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15 January 2008


Seventh session
Working group of experts

on people of african descent

Seventh session

Geneva, 14 – 18 January 2008

Item 5. a) Analysis of conclusions and recommendations made by the Working Group in previous sessions

Millennium Development Goals

Document submitted by

Marcelo Paixão

Professor of Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)
Brazilian Experience in the Fight Against Racism and in Promoting Racial Equality:

policies, trends and limits

Marcelo Paixão1
1. Introduction
This article intends to cover the recent Brazilian experience in fighting racism and promoting racial equality during the last years, especially since the Durban Conference held in 2001. In the last two decades, in our country, we have experienced a very rich period in terms of the public policies that have been adopted in this field. We can note the following: the presence of a social database disaggregated by colour or race in most of the official demographic research; the Constitutional regulation of the law that criminalizes racist practices and recognizes the Quilombos Remainder Communities right to land (Article 68; Transitory Disposition of Brazilian Constitution); the foundation of Fundação Cultural Palmares (Palmares Cultural Foundation) in 1988 and, finally, the creation of SEPPIR (Special Secretary of Racial Equality Political Promotion, with Ministry Status) in 2003; among others relevant initiatives. All of these policies were examples of the recent advances made in the political regulatory framework regarding the racial question and also represent a major achievement of the contemporaneous Brazilian black movement in our country.
However, the advance of Brazilian public policy regarding racial equality in recent times cannot hide several difficulties in terms of its implementation, the lack of support for these policies by some important sectors of civil society (particularly among the white middle class), and some difficulties of comprehension present in many sectors of the State’s bureaucracy regarding these types of decisions. In my opinion, each of these difficulties expresses a limitation present in our country when attempting to overcome the oldest racial ideology present in Brazil, the racial democracy myth, and its persistence, although in many cases hidden, in important areas of Brazilian society. In others worlds, we can see that these limitations bring with them serious obstacles to promoting racial equality policies and, in global arena, in the capability of our country to incorporate the recommendations of the Working Group of Experts on People on African-descendent.
Therefore, with these initial questions in mind, my presentation will examine: i) how we can depict in few words the Brazilian racial relations model and its negatives effects upon affirmative action in our country; ii) the most important public policies that have been adopted in Brazil since the 1988’s Constitution promulgation; iii) how could the Brazilian experience be incorporated by other countries, especially of Latin America and the Caribbean, and by the experts of the Unites Nations Working Groups? Would it be possible to make some recommendations for others countries considering our experience?
2. Brazilian Race Relations Model: a critical analysis
The common view, practically everywhere in the world, tends to see local Brazilian reality as remarkably tolerant and fraternal, both in terms of contact among individuals of different racial origins, as of different cultural contributions. Thus, Brazil appears as the country of racial democracy, of “mestiçagem”, as well as other idiosyncratic cultural references such as samba and soccer. By this point of view, our country would seem to be a source of lessons (or civilization’s laboratory) for realities marked by racial and ethnic conflict. This type of racial ideology has its origin in Brazilian colonial society, and corresponded to a myth, but increased in importance during the modernization process of our country during the XX century.
Through the influence of authors like Gilberto Freyre and Sergio Buarque de Hollanda, and many of our modernist artists and intellectuals of various disciplines (literature, painting, architecture, music, poetry, social science), Brazil received important ideological support in its modernization process. In few words: the democracy myth was a bigger distinctive characteristic of the Brazilian people and its elites, marking, in positive terms, our nation in comparison with the other countries around the planet. Then, we could aspire, not only to constitute a singular and positive example among nations, but a singular model of development where we would mix the Cartesian logic of the Western world with the oldest national cultural values that had, actually, in beliefs or the idealistic field, its own origins in the old settles manners, in particular its form of contact (friendly, personal, paternalist) with its Indigenous and African slaves, mainly the Indigenous and African slave woman and their sons and daughters; the melting-pot’s product (mestiços).
