Note from BW of Brazil: For the past few days, a hot topic that has been discussed is the news being divulged in major media outlets that Brazil’s black population has become the majority in the country’s public universities for the first time in history. But this statistic is problematic at the least and an outright lie at the worst. I have discussed the reasons for this in numerous posts, but before I get to that, let’s first present the report. There are plenty of sources to cite that issued this widely disseminated report, but below I present an article from Agência Brasil and then present my reasoning for calling this report deceptive.
For the first time, blacks are the majority in public higher education
According to the IBGE, black and brown enrollment total 50.3%
By Akemi Nitahara – Reporter from Brazil Rio de Janeiro Agency
The proportion of pretos e pardos (black or brown people who make up the black population) attending higher education in Brazil’s public institutions reached 50.3% in 2018. Although this portion of the population represents 55.8% of Brazilians, it is the first time that pretos and pardos exceed half of the enrollment in universities and public colleges.
The data are in the study ”Social Inequalities by Color or Race in Brazil”, released Wednesday (13), in Rio de Janeiro, by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). The comparison was made with information from the education supplement of the National Household Sample Survey – Continuous (Pnad Continuous), which began to be applied in 2016.
Research shows that the black population is improving its educational rates, both in access and permanence, although it still lags far behind those measured among white people (pessoas brancas).
The proportion of 18-24 year old pretos and pardos in higher education rose from 50.5% in 2016 to 55.6% in 2018. Among whites, the proportion is 78.8%. In the same age group, the number of blacks and browns with less than 11 years of schooling who were not attending school dropped from 30.8% in 2016 to 28.8% in 2018, while the indicator for the white population is 17.4%.
Those who had already completed a college education accounted for 36.1% of whites and 18.3% of blacks and browns, while enrollment in high school is 53.2% among whites and 35.4% among blacks and browns. In the range of 18 to 24 years old who finished high school but were not studying because of work or the need to look for work, 61.8% were black or brown.
The illiteracy rate for people over 15, among blacks and browns, fell from 9.8% in 2016 to 9.1% in 2018. Among whites, the rate is 3.9%. When attending day care or school, black or brown children up to 5 years old went from 49.1% to 53%, while 55.8% of white children are in this stage of education. In the early years of elementary school, for children from 6 to 10 years, there is no significant difference, with 96.5% of whites and 95.8% of blacks or browns attending school.
The IBGE social indicators analyst, Luanda Botelho, said that the improvement in statistics is a reflection of public policies that provided access and permanence of the black and brown population in the education network.
“The study shows us that for all educational indicators there is a trajectory of improvement since 2016. This is reflected in lower school dropouts, more black or brown people attending school at the age-appropriate stage of education, lower dropout rates, more black or brown people completing high school and entering higher education,” she said.
Black and brown yields remain below the white segment. The average monthly income among whites is BRL$2,796 per month and between blacks and browns it falls to BRL $1,608, a difference of 73.9%. Comparing only those with a college degree, whites earned 45% more per hour than blacks and browns.
For IBGE researcher Claudio Crespo, the improvement in black indicators is relevant, but as inequality is historical and structural, gains for the black or brown population only appear with social organization and mobilization and targeted public policies.
“Public policy intervention is an essential factor in reducing this inequality. Where there are perceived advances, despite the distance that still resides, are spaces where there was public policy intervention and also organization of the social movement to achieve a more egalitarian society. Such as the quotas for access to the higher level,” he explained.
In political representation, blacks and browns are also far behind whites, with only 24.4% of federal deputies elected in 2018 having declared themselves black. Among state deputies, the number rises to 28.9% and, among the councilmen elected in 2016, the index rises, with 42.1% having declared themselves black or brown.
According to the IBGE study, under-representation begins in candidacies, with self-declaration of black and brown people totaling 41.8% of federal deputy (congressmen) candidates, 49.6% of those seeking a seat at state assemblies and 48.7% of those who want to be elected city councilors.
In the cut of funds used in campaigns, 9.7% of white candidates for federal deputy had revenues over BRL$1 million and, among black or brown, the index was 2.7%. Representation of black or brown women reaches only 2.5% of federal congresswomen, 4.8% of state deputies and 5% of councilors.
