The past few weeks have been ripe with opportunities to think about how other countries handle race and if we should be offended by the less perceptive and responsible representations of black people around the world. But when I read that a Brazilian court ordered Sony to pay monetary damages over a song that was found racist and damaging towards black women, all I could do was wonder if and when both the offense and the compensation could ever happen in the United States.

From Black Women of Brazil:

…music giant Sony was ordered to pay retroactive compensation back to 1997 for the release of the song, “Veja os Cabelos Dela (Look at Her Hair)” by the singer known as Tiririca. The Court of Justice in Rio de Janeiro judged the song to be racist and passed judgement against the Sony record label that distributed the song on the CD entitled Florentina back in 1996. The CD sold about 250,000 copies.  The settlement forces Sony to pay $1.2 million Brazilian reais (worth about $656,000 American dollars) in retroactive pay back to the year 1997. The suit was brought forth by 10 non-governmental organizations that fight against racism…

It’s important to note that Tiririca, also known as Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, is a former clown/humorist who has since become a politician. He claims that no harm was meant by the song, which plays upon Brazilian stereotypes of the sexually exotic “nega. Apparently, Tiririca himself would be considered black in Brazil. There’s more…

According to the defense attorney of the NGOs represented in the case, Humberto Adami, black women were offended, exposed to ridicule and felt violated due to the lyrical content of the song. In his view, while the decision and value of the judgement shows an advance in these types of cases, racial issues are still not treated as they should be in Brazil. “This decision is a direct message to show how the issue of racial inequality should be treated. It is a moment to celebrate. The compensation won’t even go to the authors of the lawsuit. The money will go to the Diffused Rights Fund of the Ministry of Justice,” comments Adami.

Can you think of any incidents like this having occurred in the United States? I can’t. It’s rather common for civil rights groups to protest artists, request that record companies remove or change lyrics, or pursue censorship claims, but I’ve never heard of an American court granting damages to civil rights groups for music being racist or sexist…can you imagine the possibilities? Here are some of the offending lyrics, in Portuguese and English, which have much more of bite to them than, say, the past twenty years of misogyny in hip-hop, but are still disturbingly along the same lines.

Veja veja veja veja veja os cabelos dela (4x)
(Look look look look look at her hair (4x)

Parece bom-bril*, de ariá panela
(It looks like a scouring pad for pots and pans)

Parece bom-bril, de ariá panela
(It looks like a scouring pad for pots and pans)

Quando ela passa, me chama atenção
(When she goes by, she catches my attention)

Mas os seus cabelos, não tem jeito não
(But her hair just isn’t right)

A sua catinga quase me desmaiou
(Her stench almost made me faint)

Olha eu não aguento, é grande o seu fedor
(Look, I can’t take it, her smell is so bad)

Veja veja veja veja veja os cabelos dela
(Look look look look look at her hair)

Parece bom-bril, de ariá panela (2x)
(It looks like a scouring pad for pots and pans) (2x)

Eu já mandei, ela se lavar
(I told her to take a bath)

Mas ela teimo, e não quis me escutar
(But she’s stubborn and doesn’t listen to me)

Essa nega fede, fede de lascar
(This black woman stinks, she stinks horribly)

Bicha fedorenta, fede mais que gambá
(Stinking beast, smells worse than a skunk)

Brillo pad hair, hunh? If the translation is even partially as foul as the original in context then this song is pretty horrible.

These lyrics as they’ve been translated would not make their way to any legitimate album on American shelves, but this settlement still leaves me wondering how eligible racism and sexism in music could and should be in our own country. It’s pretty easy to look abroad and apply our cultural sensitivities to what foreigners do, but more difficult to ask ourselves if perhaps we’re not sensitive enough about our own standards for handling race and gender.

Clutchettes, what do you think?

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