NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Brazil Plans Affirmative Action

October 2, 2001

Brazil, which has the largest black population outside Africa, is proposing racial quotas in universities, Civil Service jobs and even television soap operas. Black Brazilians have long complained of being kept at the bottom of the ladder. However, applying quotas in Brazil is much trickier than in the U.S.

  • There are more than 300 terms to designate skin color, and racial categories are more elastic than here -- making it difficult to determine who's black.
  • In last year's census, only six percent of the people identified themselves as black.
  • An additional 40 percent identified themselves as "pardo," a much broader term to describe dark-skinned people, or "mulato" or "mestico" -- people of mixed European and African ancestry.

The Racial Equality Statute has ignited protests from opponents who say it would foment division and question whether such an American import is appropriate for Brazil. Proponents point to numbers they say demonstrate a need for action:

  • The average income of whites is more than double that of blacks.
  • Of Brazil's 1.6 million college students, only 2.2 percent are black -- and they are more likely to have attended underfinanced, inferior public schools.
  • Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to end slavery (in 1888), and one of its first acts after achieving independence from Portugal in 1822 was banning blacks from attending school.

Opponents argue the problem isn't one of race, but of class -- that blacks suffer discrimination not because of their color but because they're poor.

Source: Larry Rohter, "Multiracial Brazil Planning Quotas for Blacks," New York Times, October 2, 2001.


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