas (Afro-Brazilian women dressed in white skirts, head wraps, beaded necklaces and trinkets) and taking pictures surrounded by elements of Black culture, without notice that they are repeating a slave pattern. Dear White People, you are not even funny sometimes.