Prejudice has made headlines again in Brazil, and this time involving reputable Brazilian TV station, TV Bandeirantes, and respected journalist and anchorman Boris Casoy for Jornal da Band, a popular daily news show.
The episode occurred on December 31, 2009. Before the closing of the show, two street cleaners appeared on screen, expressing their votes for a Happy New Year with, peace, health, money, and work. Not being aware that his mike was open, anchorman Boris Casoy commented with his colleagues:
“What a piece of shit, two garbage men wishing Happy New Year from the top of their brooms, the lowest rank in the work ladder (laughter). Two garbage men (laughter).”
It didn’t take very long until the blooper was released on You Tube, and spread around on twitter and the blogosphere. Casoy is known for his strong political views and as fierce defender of moral values and transparency.
His famous catchphrase “What a shame,” an expression he often uses to castigate politicians and society’s misdeeds, is repeated throughout Brazil.
In an attempt to correct the mistake, the journalist apologized the next day by saying:
“Yesterday, during TV Bandeirantes commercial, the audio signal was open, and I made an unfortunate comment, which has offended garis (a politically correct way to call garbage workers). For this reason, I deeply apologize to garis and to all Jornal da Band’s audience”.
On January 4, Elmo Nicácio, from Siemaco (Sindicato dos Trabalhadores em Empresas de Prestação de Serviços – Workers Union in Service Delivery Companies) sent a repudiation letter to Bandeirantes Television informing of their indignation. The letter read:
“We DO NOT accept the apologies from your host, which were merely formal, when he was caught expressing exactly what he truly thinks, and unfortunately reinforcing the prejudice still present in many sectors of our society against garbage collectors and street cleaners, those responsible for keeping our capital clean,” stated the letter.
“The efforts of our workers, despite the prejudiced attitudes they face, such as the ones expressed by Boris Casoy,” make us very proud, knowing that we are part of the public health of our beloved São Paulo City,” concluded the text.
In an interview published by Brasília’s daily newspaper, O Correio Braziliense, psychologist Cleide Sousa gave her take on the episode: “The theory of social invisibility holds that due to the fact that some professionals such as garbage men, waiters, maids, etc, are placed in a position of inferiority, they are seen as inferior people, despite the contribution they bring.”
According to Sousa, the stigma faced by street cleaners or garbage workers has a historical background: “Garbage has always been considered a big problem in many societies, entire cities during ancient times had often to relocate due to their excessive garbage. And who are responsible for handling the garbage? Prisoners, slaves, those who are labeled as vagrants.”
She believes the uncontrolled consumerism in today’s world can be associated with the invisibility conferred street cleaners. “To the extent that waste is the result of the disposal of what I do not want anymore, of what no longer is useful for me, I also belittle those who handle it. Not to mention that in general these employees are from the Northeast, Afro descendents, with little schooling, or in other words, socially disadvantaged people,” she concluded.
Francisco Gabriel da Silva and José Domingos de Melo, the two garbage workers shown on Bandeirantes News have now filed a lawsuit against Bandeirantes TV and the anchorman.
Lawyer Francis Larocca, who represents the National Federation of Workers in Services, Cleanliness and Conservation, Urban and Environment Sanitation, and Green Areas (Fenascon) announced two other lawsuits against the TV station and the journalist. One of them should be criminal, based on prejudice shown by the anchor against two street sweepers.
“It is unfortunate that this occurs against a category that does an essential work for society, that does the cleaning, helping to prevent floods, and is very well liked by society,” said the lawyer. “It was a very great irresponsibility. There must be compensation.”
For José Carlos Machado, a garbage worker in Brazilian capital Brasilia, the remark is ridiculous. “I am very astounded that a person, who goes to college, and gets a college degree, can actually say something so stupid like that.”
According to the São Paulo’s Street Cleaners Union, 80% of these workers are male, 30 years old or older. Their average wage is 850 Brazilian reais (US$ 472) a month. Many of them say they have faced some type of prejudice in the past.
135.000 tons of garbage are collected each day in Brazil from home and public sites. In Brasília alone 4005 workers are responsible for collecting garbage.
The videos showing Boris Casoy offending the garbage workers and then apologizing can be seen at:
Edison Bernardo DeSouza is a journalist, having graduated in Social Communication Studies at Pontifical Catholic University in São Paulo, Brazil. He lived in the US and Canada for close to 12 years and participated in volunteering activities in social works agencies. DeSouza currently lives in São Paulo where he teaches English as a Second Language for both private English Language Institute and Private High-School. He is currently participating as an actor in two English Musicals in Sao Paulo – Brazil and is pursuing further advancements in his career. He is particularly interested in economics, history, politics and human rights articles.