Considering all women, they represent 16.9% of the Câmara dos Deputados (House of Representatives), 31.1% of state assemblies and 36.8% of city councils.
Color or race data only began to be collected by the Electoral Court in 2014, with the question inserted in the application form.
Note from BW of Brazil: So, to sum up my views on this issue, the time has come. Brazil’s black community and its activist leaders need to take this opportunity to acknowledge a great deception, miscalculation or outright lie. Before I fully dive into this topic, again, I must first acknowledge that I believed the hype for many years.
“Brazil has the largest black population outside of Africa/Nigeria,” they said.
“Brazil has 110 million black people,” they said.
“54% of Brazil’s population is black,” they said.
My introduction to these deceiving slogans goes back to my first exposure to the issue of race in Brazil. According to the late, great Abdias do Nascimento, Brazil’s greatest modern day civil right leader, already in 1991, black Brazilians made up more than 100 million of Brazil’s 150 million people at the time. Other sources weren’t quite as over the top, sticking to the estimates of the Movimento Negro, Brazil’s black civil rights organizations, which defined Brazil’s black population as the total of pretos (blacks) and pardos (browns or persons of mixed race), which between the 90s and the first decade of the 2000s, totaled somewhere between 45-48% of the population. At 45%, we come to a 1991 total of about 67.5 million Afro-Brazilians. But was this figure accurate? It depends on who you ask.
For many, blacks in Brazil were those who defined themselves as pretos, a number that has steadily declined since the 1872 census in which pretos made up 19.68% of the population. Since 1991, this figure was estimated at somewhere between 6-8%. In 1991, the percentage of pretos in Brazil was 5%, in 2000, it was 6.21%, in 2010 it was 7.61%, and recently, in 2018, the percentage of pretos was estimated to be about 9.3%.
So, what’s going on here? How can Brazil’s black activists claim that Brazil has the largest black population outside of Nigeria if pretos only make up about 19.2 million people? The last I checked, Nigeria’s population was estimated at about 186 million people. The black population of the United States was estimated to be more than 40 million in 2017, and this doesn’t include the millions of black African and Caribbean immigrants that live in the country. So, how do we get to a figure that proclaims that 54% of Brazilians, or about 115 million people are black? I know I’ve discussed this in numerous past articles, but I’ll briefly touch on this again as it is so important to understanding this issue.
Brazilians have long been taught that they should avoid identifying themselves as black, even having dark skin and hair textures that vary from curly, to wavy to kinky. As such, Brazilians often avoided defining themselves as such in the country’s official census reports, with a large percentage of would be black people declaring themselves pardos or even brancos, meaning whites, for census researchers. So from jump, we know that there were clearly more than the 5% of people who defined themselves as pretos back in 1991. Two things support this idea.
Since 1991, the percentage of Brazilians defining themselves as pretos has steadily increased, as mentioned above, from 5% to 6.21%, to 7.61% and currently, 9.3%. This increase cannot be explained by simply a higher birth rate of black people in the country. So, how do we explain this steady increase? Well, as we’ve seen in the case of Bahia, due to the importance of racial consciousness raising efforts and campaigns over the past few decades, more and more people who once defined themselves pardos are now defining themselves as pretos to the point that, now in Bahia, more people define themselves as black than white. But Bahia has always been majority black, right? How is it that a state that has long been known as “black Bahia” has only recently seen the black population surpass the white population in terms of total and percentage?
As with the idea of the country as a whole being a black majority, it is the pardo category that we must analyze for this all to make in sense in the state of Bahia. The pardo category has always represented a large portion of Brazil’s population, representing 42.45% in 1991, 38.45% in 2000 and 43.13% in 2010. By 2010, reports were proclaiming that Brazil was no longer a white majority country, as non-whites, which included blacks, browns, Indians and Asians, had surpassed the white population.
At that time, more than 91 million Brazilians defined themselves as branco, meaning white, while 14.5 million defined themselves as preto, or black, and 82 million declared themselves pardo, or brown/mixed race. Adding the preto and pardo populations together, we come to a figure of 96 million and, as the Movimento Negro defines the black population as the sum of blacks and browns, Brazil had officially become a “black” majority country. In terms of percentages, 96 million blacks and browns made up 50.5% of more than 190 million Brazilians. Since 2010, this ”black majority” has continued to grow, with 2019 estimates reporting that there were now 115 million black people in Brazil, representing 55.9% of 207 million Brazilians.
