Stories of discrimination experienced by black professionals organized into a book
A television reporter who has lost count of how many times she’d been mistaken for a makeup artist at a TV station where she worked. A law student who had to convince a professor that the correct answer on a test was the result of her studying, not “guessing”, and faced the distrust of a judge regarding her education.
Although they live in different cities and have different professions, these two personalities carry in common the fact that they are black and participated in a pioneering program of affirmative action in the 1990’s that granted scholarships to poor African descendants at one of the most important universities of Rio de Janeiro .
The stories of journalist Luciana Barreto and lawyer/historian Miracema Alves dos Santos are part of the book Afrocidadanização – Ações Afirmativas e Trajetórias de Vida no Rio de Janeiro (Afro-citizenship: Affirmative Action and Life Trajectories in Rio de Janeiro) (Publisher PUC-Rio), written by researcher Reinaldo da Silva Guimarães. The work presents the trajectory of 14 students, mostly black, recipients of the first affirmative action programs initiated in a Brazilian university.
Initiated in 1994, the agreement between PUC-Rio (Pontifícia Universidade Católica or Pontifical Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro) and the Movimento Social Pré-Vestibular para Negros e Carentes (PVNC or the Pre-Entrance Examination Social Movement for Blacks and Poor) allowed that students that passed the examinations could get into college with scholarships, enabling hundreds of blacks from poor communities to begin to frequent the halls of the university.
But if entering university was already a great achievement, for some the hardest was yet to come. Coming in their majority from the Baixada Fluminense region or from (poor) suburban neighborhoods, these students experienced difficulties shifting to the PUC campus, located in Gávea, in the south zone of Rio, besides having to circumvent economic and social resistances. Luciana Barreto was one of the first students to enroll in journalism as part of the affirmative action program:
“I thought that it was the end of my drama, but it was only the beginning.”
A resident of the city of Nova Iguaçu, Luciana has worked since she was 15 years of age. After failing the first vestibular (college entrance exam) she took, she requested of her parents that she go one year only studying to try so realize her dream of joining the journalism program.
The strategy paid off. After months of study, Luciana was approved in the vestibular of Rio’s leading universities and decided to enter the journalism program at PUC and History at UFRJ.
“It was a big shock. That world was very different. I went for a long time as the only black woman in the course of journalism. So that was a visual shock, culture shock, an economic shock. Imagine that I needed to wake up at 3:30 in the morning. I took the bus from 4:20 a.m. to take an 8am class.”
But the shock was not restricted to students who were entering the university. The researcher Reinaldo Guimarães, himself black, a former student at PUC-Rio and originating in a poor community, says that the academic community also had resistance to what he calls the new “children of PUC.”
“It is a resistance to this new public, which theoretically have less cultural capital, besides occupying a space that theoretically they should not be occupying.”
Possessing a Ph.D. in Social Work from PUC-Rio and a Master’s in Sociology at Iuperj (Instituto Universitário de Pesquisas do Rio de Janeiro or Universitary Institute of Research of Rio de Janeiro), Guimarães has heard reports of program participants that, raising their hands to ask questions during class, were ignored by professors.
“In their minds, this student will not make a relevant question, because he already has a ‘pre-conception’ about what kind of student he received from scholarships, a student coming from the poorest, majority black, suburban residents from the Baixada Fluminense.”
With a degree in history from the 1980s, when she decided to attend law school at PUC, Miracema Alves dos Santos had already taught at a university and public schools. Although she paid regular tuition at the beginning of the course, after losing two of her three jobs she was included in the scholarship program for black and poor students.
Dedicated, she says she used to perform well on tests, though doing double duty, studying in the morning and working at night. Still, she says, in some situations, she received a different treatment by professors.
“I once took a test, I received a good grade, but then I noticed that the teacher had not considered a question that I knew I was right.”
When she questioned the fact Miracema says that the teacher asked how she had “guessed” the answer.
“I responded that I had not guessed, I had studied.”
Asked if she attributes the attitude of the teacher to the fact that she is black, Miracema explains that racist attitudes and prejudices are seldom clear.
“The question of prejudice is very difficult. When it’s not a very direct thing, you always have a doubt. The Brazilian has created ways of being prejudiced without completely showing it.”
“Sometimes I talk to my white colleagues about situations that I go through and they say, ‘ah, but it could not have been prejudice.’ Yes, it really could not have been, but when you’re black, you feel the difference, because it’s with you.”
But it is the labor market that some situations are more evident. According to a survey conducted in 2010 by the Ethos Institute and by IBOPE (Instituto Brasileiro de Opinião Pública e Estatística or Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics), blacks occupy 25.6% of supervisory positions, 13.2% of management positions and 5.3% of executive positions in Brazilian companies, although according the IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística or Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), 50.7% of Brazilians are preto (black) and pardo (brown) (categories used by the IBGE).
Guimarães notes some aspects that highlight prejudice in the labor market:
“In the spaces of power and visibility is where you find fewer blacks, even those who are already qualified. Under identical conditions, blacks will always be passed over, due to historical reasons, of memory, of subordination that was imposed on blacks in Brazil. The black is always subordinate, not the principal.”
Beyond the statistics, these situations are reflected in the daily lives of some of the recipients of the affirmative action program at PUC-Rio.
Currently anchor of public network TV Brazil, Luciana Barreto says that throughout her career she has faced questions about her qualifications being in front of the cameras.
“(People say) ‘Oh, you’re in the video because you are black, because they need someone black.’ You’re never in the video because you are competent.”
In one of her earlier works, the journalist claims she was repeatedly mistaken for a makeup artist backstage.
“I used to rest in the makeup room at halftime of the newscast. Whenever someone walked in for some special program, especially those entertainment programs, they looked at me and asked: ‘Can you do my makeup, please.’”
In Miracema’s case, she continues giving history classes, but occasionally she acts as a lawyer. She says that during a hearing, she had met with a judge who was her former professor, but even so, he was surprised with the fact that she had graduated from an elite institution like PUC.
“Imagine (that he) would find this neguinha at a hearing in a special court in the north zone that had studied at PUC,” she says. “How many abolitions will we need to have in Brazil in order for a black to occupy a space in this society?”
Source: R7 Notícias