Also, this type of ideology was marked by its assimilationist perspective. So, the national project (actually, the settler’s project in its origin) was based on a strategy that, in every moment, tried to destroy the ancient cultural non-Western approach of the dominated people, although it sought to combine some of these customs, and integrate them into White society in general.
I believe that it is very important for everyone to realize the cunning of the assimilationist perspective. When we talk about racial prejudice and discrimination we often see only the most radical and violent international experience. Really, when we study some national experiences, like the South-African of the apartheid age, or the USA, of the Jim-Crown law age; we could be lead to identify the Brazilian racial relations models as superior. But, the most perverse aspect of the racial democracy myth is that, in reality, in many aspects it is not unique to Brazil but rather reflects important aspects of Latin-American society in general. In the Brazilian model we verify the normailization of the distinct social roles occupied by White, Black and Brown people around all the country. These kinds of distinctions appear in political, economic and social status and are based on the personal physical appearance of every person.
Trying to resume: instead of USA or South-African where the most important criteria of distinction is personal origin, African, Indigenous, European and so on; in Brazil we had a type of race relations called by Oracy Nogueira, a Brazilian sociologist: “mark racial prejudice”. The most important aspect of this type of racial prejudice is the intensity of the darkness of skin color and facial atributes. The intensity of a person’s blackness or Caucasianess can increase the probability of their suffering racial discrimination. Similarly, even where someone has an evident non-White family origin, if this same person has a white aspect (blond-brunet or moreno claro), this same person can be considered White. Therefore, this form of racial prejudice is flexible. And, for this very reason, racial prejudice and discrimination in Brazil and in all Latin-America is so difficult to overcome. At the same time that this type of model freezes racial inequality (associating some physical types with certain social roles, on a hierarchy scale between White-Brown & Black), it gives support to all society, including the racist person, to hide the evident reality, structured on the basis of the inequality of rights and opportunities for those endowed with different physical features. When we analyse the effect of this ideology upon public policy, we see that the State not only suffers little pressure to adopt policies that can protect and ameliorate the social conditions of those discriminated against, but in reality is subject to great pressure to do nothing regarding this situation.
Often, the mentioned racism does not appear evident. However, as we will see in the next section, nowadays, the form in which the “assimilation” project took shape has been quite questioned within Brazilian civil society, in academia and even among policy-makers. In other words, although we really can’t consider the non-assimilationist project a good way, the assimilationist strategy and the way in which that integration process was shaped, with a strong component of physical and cultural violence (and their other psycho-social derivations), served as a potential means of freezing asymmetries inherited by the period of the end of slavery, asymmetries that would have been extended during the XX century. In the same way, the process of modernization of Brazilian society didn't translate itself into significant reductions of existent racial disparities among White, Mestizos, Black and Indigenous peoples in terms of access to social resources, the job market, education and protection against degrading treatment affecting human rights.
3. Brazilian Public Policy in the Fight Against Racism: brief history