OK, so Brazil is majority black, what’s the problem with this?
The truth is that, years ago, I too bought into this hype, as statistically, it made sense. You see, one of the main reasons that Afro-Brazilian activists long argued that pretos and pardos should be summed together as representation of the black population was because, according to nearly every quality of life stat that had been compiled in Brazil for decades, pretos and pardos were always equally disadvantaged in comparison to white Brazilians. The differences of years of education, salary and health stats and so many areas were so often negligible between pretos and pardos, while brancos faired much better in nearly every category measured. Made a lot of sense to me….at the time.
But somewhere along the way, I had to start facing the challenges of the naysayers who argued that Brazil could only be a majority black country if the infamous ‘one drop’ rule was applied. I will never forget an online debate I had with a gentleman named William Javier, a specialist of race in not just Brazil, but Latin America as a whole, who had told me that America’s hypodescent rule could not be applied to Brazil. Personally, I didn’t subscribe to the ‘one-drop rule’ as I found it absurd that a person should be considered black even having only 1/32 African ancestry. By that time, sometime between 2008 and 2010, I had traveled to Brazil every year since the year 2000, with most of those trips taking me to Bahia, again, a state defined as a ”black majority”.
In 2008, I began to spend more time in the city of São Paulo, and by 2012, I was living there. According to official data, the state of São Paulo was supposed to be 32% black, again, being the sum of pretos and pardos. But after being in the city for a few years, visiting various neighborhoods, the north, south, east and west zones, I began to question if São Paulo being 32% black was really legit.
Riding buses, taking the subways and trains exposed me to millions of people and quite frankly, I wasn’t seeing a 32% black population. I mean, I thought this way: If the city and state of São Paulo were supposed to be 32%, that would mean that nearly 1 out of every 3 people I saw in the streets should be black or brown. Again, I wasn’t seeing that. If I were to estimate São Paulo’s black population using only brown to dark-skinned black people, I swear, some days it seemed as if 1 of every 50 people I saw in the streets were this color. What I did see is hundreds of thousands of light-skinned people, a large percentage of which I would define as white, another large percentage simply being difficult to categorize as just one race, a percentage of light-brown skinned people that I would classify as black and a very small percentage of brown to dark skinned, clearly black people. So where am I going with this?
Stay with me…
Being from the city of Detroit, an 86% black city, at least up to about 2012, I was accustomed to walking out my door everyday and seeing black people everywhere. In contrast, in São Paulo, the only time I see masses of black people gathered together in one place are at specifically black cultural events such as Feira Preta. And at Feira Preta, year after year, the black people that attended this event were clearly black even showing varying degrees of racial admixture. This is an important point because it shows that, of those racially undefinable people that I saw in the streets everyday, most of them probably didn’t identify as themselves as black. This leads to an important question.
Should people define others as black if those very people don’t define themselves as black?
If you don’t think so, then you would also have to conclude that Brazil as a whole and Bahia specifically are also not majority black, although I will say that many pardos in the state would be considered black in the United States. Remember, summing pretos and pardos together is the perspective of the Movimento Negro, and doesn’t necessarily apply to everyday people. In other words, if a person tells you they consider themselves to be pardo, it will depend on that person’s understanding of race for you to conclude whether they are black or not. For some people, pardo simply means pardo, meaning, not black, not white, not Indian, but a mixture of two or all three categories. On the other hand, there are pardos who also consider themselves themselves black, but not having very dark skin, they see themselves as being of brown color within the category of the black racial group.
Are you still with me?
Let’s keep goin’…
As the years went by, due to my experiences in São Paulo, my views on what black is in Brazil began to change (and I began to introduce this idea to readers of Black Women of Brazil, see here, here, here and here) and not just from what I was seeing in the streets. I also discovered other reasons for why the ‘biggest black population outside of Nigeria’ slogan began to look increasingly like a farse. One reason is that, in many states such as the Amazonas or Ceará, a large percentage of pardos are more likely to be of indigenous ancestry rather than African.
