Sunday, July 15, 2007

The silent Violence

When you go to Brazil, you may here and there notice certain "customs" that are absolutely appalling and date waaaay back to a couple of centuries ago. I went to a restaurant and there was a "family" with enough money so that it could hire a baby-sitter. Not something like in Europe for the evening, but a baby-sitter for the whole week, including nights, so these people sleep in the home and often in the same room as the little kids. There are many families that can afford one, the baby-sitters are called "baba". Sadly though, these are also people that are most frequently entirely ignored, even though physically quite present (how can you miss the person that carries your kids, nephews or others around?).

Anyway, the other family comes in and their lovely little son is being carried outside by the baba. The little mongrel is crying and they enter the restaurant. The remark is not: "There is Sandra/Yvete/Lena/Marcia with João/Miguel/Rafael"... it is "There is João/Miguel/Rafael, but he is crying". The little mongrel gets a place inbetween the parents. The baba "finds" a place at the end of the table. Well, let's sketch this out:

So, we see the whole family together and the round circles are plates. The social divide in this case means that:

  • The baba was not talked to by anyone of the family, so sat there in a complete state of isolation
  • The baba was not offered a plate
  • The baba was not offered food to eat at the same table as the "boss"
  • The baba was sitting at a table that was physically separate from the others
  • All in the family thought it was perfectly normal
  • The baba looked pretty bored by all this isolation
I know people in London that have a baby-sitter, someone that is there during the whole week. She makes some good money though and she eats along with the people of the house if she wants to. She prefers to eat at other times when there are guests, but that is by her preference. When people are in the house, she is part of the people in the room, she's not required to move anywhere else, she sits on the same couch as the guests and she talks to other people, including the guests. However, in general, she follows where the children are. The guests, on arrival, do not ignore her and ask her how she has been doing and establish at least a small conversation.

So... I see a lot of silent violence in the way how certain people are treated here. More like slaves than people. On every perspective, social, human rights, labour rights, salary, these people are already not equal to their hosts. Then above all, you get treated as if you didn't exist. I would certainly not want to be ignored or treated this way, but luckily I do have a choice. Then people wonder where these levels of violence arise from... duh!

Other situations are for example some resort places around Brazil. We've been invited once to a meeting, where the guy in charge decided to reduce the salary by 20% just three weeks before Christmas, intending to "do good" to the "community", because it would reduce the costs of running the resort. Brazilian law prohibits decreases in salary. But do you think any worker is going to sue?

One documentary on housekeepers in Brazil shows that some are expected to work 10-12 hours a day. If you wanted to study to get into college, then that's tough! Some of these have children that they bring into work. But whenever the host's little mongrel brat starts crying for his toys or whatever, the housekeeper must give preference to the little brat over their own children. Worst of all, these ignorant bosses even believe that they are providing a very good opportunity for these housekeepers, because "without them" they wouldn't have food on the table.

For these dark-age families, you know the most appalling aspect of all... They expect their baba's and housekeepers to be 100% loyal and dedicated to them no matter the circumstances...


Luckily this is not the situation for all domestic workers and there are more and more "good bosses and families" around, but it is improving very slowly. You'll find some very happy domestic workers that are very dedicated, but that is because they are being treated properly, not ignored. Even the frequent guests treat them as part of the family.

Here's a nice opportunity for those individuals that hire domestic workers to make a good difference... and this is not something out-of-reach because it's being governed by a politician or governmental organization. It's directly within reach and every little change in perspective, behaviour or expectation makes enormous differences on the other side.


Silvino Neto said...

Nothing to do with technology but to me it was your best post ever.

I'm even prouder to be your friend since I've read this essay.

Gerard Toonstra said...

Hey Silvino!

Thanks for that!

I hope this makes the public more conscious and I hope it makes at least one single difference somewhere in the minds of some middle-class civilian.

Overall, I think it's necessary to improve the perspective and norms for treatment (and expectations) of domestic workers.

Legislation is definitely not going to lead this effort. Society as a whole should develop the ethics and morale to guide the legislative efforts, because that is what in general legislation is based on.