The issue of affirmative action and quotas to increase access of Afro-Brazilians to Brazil’s finest universities has been a hotly debated topic in Brazil for the past decade. Entering Brazil’s rapidly expanding middle-class is almost impossible if one doesn’t have a college education, is an athlete or entertainer. For Brazilians in general, attaining a college education is a long shot, but when you control statistics for those who earn a college degree by color, chances become even slimmer the darker the skin or the further the distance from a European phenotype. In 1991, 8.2% of white Brazilians held a college degree with only 2.4% percent of brown Brazilians and 2% of black Brazilians attaining a college education. Because of these statistics and countless other numbers showing that the quality of life for black and brown Brazilians is much worse in comparison to white Brazilians, these two colors were combined in studies and recognized as the Afro-Brazilian population. Affirmative Action policies has been the singular issue that has made Brazilian society recognize and debate the question of race more than any other time in the nation’s history. For many years, the country saw and proclaimed itself to be “racial democracy”, a myth that has been strongly debunked by thousands of studies, reports, articles and dissertations in the past few decades.
There have been several arguments against the system of quotas in the past decade. Here are just a few arguments against quotas made by academics and media on the more conservative side of the political arena:
1. Quotas based on race won’t work in Brazil because of Brazil’s history of miscegenation which would
make it impossible to know who was black in the country.
2. Quotas would racialize the country and turn it into a copy of the racially polarized United States
3. Quotas based on race are a form of reverse discrimination
4. Social inequality in Brazil is based on social class rather than race
5. Brazilians are not racist
6. Allowing students who are “less qualified” into universities will lower the quality of the system
Black Socialist Movement protest against quotas
Sign: Against racism and the racial laws: Fight for equality and socialism
Although the debate continues, the responses to these claims articulated by pro-quota supporters and activists of the Movimento Negro go something like this. Response numbers match up with those above.
2. Because of the clear bias toward whiteness mentioned as highlighted in the previous response, one could argue that Brazil has already been racialized.
3. Black activists contend that for five centuries, Brazil has already had a form of quotas: 100% white. In addition to the invisibility or extreme under-representation of Afro-Brazilians in all of the areas mentioned above, let us consider Brazil’s federally elected officials. In 2007, 467 of 513 (89.6%) deputies were white, while 76 of 81 senators (93.8%) were white.
4. Statistics have shown that even in Brazil’s favelas (slums), blacks make up 70% of the poorest citizens, while poor white Brazilians have a higher quality of life in the slums as well as a higher probability of escaping the favela.
5. Although it would be an exaggeration to say that every Brazilian is racist, the numerous reports of racism coming out of Brazil everyday show that Brazil has a serious race problem. For evidence, search this blog using the term “racism”.
6. In reality, according to studies from various universities in the states of Bahia, São Paulo and the capital city of Brasília, students entering universities under the system of quotas often perform as well and sometimes better than non-quota students.
Brasil is a country that kills black; Cotas in the federal universities now
The battle over the quota system has been debated on television talk shows, in magazines, on college campuses, in the courtroom and in the streets amongst the people. The battle over the constitutionality of quotas would eventually make it all the way to the highest court in the land. Yesterday, April 26th, the Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF), Brazil’s Supreme Court, came to another historic decision, deciding unanimously that racial quotas established by public universities are constitutional. The trial took place after years of debate on the issue and should put an end to legal uncertainty about the quotas for certain groups.
Group stands in front of the Supremo Tribunal Federal in support of the maintenance of the quota system in universities
The STF made the decision to judge two different disputes. The first was a claim of breach of fundamental precept (ADPF 186), authored by Democratas (DEM), against the University of Brasilia (UNB), which reserves 20% of the vacancies of the entrance exam for black students. The argument of the party, championed mainly by Senator Demosthenes Torres, now immersed in a corruption scandal, was that racial quotas violate the principle of equality. The other issue was an Extraordinary Appeal (Recurso Extraordinário (RE) 597285) of a student from the state of Rio Grande do Sul who was eliminated from the entrance exam of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) although he had obtained higher scores than those of students entering the university through the quota system. This happened because the university reserves 30% of vacancies for those who studied in the public school system, with half of this quota being allocated to applicants who declared themselves black on their application.
Militants of the Movimento Negro watch the proceedings
The Justice Ricardo Lewandowski was the rapporteur of the two lawsuits and yesterday (25th), voted in favor of the constitutionality of racial quotas. Lewandowski said that affirmative action programs are aimed at ending discrimination based on belonging to a certain race. “It’s not enough not to discriminate. It is necessary to facilitate. The stance should be, above all, affirmative. It is necessary that this is the position taken by our legislators. Neutrality has shown itself in these years, (to be) a great failure”, he said.
On Thursday, the ministers (judges) Luiz Fux, Rosa Maria Weber, Cármen Lúcia, Joaquim Barbosa, Cezar Peluso, Gilmar Mendes, Marco Aurélio Mello, Celso de Mello and the court’s president, Carlos Ayres Britto, went along with Lewandowski’s vote. The minister Dias Toffoli didn’t vote because before he was nominated to the SFT, he had participated in the defense of the quota system as a representative of the AGU (Advocacia-Geral da União or Solicitor-General of the Union).
For Fux, race can and should be a political criterion of analysis for entry into university, as in many democratic countries. “The construction of a fair and sympathetic society requires the whole community to repair past damages perpetrated by our ancestors”, he said.
Minister Luiz Fux
Minister Rosa Weber believes that the quota system aims to ensure more opportunities for access to the university for blacks and thus balance the social opportunities. “If blacks do not make it to the university, they do not share equal footing with whites.” For her, when blacks become visible in the highest stratus in society, “no compensatory policy will be necessary.”
Minister Rosa Weber
According to the minister Cármen Lúcia, compensatory policies provide the ability to make everyone feel equal. “Affirmative actions are not the best options. The best option is to have a society in which everyone is free to be what they want. This is a step, a process, a necessity in a society where it has not happened naturally.”
Minister Cármen Lúcia
Joaquim Barbosa said that affirmative action policies are aimed at achieving the neutralization of the harmful effects of racial discrimination, of gender, age and origin. “It is natural that affirmative action suffer an influx of conflicting forces and draw strength from those who benefit from the historical discrimination suffered by minority groups”, said the minister.
Minister Joaquim Barbosa
Cezar Peluso, whose vote, the sixth, ensured the legality of the quota system in public universities, followed his colleagues, but issued an alert about the flaws that the system has. “I must agree with the rapporteur that the idea [racial quota] is appropriate and necessary, has enough weight to justify restrictions that brings to certain rights of other ethnicities. But it is an experiment that the Brazilian state is doing and that can be controlled and perfected”, he said.
Minister Cezar Peluso
The court proceedings were a topic of discussion for several days in social media sites and links of sites streaming the action live were posted on Twitter throughout the day. With the announcement of the unanimous decision to uphold the quota system, the jubilation could also be noted online.
Sign: Yes to quotas. Quotas now. Quotas as long as they are necessary