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Race in Brazil - The "Mosaic"

In Brazil, people describe themselves by color, not race, since nearly everyone is mixed. The latest census, taken in 2010, found that Brazil has the most people of African descent outside Africa. There is a color hierarchy in Brazil, and consistent data shows that darker Brazilians are poorer. There are five formal color categories in the census: indigenous, yellow, white, pardo (or brown) and preto, or dark-skinned. The word black is not on the list. There is a totally different system here than in the US, where one drop of black blood made a person black independent of appearance. In Brazil, Afro-Brazilians have no sense of collective identity.

Slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888. Possibly four million African slaves were transported to Brazil, 7 times the number transported to the US, by one account. If half of Brazil's population has African blood, as many claim, Brazil has the second largest African-descendant population (after Nigeria) in the world. According to the 2000 census, whites were 53.7% of the population, mulatto (mixed white and black) 38.5%, black 6.2%, other (includes Japanese, Arab, Amerindian) 0.9%, unspecified 0.7%. The 2010 census reported that, for the first time, white persons constituted less than half the population of 190.8 million. A total of 91.1 million persons claimed to be white, while 99.7 million identified themselves as belonging to other categories. The Getulio Vargas Foundation survey of income inequality, released in May 2011, showed a significant decline in income inequality from 2000 to 2010. The report revealed that the income of blacks rose 43 percent over the decade, compared with 21 percent for whites.

In Brazil, more than 50 percent of the population is of "metis," or mixed-race - and social contact, friendships and marriage between the races are common. However, on television or seen from abroad, Brazil still portrays a white image. Blacks, indigenous or other non-white people are seen less than whites on TV commercials and programs. Racism is both everywhere and invisible, and has effect on education, employment, income and life expectancy. Nine out of 10 of those killed between the ages of 12 and 23 are black.

According to Brazil's "national myth of racial democracy" racism is impossible because of the thoroughness of racial admixture. In light of a national identity that holds "We are all Brazilians of various shades," many white Brazilians are offended when their compatriots claim a black identity. To acknowledge race, some whites believe, is to create divisions in society where none had existed before. Many white Brazilians "look surprised" when they hear that a black man or woman has experienced racial discrimination and rejection all of his or her life.

Brazil imported Black Africans to toil as slaves as did the United States. Both nations went through an abolitionist period culminating in emancipation for the slaves, and yet the racial attitudes of the two countries are markedly different.

By the time the Atlantic slave trade began both the Portuguese (who were to set up a slave system in Brazil which did not dehumanize the slaves) and the English (who were to set up possibly the most dehumanizing chattel slavery the world has seen) had already formed certain attitudes which were to influence their reactions. The ideal of beauty for the Englishman was a fair complexion of rose and white. Black was the direct opposite of white in every sense of the word.

In Brazil the manumission of slaves was a practice which was encouraged and which also brought respect and honor to the owner. It was possible for slaves in Brazil to compel their masters to free them by reimbursing the original purchase price. The money could be obtained by the slave since he was allowed to hire himself out as a worker anj keep all the money he earned. A slave in Brazil was also allowed to own his own property and sell products that he might grow on his land.

In the United States manumission was discouraged by social practice and, in many places by law. Nor was it possible for a slave in the United States to buy his own freedom. Slaves could not acquire money or property without the consent of their master and some states even made it illegal for slaves to own property with their masters' consent.

In Brazil the slave enjoyed a protection under the law which was virtually unknown in the United States. A master could not kill or injure a slave unless authorized by a judge, nor could he abuse the slave against reason of nature. If the master did any of these things the slave could complain to a judge and if the complaint was verified the judge had to sell the slave. Slaves could be witnesses in court, even against their masters in serious cases. In the United States the slave vas offered virtually no protection by the law.

Because of the presence of a powerful institution in Latin America, the Catholic Church, the slave system could not abolish the natural equality of man. The master owned the labor of the slave, but not his person. In Brazil the black man had both a juridical and a moral personality even while he was enslaved. This is not to say that slavery in Brazil was a good or even a mild institutionl, as many instances of physical cruelty most likely occurred in Brazil as in the United State.

The existence of a significant group of free poor in slave societies was described in the 1960's through the classic study by Maria Silvia de Carcalho Franco. She described the living conditions of the free poor in the coffee region of the Sao Paulo Province in the second half of the 19th century, emphasizing how violence was a regular part of their lives. Newer studies of the free poor focused on the control of particular social groups in an industrializing city. After the abolition of slavery, nonwhites were subject to police control as usual suspects of vagrancy, theft, or an organized kind of street fighting.

In the United States, since the slave had no legal rights, since he was titled in the English system as "chattel," a free black was a legal absurdity in the society of the South. The free black in the United States was never really incorporated into the free community. Even after emancipation white Americans viewed the black man with the same mental attitude that had characterized their views toward the slave.

The state of Bahia in the Northeast Region of Brazil was originally the center of colonial life in the Portuguese colonies in the Americas. The explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral landed on the coast of Bahia in 1500 and claimed the territory for Portugal. Bahia was settled by sugar plantation owners, who imported African slaves. Bahia’s capital city, Salvador, was founded in 1549. It served as the capital of the Portuguese colonies in the Americas until gold was discovered to the south and the increasing importance of mining caused the capital to be moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1763. Today, Bahia is known as the "Soul of Brazil," because of its blend of African, European, and Indian heritage. The state has Brazil’s largest concentration of people of African descent – seventy percent.

There is a sharp contrast in perception of race between Brazil and the United States. In the US abolition was accompanied by force and the mental attitudes of white Americans toward the black man changed very little when slavery was abolished.

Race for individuals of African and European ancestry in Brazil has been historically and socially defined on a “continuum” of skin color including Black, Brown (mixed between Black and White), or White, instead of the Black or White color line as in the United States. This is in part because of the large racial admixing in Brazil.

The perception of race along a color continuum in Brazil is a social phenomenon that has historically existed for more than 500 years during the colonial period and before the abolishment of slavery and is widely recognized by all Brazilians. Furthermore, Brazil has one of the most racially admixed populations worldwide, and the percentage of the population mixed between White and Black increased from 21.2% in 1940 to 38.5% in 2000.

The difference in perceptions of racial identity between Brazil and the United States implies potential differences in cultural and socioeconomic factors related to race and how these may affect health and contribute to racial disparities. There are distinct historical and political differences between Brazil and the United States related to race. For example, after the abolition of slavery in Brazil, there were no laws that instituted racial segregation as in the United States.

The Brazilian government enacted sweeping affirmative action laws in 2012 to vastly increase the number of university students of African descent. Before this, only 1 percent of students at the university were black. By 2014, they represented 11 percent.

Police throughout the country routinely commit unlawful executions that are almost never punished. The racial element of such police behavior (while the police are both black and white, the victims are overwhelmingly black) is seldom discussed in part because of a paucity of data, the complexity of the subject, and widespread denial on the part of white Brazilians that racism exists. The probability of blacks dying in clashes with the police is much higher in the slums, where police killings are higher, but the difference between whites and blacks is also disproportional in other urban areas. Moreover, blacks are more likely to be stopped by the police, to be searched, to be arrested and to be forced to pay a bribe.

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Page last modified: 05-06-2016 20:54:56 ZULU