The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent
Note from BW of Brazil: Quick. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word segregation? Do you think of Apartheid-era South Africa? Do you think of gentrification? The Jim Crow south of the United States? Maybe you think of your high school, like me, where you could walk down one corridor of the school and see all the black kids and walk down another and see all white kids. The fact is, although most people will think of the Apartheid or Jim Crow examples first, segregation doesn’t need to be enforced by law, as in those two examples, to exist. In fact, United States is actually a perfect example of this.
Segregation laws, which were enacted in the former Confederate states of the US south, weren’t enacted in the northern states, but I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, a city that was a little more than 83% white in 1950 but, as of 2010, was almost 83% black. Cities such as Detroit show that laws aren’t necessary for racial segregation to thrive as if they did. But what about a country that is known for its racial mixture? A country such as Brazil in which people would naturally assume that studies of segregation would be a waste of time. Well, as I’ve pointed out, there are several examples of how segregation worked and continues to work, on a far lesser scale than in the US, but it still exists. One would expect a country with such a well known history of racial animosity to continue being segregated because it was constructed that way. But even if rates of racial segregation are lower in comparison to the US, how do you explain the fact that racial segregation exists at all in a country such as Brazil that never had a history of blatant racial segregation?
This is not a question I intend to answer in just one post, but below, the issue is briefly discussed, and later, an African-American teacher living in Brazil shares her experience of racial segregation in Brazil’s richest city in one of its most expensive regions.
What the racial map of Brazil reveals about segregation in the country
For at least a century in Brazil the idea persisted that Brazilian democracy made no distinction of color or race, and that “todos são iguais” (all are equal) around here. The myth of racial democracy today is questioned. And it contributes to this recognition of the problem of racism by the Brazilian government.
By Nelson Kon
Observing the map of segregação racial (racial segregation), with particular attention to the north-south difference of the country and the formation of peripheries in large cities, gives an idea of why this maxim, which still echoes in common sense and in some discourses, does not correspond in the real plan.
Analyzing spatial segregation based on the race and color indicator (collected by the IBGE, which classifies the responses according to the self-declaration of the interviewees) together with other indicators has become an efficient way to demonstrate that in order to understand the social dynamics in Brazil, taking into account their constitution of race and color is fundamental.
Each one in his square
Segregated spaces, whether you’re looking at a restaurant or a street, point to places where different social groups do not mix. But when analyzing a city and its many different neighborhoods, according to sociologist Danilo França, who researches the subject in relation to the city of São Paulo, it is possible to begin to think of segregation as a selective differential of access: to resources, to the market services, cultural and consumer equipment.
“A more concentrated group in peripheral neighborhoods will have less access to certain resources and to people more concentrated in central neighborhoods. Such access differentials are important factors for the reproduction processes of racial inequalities,” says França, who cites the case of the authorities in Rio de Janeiro restricting the access of young people from the Rio de Janeiro slums to the beaches of the South Zone of the city. “This is a segregation policy since it aims to restrict the circulation of specific groups in certain areas of the city.”
The disadvantages of less diverse social interaction among poorer groups, according to research, point to lower chances of social mobility. In the peripheries, for example, low access to the labor market, public services, culture, quality schools appear as barriers. Thus, the poor segregated black person tends to continue poor segregated black.
In comparison with other countries such as the United States and South Africa, Brazil appears with less serious levels of segregation between whites and blacks. But unlike here, in both, segregation had legal support to exist, through the laws of Jim Crow in one, and Apartheid politics in the other.
The most segregated in the US and Brazil
The ranking was based on the demographic index of dissimilarity, from 0 to 100, used to compare the presence of two groups distributed in small areas (census tracts) in relation to the total composition of the city. Imagine a city with 10 census tracts and 90% white and 10% black. The index will be 100 if all blacks are concentrated in only one sector and all whites are concentrated in one sector; and 0 (zero) if all census tracts have the same composition as the city (in this case, 90% white and 10% black).
And among the capitals?
