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120 Years After End of Slavery Brazilian Blacks Still Far from Getting Equality

Black Brazilian quilombola Despite Brazil’s NIMBY attitude about racism, while trying to convince itself of being a racial democracy, the statistics do not lie. Brazil is far from being a racial paradise. The last research published by the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) in 2006 revealed that while the gross income of a white person in Brazil is around US$ 692,00 monthly, an Afro-Brazilian makes US$ 368,00. 

The numbers from IBGE also showed that 60,3% of Brazil’s agricultural workers are black, while 51% are employed as domestic workers. Sectors such as public administration, private and financial sectors are still not welcoming to blacks, where the majority is white.
According to an IPEA (Institute of Applied Economics Research) release, 2008 will be a marking year for Brazil as more than half of Brazil’s population will be considered black. To resolve the huge discrepancy between whites and blacks in Brazil, Federal Government has even approved a law that would provide fiscal benefits for companies having at least 30% of afro-Brazilians in their workforce.

The Brazilian government has also created university quotas in order to correct the years of social injustice caused by slavery. This year, Brazil is celebrating 120 years of abolition of slavery.
All over the country employers are reluctant to hire blacks. Many TV networks, for example, are only now incorporating black characters as part of the cast. In a typical Brazilian TV show like a soap opera the characters are overwhelmingly white, therefore not revealing Brazil’s racial diversity, which includes blacks, whites, besides pardos and mestiços or mixed-race.

While struggling to create an equal opportunity society, the racial discussion still goes on through the romance and drama of a few TV novelas (soap operas) normally involving a black character in love with a white member of the Brazilian white high-class society. In a few cases, the romance is tormented with racial dispute. This is the case of Duas Caras (Two Faces), a soap opera, last aired in June by one of the major TV networks: TV Globo.

Duas Caras was a major hit reaching records of audience. The reason behind such a huge success was actually pretty simple. Duas Caras was an attempt to show the two discrepant sides of Brazil: the rich and the poor, the elite and the bottom of the pyramid.

The plot discussed corruption, homosexual discrimination, drug dealing, gospel preachers, and racial issues, everything that is thought to be part of the Brazilian culture. It also incorporated a historical event. It was the first time ever a black hero was shown in a Brazilian soap opera.

Black actor Lázaro Ramos was Evilásio, a honest black man from a favela (shantytown) disputing municipal elections with local white leader of the shantytown. They are competing for an alderman position. As part of the drama, Evilásio was in love with a white girl, whose family is wealthy and influential. Her father is a renowned lawyer who hates blacks.

Through much turmoil and despair, which almost broke Evilásio’s relationship apart, the black character manages to win the election with the help of Juvenal (Antônio Fagundes), the white leader of the shantytown, whom he was disputing against. Believing Evilásio to be a better candidate, Juvenal gave up his campaign in a gesture of social responsibility.

Evilásio wins the election and also conquers victory in his personal life, as his father-in-law finally decides to change his attitude towards black people and redeem himself by defending at an airport incident a black person who is victim of a racial derogatory remark launched by a security guard.
In real life though, there are not many Juvenals around and many black citizens still struggle for more opportunities. According to SOS Racism, a government agency responsible for investigating racial issues, racism is still a very complex matter as it is very hard to prove when such situation occurs. In most cases, a witness is required, and people do not have financial conditions nor any type of legal aid from the government to support them in their battle for equality rights.
In an interview with Agência Estado, Maria Lúcia da Silva, president of The Aama Psyche and Black Studies Institute, a non-government agency, defends education as the main route to combat racism: “The education process is extremely important to change the ways of recognizing another individual,” she points out.

“The historical process created derogatory images towards each other, all these derogatory images were mainly linked to black people, which ended up being a reason for other groups to justify their behavior of not looking at this particular group as a group with possibilities,”
According to da Silva, law number 10.639/03, which determines that public schools should teach Afro-Brazilian history as part of their program is a huge step towards progress that needs to be taken to public schools. The law was approved in January 9th 2003. Most of students from public school come from lower social class, who don’t necessarily recognize race as a problem, but economy as an issue.

Back in March, during a graduation ceremony at Zumbi dos Palmares University (a university specialized in Afro-Brazilian studies), Brazilian President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, affirmed that despite some progress achieved in the last 120 years, there is still much more that needs to be done for the insertion of black citizens within society:

“We have to believe, for a very long time we were not able to see a black citizen walking into a bank, unless he was making a deposit into his boss’s account. We did not see a black dentist, nor black doctors. How many blacks are lawyers now? I remember how much effort I had to make to be able to see a black man working in the Supreme Court,” stated the president.

Back in 2003 Lula nominated Minister Joaquim Barbosa for the Supreme Federal Court. The Supreme Federal Court in Brazil is composed by 11 members. Minister Joaquim Barbosa is the only Afro-Brazilian.

During the ceremony, Lula also criticized the fact that the media in most cases depictures a very bad image of black citizens: “I hope the press covering this graduation event will show the beauty and the faces of these youngsters at Zumbi dos Palmares University. People do want to conquer their self-esteem, but some people seem not wanting to allow it to happen. When they show a black man on TV, this black man is always being arrested,” concluded the President.
According to DIEESE (Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socio-Economic Studies) and also INSPIR ((Inter-American Labor Union Institute for Racial Equality) there is a huge gap of employment between blacks of both sexes in most Brazilian metropolitan centers.

DIEESE and INSPIR studies show that racial discrimination is a daily fact, and it interferes in all aspects of Brazilian employment. Racial discrimination also supercedes gender discrimination. In Salvador, for example, whose majority is black, unemployment among blacks is 48% higher than among non-blacks, while in São Paulo, this number is 40%.

While daily news keeps on reporting Brazil extraordinary economic performance, DIEESE reports summarizes this scenario with a crucial observation and recommendation:

“Social Justice, equality of opportunities, a rightful citizenship, are required elements to achieve a fair income distribution, ways to find provisions and full achievement of possibilities. To accomplish that Brazil will need to find ways of building an equal-opportunity racial society.

“Social injustice is not only caused by unfair income distribution practices, but also by economic politics that benefit privileged groups, and do not favor workers. Social injustice is founded upon discriminatory differentiations and discriminatory behavior present nationwide”.
Edison Bernardo DeSouza is a journalist, having graduated from the Pontifical Catholic University in São Paulo, Brazil. He lived in the US and Canada for close to 10 years and participated in volunteering activities in social works agencies. DeSouza currently lives in São Paulo where he teaches English as a Second Language, and is pursuing further advancements in his career. He is particularly interested in economics and human rights articles.


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