Note from BW of Brazil: Today is election day all over Brazil. And as Brazilians go to the polls, the support for Marina Silva has plummeted drastically eventually leading to her falling into third place in voting intentions on the night before the election. Silva’s campaign gained attention in the worldwide media with many making comparisons between her and the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama. Although there are clearly some similarities, the differences are what will most likely cost Silva her run at the Planalto, the workplace of the Brazilian president. We touched upon some of those differences a few weeks ago and the article below delves further into Silva’s ascendance at this moment in Brazilian History in context of the racial question and social progress.
A few other key differences between Obama and Silva that this article doesn’t touch upon are the facts that, 1) Obama wasn’t facing a president running for re-election. 2) Current Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff is not considered an anti-black politician as was George W. Bush. 3) Obama wasn’t facing a political party that was connected to social gains of the black and the poor population in the previous administration. As such, there is no strong need for “change”. There are many other reasons that explain Silva’s fall in recent weeks that can be found on other sites and blogs. The article below also touches on a few with perhaps one of the best points of all at the end of the article…
Marina Silva could become the 1st black president, but without support from blacks
Daughter of rubber tappers, the candidate is behind Rousseff in preferences among voters of African descent
by Paulo Prada
Brazilians can make history this month if Marina Silva (PSB), the daughter of poor rubber tappers in the Amazon, is elected the first black president. Still, Marina trails President Dilma Rousseff (PT), who is attempting re-election by the PT, in preferences among voters of African descent. The downside, in contrast to what happened in the case of the President of the United States, Barack Obama, who was elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012 with massive support from black Americans, can cost Marina victory in a tight presidential race.
The reasons behind the difficulties of Marina echo eloquently with Brazilian history and its own complex relationship with racial issues as well as mirroring the recent social progress that has yielded to President Dilma favoritism to win re-election despite slow growth in the economy. In recent weeks, Reuters interviewed over twenty black Brazilians in three cities. Many say they would be proud to see Marina win — especially in a country where blacks have been historically underrepresented in governments, universities and many other sectors of society.
However, they also say they are more focused on the economy than any other factor. Since taking power in 2003, the PT promoted great advances in reducing poverty, especially among blacks.
“Nobody wants to go back to the past,” said Gustavo Leira, a civil servant retired at 71, in Brasília. Marina’s race is important, he said, “but not the most important thing.”
Marina, whose platform has a position more to the center and more favorable to the market, has largely avoided touching the racial theme (1), reflecting a long tradition in Brazilian politics and society. The overwhelming majority of Brazilians avoid discussing racial issues, preferring instead to talk in terms of social class. Over the centuries, Brazil received 10 times more African slaves than the United States. Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888. Today, Brazilian blacks are three times more likely than whites to suffer from extreme poverty.
Asked in an interview with Reuters last week what it would mean to be the first black president of Brazil, Marina replied: “Not only (that)…I would also be the first environmentalist.”
“I’m very proud of my identity as a black woman,” she added. “But I do not use my faith or my color. I will govern for all (2). For blacks, whites, believers and unbelievers, regardless of color or social status,” she said.
The attitude of the former senator is consistent with the kind of inclusive politics practiced by Marina, which has attracted support from evangelical Christians, the urban youth connected to the internet and magnates of the banking sector, among others. But such positioning has also confused some voters and political analysts, who say that Marina misses a golden opportunity to strengthen ties with a huge demographic (3) that supports, in its majority, the candidate of the situation. A Rousseff aide highlighted the reluctance of Marina in discussing her race “the greatest mystery of the campaign.”
Some, especially young people, ask Marina to be more assertive about her origins. According to them, the dramatic growth in enrollment of blacks in universities, thanks in part to recent racial quotas, has fostered a growing racial consciousness. Other prominent black leaders have also gone public, as the former Minister of the Federal Supreme Court, Joaquim Barbosa, asking the Brazilians to discuss racial issues more openly (4).
But change has been slow. In fact, although many voting intention surveys ask respondents about race and detailing their results accordingly, the leadership of Dilma among blacks has hardly been commented on in the Brazilian media. Regina Collson, a 23 year old college student, said she tries to convince her classmates to vote for Marina, to emphasize how the black origin of the former senator and her poor youth would mark a “major change” in traditional politics.
“She would bring a different perspective,” said Collson. “But people are not talking about it (in this sense). It irritates me.”
“Poverty in Brazil Has a Face”
Research indicates that this election will hardly be decided in the first round on Sunday. Dilma has gained strength in recent weeks, and the latest research has placed the PT candidate about 7 points ahead of Marina in a possible second round, scheduled for October 26. Among voters who say they are preto (black) or pardo (brown) President Dilma has an advantage over Marina, while among whites Marina appears ahead in research and technically tied with the president in another. Pretos and pardos represent a little over half of the population, while whites account for 40 percent. Asians, Indians and other groups complete the rest of the electorate.
In several TV commercials, Dilma warned that voting for Marina has the potential to endanger the social gains of the last decade. The PT is also related to the defense of the former senator to a more controlled fiscal policy and her friendship with Neca Setúbal, one of the heiresses of the Itaú Unibanco bank, a sign that she would govern for the rich. Marina has denied such claims, highlighting her own socialist past and the fact that she was a member of the PT until 2009. Meanwhile, the government of Dilma does not fail to highlight their achievements in terms of racial issues.
“Poverty in Brazil has a face, and that face is black,” said Tereza Campello, Minister of Desenvolvimento Social e Combate à Fome (Social Development and the Battle Against Hunger), in a recent interview. She highlighted data showing that more than 22 million people were lifted out of poverty over the last decade, thanks to robust economic growth and social programs. Of these, 78 percent are preto and pardo.