In addition, the “low” levels of Brazil should not serve as a reason for celebration. This is because although there is a greater proximity between blacks and whites, there are other factors, such as the difficulty of access to basic services, that make the analysis of racial segregation in Brazil more complex than it seems.
Geographer Luciana Maria da Cruz, who studied the relationship between space and violence in Recife’s neighborhoods in Pernambuco, states that the occurrence of crimes, according to the results of her research, “is not distributed randomly” in the city, but is directly associated with noble and central regions (in the case of crimes against property, such as theft or robbery) and poor and peripheral (in the case of crimes against life).
“The history of Brazil is marked by the concentration of wealth and, consequently, by socio-spatial inequality, both regionally and intra-urban. And race is a factor that appears linked to this,” says the researcher.
Together and isolated
So, what do we do to break the cycle that perpetuates racial segregation? The challenge is great. First, because segregated spaces are reinforced by the search for exclusivity (geographical) of the higher classes. There are also state policies that may result in centralized gentrificação (gentrification) processes or that support segregation, as is the case of the creation of popular housing complexes exclusively on the outskirts of cities. It is also necessary to consider the real estate market, which, in addition to overvaluing more central regions, creates products to attract social groups of different conditions in separate regions (popular class condos in the periphery and luxury downtown).
“Public spaces have lost the uses of collectivity vis-a-vis the urban model given by closed condominiums, car use and the security industry,” says Lourdes Carril, a professor at the Federal University of São Carlos (Ufscar), Lourdes Carril, a researcher of themes of racial segregation and territoriality. “Isolation is one of the marks of the current segregation, the spaces of the street are pathologized and seen with fear, the peripherization of urban centers, symbolized by homeless people, drug users and beggars, point together with the construction of condominiums to a more segregated and violent city.”
Public power could encourage non-segregation through less urban planning, encouraging housing developments that favored a “social mix”.
Thus, what experts suggest is the creation of public policies that better regulate the real estate market and its role in the occupation of cities, the improvement of transportation conditions between peripheries and downtowns, the decentralization of work environments (such as regions of high commercial concentration), and the creation of affirmative policies that allow the integration of groups of race or color and diverse social conditions.
“Segregation generates estrangement, the non-recognition of the other and with that people become narrower, less tolerant,” says Professor Paulo Roberto Soares, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS). “It takes this coexistence to be conscious of the inequalities and diversity of society. People do not recognize and have difficulty accepting the different as legitimate, hence all kinds of racial, religious and cultural intolerances such as we are seeing more and more frequently in our society.”
For him, public power could encourage non-segregation through less urban planning, encouraging housing developments that favored a “social mix”. “In a short time, we will have a generation of upper-middle-class youths who have lived their lives in closed condominiums, in private school, in individual transportation. A generation that is growing without consciousness or knowledge of the city’s downtown, the spaces of diversity, the public spaces,” he says. “That will certainly affect their social and political consciousness.”
Note from BW of Brazil: Back in November, during Brazil’s Month of Black Consciousness celebrations, I participated in a discussion on the campus of UniPalmares, Brazil’s and Latin America’s only black college, with a group of African-Americans living in Brazil. We all discussed our diverse experiences living in Brazil in front of a small crowd of perhaps 30 people or so. All of the participants’ stories were intriguing and one particular conversation I had on that Saturday afternoon led to the story below. Before I present the story, let me share a little data so that you can contextualize what my guest writer will share.
When I first started getting into Brazil, I read quite a few studies that described Brazil as mixture of Belgium and India in the fact that, often in he same city in close proximity to each other, there were people with vast amounts of wealth as well as people who still didn’t have access to running water. To give you an idea of how income breaks down in Brazil, I’ll cite from one of my previous articles.
