The Challenge of Eliminating Racism in Brazil: The new institutional framework for fighting racial inequality | Racism | Discrimination

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This document argues that racism is a central force perpetuating socio-economic inequality in Brazil, which is one of the world's most unequal countries in socio-economic terms. The origins of racism in Brazil go back to the trade in African slaves. The notion, long widespread, that Brazil is a モracial democracyヤ keeps preventing recognition of racial inequality. But this is deep and persistent
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    The challenge of eliminating racism in Brazil: the new institutional framework for fighting racial inequality  Alexandre Ciconello Racism is the key for one to understand how poverty and social inequalities are reproduced in Brazil and for overcoming them. Mário Theodoro 1   Background Recognising the existence of racism in Brazilian society When asked about the role played by racism in maintaining racial inequalities in Brazil, Edna Roland, 2  a known militant of the black movement and Rapporteur General of the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa in September 2001, compared racism in Brazil to the Hydra of Lerna, a mythological, multi-headed creature. When you cut one of its heads off, other heads appear immediately in many other places and positions. According to her, racism is embedded in social relations in Brazil. Another feature of racism is that it changes over time, manifesting itself in different and new forms, generating the perverse structure of inequality prevailing between the black 3  and white populations in the country, and keeping it intact. Racism is identified and recognised by the Brazilian population. An opinion poll carried out by the Perseu Abramo Foundation in 2003 (Santos and Silva 2005) shows that 87 per cent of all Brazilians, both men and women, admit that there is racism in Brazil, but only four per cent of them acknowledge themselves as racists. These data lead us to two conclusions: first, that racism exists not as a result of awareness on the part of those who practise it, but rather as a result of its effects on those who suffer them; and second, that racism in Brazil, albeit perceptible, is always blamed on other people and never on the daily practices of its agents, making it even more difficult to eliminate. Racism is one of the main structuring factors of social injustices that afflict Brazilian society and, consequently, it is the key for one to understand the lingering social inequalities that bring shame to the country. Half of the Brazilian population is black and most of it is poor. The unacceptable gaps that still separate black and white people in the 21st century can be felt in the microcosm of day-to-day interpersonal relations and are reflected in unequal access to goods and services, to the labour market, to higher education, and to civil, social,  This case study was written as a contribution to the development of From Poverty to Power: How Active Citizens and Effective States Can Change the World , Oxfam International 2008. It is published in order to share widely the results of commissioned research and programme experience. The views it expresses are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Oxfam International or its affiliate organisations.    The challenge of eliminating racism in Brazil From Poverty to Power - www.fp2p.org   2 and economic rights. Other factors also explain the racial inequalities that still prevail in Brazil, such as the past history of exclusion and invisibility of the black population, its poverty, and particularly a scenario of denial of their rights after slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888.  A Past History of Slavery Brazil was the main destination of the international trade in African slaves between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries, and it was the last country in the Americas to abolish the slavery regime, in 1888. It is estimated that 4.2 million men and women were violently forced to leave Africa and cross the  Atlantic ocean under very precarious conditions to become slaves in Brazil. Up until the year 1800 Brazil had received 2.5 million African men and women, while for Spanish America as a whole the figure is less than one million during the same period. Circa 1872, 90 per cent of all slaves living in the country had been born in Brazil. In 1890, two years after the slavery regime was abolished, black people accounted for almost 50 per cent of the Brazilian population (Andrews 2004). As opposed to other countries such as the USA and South Africa, Brazil never established a legal regime for segregating the black population, which according to various analysts shows that Brazil is an example of racial integration. At the same time, the mixing of races in this country was more frequent than in other places, and was used as a key argument for building a mythical social theory which later on developed into an ideology: that of racial democracy. The myth of racial democracy, which is still present in the subconscious of Brazilians, constituted a sociological advance when it was created, back in the 1930s, when a ‘scientific racism’ was consolidating itself. However, at the same time that it acknowledges the role of black people in shaping the country, it makes the subordinate spaces that black men and women occupy in society commonplace, and it makes power relations between black and white populations invisible. The outcome is a society where racism and the resulting social inequalities are not revealed or discussed, and seems not to exist. The problem, they say, is not racism, but poverty; inequalities are not racial, they are social. This invisibility is now beginning to change as a result of a redefinition of what it means to be a black person, with the aim of overcoming different negative stereotypes associated with being black that are reproduced in social relations and in the media. Appreciation of black people resulted in the subordinate social spaces occupied by the black population being challenged; in the labour market, in the national territory, and in symbolic representations of Brazilian society, among other spaces. This has improved the self-esteem of the black population and led to a higher awareness of racial inequalities fed by racism. This process, which has become more intense over the past 30 years, has made it possible to strengthen the black movement and to promote a more comprehensive public debate on racial inequalities. Therefore, one cannot talk about overcoming racism and reducing racial inequalities without taking into account the protagonism of the black movement. The racial framework in Brazil maintains privileges and feeds social exclusion and inequalities. It produces a divided, unequal society where a black boy is much more likely to die from a violent death and to earn lower wages in the labour market than a white boy. A society where a black girl is more likely to die under the care of the