“We have invested in this (poverty reduction) like no one,” said Tereza. “So people say: ‘My life has improved. Will I vote for another candidate just because she is black?’”
Such questions have led some to compare the candidacy of Marina to the historic campaign of Barack Obama in the United States. In 2008, Obama received 95 percent of the votes of black voters. The advantage, in addition to the support he received from two-thirds of Hispanic voters, helped him overcome the disadvantage of 12 percentage points among white voters. Margins were similar in large part on Obama’s re-election in 2012.
Although Obama has not made racial issues a predominant theme in his campaign, he broached the subject at crucial moments-including his famous speech of March 2008, which made reference to the anger felt by many in the black community and about how being the son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya.
Marina also has a origem mestiça (mixed origin) — like many, if not most, of the Brazilians.
Since the Portuguese began bringing African slaves to Brazil in the 16th century to work on crops such as cane sugar, the races mixed much more than in the United States, for example – resulting in limits not always clear between blacks and whites, and in the minds of some Brazilians, nonexistent. In fact, many voters said that the origin of Marina makes it difficult for her to emphasize her black identity in the campaign. Many highlight her Indian blood and being born in the Amazon.
“I see her more as Indian than black,” said Lisa Moraes, a 43-year black teacher, in a food court in Brasília. The friends who accompanied her on the table strongly agreed. “Her experience is not the same as mine,” Francesca, her sister said.
Singer-songwriter Gilberto Gil made a song for the Marina campaign highlighting the “pele morena (dark skin) and popular appeal” of the candidate. “Nobody wants to say it, but there is tremendous racism in Brazil,” said William Reis, 29, a member of Afro Reggae, a nongovernmental organization that excels in Rio de Janeiro for the promotion of African culture in Rio’s slums.
“Young people want our politicians talk about it. It is a reality. Why not discuss it?”
It is estimated that about 5 million Africans were brought to Brazil between 1525 and 1866, compared to approximately 450 thousand who were brought to the United States, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, a database on the slave trade compiled by academics. Segregation has never been applied in Brazil as in the United States or South Africa. When South America was taken by the movement for civil rights in the 1960s, Brazilian leaders proudly proclaimed that the country was a “racial democracy.”
Still, many now believe that such rhetoric was to cover up the true racial divisions in Brazilian society. In the favelas (slums, shantytowns) of the country there are more people of African descent than in society as a whole. Historians say this is a legacy of slavery, as the descendants of slaves did not have equal access to schools and jobs. Even today in children’s parties in wealthy neighborhoods of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, often the only blacks are women in white uniforms, working as a nannies or maids.
Pretos and pardos account for about 20 percent of college students, about five times more than in 1997, thanks in part to racial quotas implemented by the PT, but are still disproportionate to the size of this group in the population.
Barbosa, who became the first black minister of the Supreme Court in 2003 and retired this year, speaks often about the need for a broader discussion of what he calls “veiled, latent racism” in the country. Several times he referred to what he considered a huge lack of blacks in Brazilian government, especially among diplomats.
While still a taboo in some areas, the racial issue is dealt with elsewhere with an opening that often comes to shock Americans. For example, kiosks on Copacabana beach in, Rio, classify bathers at risk of exposure to ultraviolet rays in four categories: “brancos e loiros” (white and blond), “moreno claro” (light brown), “moreno escuro” (dark brown) and “mulatos and negros.” (6)
Racial issues also have increasingly infiltrated into politics
When Dilma was booed by the audience at the opening match of the World Cup in São Paulo in June, she blamed the “white elite” of the city for the hostilities. Those who could afford the expensive tickets are also the most opposed to government social programs, other officials said.
Change of Tactics
Dilma’s campaign has sought to highlight the history of her administration on racial issues. An aide recalled a recent TV ad showing a black student in a classroom of a university. The narrator says that these people used to be “invisible”. Besides this, economic growth which enabled the social gains lost strength in Dilma’s government. Many economists believe that the proposals of Marina, including simplifying the tax system and increasing trade can boost growth to ensure continued progress of blacks and the poor in general.
Some observers believe that Marina, once you have secured a place in the second round, can adopt new tactics. For example, making clearer how black Brazilians, in particular, would benefit from her policies, or talking more about her origin. However, according to opponents, including the minister of Racial Equality in Dilma’s government, Luiza Bairros, it will not be easy for Marina to re-frame her message.
Asked why Marina hasn’t increased her support among blacks, Bairros smiled, looked over her glasses and said, “Do you really believe that Obama would have 95 percent (of the vote of blacks) if he was a Republican?”
“What a black person knows in Brazil or anywhere in the world is that their situation will not improve unless you have…policies that lead to change,” she added. “The symbolic part is important,” she said. “But it’s not everything.”
1. To be clear, much of Barack Obama’s two campaign runs also avoided the issue of race. Although many will refer to his campaign speech (“A More Perfect Union”) on race after videos of his former pastor Jeremiah Wright were divulged online and television, Obama has remained alarmingly silent on issues that specifically affect the African-American population.
2. In a country in which his racial group makes up only 13% of the population, Obama also affirmed that he would govern for all.
3. Indeed, this would be another difference. Due to racial history in the United States and his being a Democrat, Obama didn’t really need to touch on the race issue to earn the support of African-Americans. His campaign rhetoric also continued a rising wave of “multiculturalism” being promoted in the US. In Brazil, the question of Afro-Brazilian identity remains a work in progress.
4. Interestingly, Barbosa himself believes that Brazil is not quite ready for a black president. See here.
5. In Brazil, although a move toward black identity has been growing over the past few decades, as has consistently discussed on this blog, racial classification and identity remains a more fluid ideology than in the US.
6. For more on such terms “Racial classification and terminology in Brazil“