During the XX century, the Brazilian State refused to promote public policies in benefit of the Black population. If at the beginning of this century the lack of policies was a result of racist ideologies, the belief that different human beings could be separated by race and located in a hierarchy, and the Darwinist approach (that, among other proposals, had the explicit intention to promote the whiteness of Brazilian people), after the 1940s the racial democracy myth – that argues: in Brazil there is no racism or racial prejudice - served to justify this absence. Only, in the second half of the 1980s were some tentative initiatives commenced, first by Brazilian states such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and, finally, by the central Brazilian government.
The first legal initiative to try to combat racism in Brazil appeared in the 1950´s with the Afonso Arinos Law. This law was motivated by a sad occurrence with the Afro-North-American dancer, Katherine Durham, who was prevented from staying in a São Paulo city hotel. Nevertheless, it is important to underline that this law did not consider a racially discriminatory practice a crime, but only a misdemeanour. Another important fact is that, until 1988 (when a new legal text appeared) nobody in our country was punished under the Afonso Arinos law, for racist practice. This scenario would change at the end of 1980, with the approval of the new Brazilian Constitution.
In the new constitutional text, under article 5o, Title II, it says “every man and woman is equal in rights and obligations, in Constitutional terms”. In the same article the incise XLII says “ acts of racism are crimes not subject to bail. This last Constitutional article was supplemented in our civil and penal code, recognized by the Caó Law2. Nevertheless, it is important to mention that the new Brazilian Constitution and the Caó Law were only a starting point in terms of the public policies in benefit of the Black population. In this respect, it is also important to consider the other initiatives that have been adopted other than the punitive, searching to promote affirmative action policies. I cited, at the beginning of this presentation, article 68 of the Transitory Disposition of the Brazilian Constitution that recognizes the Quilombos Remainder Communitie’s right to the land that they live on since their fugitive slave ancestors.
In the same year of 1988, (by coincidence, also in this year the Brazilian slavery system’s abolition would commemorate 100 years), the Brazilian president José Sarney founded the Fundação Cultural Palmares, linked to the Culture Ministry, and the first governmental institution exclusively dedicated to the Brazilian Black Populations issue. In 1995, then Brazilian president, Fernando H Cardoso, approved the creation of the Inter-Ministerial Working Group (in Portuguese: Grupo de Trabalho Interministerial – GTI), including staff members of several Ministeries to discuss the affirmative action policies that could be undertaken by the Brazilian government. Finally, in 2003, the current President Lula da Silva, in the first year of his mandate, promoted the creation of SEPPIR (Special Secretary of Racial Equality Political Promotion), with Ministerial status and having the mission to coordinate the several governmental strategies in this field. Other important policies adopted by the Brazilian authorities recently (1987, one year before the centenary of slavery’s abolition) was the specific incorporation of a question about the personal colour or race of the Brazilian people in all official demographic research.
Every initiative mentioned in the last paragraphs generated several results in the public policy field. In my point of view, they show that the Durban Conference Against Racism, held in 2001, represented a very important impulse to the adoption of additional policies of racial equality promotion. Nevertheless, it is also very important to mention that the Durban Conference was a positive coincidence (i.e. it ocurred at the same time as the strengthening of the Brazilian Black movement) rather than a major factor to convince, or force, the Brazilian government to undertake similar types of policies. Since the end of the1980´s the Brazilian Black movement had been visibly increased, having diversified its methods. So, in recent times Brazilian society witnessed the creation of diverse new Black Movement strategies like the Quilombolas organizations; the claim of young Black people to educational and employment opportunities and against police violence; Black Women’s NGOs – with a special focus on the field of human rights , the public health system and sexual reproductive rights issues -; the movements of Afro-Brazilian religious leaders like candomblé and umbanda, fighting against religious intolerance and in the academic sphere, mainly with the creation of NEABs (Afro-Brazilian Study Nucleus) in the interior of the principal Brazilian University.
So, I believe that all the factors that I shall now mention are responsible for promoting the new Brazilian landscape regarding the promotion of policies regarding racial equality:

  • New regulatory framework and institutions for race relations in the legal sphere, especially after 1988´s Brazilian Constitution (both in the punitive and the affirmative action aspects);

  • The opening of various Brazilian State sectors (and in some media sectors, mainly with some influential local journalists) to the Black movement claim, in the midst of the context of re-democratization;

  • The increase in the legitimacy of the contempory Black Movement in the context of a modernization of social relations and social crisis that blocked the persistence of the older paternalistic approach regarding Black people in Brazil;

  • The context of the 2001 Durban Conference that pressured the Brazilian government to continue to maintain its commitment with racial equality policies.

4. General Balance of Contemporary Brazilian Public Policy3
In this part I will make a synthetic balance of the main public policy that has been adopted by the Brazilian government since 1995 toward racial equality. For the sake of clarity, I will put these policies in separate topics.
5.a. Institutional Sphere

  • SEPPIR (Special Secretary of Racial Equality Political Promotion). Created in 2003, has a Ministry status, linked directly to the President of the Republic of Brazil. Has the mission of coordinating the Brazilian state in promoting racial equality at every governmental level. SEPPIR´s estimated budget for 2006 was R$ 32.446.828 (U$ 18,331,541), 41,3% of this to be aplied in Quilombolas communities. Neverthless, during the same year, of the total amount assigned, only 58,2% was utilized. SEPPIR has in its structure a consultative staff called the National Council of Racial Equality Promotion (CNPIR), formed by 20 representatives of civil society (including representatives of the commuties: jews, muslims, roma people, Indigenous, gays), 17 representatives of Brazilian Ministries and 3 recognized Brazilian personalities, and is presided by the head of SEPPIR.

  • Fundação Cultural Palmares (Palmares Cultural Foundation). Created in 1988, it is a Cultural Ministry subordinate. In spite of its cultural objective, for many years (until the creation of SEPPIR) this Foundation was responsible for promoting public policies for Black Brazilian populations. So far, the Palmares Cultural Foundation has had the mission of identifying and legally recognizing the Quilombolas lands. In 2006, of the total amount assigned to the Palmares Cultural Foundation - R$ 10.148.555 (U$ 5,733,646.8) - 80% of this was in fact used.

  • Inter-Governmental Forum of Racial Equality Promotion (FIPPIR). An initiative promoted by SEPPIR that brings together Brazilian States and Municipalities and has in its executive structure instances devoted to racial promotion. In 2006, there existed 23 Brazilian States’ organizations (in a total of 27 Brazilian States), and 161 Municipal organizations (in total nearly 5.600 Brazilian Municipalities), although with unequal profiles, that had the main mission of the promoting racial equality in regional and local spheres.

  • Racial Equality Statute. A law project proposed by the current Senator Paulo Paim. Among other proposals, suggests several policies to promote racial equality, such as access quotas to Black students in all Brazilian Universities; public employment and the diplomatic career; and the creation of a special fund to support the political promotion of racial equality (Racial Equality Promotion Fund). Despite its approval by the Brazilian Deputy Council (in 2003), when it was sent to the Council of Senators it was the target of much criticism and was transformed in several aspects (in particular in terms of the budget to support the policies). The project has been returned to the Deputy Council, where there is no indication that it will be voted upon.

5.b. Educational System

  • Recent Socio-Racial Indicators. First of all, it is important to mention that in general in Brazil we are observing a universalization of the education system where almost all Brazilian children and youths are beneficiaries. So, in Brazil, between 1995 and 2006, the educational participation rates of people between 7 and 14 years old increased from 94.6% to 98.8%, among the Whites, and of 88.2% to 97.7% among the Blacks. This result is the product of an efficient strategy by the Brazilian State to include a greater number of children and young in the formal educational system and presented as an additional benefit the fall of the racial inequality in this specific indicator. On the other hand, the quality of Brazilian schools, mainly the public schools, was very far from ideal. For example, of the total of those registered in the first level of primary school (between first and fourth year of school), the percentage of students that studied at a desirable level for their respective age (7 to 10 yearts old) was 70.2%, among the Whites and only 52.9% among the Blacks. At the second level of primary school (between the fifth and eighth year of school), these same indicators were: 56.9% among the Whites and 38.5% among the Blacks between 11 and 14 years olds. In short, in Brazil, the racial inequality in our education system only fell in the quantitative aspect, not in qualitative terms.

  • 10.639 Law. Approved in 2003, it contained the obligation to teach African and Afro-descendant history and culture in all primary and secondary (college) schools.

  • Textbook National Program. This program tries to preserve the quality of textbooks (explicitly mentioning the prohibition of racially prejudiced images regarding the Black and Indigenous population) and exists since 1985. In 2005 a special mention of the implementation of Law 10.639 was included.

