“Ascension of blacks is very different from non-blacks in a company”: Whites the majority in elite jobs, blacks occupy vacancies that require little qualification

Geni, filha Natalie (Celso Tavares)
Geni Aparecida de Oliveira and daughter Natalie Flaviane de Moura

Note from BW of Brazil: The job in Brazil is often a tough cookie to crack, especially in the most expensive, most competitive city in Brazil, São Paulo. It’s not unheard of to go months without getting any calls to fill a vacancy. Even more so due to the current economic crisis. I’ve seen numerous situations in which people quit their jobs and months later have to come back because they weren’t able to secure employment at another job.

vendedor de rua - Raimundo Francisco Santos Paulo, 25 years as a street vendor (Photo - Simon Plestenjak)
Raimundo Francisco Santos Paulo, 25 years as a street vendor (Photo – Simon Plestenjak)

This difficulty of finding official employment is no doubt the main reason why cities such as so full of streets vendors simply trying to survive on a day-to-day basis selling all sorts of items, snacks and trinkets in at stop lights or on the shoulders of freeways. Everyday,  you find these vendors everywhere. They have their products laid out neatly on the sidewalks of various neighborhoods. They invade subway trains and even buses yelling about what they’re selling. Cell phone holders, earphones, Halls cough drops (sold as candy in Brazil), snacks. All the signs of a city where it is hard to survive unless you are highly qualified. 

Imagine trying to survive in the country’s most competitive city when you lack qualifications because of the historic exclusion of people due to race/skin color. People can try to sweep this under the carpet as just whining if they like, but plenty of historians can explain to you how Brazil’s leaving former black slaves to their own resources after the May 13th, 1888, Golden Law that abolished the regime of slavery is the origin of racial inequalities in the job market today. 

Geni Aparecida de Oliveira com a filha Natalie
Geni Aparecida de Oliveira with daughter Natalie

Whites are the majority in elite jobs and blacks occupy vacancies without qualification

Courtesy of Sindicato dos Comerciários de São Paulo and A Notícia Regional

For the retiree, Geni Aparecida de Oliveira, the children’s games ended early and the work began quickly. At 9 years of age, she became an empregada doméstica (maid) and didn’t stop working in heavy services: she spent 30 of her 57 years as a maid and other 10 as metallurgical. Her daughter, Natalie Flaviane de Moura, 24, managed to postpone her entry into the labor market, but has been working for five years as telemarketing clerk, an occupation that requires little qualification.

Mother and daughter are black, the populational group in Brazil that occupies the majority of vacancies in menial services that require little preparation, such as operators of telemarketing, security and sugar cane cutters. In the group of highly qualified professions, such as the computing engineer and medicine professor, the majority of workers is white. This is what a study by G1 showed, conducted from official data from the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MTE).

The discrepancy, say experts consulted by the G1, is the fruit of the social abyss that distances whites and blacks from (level of) education to opportunities for professional advancement. Still according to experts, these are the echoes of slavery, which lasted for years in Brazil and was ended with the Lei Áurea (Golden Law), which completed 130 years on Sunday, May 13th.

Professions per color

The report team examined the employment contracts entered into in more than 2.5 thousand occupations. The data relating to 2016, are the most recent collected by the MTE of information provided by the companies.

Geni, filha Natalie (Celso Tavares)2
Natalie and Geni with their carteiras assinadas (work contracts)

Of the 46 million workers with a carteira assinada (signed work contract), 34 million declared their color and race in 2016 – and another 8.5 million didn’t  classify themselves. The analysis considered only the declarants. Among them, pretos e pardos (blacks and browns), which form the group defined as negros (blacks), totaled 14.1 million, while brancos (whites) were 19.4 million, amarelos (yellow or Asians), 274 thousand, and indigenous, 75 thousand.

Less education, more work

What explains this situation, says Guillermo Etkin, coordinator of the Superintendence of Social and Economic Studies of Bahia (SEI-BA), “are basically two aspects: schooling and [early] placing in the labor market, since blacks begin to work sooner, which affects schooling.”

Dona Geni is an example of this. Not only did she begin to toil while still a child, as during a good part of her adult life she managed an incomplete basic education — until 34 years of age she had only studied up to 4th grade.

In 2016, blacks occupied 45.2% of the vacancies for basic education, 44.7% of those that required a high school education, albeit incomplete, but only 27% of jobs requiring higher education in Brazil.

“The população negra (black population) has the worst social indicators, the lowest levels of schooling, income and access to goods and services, as well as the highest indices of early mortality, when compared with the white population. These data of the MTE point to one of the faces of social inequality in Brazil: the racial division of highly resilient labor”, says the researcher Antônio Teixeira, coordinator of gender, ethnicity and generational studies of the Ipea.

Leila Gonzaga, researcher of the Fundação SEADE (Educational System of Data Analysis), reinforces that the abyss in the labor market goes beyond the low access to classrooms. “The discussion of inequality begins with our history. Outside of this, there’s the ascension in the career and the question of prejudice. The ascension of blacks is very different from the non-black in a company,” she says.

