Interactive map shows distribution of ethnic groups in Brazil; Conclusion? The country is much more racially segregated than it thinks it is

Maps reveal racial segregation in Brazil. Photo showing the poor hills and rich asphalt of Rio


Note from BW of Brazil: If you’ve ever been to Brazil and went strictly as a tourist to enjoy yourself, studies such as this one may or may not suprise you. Chances are, most people that travel to Brazil aren’t thinking about maps that demonstrate the diversity or lack thereof in large cities.

But even without looking, it would probably be pretty easy for anyone to notice even if they weren’t looking for such facts. I mean, if you’re in Brazil and you’ve got some spending money, chances are the hotel you choose, the areas of the city you choose to frequent and the restaurants in which you choose to dine will most likely be in the well-to-do areas of that particular city. And most people that live in well-to-do areas in Brazil are, well….white. On the other hand, the areas where people will tell you not to go or be careful if you choose to ventures into such areas, tend to be poor and the people will have darker skin. 

Of course, the situation in which the United States government was instrumental in constructing openly segregated cities and neighborhoods according to race in that country is well-known, but are we to believe that segregation in Brazil just sort of…happened? Guess again. 

While social scientists of the 1940s, 1950s and on continuously tried to portray the Brazilian scenario as simply being of a socioeconomic nature, the situation of Brazil’s black population also clearly shows it to be a scenario based on race. Post-abolition Brazil made sure of this. And in major cities this making of primarily black or white regions became quite obvious. Take a city such as majority black Salvador, Bahia, for example.

Salvador, Bahia
Salvador, Bahia, in Brazils northeast

There the city is divided into the Upper City, which is the richest area carrying the most value and where the potential of attracting tourist monies is most focused. This is the region where the majority of the city’s whites live while blacks are huddled into the Lower City and the outskirts.

We find similar situations in cities such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. And it would be foolish to believe that such conditions just magically happened. The fact is that, “the maintenance of the segregation of the black population was based on the absence of public policies to combat racism and inequalities, centered and focused on the territories of racial inequalities in Brazilian cities.”

Then, with the black population stuck exactly where they were meant to be, the “State and the private sectors, in their different fronts (federal, state and municipal), practice institutional racism, when they offer services and an environment constructed on collective use in inferior conditions and of inexpressive quality for the black population.” (Oliveira and Oliveira 2015)

Against this backdrop, a map study bears out exactly what anyone who has lived or visited Brazil can attest to. There is a mostly non-white/black Brazil and another overwhelmingly white Brazil. 

Maps reveal racial segregation in Brazil. Photo showing the poor hills and rich asphalt of Rio
Maps reveal racial segregation in Brazil. Photo showing the poor hills and rich asphalt of Rio

An incredible interactive map for anyone who wants to understand race in Brazil

A new website allows you to see the distribution of ethnic groups in Brazil. The bottom line: the country is much more segregated than we like to imagine.

By Denis Russo Burgierman

An interactive map was released yesterday in high resolution that allows  visualization of the racial distribution of Brazil in a fantastic way, based on data from the census of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics.

This image is made up of 190 million minuscule points – one for each of the 190 million Brazilians. (see note one) The color of the points follows the following logic:

Racial map of Brazil 1 point = 1 person White Brown Black Yellow (Asian) Indigenous

The first thing that strikes the eye when looking at the whole country is the division between a south that declares itself majoritariamente branco (mostly white) (blue dots) and the rest quase exclusivamente pardo (almost exclusively brown) (green dots). The população negra (black population) (red dots) is concentrated in some points, mainly in Bahia, while indigenous populations predominate in border regions, in the Amazon Forest.

The map makes it clear that racial segregation is an issue in Brazil. The Metropolitan Region of São Paulo, for example, has a brown center, surrounded by white neighborhoods, which in turn are surrounded by brown peripheries:


Clearly, whites live in the best neighborhoods, while brown populations are either in sparsely populated peripheral regions or in the decaying Center.

In Rio de Janeiro segregation is also evident:


In this case, the whites occupy almost the entire coast, with the exception of the hills, where there are many blacks among a brown majority. The population of the peripheries is also mostly brown.

Salvador is an atypical case, due to the large population that declares itself black. White populations are concentrated in a few relatively small coastal neighborhoods:


A revealing case is that of Brasília, the capital of the country. While the Eixo Monumental area, the seat of Brazilian political power, is mostly white, the satellite cities are almost all brown:


The interactive map is a Pata project, a data visualization company created by three Brazilian programmers. The design was inspired by a similar map recently released in the United States. Comparing the images generated by the Brazilian and American maps, it is easy to notice that the lines that divide ethnicities in the USA are much more rigid than the Brazilian ones. An extreme example is the city of Detroit, where a street separates an almost exclusively black (green) city from an almost exclusively white (blue) city:


Another difference is that in the US, both white and black neighborhoods are drawn with straight lines, indicating that they are planned neighborhoods. In Brazil, a very common pattern is that white neighborhoods are delimited by straight lines, while that of blacks and browns are quite irregular – an indication that they usually emerge from informal occupations without any planning.

Source: Reinaldo José de  Oliveira and Regina Marques de Souza Oliveira, “Origens da segregação racial no Brasil”Amérique Latine Histoire et Mémoire. Les Cahiers ALHIM [En línea], 29 | 2015, Published on June 15, 2015, accessed May 2, 2019., Superinteressante


  1. This report was originally published in December of 2015. The latest data on Brazil’s population reveals that there are now more than 208 million people living in Brazil.
About Marques Travae 3420 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. Wow, that map is quite telling its darn near green except for the southern portion. But I have a question when is Brazil’s next census? I know here in the U.S. I think it starts next year 2020.

    • It is also in 2020. A 2018 unofficial census already showed Brazil is close to 60% self-declared Black. But the anti-Black sentiment is still so strong so I see a lot of light-skinned Blacks say they are White. Brazil is 70-80% Black or mixed race in reality.

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