  • Educational Strengthening of the Black Male and Female in Secondary School. Created in 2006, it consists of an income support program to young Black students attending secondary school (R$ 60,00; U$ 33,9 per month) and pedagogic support as well. Applies to students of four Brazilian States, Maranhão, Pará, Mato Grosso – each of them with three schools supported - and Santa Catarina (180 Black students supported).

  • Diversity in the University Program. This initiative was created in 2002, during Fernando H Cardoso’s mandate, by the Education Ministry. Its objective is to support and stimulate the creation of popular alternative preparatory courses for admission to University for poor and Black youths (Pré-Vestibular Para Negros e Carentes). After 2003, when Lula da Silva assumed the Brazilian presidency, this program integrated a new structure called SECAD (Secretary of Continued Education, Literacy and Diversity). Nowadays, SECAD supports some chosen popular pre-university courses that have Black students representing at least 51% of their beneficiaries. The types of support are: scholarship to students (between R$ 40,00 to R$ 60,00 per month [U$ 22,6 to U$ 33,9]), payments to teachers and other educational professionals and the supply of equipment and other means of support.

5.b. University Access Facility

  • PROUNI (University For All Program). Was created in 2004, and began to be implemented in 2005. Assists poor students in gaining access to private universities (in general, in Brazil, considered to have a lower status) with complete scholarships to persons who live in families whose income is below 1.5 minimum wage per capita and scholarships of between 25% and 50% of the total private university cost for those who live in families than earn below 3 minimum wages per capita. The private universities that participate in this program are compensated with tax reductions. Between 2004 and 2006, PROUNI benefited more than 204 thousands students, of which 63.2 thousands were Blacks. The students who benefited from PROUNI don’t need to return the money to the State after they graduate.

  • Finance Fund to High Acheiving Students (FIES). Again, supports poor students at private universities. Although it has existed since the 1970´s, in 2004 it included a new classification system that benefits Black students who get a discount of 50% of the university fees. In contrast to PROUNI, the students must to pay the benefit back to the State after graduating. According to official estimates, 36 thousand Black students have benefited from this program.

  • Law Project 3.627. This law project was initially formulated by the Education Ministry and proposes the adoption of the quota system to access public universities in Brazil. The original proposal was to reserve 50% of the total student places for people that had studied at the primary and secondary level in public schools. This law project also foresees the reservation of a percentage of public school places for Black and Indigenous students according to their proportion of the population in each Brazilian State. This proposal received strong opposition from many sectors of Brazilian society, including the University Professor’s trade unions (ANDES, radical left tendency), most of White middle class and the media. For this reason, and despite the fact that the most of the Brazilian population agreed with this proposal, Law Project 3.627 is still in the Deputy Council and shows no signs of advancing.

  • Quotas in Public Universities. Despite the fact that Law Project 3.627 was not approved, nowadays 27 publics universities adopted a quota system for students who received either primary or secondary education at a public school.or come from historically discriminated groups, mainly Black students. This was possible, for one thing, because of the autonomous regime of Brazilian universities. So, while some university councils positioned themselves against the quota proposal, other university councils proved to be receptive to the idea. Such is the case with the Federal Universities of: Bahia, Paraná, Alagoas, São Paulo, São Carlos, Juiz de Fora, Pará, ABC, Recôncavo da Bahia, Brasília, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Maria. On the other hand, some universities subordinated to Brazilian states adopted the quota system because of the State Deputy Council’s approval. Such is the case of the State Universities of: Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Londrina, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Montes Claros, Norte Fluminense, Goiás, Mato Grosso, Paraíba, Feira de Santana, Sul da Bahia, Centro Universitário da Zona Oeste and the Fundação Escola Técnica do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (FAETEC).

  • Integrated Program of Affirmative Action for Blacks (Brasil Afroatitude). This program is a partnership between the Health Ministry and 10 Brazilian universities that have an affirmative action policy (quota system) as regards access for Black students. This program offers financial support to 500 university students and promots their participation in several academic initiatives. The Brasil Afroatitude has the support of SEPPIR and the Education Ministry.

