Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

2.5 million black and brown women are ‘missing’ in census report: Report demonstrates the difficulty women of color have in defining themselves as black


Photo: Brazilian women have more difficulty identifying themselves as black and brown than Brazilian men

Note from BW of Brazil: Well in reality, the information presented in today’s piece should come as absolutely no surprise. When I first created this blog back in 2011, one of the first and most important posts discussed the issue of racial classification in Brazil. For to inform an English-speaking audience about the question of race in Brazil, it was and continues to be very important to have a basic understanding of how racial classification and identity work. After a long list of articles written by numerous Afro-Brazilian women, as well as a few men, it should be pretty clear that Brazil’s particular brand of racism made accepting a black identity a very difficult process for many of the country’s people of visible African ancestry.

Growing up in an anti-black country such as Brazil, people grow up everyday wanting to be anything but black. This, along with five centuries of amalgamation was at the heart of the infamous 1976 census report in Brazilians used 136 different color-coded terms to define their phenotype. And while the Movimento Negro, the country’s black social movement defines all persons who self-identify as either preto (black) or pardo (brown/mixed) as members of the black race based on the fact that in almost every socioeconomic, quality of life statistic, pretos and pardos are almost identical and at a huge disadvantage in comparison to those Brazilians who classify themsevles as brancos, or white people (see here and here). But even the white classification is not clear in Brazil. As I wrote in previous piece: 

“due to such widespread miscegenation and the preference of whitening one’s racial identity, we may never know exactly how many white people there actually are in Brazil as the official census depends on self-declaration”

'Faltam' 2,5 milhões de pretas e pardas no Brasil, apontam dados do IBGE 2

And even as the black consciousness movement has been a great success in the past few decades helping to educate people on the complexities or Brazilian styled racism and eventually coming to accept an identidade negra (black identity) it continues to be a work in motion. With this in mind, it’s not difficult to understand how the media can report that Afro-Brazilians officially represent the majority of the population and then report that 2.5 million pretas (black women) and pardas (brown women) have somehow turned up “missing” from the census reports. These women aren’t actually missing, they are simply examples of powerful the seduction of defining one self as white can be!

2.5 million black and brown women are ‘missing’ in Brazil, IBGE data show

By Edison Veiga and Rodrigo Burgarelli

There are 2.5 million mulheres pretas e pardas (black and brown women) missing in Brazil. This is the total number of Brazilian women who should stop declaring themselves brancas (white women) so that, statistically, the numbers portray the same racial proportion of men, according to O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper. As it is the individual that declares his/her cor de pele (skin color) to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), the data reveal that in fact, Brazilians have more difficulty identifying themselves as black and brown than Brazilian men.

A profile done by Estadão Dados from the Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios (PNAD or National Household Sample Survey) shows that, historically, women have declared themselves to be mais brancas (whiter) than the opposite sex. This difference was maintained even during the impressive growth in the number of Brazilians affirming themselves to be pardo or preto in the last decade – the proportion rose from 45% to 55% from 2001 to 2015, the date of the last survey. Today, 53% of women declare themselves to be nonwhite, compared to almost 56% of men.

This difference of almost 3% may seem small, but it’s impressive when translated to absolute numbers. If women declared their race in the same way as men, they would be at least 2 million more pardas and 500 thousand more pretas in the Brazilian population. The estimate is conservative because, since the probability of birth for men and women is the same within the same race and the mortality of non-white men is higher than that of whites, the expected thing would be that the proportion of pretas and pardas among women would be even greater.

“The comparison is interesting, and I don’t know of any studies that speak of the difference by sex in the classification by color or race,” says Leonardo Athias, a researcher with the Coordenação de População e Indicadores Sociais do IBGE (Coordination of Population and Social Indicators of IBGE). Or, in other words, there is not enough research in Brazil to understand exactly why women seem to tend to imagine themselves, on average, as whiter than they are.

The academic literature on racial declaration in Brazil has gained weight in the last decade, when the number of Brazilians that declared themselves non-white increased consistently. The sharp growth, especially in older age groups, left little doubt as to its origin: what was changing was not the skin color of the Brazilians, but rather how they see themselves and what race they say they are.

Cultural issue

Other data from the Pnad give some clues in the direction of that the main explanation for the difference of this process between men and women is also cultural. In North and Northeastern states like Rondônia, Piauí, Roraima and Bahia, the proportion of whites, blacks and browns among men and women is practically equal. In some states of the South and Southeast, such as Santa Catarina, Paraná and Rio, there is a much greater difference among races that each sex declares.

The difference also decreases according to schooling. The more years of schooling a woman has, the more likely she is to declaring herself to be non-white. The biggest proportional difference between women and men who declare themselves to be white is precisely in the group that didn’t finish elementary school: whites are 3.2 percentage points more. But among the population with a college degree, the figure reverses – 26% of the women declared themselves to be black or brown, a figure that is higher than 23% for men of this schooling level.

To better understand the process of transformation in the perception of one’s own race, the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo spoke to women who lived through these changes or are symbols for this group and asked what could explain the difference between men and women when declaring their race. The answer was almost unanimous. “It’s difficult for the woman to assume herself as preta or parda. There is a dominant cultural discourse, a construction of the standard of beauty based on an embranquecimento (whitening),” said journalist Viviane Duarte, creator of the Plano Feminino project.

“The mulher negra (black woman, combination of pretas and pardas) is at the base of the social pyramid, because she is a woman and because she is a black woman. It is natural that she tries to move away from this image,” evaluates attorney Mayara Souza, founder of the Negras Empoderadas (empowered black women) group. “Being a black woman in this country is very difficult. I deeply understand people who try to approach a reality that is not theirs,” says the actress Taís Araújo, who has already been a victim of racism and keeps up with the movement of black women in search of recognition of their own identity.

SourceUOL Notícias

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