Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

“Who’s afraid of black teachers?” Starting in the 1930s, Brazil began replacing black teachers until the profession was overwhelmingly white, middle class and female. Teachers remain mostly white still today

Francione Oliveira, a teacher at Escola Santos Dumont

Note from BW of Brazil: Throughout this blog’s existence, we have sought to consistently demonstrate how Brazil has for decades attempted to maintain an standard image of whiteness as representative of the nation as a whole. Even with a recent report that confirmed that 53.6% of the Brazilian population (203 million people) defines itself as non-white, this continues to be the norm in most important genres. We’ve already seen examples of this in politics, advertising, television, film, governmental diplomats, college professors, television commercials and modeling runways. In the maintenance of this system of white dominance, we’ve also seen Afro-Brazilians who have been told, either directly or indirectly, that the performance of classical dance, classical music and gymnastics were not for their kind. Even in music, a field in which blacks are expected to excel, black women are often encouraged to pursue careers in Samba music rather than the more lucrative Brazilian Popular Music genre. 

Quem tem medo das pedagogas negras-Q (professora negra)

Yet another facet of this drive for embranquecimento (whitening) plays itself out in the education system where Afro-Brazilians have always lagged behind white Brazilians in terms of years of schooling. At the university level, only in the past decade because of the system of quotas, have Afro-Brazilians made substantial advances in attaining a college education. This idea that schools are places reserved for whites also applies to the teaching profession where Brazilian elites devised a plan to diminish the quantity of Afro-Brazilian teachers starting in the 1930s and 40s and replacing them with predominantly white, middle-class female teachers making scenes such as the one in the above photo more and more rare. Over the years, black women have managed to re-insert themselves into the teaching profession but the field remains dominated by white males and females to this day. 

“Who’s afraid of black teachers?”

I won’t delay in answering the question that is the title of this text, since the very History of Education didn’t hesitate to point out white men and women as fearful of the career advancement of black teachers. In the nineteenth century, when education was used to pave the national project of civilization and Brazilian progress, they created the first normal schools for teacher training, which were mostly made up of men, and in that period it was possible to notice the strong presence of black men working in vocational schools and as a school director (DÁVILA, 2006), however, in the early twentieth century, “the number of men of color involved in public education decreased, followed by a decrease in the number of women of color, until that in the 1930s and 1940s the overwhelming majority of teachers consisted of white women” (DÁVILA, 2006, p. 152).

By Ivanilda Amado Cardoso

Quem tem medo das pedagogas negras-Q - Adélia de França na Paraíba do século XX (1926-1976)

Adélia de França (1926-1976) – A teacher in the state of Paraíba in the 20th century

Such changes in the teaching profession scenario may be linked to two factors: the process of embranquecimento (whitening) and the prestige of teaching which led to a wage downgrade and proletarianization of the profession when it was “feminized” (Rosenberg: Amado, 1992).

According to Dávila (2006) during the encased reforms by sanitarian doctors and education reformers, systematic and hostile processes of selection of teachers, which transvested into the discourse of teacher professionalization, technical and moral ability, caused a gradual whitening in the field of the teaching profession” […] the modern framework of teachers that reformers created was white, female and middle class” (DÁVILA, 2006, p. 148).

In this context, the process of embranquecimento and feminization of teaching, which gradually became financially discredited, strongly focused on the career of black teachers, because although teaching in the twentieth century has become discredited, the same was considered a space of distinction and upward mobility for white women that standardized the figure of morality civility, cleanliness and good reputation, in the case of black women, the formal educational space was increasingly difficult to access.

In Salvador (BA), you lose count of the informal black women literacy teachers who didn’t achieve upward mobility in the teaching profession. In my Saramandaia neighborhood, on the outskirts of Salvador, I can count, with the help of my mother and grandmother, six black women who, since the 1950s, were mainly responsible for the literacy of children, such social experiences demonstrate the problems in political access to education, mainly for the black population.

Dona Cleonice, which still has a school with infrastructure totally out of national quality standards established by the MEC, but that for some of the mothers of the neighborhood is an alternative against the expulsion process of their children from public schools. One can register other educators in the neighborhood, for example, Luh, Cleusa and Val, those that maintain a (tutoring) Banca in their own homes. The late Ms. Dasdores was also a major figure in the literacy of children. But Dona Adelaide, the dreaded teacher who gave a bolo (paddle) and placed (castigo do sapo) whoever did a task wrong, was the one responsible for the literacy of most children in the community.

These women played an important role in the education of children in the community, given the definition of education as a subjective right, in that it guarantees access to free and compulsory education and the expansion of education are recent educational policies, from the date of constitution of 1988. Before that, balconies and backyards of theladies, at least on the outskirts of Salvador, were the main locations of education. The stories of these women need to be redeemed, told and recorded. Future Reflections!

As was mentioned, in this brief text I have no intention to deepen the discussion on the presence/ absence of black women in the teaching profession, some research fulfilled this purpose. It’s worth reading the book Cor e Magistério (Color and Magisterium) edited by Iolanda Oliveira and the book A cor da escola (The Color of the School) by Maria Lucia Rodrigues Müller.

Once I was provoked with a critiqued of the entry of black women in courses to lower social status, in the perspective of the provocator person, black youth need to enter more socially prestigious courses, like, for example, Law, Medicine, Engineering etc. I consider an important point of questioning, in view of the educational setting, it is nevertheless worth considering that such criticism de-legitimizes the historical struggle and role of black women in educational activities, as did the Rosas Negras (black roses), Antonieta de Barros, Tereza Santos, the mães de santos and many other anonymous women.

