Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ugly Head Reared

Recently we hosted a German couple at our house and they left us the following review:
“Mark is fluent in English which is very helpful and rare in Brazil. The room itself was exactly as in the pictures, clean and with a comfortable bed. We didn't really like the bathroom, because it smelled gross and we made the first and only time aquaintance with cockroaches in a house. Unfortunately the room is on the ground floor on the side of the road, which is very dirty and smelly. All day and and half the night there were people in front of the room, talking, laughing, screaming... When leaving and returning you had to fasten and undo 3 (!) locks and it was not recommended to leave the house and turn right (!!). We felt very unsafe and uncomfortable as whites in Mark's neighborhood. In comparison to many other (website deleted) opportunities in Brazil so far, we would NOT recommend this place (exception: black males who can live with the circumstances). We are very sorry to say that.”
Needless to say I was shocked and infuriated by this.  Street dirty and noisy?  Yep, aware of that.  Cockroach in the house?  Say it isn't so!  Gross smell in the bathroom?  That's a new one.  Neighborhood only suitable for black males?  Go f*ck yourself people.

I had hoped to write a long, carefully considered post on this topic; I spent a huge amount of time thinking about it and lost most of a night's sleep as well.  But as is so often the case the days go sliding by and if I don't write something right now (Sunday night) chances are I won't write anything at all.  It's getting late and I should be asleep so I'm going to have to keep it short.  Let me say only that I received a lot of support from friends and family when I mentioned what happened on Facebook, not least of all my elderly mother who has visited us four times and has not felt threatened here, despite being neither black nor male.  Also the website in question, which I have decided not to name, did the right thing when I complained and removed the review, stating that it violated their content policy.

My critique I will leave in the form of the response I was planning to leave to the review, in the event it was not removed from the site.  Here it is:
This review is inappropriate and borderline racist.  I wrote this couple a follow up email, asking if something had happened to them, if they had been discriminated against as white people in my neighborhood.  They didn't answer, which could mean that they didn't receive my email, or that they chose not to reply, but I think the truth is that, in fact, nothing happened to them that could be described as racial discrimination.  I have lived in this neighborhood for over ten years and I have never felt discriminated against on the basis of my race, and as far as I know none of the other hundreds of guests that have stayed with us ever have either.  In all probability, they felt uncomfortable as obvious foreigners in the midst of a sea of dark faces, in a neighborhood that is often chaotic and definitely loud.  Discomfort is not the same as discrimination and they should not be confused: protections exist against discrimination, effective or no, and indeed white people are sometimes subject to discrimination although not nearly to the degree of other races.  If you are going to claim discrimination, be prepared to back it up, at least with your version of a specific incident.

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