The MTE data also show this. Working environments in which subordinates are black come with a majority of whites occupying management positions. If 60% of work servants are black, 52% of the overseers of the work are white. While three quarters of telemarketing operators are black, 53% of supervisors are white.

The inequality between whites and blacks persists throughout Brazil, but can be perceived in different ways, the experts point out.

In the metropolitan region of São Paulo, the country’s largest labor market, blacks comprised 38.3% of the labor force in 2016. When the vacancy demanded higher education, they were even the majority in implementing tasks or support, but stayed behind whites when the positions were direction, management and planning, shows data from SEADE.

Another difference is the salary. In São Paulo, homens negros (black men) received 67% of the income of a homem branco (white man), while mulheres negras (black women) received even less, at 56.5%.

The inequality is present even in regions in which black workers occupy a good part of the jobs, including management. In Bahia, 82% of jobs are occupied by blacks, who also occupy two-thirds of the management positions. Still, Blacks had average earnings of R$ 1,870, 69% of the R$ 2,687 received, on average, by whites.

“Even in a state or region in which the black population predominates, it doesn’t manager to maintain better salaries,” says Etkin, of SEI-BA.

The distortion remains in the analysis by economic activity. Blacks receive a portion of the income of whites in all economic activities, of commerce, in which the share is 84%, to the public utility industrial services, in which they receive 54.7%.

Slavery and racism

According to the experts consulted by the G1, this inequality was born in times of slavery in Brazil, but only has the ability to influence the dynamics of the Brazilian society today due to racism.

“If everyone is talking about inequality, it is obvious that we need to analyze the period of slavery, but focusing only on this is wrong,” said Marcelo Paixão, a Ph.D in sociology and assistant professor at the University of Austin (Texas, USA) specializing in studies of race and gender. He recalls that the European immigrants came to Brazil without qualification and worked in agriculture, but their descendants didn’t remain in this condition.

“What endures since slavery is racism. During slavery, era considerado natural que as pessoas de pele escura fossem escravas (it was considered natural that people of dark skin were slaves). The figure of the slave no longer exists, but there are poorly paid positions.”

Antônio Teixeira, a researcher with the Ipea, agrees. “Locating this problem in the past releases the present generations from the responsibility by which they continue reproducing. The Brazilian society is profoundly racist in their everyday.”

Geni says that she worked cleaning the school next to two other white colleagues. Although all three occupied the same function, the more unpleasant chores were directed toward her. On two occasions, students defecated on the table of teachers. On two occasions, the director waited for Geni arrive to ask her to clean them, even though her colleagues were already working.

“The last time, I cried a lot and said that there would not be a third, because I would leave,” she says. “It was nor because of my work condition, but because of my color.”

Her daughter, Natalie, has also faced racial discrimination. When she interned at a forum of São Paulo, while still going to high school, a lawyer refused to be attended by her. “She said that one pessoa de cor (person of color) is already enough [her client].

“It made me very ashamed. It is not something that happens when nobody is watching. It’s in front of everybody and nobody says nothing.”

Smaller distances

The data from the Ministry of Labor show that, at least in access to jobs with higher level of education, the distance, even great, between blacks and whites has been lessened. Between 2008 and 2016, the percentage of blacks in jobs that ask for higher education increased by 10 points.

For many blacks, getting a college degree requires a huge effort and does not mean immediate career ascension. Dona Geni is one of those cases. She only completed a high school education at 40. She studied with the same children of the school in which he worked. In the evening, after her workday ended, she dropped her apron, picked up her books and sat on one of the chairs that she had cleaned during the day. But it doesn’t stop there.

“In order not to lose everything that I had earned, I began to study and took the ENEM (test). I got a good grade. I managed through Prouni and I studied Letters.” Today, at 57 years old, she’s doing a post-graduate degree in methodology of teaching of the Portuguese language and literature.

Rosana Aparecida da Silva, 53, 26 of them as a student inspector, from a public-sector recruitment examination for high school graduates. Keeping the bills of house paid is not an easy task and it was always a priority in relation to the studies. So much so that she only managed to complete a degree in public management three years ago.

“We only have the opportunity to work, but not to study. This comes from back then. I had to go with my work card in my purse because, if the police stop me, a black that doesn’t work is a bum.”

Her colleague Danila de Abreu Virche Toledo, 38, had to interrupt physiotherapy course at 24 when she lost her job in a call center. “I had to drop it to help at home.”

After that came marriage and pregnancy. With even less money and little time, she had to postpone returning to the books for more than 10 years. It was only at the beginning of 2018 that she returned to classrooms, but on a different scale. This time, she opted for accounting.

“I love to study. If I could, I would have finished this [course] and switched to another.”

SourceSindicato dos Comerciários de São PauloA Notícia Regional

About Marques Travae 2895 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. This was a good article to read. Kudos to Ms.Geni for following her dreams on completing the education in which would make her more eligible for the job. Also, a big shout out to the street vendors for making their own money and not depending on someone else for handouts.

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