“Minimum wage, or salário minimo (minimum salary) is calculated in Brazil per month. Currently, the minimum salary is R$937 per month. In 2014, 79% of Brazilians earned up to three minimum salaries per month. Three minimum salaries per month currently add up to about R$2800. On the other hand, according to the same report, Brazilians who earn up the 20 minimum salaries per month are less than 1% of the population. 20 minimum salaries currently adds up to R$18,740.“
Right now, the US Dollar is worth about R$3.25 Brazilian reais, which means R$937 reais is worth about US$288, not much money is today’s global economy. Three minimum salaries is worth about US$865, again, not a lot of money, especially if one happens to live in São Paulo, Brazil’s economic engine, largest city and one of the world’s 50 most expensive cities. São Paulo is a reflection of the vast inequalities in the country as a whole, featuring poorer neighborhoods such as Marsilac, Lajeado and Cidade Tiradentes in which people earn between R$772 and R$868 per month (2013 stats) to affluent neighborhoods such as Moema, Morumbi and Jardim Paulista, where residents earn between R$6,647 to R$7,384 per month (2013 stats). The neighborhood of Pinheiros is also one of SP’s more ritzy regions, where 80% of residents earn over 10 minimum salaries per month (over R$9,347 per month).
In terms of housing, Pinheiros also ranks as the fifth most expensive neighborhood in SP, clocking in at R$11,205 per square meter. In other words, people living in Pinheiros are living quite well. So considering the segregation report above, how many black folks would you expect to see walking around in an area like Pinheiros? Numbers are always good, but personal experience always seem to hit a little closer to home. As such, below I present a short piece written by one the African-American women living in SP that I met a few months back. The ball’s in your court Patricia!
Being Black in Pinheiros
By Patricia Thibodeaux
Brazil. It is a truly amazing place. One of my favorite places in the world! Having lived in Paraguay for two years, Dubai for three years, and visiting over thirty different countries throughout my travels, Brazil has been one place that truly captured my heart. It’s full of beauty. Mountainous beaches, amazing landscapes, beautiful people, and a rich history and culture that shares my ancestry.
Now, maybe I feel this way as a Black expat because Brazil is one of the few places in the world, other than America, the Caribbean, and Africa, that you actually see a resemblance of yourself in the population. As a Black expat, finding familiar and similar faces to mine is always a challenge and something I’m constantly in search of. No matter where I travel, it never fails that when I look around the room or airport, I am one of the very few or the only one. I am continually asking myself, “Where are the other Black people????…I can’t be the only one out here!”
I currently live in a neighborhood in Sao Paulo where I could go a whole day and not see another Black person. And if I do, I can count them on one hand. This is frustrating for me as an individual who precisely moved here to exist amongst a population that looks more like me. Surprisingly, it is still an every day struggle. A struggle to connect and interact with counterparts of my race and status. Not to sound pretentious, but by status I mean class or occupational standing. I’m an international educator teaching at one of the top private schools in Brazil. With that being said, I live a very comfortable and to some, affluent life-style. Unfortunately, not many local Black Brazilians live the same.
I have only met one other Black Brazilian that lives in my building. She is originally from a very impoverished area north of Sao Paulo, who luckily fell upon an opportunity that took her to London, studied Physiotherapy and has become a personal trainer. She then married a White American-Brazilian and moved to Sao Paulo. I’ve learned that not many Blacks have those same opportunities or access to the ladder that leads to the middle and upper class. Or if they do, they’ve obtained them by marrying into a White family.
I’ve learned that it is not only a struggle for Black Brazilians to rise in class and status in Brazil, but also a strategic and very well manipulated system that keeps Blacks out of the public eye. When riding in a taxi and conversing with my Black driver, I asked him, “Where do all of the Black people live?” He responded, “In the favelas”. I was awkwardly shocked and hurt to hear another Black person say that the only way I was going to see more Black people was by going to the poorest and so-called most dangerous parts of the city. It’s a harsh reality that sort of crushed my original impression of this beautiful Brazil. My desires to be amongst a mirrored population is not actually attainable here. I’m still living in a world where I’m the, “only one”.
Note from BW of Brazil: Patricia’s story of being one of the “only black people” in her neighborhood mirrors certain feelings of loneliness among many black Brazilians who manage to overcome all of the obstacles that Brazil places in front of its black citizens and attain success in life. I know, a lot of people, including many Brazilians, don’t want to admit the racial aspect of such exclusion, but do you really think that so many people reporting the same thing could all just be exaggerating?