The second reason is the widespread and ongoing reality of interracial relationships across the country. In São Paulo, everyday, I saw black parents and grandparents in the streets with their near white grandchildren. In São Paulo, I’ve known families in which all eight siblings of a particular black family married white partners. It’s actually pretty common to see more than half the siblings of a family of African origin marry non-black partners. In the state of Bahia, I’ve also seen entire families go from black to almost white over the course of a few generations.
When you add up all of these facts, it starts to become clear that Brazil is NOT a majority black country. Having rolled with this idea for so long, it’s only been maybe over the last year since I’ve been explaining my shift on this issue. For me, it would be more honest to say that we don’t really know how many black Brazilians there are than to continue to propagate the idea that there are 115 million black people in the country. If the Movimento Negro was to express the idea, as Mr. Javier had put it, that Brazil has the largest population of African descendants outside of Brazil, that could be factually proven as Brazil received more enslaved Africans than any other country in the Americas during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. On the other hand, due to widespread interracial unions over the course of nearly five centuries, being an African descendant in Brazil doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is black. In the end, including every pardo under the black category could undermine the affirmation of blackness itself and lead to even further confusion.
Black Brazilians have actually proven this with ongoing debates about who is or who is not black. For example, I remember a few years ago when people started taking note of rapper Emicida’s very light-skinned girlfriend. On the one hand, there were people blasting him as another ‘palmiteiro‘ who preferred white women. But for others, the rapper’s girlfriend wasn’t exactly white. So, what was the conclusion? For me, she wasn’t black but she wasn’t quite white either. But if we accept the idea that all pardos are black, then Emicida’s girlfriend would have to be considered black and according to Movimento Negro logic, there would be no reason to throw shade at Emicida because, according to their own ideology, his girlfriend would also be considered black.
Which brings me to today’s issue. With the report that Brazil’ public universities are now majority black, a number of black Brazilians (and non-Brazilians) have stepped forward and declared this report misleading because, in their views, black people are clearly NOT the majority of the student bodies of these universities. I agree. One of the women in one of my social network groups who has visited several public universities across Brazil in cities such as Recife, Salvador, Rio and São Paulo confirms that she “simply (hasn’t) seen this majority they’re talking about.”
Even with the rise of affirmative action policies significantly increasing access to a college education for Afro-Brazilians, on the campuses I’ve visited in São Paulo and even Bahia, there’s no way to come to the conclusion that these institutions of higher learning are now majority black. As I’ve already pointed out, in my view, the black population of São Paulo is much lower than the 32% that reports would have us believe.
Translation of comments above:
- Suspicious. Are blacks already the majority in the universities or is this a pretext to end with quotas?
- Has the number of blacks passed whites in the universities? It’s a lie! (They are) preparing the grounds to announce the end of quotas.
- I particularly don’t believe in this memorandum, reflecting what I see in the corridors, service providers, yes – it’s all black: doormen, cleaning ladies, guards and others. Finally, the fact that there are blacks in this space is an “improvement” but the quality of teaching and training and how the passage and permanence of these students in the university will occur prevent me from using the word advance.
But the problem for me is that it would problematic at the least to say that you don’t believe that public universities are majority black without also having to acknowledge that Brazil as a whole also isn’t majority black as both are based on the same criteria in which pretos and pardos make up the black population.
In some ways, the Movimento Negro acknowledges that not all pardos are black. In a previous article, I quoted the words of Frei Davi, the head of the Educafro NGO that has been responsible for preparing thousands of black and poor students for college entrance exams and then helping them attain scholarships to enter universities. On the question of pardos, Davi explained that when we take pardos into consideration, we must understand that there is such a wide range of phenotypes within the pardos category. For Santos, the pardo category further breaks down into another three categories, which are pardo-preto, pardo-pardo and pardo-branco. A pardo-preto is a person who has whatever degree of racial mixture but with features denoting African ancestry being quite obvious.
The pardo-pardo would be a person that, physically, sits directly on the fence. Possessing lighter skin than a typical pardo-preto, with some people seeing them as black, while others seeing them as white.
A pardo-branco would be the person who has very few features that denote African ancestry. For some, this person is clearly not black, but also not quite white. For others, the traces of African or Indian admixture are negligible and thus said person could be defined as white, at least in Brazil. Someone who looks like the wife of President Jair Bolsonaro, Michelle, would be a good example of a pardo-branco.