public-health system than a white girl, and also more likely to die as a result of having less access to contraceptive methods, enhancing the possibility of pregnancy during adolescence and illegal abortions. Unequal opportunities, unequal possibilities, wasted talents. Given these facts, the inaction of the state in relation to racism, prejudice, and to the inequalities resulting from them can no longer be accepted. This is a timely moment for exposing this social gap and implementing policies and actions to promote racial equality in the country. Brazil will never    become a truly democratic, free and fair state if racism is not eradicated from the country, allowing the black population to be integrated into society as an empowered group and not as one relegated to historically subordinate spaces. The racial component of social inequalities in Brazil Brazil is an extremely unequal country. Ranked as a middle-income country, Brazil is marked by such high-income inequalities that significant sectors of its population live in poverty while a minority keeps most of the national wealth. According to official data, Brazil is one of the ten most unequal countries in the world, where the richest 20 per cent keep 63.2 per cent of the national income and the poorest 20 per cent keep only 2.4 per cent of it (UNDP 2005, p. 271). Racism is an important element in understanding the dynamic of this unequal framework: the small fraction of the population with a high income is essentially white; at the other extreme, most Brazilian men and women who live in poverty are black. A particularly important consideration is that although living conditions have improved significantly for the two population groups in recent decades, the gap between black and white people is still large and stable over the years. Things are getting better for the population at large, but black people are always disadvantaged in relation to white people. In 2005, the black population accounted for 49.6 per cent of the Brazilian population, totalling 92 million people whose living conditions are usually unacceptable. According to the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA): ‘black people are born with lower weight than white people, are more likely to die before the age of one and are less likely to attend a day-care center. Their school repetition rates are also higher, as a result of which many of them drop out of the school system with a lower schooling than white people. More black young people die from a violent death than white youths and are less likely to find a job. When they do  find a job, their wages are less than half those paid to white people, leading them to retire earlier with a lower pension, if they retire at all. During all of their lives, they are forced to rely on the worst health care system available in the country and end up living less and in greater poverty than white people’. (IPEA 2007, p. 281). Racism is perceived and experienced in the daily lives of black people: in elite shopping malls, where black people are forced to work as security guards or janitors and are seldom employed in jobs where they interact with customers; in television programmes, where black men and women, when they appear at all, are always shown in subordinate positions (as maids, muggers, prostitutes, street boys, security guards); in racist jokes and expressions which are commonplace in white family gatherings. Expressions such as ‘I am not a racist, but I would never let my son or daughter marry a black person’ are common in Brazil. We are talking about millions of attitudes and decisions that are taken on a daily basis within a social and symbolic framework in which the colour of one’s skin is a major determinant. Racial inequality in figures Since the early 2000s, more and more official statistical data is available on racial inequalities in Brazil in different areas, such as education, the labour market, poverty, health, and violence. The black movement contributed significantly to this process by pressing the government, think tanks, and research institutes to produce data of this kind. The process of briefing and preparing the Brazilian delegation to attend the 3rd World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2000 and 2001 also made it possible to reveal, in the light of social indicators, the gaps which separated and still separate black people from white people. The challenge of eliminating racism in Brazil From Poverty to Power - www.fp2p.org   3    Poverty Two-thirds of poor people in Brazil are black people. Furthermore, 46.3 per cent of the black population lives below the poverty line; this is twice as high as for the white population (22.9 per cent, as shown in Figure 1). As mentioned above, it can be seen that the gap between black and white people remains stable over the whole time period. Another indicator that also exposes the abyss between black and white people, is the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI). In its 2005 report, 4  apart from presenting the average indicator for Brazil, 0.766, UNDP calculated the HDI separately for the black and the white population. If each of these two groups formed a different country, the gap between them would be 61 positions. The white Brazil would have a high HDI, 0.814, and would be ranked in the 44th position in the world ranking. The black Brazil, in turn, would have an average HDI of 0.703 and would be ranked in the 105th position, behind countries such as Paraguay. Figure 1: Percentage of the population living below the poverty line by colour/race – Brazil, 1995–2005 Percentage of poor people Year Black White Source: National Household Sample Survey (PNAD) 1995–2005, data documented by IPEA (2007, p. 289) Education In the field of education, racial inequalities can be felt in different ways. For example, considering the situation in terms of access to the school system and the number of students who remain in the system, as measured by the net enrolment rate, 5  huge differences can be observed between black and white students in secondary education, which can be as high as 22 per cent, as shown in Figure 2. The most striking feature of this situation is the stability of inequality over time: although enrolment rates have increased in recent years for both black and white students, the gap between these two population groups remains constant. Despite improvements observed in education in general, it has not been possible so far, to promote the inclusion of the black population in the educational system as expected – as a result of prejudice and racism. The data shown in Figure 2 also reveal that about two of every three black youths (64 per cent) have dropped out of secondary education or are becoming increasingly old for the grades they are in at lower educational levels, i.e. 16-year-olds still in primary education (IPEA 2007, p. 284). Among white youths, this percentage is much lower, namely 42 per cent. The challenge of eliminating racism in Brazil From Poverty to Power - www.fp2p.org   4
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