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Ask a Brazilian: A Question of Race

May 26, 2009

This is our regular column called "Ask a Brazilian", the idea being that you can quite literally ask a question of a Brazilian - for those issues you aren't sure about but perhaps dare not ask someone else. It is meant as a bit of fun and answers should not be construed as expert opinion or the definitive reply on the matter. For that reason we ask you to please send your own comments and experiences in order to add to our replies.

I came to Brazil on a business trip. This is my first time in South America and I must admit I'm having a ball. The food, the weather, the warmth of the people is far superior to the UK. Like other first time foreigners I'm seriously considering relocating here. My personal quality of life and general health & happiness will certainly improve exponentially. I did not know much about this country apart from the usual football, beaches and beautiful women. Of course, Brazil is much more than the stereotypes and I am very interested to find out as much as I can about the history, economy and the people. One of the areas I have taken an interest in is the touchy topic of race. I know this is a sensitive subject in many countries and I noticed that when I initiated a discussion regarding race and social issues in Brazil with Middle Class European Brazilians they started to get irritable and defensive.

Ok, so what did I ask? Well, I wanted to know why, since my time in Brazil I've seen only a handful Afro Brazilians. According to history much of the development and buildings in many parts of Brazil was built off the back of Afro Brazilians mainly through slavery. Hundreds of years have since passed and it seems to me that they are still treated unfairly in society (including Modern day slavery in the sugarcane fields*.) Since coming to Brazil (Sao Paulo) I have not seen more than an absolute maximum of 1 or 2 Afro Brazilians in the hotel, at restaurants, in shopping malls, at the international airport, in the office at work, or pretty much anywhere (apart from the beaches) in Rio. Do Afro Brazilians not eat, fly or shop? On occasion I see low paid workers around but again, skin tone seems to be the order or the day. The darker you are the less likely you will have an opportunity to better yourself. What is happening in Brazil?

Surely investment in education is part of the long term solution. According to some online research the public school systems are among the worst in the world. I did find an interesting documentary regarding a new quota system for Afro Brazilians who wish to enter University. The documentary presents arguments for and against (mixed reviews of the system by Afro Brazilians and European Brazilian).

The poverty gap between the rich and the poor is among the widest I've seen. The general question I have is 'Do middle class and upper class Brazilians care about what is happening to the poor people in the country? If so, what are they doing about it? Do middle class/upper class Brazilians realise that injustice somewhere will cause problems everywhere. What is the Government doing about this? Are they planning to seriously invest in education and fire fighting current problems or will they use the meagre hand out trick to buy votes?

I cannot seem to have the discussion with Brazilians without an uncomfortable feeling in the air. (I even felt a little uncomfortable when one of them said "... oh... they are just lazy... they are happy in the favelas and don't want to improve there lives...". I'm happy to accept that this may be the case for 0.0005% but for everybody else the issues are clearly far more complex. There is clearly widespread racism in many guises I just hope there is not a deep hatred. Look forward to any views / responses.

-- Steve

* The modern day slavery is highlighted in an Australian documentary on YouTube. This affected all poor Brazilians who are in bonded labour so everybody else can have cheap ethanol and meat.

Hello, Steve,

I also see middle class Brazilians whining when you suggest a discussion about race, especially social issues. My opinion, based on my life, and my friends, and the rich people I happen to know, is that Brazilians (in general) couldn't care less about the poor when there's plenty of money in their pockets. Very unfortunately, coz of course poverty affects all of us.

About the Afro Brazilians: I wouldn't say they are still treated unfairly, but yes they got behind, and their position as "the last in society" lasts.

I don't know how it goes in your country, but in Brazil, if you're born poor, your chances to surpass that will be few. As you said, public education is truly horrible and, I believe, the rest is a natural result of that.

How can the poor overcome anything being ignorant?

It seems easy for people who were not born in poverty to judge the poor as lazy... I would say they have no idea what differences education can bring. And let's say, even the middle class is quite ignorant.

You say "The darker you are the less likely you will have an opportunity to better yourself". That is true, it goes for the poor, and among them, yes, the black are the poorest.

"What is happening in Brazil?". What is not happening is an education revolution. "What is the Government doing about this?" Bringing stupid things like the "black quotas" and having people believe, even the black, they care. But seriously, that will not resolve anything. Getting better public schools would be the ONLY solution to bringing the black and poor to a decent university. Quotas are nonsense.

"Are they planning to seriously invest in education and fire fighting current problems?". I don't think so. "Or will they use the meagre hand out trick to buy votes?". Definitely, I think so. The more ignorant people are, the more corrupt they can be. And believe me, they are far more corrupt now with Lula, than ever before.

Thanks for your question,


Are there any burning questions you have about Brazil, or other issues that you're curious about, such as Brazilian culture? If so, send your questions to gringoes@gringoes.com with "Ask a Brazilian" in the subject. We will forward to our Brazilian experts, and publish the best questions (and replies) on the site.

Previous articles in this series:

Ask a Brazilian: Real Estate Scam
Ask a Brazilian: Corruption and Lula
Ask a Brazilian: Lacking Change and I Touch Myself
Ask a Brazilian: Leather and Telephones
Ask a Brazilian: Tampons
Ask a Brazilian: Treatment of Animals
Ask a Brazilian: A Brazilian CV
Ask a Brazilian: Well-to-do Ladies
Ask a Brazilian: Gender Stereotypes
Ask a Brazilian: All Souls Day and Halloween
Ask a Brazilian: Answering a Question
Ask a Brazilian: Revoked Visa
Ask a Brazilian: Pedestrian Problems
Ask a Brazilian: Trash
Ask a Brazilian: Tiles
Ask a Brazilian: Headlights
Ask a Brazilian: Differences and Love
Ask a Brazilian: What Do the Police Do?
Ask a Brazilian: Contractor Frustrations
Ask a Brazilian: English Books and Brazilian Boys
Ask a Brazilian: Cold Caçhaca
Ask a Brazilian: Interruptions
Ask a Brazilian: Travel and Security Concerns
Ask a Brazilian: Gestures and Toys
Ask a Brazilian: Hispanics or Latinos, and Duvets
Ask a Brazilian: Overbearing Sogros
Ask a Brazilian: Hotels and Bank Transfers
Ask a Brazilian: Swimming, Showers and New Year‘s
Ask a Brazilian: Making Friends
Ask a Brazilian: Female Etiquette
Ask a Brazilian: Washing Machines
Ask a Brazilian: Picking Teeth
Ask a Brazilian: Lozenge or Candy?
Ask a Brazilian: Liberal or Jealous?
Ask a Brazilian: Truck Wheels
Ask a Brazilian: Tolerance
Ask a Brazilian: Screens
Ask a Brazilian: Brazilian Wax
Ask a Brazilian: Flashing Lights
Ask a Brazilian: Lemon and Limes
Ask a Brazilian: Shocking Showers


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