“Good appearance”: How a thinly veiled preference for whiteness continues to rule in Brazil’s job market

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Note from BW of BrazilI am often amazed at how much things can change but still remain mostly the same. Since I first started studying the issue of race and black Brazilians, I’ve seen some very clear changes in the representation of black men and black women in various areas of Brazilian society. I will always remember the first time I arrived at Guarulhos International Airport in September of 2000 and literally being able to count the number of black people on my hand. I don’t remember seeing many black folks working at this enormous airport much less catching flights.

Fast forward to about 2012 and I remember just as well noticing a presence of black Brazilians that was almost as obvious as their absence just 12 years previously. I wasn’t the only person who noticed this presence. As revealed in the article “80% of Brazil’s new middle class is black and upper and upper-middle class consumers are none too pleased about it’”, Brazilian society was finding its black population in places that it wasn’t accustomed to seeing them and regardless of how much the average Brazilian will claim this racist attitude doesn’t exist, their comments and gestures say otherwise.

Social influencer Rene Silva understood what a woman meant when she said that ‘in the old days plane flights was something for just chic people and nowadays anyone is flying‘. A group of young black students flying back from the nation’s capital also knew that their presence bothered not only white passengers on their flight, but also apparently the airline employees.

As both are stories I’ve covered just in the past four years, it should come as not surprise that black Brazilians still have to deal with the concept of “good appearance” when applying for certain jobs. Just judging from the words “good appearance”, one might wonder, what’s wrong with that? If you’re applying for a job, isn’t it obvious that you should present your very best appearance?

Well, in the same manner as I explained it for the first time back in 2011, then as well as now, “boa aparência” is simply a code for “we prefer white” as Brazilian society continues to express the belief that only persons of a European phenotype have “good appearance”, as such, often times, black people need not even show up for interviews, as some employers are very obvious about this. All of this seems to confirm that, even though it is 2019, some things just don’t change. 

Destaque SP and Sites de Curiosidades
A simple Google Image search proves what type of people are still thought to have “boa aparência”, such as these two images courtesy of Destaque SP and Sites de Curiosidades

Behind the “good appearance”: racism in the numbers of the job market

In Brazil, where more than half of the population is black, only 5% occupy leading positions in the list of the largest companies

With information from R7

Black women make up less than 1% of leadership positions in the country

“Wanted: a moça de boa aparência to work as dental assistant Rua Boa Vista, 11, primeiro andar.”

The advertisement published in the State of São Paulo in June 1914 contains a very common expression up until 2006, when it was prohibited due to discriminatory bias. For 70% of Brazilians, “boa aparência” is not just a code for straight hair and fair skin, it is a symptom of racial discrimination still present in the country where more than half of the population calls itself black.

“We need to reflect on the meaning of understanding that we live in a racially harmonious country that is still present in our imagination. By the notion of racial democracy, we say that racism does not exist and if the black population lives at a social disadvantage, it is because they have not worked hard enough,” explains Giselle dos Anjos Santos, PhD student in Social History at USP and consultant at the Center for Studies Labor Relations and Inequalities (CEERT), a pioneering organization in the promotion of racial and gender equity in the Brazilian labor market.

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From bottom to top, corporate pyramid changes color – COMPOSITION BY COLOR OR RACE – DISTRIBUTION OF THE PERSONNEL BY COLOR OR RACE % WHITES – TOTAL BLACKS – BLACKS – BROWNS

Positions in table above include Administration Council, Executive, Management, Supervisory, Functional Framework, Trainees, Interns, Apprentices

In the field of recruitment and selection for nearly a decade, former recruiter Marion Caruso has experienced up close inconsistencies between discourse and practice related to racial acceptance within the labor market. “I was asked not to send black people to the job because they ‘looked like maids’.” With demands such as what Marion received, it’s not difficult to imagine why Brazil is expected to achieve racial equality in the labor market only within 150 years, according to a 2016 Instituto Ethos study.

The numbers continue to be alarming. Still according to Ethos, although 54% of the Brazilian population is black, they occupy only 5% of leadership positions in the largest companies in the country. When it comes to mulheres pretas e pardas (black and brown women) in senior management positions, this rate is less than 1%. The space for black men and women narrows as positions go higher and higher up the corporate ladder: at the base of the corporate pyramid, black apprentices even outnumber whites.

Racial presence in the 500 largest companies in Brazil

Giselle explains that, throughout history, Brazilian society has been built on the basis of racism. Hence, inequality and lack of opportunities. “All social indicators reflect the inequalities posed,” explains the scholar. “Black women are 50% more likely to be unemployed than any other group in our society. It is essential that we think of affirmative actions that come in the sense of overcoming historical inequalities. ”

The requirement of boa aparência (good appearance) is prohibited by law but still exists

Even though the number of black students at federal universities has tripled over the past decade, ensuring the necessary qualifications for vacancies, the consultant and researcher warns that barriers begin long before recruitment. “There is an information and contact network logic. When asked in the census developed by CEERT in different institutions how they learned of a particular vacancy, white professionals answer that they learned through relatives and friends. The reality is different for black people whose family members have often worked their whole lives in the informal sector. ”

“Yes to racial equality”

With more than half of the Brazilian workforce in a vulnerable situation, alternatives to reverse this historical picture need to be the most urgent and creative. “One of my main phrases is: racismo é burro (racism is stupid). If we have a predominantly black population, we have a pent-up demand that wants to be met and have the capital to do so,” explains Tom Mendes, one of those responsible for the Instituto de Identidades do Brasil (ID_BR), a pioneer organization in accelerating racial equality.

“When we talk about inserting black professionals in the job market, we are not talking about lowering the ruler. We’re talking about hiring people who enrich the company with other experiences and engage more consumers. Diversity generates profit. ”

“When we talk about inserting black professionals in the job market, we are not talking about lowering the ruler. Diversity generates profit” – Tom Mendes

Between employability and education initiatives, such as the study of diversity within companies and the provision of scholarships for black professionals, the organization closely articulates with the country’s top CEO’s. On the list of leaders who understood the importance of a broader staff – and that work directly with the institute – are names like Luis Mariano of Avon and Marc Reichardt of Bayer.

“We understand that bringing great leaders closer to the cause of racial equality is a major initiative. When the leadership supports it, everyone comes after it,” concludes Tom.

 

About Marques Travae 3169 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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