Racial Inequality in Brazil
Racial inequality is so prevalent in Brazilian society, that it is simply accepted as an aspect of life; rather than an issue that needs to be addressed. Some statistics that illustrate the disparity include: of those earning less than minimum wage, 63% are black and 34% are white; of the richest Brazilians, 11% are black and 85% are white. After reading these numbers, prior to my experience in Brazil , I interpreted these findings to mean that all the white skinned Brazilians are employed in the most lucrative jobs, and blacks fill all the undesirable positions. While there is some truth to that, the issue is far more complex.
First of all, most Brazilians are neither white nor black; the majority is some combination. Their society makes deliberate efforts to whiten their population through interracial marriage, because of the notion that still remains from the ages of slavery that the white race is superior to the black race, and the increased respect that whites, and even mulattoes receive compared to blacks. In addition, race in Brazil is not easily defined; it is not based on ethnic background as in most countries; but instead, phenotypic distinctions such as facial features and skin color. Thus, discrimination is served to individuals rather than stereotyped groups, and is more ambiguous than the statistics imply. In a survey conducted in 2000, 93% of respondents acknowledged that there is racial prejudice in Brazil , but 87% of those same respondents claimed that they felt no racial prejudice. This indicates that Brazilians recognize that there is racial inequality, but prejudism is not a current issue, it is the remnants of slavery. According to Ivanir dos Santos (the Justice Ministry's specialist on race affairs) “There is a hierarchy of skin color where blacks appear to know their place.”
The existence and impact of discrimination is also heightened by the significant gap between the rich and the poor. The richest 10% of the population accounts for 48% of the national income, and the poorest 50% account for 10% of the national income. 2.7% of black Brazilians are employed in management positions, while 55% perform manual labor; and only 2.5% of blacks have a university degree. Before traveling to Brazil and studying their culture, I interpreted these numbers as indicators that Brazilians were prejudice and unjust to their Afro-descendants. But the imbalance between blacks and whites can be largely attributed to the slave trade that was not abolished in Brazil until 1888. Nearly all Afro-Brazilians are descendants of emancipated slaves that had to begin their lives as liberated Brazilian citizens without anything. In addition, all poverty-stricken Brazilians, regardless of their race, are not provided with the educational and fiscal opportunities to ever get out of poverty. Wages are low and jobs are in low supply but high demand, causing most Brazilians to work long hours or multiple jobs to make ends meet. After learning about the economic structure and the education system, I began to realize that contrary to US society, a Brazilian's life course is determined by their circumstances. Thus, a child born into poverty will most likely be impoverished for their entire life. And, most Afro-descendants are born into impoverished families, causing a visible disparity from darker skinned Brazilians and their white counterparts.
After developing a deeper understanding of the issue of racial inequality in Brazil from my research and my observations, I feel that the issue of inequality is larger than the issue of race. But another aspect to consider is that while the circumstances seem devastating from an American's perspective, the implications are very different to a Brazilian. Their primary concern is not about salaries and materialistic items, or outdoing their neighbor with the most expensive and lavish lifestyle. Instead, they focus on surviving happily with what they have, and improving their quality of life, not their quantity of riches. Brazilians direct their energy towards things that make them happy, not what makes them wealthy. Because of this, inequality does not have the same meaning to a Brazilian as it does to an American, and may be a lesser issue than it seems. I am not trying to suggest that there is not discrimination or it is not something that should be addressed, but that the situation cannot improve without modifying the economic and social structure, and providing equal opportunities for economic advancements to all Brazilians.
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