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Brazil Questions Race with Affirmative Action Tribunal

Brazil Questions Race with Affirmative Action Tribunal

Race has long been a contentious topic in Brazil, due in part to the country’s colonial legacy. Though slavery has long been abolished, racial disparities persist notwithstanding laws intended to address them. A new government effort seeks to change that: a tribunal tasked to determine whether those who have benefited from racial preferences under the law have the racial background they claim.

Brazil brought in more slaves from Africa than any other country, notes the Economist, and it has close to three times as many people who claim African ancestry than the United States. Though blacks are strong in numbers, these numbers do not translate into social standing. In the workplace, few blacks hold management positions; in government, the cabinet does not have any black members, the Economist notes. Racial disparities translate into economic disparities. On average, the incomes of people who are black or mixed is just 58 percent of the incomes of people who are white, according to Economist calculations.

Racial considerations first became formal policy under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who championed affirmative action in state university admissions policies. His successor, Dilma Rousseff, went further, passing a law known as the Law of Social Quotas. This new law is intended to redress the historical inequalities facing minorities. It requires 20 percent of all government jobs be filled by a candidate who is black or brown, explains teleSUR.

Though the 20 percent requirement is clear, the application of the law is less so. Today, black and mixed race people make up more than half of Brazil’s population. The large percentage means that many Brazilians are claiming some African ancestry, however distant. Consequently, people who appear to be white have won university admission under government affirmative action policies. According to teleSUR, these affirmative action policies led to “a deluge of both complaints and lawsuits that blonde-haired, blue-eyed applicants were being admitted to colleges and hired for civil service jobs by claiming to be African-descended.”

The government is trying to address the claims that some people are unjustly benefiting from the affirmative action policies. A new racial tribunal is now tasked with assessing whether government workers hired or promoted under the affirmative action laws have the racial background required. More than looking at skin color and racial background, Remezcla explains that the tribunal will analyze facial features and hair texture to ascertain race. Remezcla, a digital publishing company, goes on to note that while some people support the tribunal as a way to right racial wrongs, others believe its existence weakens affirmative action policy. The debate on race continues.

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