5.c. Labour Market

  • Implementation of Article 111 of the ILO Convention. One of the oldest initiatives undertaken by the Brazilian government in the affirmative action field, the Working Group For Elimination of Discrimination in the Workplace and Occupation (GTDEO) was adopted in 1996 because of pressure by trade-unions who had reported to the ILO that in Brazil there was labour market discrimination. The GTDEO implemented in the local (in general within the States’ units) Work Ministry Delegations, nuclei of equality of opportunity and the fight against discrimination in the workplace and in professional life. In practice, however, these nuclei privileged the fight for the physically disabled in the labour market.

  • Affirmative Action in the Labour Market. Relatively few policies were adopted by some Ministries of the Brazilian government in the context of the 2001 Durban Conference. These were seen in the adoption of affirmative action – by way of access quotas – to work for or providing services to some Brazilian Ministries: Justice and Culture and Agrarian Development with the establishment of Blacks quotas (20%) for Commissioned Functionaries involved in Public Management and those who provide services to the public service must follow the same policy); Supreme Court of Labour (TST; every company that provides a service to the TST must have Blacks making up 20% of their employees); Foreign Affairs (scholarships for Black candidates to enter the Brazilian Diplomacy career through Rio Branco Scholl). However, these initiatives did not have a great impact.

Workplace Public Prosecution Service. Is maybe the most important initiative by the Brazilian State, albeit by the Judiciary Power, in the field of racial equal opportunity in the labour market. The Workplace Public Prosecution Service initiated work in 2000 when it investigated the disclosure that in Salvador city there was racial discrimination in hotels and shopping centres. Although this reality was not proven (in the shopping centre cases in part for lack of budget), in 2002, the National Coordination of Promotion of Equality and Elimination of Discrimination was created in the interior of that structure and had the task of articulating all of the initiatives of the Workplace Public Prosecution Service in this field. In the beginning, based on information regarding the racial and gender composition of the companies (and finding that in many sectors and firms the presence of Blacks and women was relatively small compared to their presence in the population in general), they tried to reach agreements with the companies that had been investigated (Agreement for Adjustment of Conduct Treaties). If these treaties didn’t result in any concrete change, the Prosecution Service entered with civil public actions. In the specific case of the banking sector, the Prosecution Service took action against the five biggest Brazilian finance institutions charging them with racial discrimination when hiring employees. In the end, the judge decided that the evidence presented by the Prosecution Service was not strong enough as to be able to prove the reality of the racial discrimination against the banks being prosecuted. The final judgment (by the Brazilian Supreme Court) found that discrimination had not occurred. In the meantime, some finance institutions agreed to enter into agreements regarding diversification (race and gender) of their employees.
5.d. Health System

  • National Plan Regarding the Health of the Black Population. This Plan began in 2004 and is the product of a partnership between SEPPIR and the Health Ministry. It is supported by an Expert Team formed by functionaries of the Health Ministry, and State and Municipal Health Secretariats and civil society representatives. Their main areas of work (with few results so far) are: i) sickle cell disease, information dissemination activites, and disease treatment, especially for newborn babies; ii) inclusion of the racial dimension in the Reduction of Maternity and Neonatal Mortality Pact; iii) increase of the budget of the Health Ministry (Family Health and Dental Health) in some Municipalities where Quilombos Remainder communities exist (54 Municipalities, 62 thousand Quilombolas benefited).

  • Sickle Cell Disease, National Program. Although it is part of the National Plan regarding the Health of the Black Population, it began in 1996. Since then, it has appeared in various formats and encountered difficulties, but it is the most continuous Brazilian State intervention in the field of health for the Black population.

