Body PoliticsBrazilMusic

preta rara overcame housework to slay

September 5, 2019
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When young Joyce Fernandes was growing up in Santos, her father was a postman, and her mother was a maid who bought a lot of goods from door-to-door sellers — especially books. Joyce used to trade her own dolls for books. “Ah, this Black girl is rare,” Joyce’s mother would say about her.

When Joyce was a teenager and began to write graffiti, she tagged as “Preta Rara” (Black Rare), so as not to be discovered. “Nothing better than a stage name given by the mother,” she now says with a smile. At that time, Joyce sang in an evangelical church. She was part of a group formed by her mother, father and sister called The Fernandes. In 2005, she started rapping, and today, Preta Rara uses her rhymes to denounce the issues she went through.

Shake the status quo. Everywhere Preta Rara arrives, she looks to create discomfort with her image, her music, and even with the media content that she generates. “It creates change,” she believes. The singer and rapper who is now also a writer, classifies herself as a content producer and claims that she intends to take to all platforms to discuss race, class and gender, as well as to combat fatphobia.

She is about to release the book, Me, Maid: The modern slave is the maid’s room. [It has not yet been translated into English.] The publication features narratives by her grandmother and mother, and by Preta herself, as well as stories that she solicited and received on a Facebook page she created for the project; she received more than 4000 reports.

Brazil has a “maid culture.” It’s very common to find a “maid room” in many apartments and houses. This happens because of a long history of servitude, poor work regulation, and unemployment in the country. These workers are overwhelmingly female, most of them Black and poor. They have long been treated as second-class citizens, not only by employers but also by the law.

Preta Rara is a strong voice in the Afro-Brazilian community. According to the streaming platform Deezer, she is one of the 13 most listened to rappers in the world.”Music is the driving force for reaching more people and doing what I like,” she says. Preta Rara’s next single, “Cabelo Bom (Good Hair)” is about hair aesthetics and debates that annoying idea of white people touch Black people’s hair without permission.

Pret Rara says that her body is a political act. “Everything I use is designed to make you fell uncomfortable. My big nails, my voluminous hair. When I’m going to do a photoshoot for advertising and I know I’m the only fat girl, I use a cropped top to show everybody my belly. I do that for people to understand that there are many types of bodies,” she says.

When Preta Rara is on the streets, she says that she gets looks of racism, fatphobia — but also empathy, “a recognition by sisters who admire me.” She remembers that she used to “hate my body, my hair.” Preta says that she went bald at age 15, when she used a hair-straightening product. Her mother criticized her for it, but she started coloring her short hair and started using laces also. At the time, she gave up to go to her high school trip graduation because she would have to wear swimsuits. “I didn’t experience it because of the body.”

Preta Rara (third from the left), at the beach, with other participants in her program ‘Oupação GGG’ (photo: Cibelle Appes)

Today, Preta Rara has a project named Oupação GGG (Extra Large Occupation) in which large-sized women go to the beach in a bikini and make cool photos. It was the first time wearing bikinis for many of them. “I have many work fronts. It’s still something I deal with in therapy,” she admits. “This is a refuge for survival. Even having studied, taught, I still see myself in the maid’s room, I keep creating these projects because my fear is that nothing works and I will have to be a maid again. Because I know it’s a place that will always be there waiting for me, the housework.”

At the end of high school, Preta Rara applied for jobs but received any positive feedback. “I started sending my resume without a picture and they started calling me, but when they saw me, they didn’t hire me.” That’s when a friend said an aunt needed someone to clean their house, a part-time job. “It was just to pick up the trash, mop it, and clean the dust.” When Preta Rara told to her mother about the new job, she started crying and asked her not to go. Preta did not listen and after two weeks of work began to understand what her mother meant. “The work doubled and I had to do much more than was asked of me when I applied for the job.”

According to DIEESE (Brazil’s Inter-Union Data Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies), in 2013 there were six million domestic workers in the country, 78% of whom are Black women. “It is a profession that is hereditary to Black women, an inheritance from slavery. “Those who were house slaves are maids from nowadays,” says Preta Rara. The phrase “she is as a family to me” once used by white people who “care” about slaves, is now reserved for maids. “I couldn’t use the same fork and knives as my boss, the same bathroom, or eat the same food. I’ve been without the bathroom for eight hours because the maids’ toilet was broken.”

Time passed. Joyce went to college and was able to pay for her studies by working as a maid. She studied history at college and got a bachelor’s degree. She began teaching, and rented a small beachfront studio, fulfilling an old dream that reminded her of situations when she was a maid. When Preta Rara shared her experiences on Facebook, it quickly went viral. She created the hashtag #euempregada (#memaid) to listen to other women’s voices, generating the eponymous Facebook page. The repercussion generated interest from TV broadcasters. “That page opened the discussion about that job, and the oppression related to it,” Preta Rara says, remembering that until 2015, domestics did not have the same rights as other workers.