Yes, the course of Pedogogy is crossed by many political, structural and epistemological problems, and observations may be considered valid if the purpose is to urge the young black women to create different strategies for better placement in the professional market and social ascension, however , we need to be careful not to condone the elitist thinking of those who wish to see black women far from the universities and therefore disqualify political spaces that historically became privileges of white women.

Consider teaching as a single professional space reserved for women is a way of limiting their professional performance opportunities, it also needs to be questioned, but we must ponder and contextualize the inclusion of many black women in courses of Pedagogy, because even being considered a course of low social prestige, it still represents a significant increase in the student body of universities.

I believe that the course of the pedagogy has been an attractive, if not a political, calculated and strategic choice of black women, as a path of possibilities for their professional formation and performance and anti-racist educational interventions.

Incidentally, the (re) education of ethnic-racial relations historically are social processes taken over by black women of this country. There are people who are afraid!

Because of this, harsh criticism of a racist, elitist and conservative nature, are directed to the course of Pedagogy, as explained in the words of the anthropologist Eunice Durham, that advocates the return of the Normal School by considering the course of Pedagogy a “factory of bad teachers” coming out of public schools (Durham, 2008).

In an interview with Veja magazine, when asked about the expansion of universities, Durham said: “I am convinced that we have public schools in sufficient numbers to meet those students who may in fact turn out to be Ph.D. or highly qualified professionals. These are, of course, a minority,”(DURHAM, 2008, interview with Veja magazine, issue #2088, November 26, 2008).

The philosopher Paul Ghiraldelli Jr. (2008) corroborates the critique of Durham and states that the Pedagogy student “[…] is the scraping of the vestibular (college entrance exam) pot”, so the “Reforms of the Pedagogy degree and licensing will be useful when the clientele that seek such courses were a clientele a little more intellectualized” (Ghiraldelli JR., 2008, np). Who would this intellectualized clientele be?

Such criticism has strong a racial coin and are directed at black male and female students, mainly black women, seen by the growing access of these women in higher education, triggered also by the Affirmative Action policies. However, although we observed a change in the composition of public universities, with regard to activities in schools of basic education to higher education, the teacher profile in Brazil is mostly white, and racial inequalities become more pronounced as education levels increase, ie, in early childhood education a significant number (but still less than the number of white teachers) of black teachers teaching has been identified, however, this contingent is undercut when analyzing higher education which has expressly the presence of white men and women.

The reflections of the political project of the embranquecimento of the teaching profession of the twentieth century can be identified through the Census of Basic Education and a brief observation of the benches of the classrooms and university departments. In addition, the policy of embranquecimento projected in the twentieth century not only reflected in the profile of teachers, but the school curricula are eugenic and Eurocentric.

The Sinopse Estatística da Educação Básica (Basic Education Statistics Synopsis) published by the Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisas (Inep or National Institute of Studies and Research), updated in 2014, shows that in basic education, the total number of active teachers is 2,190,743, of this contingent, 20% are male professionals and 80% female. Regarding the distribution of professionals by color/race working in basic education, self-declared whites are 43% and the sum of the self-declared pretos e pardos (blacks and browns), according to the classification of the IBGE, negros (pretos and pardos) account for 28%. Self-declared amarelos (yellow or Asians) are 1%, indigenous people represent less than 1% and non-declared are 28%.

Based on the Sinopse Estatística da Educação Básica, we can infer that, in general, the profile of basic education professionals in Brazil is significantly composed of white women with higher education, principally at the undergraduate level.

An important finding of this Brazilian teacher profile is that while we observe a significant contingent of white teachers of the female gender working in basic education, in vocational education and Higher Education, in contrast it identifies a strong presence of black and indigenous teachers working in the Quilombola and Indigenous educational mode, which allows us to infer that there is a political role of these segments in dealing with issues related to their group. However, if we look the other tendency, the data point to the absence of black women in other stages and education levels, particularly in higher education institutions, as well as in other spaces of definition of educational public policies.

Fortunately, albeit slowly, some black teachers have occupied important spaces in educational policy, we can cite some recent examples: Petronilha Beatriz Gonçalves e Silva first black woman to sit on the National Council of Education-MEC, educator Nilma Lino Gomes, rector of UNILAB and current Minister of Seppir (Secretariat of Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality) also standing out is the teacher of the Municipal Network of Belo Horizonte Macaé Evaristo who served as Secretary of Continuing Education, Literacy, Diversity and Inclusion (SECADI / MEC) and many others!! These women challenged the project of embranquecimento of the teaching profession.

Once feared that Cleonice, Luh, Adelaide and other anonymous black literacy teachers ascended through teaching, today they are frightened by the possibility of teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian History in schools and with the ruptures and questioning of racist literature that is conventionally called universal canons.

Fear because they know that teaching for black women has always been a political and strategic space in the fight against racism.

That’s what they are so afraid of!


DÁVILA, Jerry. Diploma de brancura: política social e racial no Brasil (1917-1945). Trad. Claudia Sant‟Ana Martins. São Paulo: Editora Unesp, 2006. 400p.

DURHAM, Eunice. Fábrica de maus professores. Revista Veja, São Paulo, v. 41,

Educação antirracista caminhos abertos para a lei 10.639/03. Brasília: SECAD, 2005, p. 39-62.

GHIRALDELLI JR, Paulo. Era uma vez Eunice Durham tropeçando e a esquerda esperando a revolução. Disponível em: Acesso em 20/03/2015

Source: Além da Mídia

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This entry was posted on November 27, 2015 by in Afro-Brazilians, Brazilian schools, Education, Uncategorized and tagged , .
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