5.e. Quilombos Remainder Communities

  • Institutional Mark. As already mentioned, since the promulgation of the 1988 Brazilian Constitution, the Quilombos Remainder Communities have their rights to their ancestor lands recognized. Nowadays, a rural Black community may request similar recognition and the Fundação Cultural Palmares has the obligation to examine the claim. INCRA (Agrarian Reform and Colonization National Institute), has the mission to regularize the Quilombos Remainder Lands. Finally, the SEPPIR has the mission to coordinate the government initiatives in the socioeconomic development of the Quilombos Remainder Communities (Inter-ministerial Manager Committee). Only in 1995, the traditional owners of the first land that had been so recognized received the land’s property title. Between 1995 and 2002, seven Quilombos Remainder Communities had their definitive right to the land recognised, and between 2003 and 2006 more than 31 Quilombos Remainder Communities received the same title. Therefore, today, in all Brazil, there are 38 Quilombos Remainder Communities holding title. The Cultural Palmares Foundation has emitted 960 certifications recognizing 1.171 communities in all of the Brazilian territory. But according to estimates of SEPPIR it is possible that there are 2.460 Quilombos Remainder Communities in Brazil in which are living 2 millions people. These numbers, illustrate the importance of this issue and make evident the Brazilian State’s difficulty in finding a speedy solution for the legal right to land of these communities.

  • Programa Brasil Quilombola (Quilombola Brazil Program). Consists of various programs that intend to promote the socioeconomic development of the Quilombos Remainder Communities, undertaken by several Brazilian Ministries: SEPPIR; Education (Educational Development National Fund); Health (Family Health and Dental Health Programs); Culture (including Cultural Palmares Foundation); Environment; Agrarian Development and INCRA. In 2006, the total budget of the Quilombola Brazil Program was R$ 54.507.080 (U$ 30.794.960), but the efective application of this resource was R$ 22.081.619 (U$ 12.475.490), correspondig to 40.5% of the total budget for this area only. (One of the factors most responsible for this difference was the budget that should have been applied in Quilombos Remainder Communities lands regularization. This limitation is the result of some difficulties present in the institutional sphere to guarantee the immediate legalization of these lands: in part because of legal imprecisions in some aspects of the process of recognizing Quilombos communities, in part for bureaucratic reasons and in part because of pressure felt from big landowners.

5.f. Statistical Databases

  • Since the first Brazilian Demographic Census, realized in 1872, the race or color question was presented in the national questionnaire. This question would appear again in the 1890’s Brazilian Census. Later, this question didn’t appeared in the 1900 and 1920´s Brazilian Census, reappearing in the 1940, 1950 and 1960 population studies. In the 1970´s Census, the military regime decided to withdrew this question from the national Demographic Census. In the 1980´s Census, however, in the redemocratization context, this question – because of the Black movement and its allies in the academic field – appeared again. This would be repeated in the Brazilian Demographic Census of 1991 and 2000 (and from then on). Today, we can obtain socioeconomic data on the Brazilian population disaggregated for race or colour in several annual official studies such as: PNAD (Household Sample Annual Research, conducted by IBGE); PME (Employment Monthly Research, conducted by IBGE); SIM (Mortality Information System) and in other Health Ministry studies; Scholastic Census (and in other Education Ministry studies). It is important to mention that each of these studies is being used nowadays by several civil society and academic investigations and, in general, are very important to prove the racial prejudice and discrimination that exists within Brazilian society and to contribute to constructing public policy in the racial equality sphere.