When we consider these factors, what this comes down to is how many almost white pardos make up the pardo category. Are there more almost white pardos than there are darker-skinned, blacker-looking pardos? The answer may be different when we compare Bahia with São Paulo, where I see light-skinned, almost white pardos being the vast majority. Yet another factor that we have to consider is the practice of these almost white people who have always defined themselves as white suddenly changing their classification to pardo in order to enter universities under affirmative action policies that benefit pretos, pardos and Indians.
For more than a decade, thousands of fraudulent cases of white people defining themselves as pardos have led to expulsions from universities. But in Brazil, where the line between clearly white and clearly black is often blurred, some of these students may have legitimate rights to enter these universities as pardos. In Brazil, we must keep in mind that, although there are millions of people who would be classified as white wherever in the world they may be, there are also untold millions who would only pass as white in Brazil or other Latin American countries. I mean, how would you classify actress Sonia Braga?
To further the discussion on how whitening figures into this issue, it is clear that even with more and more Afro-Brazilians awakening to the fact that interracial relationships were promoted in Brazil as a way to whiten the population, the fact is that the vast majority of black and brown Brazilians continue to see dating and marriage as a personal thing in which politics should play no role. With this being the case, the question would be, how many successive mixtures with white partners need to happen before black and brown people will acknowledge that some offspring should be officially defined as white? This is the ultimate trap of arguing for more black representation across society, affirmative action policies, etc., while simultaneously not willing to analyze the effects that generations of cross-racial unions have had on the often difficult task of defining who is and who is not black, as well as the cycle of black and brown Brazilians passing on their success, accumulation of wealth, knowledge and middle-class status to their white offspring.
Attaining true middle-class status is a challenge for anyone in Brazil, but even more so for people defined as preto or pardo, so if we are discussing the development of a true black middle-class in Brazil, I would ask, what is the point of fighting for affirmative action policies in universities and public service jobs if pretos and pardos of African descent aren’t willing to explain to their offspring the necessity of marrying black, producing black offspring and passing on any hard fought wealth, knowledge and status to the next generation? In essence, without developing a standard of passing on black wealth and success to black offspring, the black and brown population simply provide another avenue for the white population to usurp any black/brown tangible assets and maintain its strangle hold on wealth and power.
The ramifications are endless. In this trajectory, not only will non-whites never be able to develop any sort of power base, the association of wealth and skin color will forever remain either white or very light-skinned. Also, the legacies of these successful black and brown families will remain in the hands of their white spouses or their white descendants as I’ve seen so often in the cases of so many important historical figures of African descent.
For me, the rejection of the idea that public universities are majority black provides the perfect opportunity to take a serious look at the “majority black Brazil” mythology as well. In a number of previous posts, I have shared the stories of countless Brazilians who only recently came to recognize themselves as black. This is a good sign, but in order to understand exactly how many folks are black, it is necessary to stop using the pardo population as a crutch to prop up the black majority myth. We have now reached a fork in the road in which those pardos who consider themselves black must stop declaring themselves as pardos and transition into the preto category.
I know that many people will reject this idea and the parting with the idea that Brazil has a black majority may be painful, but it is a necessary move. Without this transition, black Brazilians will always have to deal with arguing over who is and who should represent black Brazilians. If a decision isn’t made to only accept as black those people who self-identify as pretos, there will always be debates and arguments over a pardo who people think is too white to deserve to enter universities under the quota system. It will eliminate the possibility of a pardo that’s too white representing black women in beauty contests. It will eliminate the many politicians who are considered black because they are listed as pardos even though, for all intents and purposes, they are white (a topic I will discuss in a future post).
The flip side of all of this is that black Brazilians will no longer be able to demand 55% representation in whatever area or position in which there are vacancies and all studies that show that black people are the majority of whatever (prison population, living in poverty, likelihood of being murdered) will need to be altered. But again, in the long run, it is better to know the truth rather than to accept the myth that could actually lead to consequences. Many who have recently opined that this promotion of public universities being majority black is simply a mechanism in which the government can exploit to eventually move to end affirmative action policies because black representation has already caught up and surpassed the white population.
This is just one consequence. And if black Brazilians don’t deal with this farce of Brazil being a black majority country, there will surely be many more to come in the future.
With information from Agência Brasil