While Brazil may be one of the most racially diverse countries in the world, with cultural traditions founded by a hodgepodge of people, including Portuguese colonists, African slaves and Amerindians, it is also one of the most racially divided countries. Such division can be directly attributed to several factors, including its history, an unhelpful government (including a persistently weak education system), and existent, yet denied racism.
Racism can be found anywhere. But in Brazil, it is an especially problematic issue as many people simply deny that it exists. The racism towards black and mixed race people is “veiled and shamefaced, not open or institutional” like in the US. The racism lies under the surface. As people speaking on behalf of Bloomberg found,
So pervasive is the perception that Brazil is a paragon of racial harmony and equality that it makes the discussion of discrimination all but impossible…We have the strongest apartheid ever because people deny racism exists. It’s very hard to combat what is taken as nonexistent.
An endless cycle of inequality
In 1888, Brazil finally eradicated slavery. They were the last country in the Americas to do so. As the Economist states,
The pervasiveness of slavery, the lateness of abolition, and the fact that nothing was done to turn former slaves into citizens all combined to have a profound impact on Brazilian society. They are reasons for the extreme socioeconomic inequality that still scars the country today.
Long ago, freed slaves settled in the favelas as they had nowhere else to go. Now, since favela-dwellers (many of whom are descendants of those freed slaves) are completely ignored by the government (although that is starting to change with the pacifying police program) and excluded from their surrounding communities, they remain there. It’s an endless and vicous cycle.
Many believe that the issue is directly related to education, which is at the heart of Brazil’s many problems. The public-school system is incredibly dismal and provides little opportunity for those who want to pursue higher education.
Many black Brazilians argue that the only way to reverse this wrongdoing and increase those opportunities is through the implementation of affirmative-action policies. Although others find that this poses a problem because of all the gray area; so many Brazilians fit into overlapping racial categories that cannot be defined by simply “black” or “white.”
But so far, racial admission quotas have already been introduced to many universities throughout Brazil. Sadly, one Brazilian informed me that the people who are let in on the quota system often end up dropping out of university, because their educational background is too weak. The quota system has also ignited much controversy, with many whites arguing that this technique is promoting reverse-racism. One Brazilian fiercely informed me that the racial divide has nothing to do with racism. He said that it has to do with socioeconomic differences, and it just so happens that most of the poor people are black. He stated that,
Usually black people can’t get into university because most of the poor population is black, so they can’t afford private schools and that’s why they can’t get into the universities. It has NOTHING to do with their color. Also, the white guys who are poor can’t get in there because of the same reason. I have black friends who have more money than I do…and they use those scholarships. There is racism here, of course. But people here love to say that and blame everything on it.
While this may be true, there is no denying facts. A 2010 census found that, on average, the income of whites and Asian-Brazilians is at least twice the income of black or brown-skinned people. Furthermore, in 2005, it was discovered that the richest 10% of the population earned 48% of the national income while more than 40 million Brazilians lived on less than $2 a day. Here, the issue may seem to be purely socioeconomic; but since most of the wealthy are white and the poor are composed of mostly minorities, the racial divide is impossible to ignore.
This video explains that racial divide a bit better than I do:
Perhaps the solution for Brazil is a bit more complicated than affirmative-action. But a first step forward would be greater acknowledgment of the existing racism. And since the root of the country’s racial divide lies in the education system, it is only logical for the government to invest more in education.