6. Conclusion: what can we learn from the Brazilian experience in fighting against racism?
Throughout this presentation we saw different aspects of the race relation’s question in Brazilian society. There still exists an old racial ideology as regards this social relation, that values the friendship among peoples of every race origins, but freezes the social position for the barer of different physical traits in terms of facial features and skin colour. Therefore, this is the most important point to understand concerning the question, not only in Brazil, but in all Latin-America. Our kind of racial prejudice and discrimination doesn’t occur in the same manner that is apt to appear in North-America or South-Africa. Instead of open forms of violence, in our society the violence manifests itself subtly, embedded in a normalisation of racial asymmetry, differences of opportunities and exposure to adverse social conditions. At the same time that these racial relations might convince us that it is positive (because of the absence of open violence), in reality we see the great resistance of various sectors of society (based on racial democracy ideology) to agree with the adoption of policies that can reduce the racial inequality in our country.
Contemporary Brazil is marked by a dilemma between the projected reality, of a fully ethnically-racially integrated country, and the effective reality in which disparities of this nature seem to be eternally reproduced. Such contradictions find echo within public policy, Amid some criticism, the Brazilian State, for the first time in its history, is starting to accept the idea of affirmative action and multiculturalist policies for indigenous people and, especially, Afro-descendents.
We saw that the most important actions of the Brazilian State in the field of racial equality is in the realm of education. At the primary and secondary education levels we saw a slight reduction in racial inequality, with an increase in the number of children attending classes. This movement benefited Blacks children and youths who, in general, have worse educational indicators, although without being accompanied by an the increase in the quality of schooling. More interesting were some specific policies just adopted in the educational field like: the 10.639 law and some aspects of the Brazilian textbook law. The two laws represent important opportunities to change the old Eurocentric pattern that has dominated Brazilian teaching during its history.
In terms of university access for Black students, in recent times the Brazilian government has tried to establish a national quota system for public university access (almost always better and with more status than private universities) through a specific Law (3.627), although that Law project which was sent to the Brazilian Congress was stopped by pressure from the White middle class. So, the most important initiative by the Brazilian government in this field was to facilitate Black student’s access to private university and doesn’t creat any constraint upon public universities that choose – by their own internal Council – to adopt any affirmative action to facilitate access for poor or Black students.
Another field in which the Brazilian government invested in racial equality promotion was the Quilombos Remainder Communities, applying the Constitutional decision. Until now, Brazilian society has not been so resistant to this type of policy, especially when it involved the improvement of social conditions for the population Quilombola that live in these areas (such as education policies, drinking water or sewage infra-structure) . We cannot say the same thing about the recognition and legalization of these lands, the target of serious criticism by some Brazilian society sector, mainly the big landowners who feared that the expansion of the Quilombos Remainder Communities could prejudice their interests.
Furthermore, we can observe that for Brazilian State and all society, Quilombolas areas are easier to identify as a Black community than the Black people who live in others areas, like Metropolitan Regions, big cities or even in the rural Black area where they don’t identify themselves as Quilombola. The fact is that in the Quilombo Remainder Communities there is a strong identifying form, in an anthropologic sense, among the people that live there. Meanwhile, for others Black groups already integrated into Brazilian society in cultural terms, it is more complex to develop specific policies for them, including because of White middle class resistance. In others words, the challenge is how to promote specific policies for the Black Brazilian population without considering them a separate group inside Brazilian society?
Nevertheless, we believe that in Brazil, our institutional arrangements reflect a notable advancement in terms of the promotion of racial equality policies. Beyond the policies already commented upon, I should also mention the dissemination of the Brazilian databases that permit the disaggregation of information on race or colour, the continuance of the Cultural Palmares Foundation and the relatively newly created SEPPIR. These policies and experiences should be studied with great attention by the UN Working Group of Experts and can constitute important material for collective reflection and, maybe, recommendations to other countries of the United Nation systems in the realm of racial or ethnic relations.


1 Professor of Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). . General Coordinator of LAESER (Laboratory of Analysis of Race Relations on Economic, Historical, Social and Statistics Issues – I express my thanks to Mr Richard Clark for your attempt revision of the final version of this article.

2 Caó corresponding a nickname of Carlos Alberto Oliveira, Brazilian parliament that proposed this law, in its actual format, it in the new Brazilian Penal Code.

3 The source of all this section is: “Políticas Sociais: acompanhamento e análise”, special edition (1995-2005) no 13, edited by IPEA (Economic Applied Research Institute, linked with Brazilian government).

Note: The opinions expressed in this paper are those of the author.

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