Number of Brazilians declaring themselves preta (black) increases to 16 million

katia-betmann1 - number of Brazilians preta preto

“To be a black women is to be a warrior. It is to accept your blackness, appreciating your history and your roots. It is finding oneself pretty, even though they consider you “exotic”. It is finding yourself to be intelligent even though they consider you to be hardworking. It is having much pride of being a black woman.” – Katia Betmann (photo)*

According to Pesquisa Nacional de Amostra por Domicílio (or PNAD or National Survey by Household Sample), published by the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE or Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), on Friday, September 21st, the number of Brazilians that self-identified themselves as pretas (blacks) increased from 13.1 million in 2009 to 16 million in 2011. In 2009, according to research of 191.8 million Brazilians, besides those declaring themselves preta (black), 92.5 million considered themselves branca or white, 84.7 million declared themselves parda or brown and 1.3 million claimed to be of another ethnicity.

The research also shows that there was a reduction of 0.4% in the white population and 0.9% of the brown population, while the black population grew by 1.4% between 2009 and 2011.

Last year, in addition to 16 million blacks, Brazil also had 93.2 million whites, 84 million brown and 1.8 million people of other ethnicities. In total, the country reached 195.2 million residents.

PNAD – The study considers five categories for which a person may classify themselves according to color or race: branca (white), preta (black), amarela (yellow), parda (brown) or indio (Indian). The amarela/yellow category consists of people who say they are of Japanese, Chinese or Korean origin. Parda/brown people are those who consider themselves mulatto (mixture of preta/black and branca/white), mestiça (black and any other racial combination), cafuza (black-Indian) or mameluca (European-Indian).


“To be black is to have pride of our origins, to be happy an not lower your head for anything nor for anyone.” – Cristina Souza (photo)*, artisan and coordinator of Grupo Ateliê Moda Recife in Recife, Pernambuco (northeastern Brazil).

In speaking of the question of blackness in Brazil, a further explanation is necessary. Many reports in the past few decades have reported Afro-Brazilians to be the largest population of African descendants in the world after Africa in general or, specifically, Nigeria. This is always a topic for discussion. Black activists of MNU (Movimento Negro Unificado) have long argued that similar socioeconomic profiles of the preta and parda population, always at a disadvantage in comparison to Brazil’s branca (white) population, provide ample evidence that regardless how Brazilians of color define themselves on the official census, the Brazilian power structure discriminates against and treats the preta and parda population in similar methods, thus justifying why this group should be recognized as Brazil’s black population.

For purists, Brazil’s black population are only those who define themselves as “preta” on Brazil’s official census which, according to the 2010 census, makes up only 7% of the country’s nearly 200 million citizens. But this figure doesn’t take into account the negative stigma associated with blackness and the terms “preta” and “negra” which is often the reason that persons choose to identify themselves in a lighter color category. It is also true that many persons of visible African ancestry attempt to socially “whiten” themselves with the attainment of social ascension. Over the years, many Brazilian social scientists have also taken this into consideration and spoken about the question of “who is black in Brazil”. Here are a few examples of the opinions of these experts on the topic.

“we consider as blacks all those who are dark-skinned, who possess a pigmentation which is neither white nor Indian. These ‘pardos’, who according to IBGE constitute the majority of non-whites…are considered socially to be blacks.”

  — “Que é um negro?” Décio Freitas in Folha de São Paulo, March 1, 1982

“The social category mulato is not to be confused with the racial category mulato. The social place attributed to the mulato, not his place as racial intermediary, is an obstacle to the comprehension of racial difference as a form of submission or oppression. The phenotypic characteristics do not interfere with this understanding…The racial categories, while indicating the diversity of racial traces, are not instruments of analysis….within the boundaries of the class system, the variations of color are socially irrelevant in race relations. The racial origin, not the color, remains as the basis of classification.” 

Território Negro em Espaço Branco, Maria de Lourdes Bandeira, Editora Brasiliense, 1988.

“…when we affirm that these black groups are specific, we don’t mean that they are composed only of “pure” negros, in physical anthropology terms, but, also of pardos, (mulatos, curibocas, caboclos) those which, in consequence of the group of social situations in which they overlap, are marked as negros by the white society and, at the same time, recognizes and accepts a connection, total or partial, with his African roots…”

 —Sociologia do Negro Brasileiro, Clovis Moura, Editora Atica, 1988

In 2010, LEI Nº 12.288 or Law Number 12.288 of July 20th, the Estatuto da Igualdade Racial (Statute of Racial Equality), stated that the black population is the “group of persons that self-declare themselves pretas and pardas,conforming to the question of color or race used by the Fundação Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE or Foundation of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics)”.

Although the law, social scientists and activists define the black population as the combination of pretas and pardas, this does NOT signify that all 84.7 million people who defined themselves as parda necessarily recognize themselves as “negro”, a term that doesn’t appear on the official census and that activists use as a term of black consciousness, affirmation of identity and acceptance of one’s African ancestry, either partial or in its majority. If the totals of 84.7 million pardas and 16 million pretas are combined, the figure would total 100 million people, thus giving Brazil the second largest total of African descendants in the world after Nigeria’s 162 million people.

There are also persons within the category of parda who define themselves as negra although they don’t consider their skin tones to be very dark. The idea of Black Consciousness is a concept that continues to grow in Brazil, a country where afrodescendentes (African descendants) have always been taught to have shame in or deny their African ancestry or identify themselves with terms meant emphasize racial mixture (morena, mulata, for example) or to minimize their blackness. Here is a recent example of how black Brazilians are increasingly passing consciousness on to their children.

Vandérig Nagô Pereira Santos lives in

São Paulo. He recently expressed his pride in something that happened at school with his 7-year old daughter:

“(I’m) very happy! My nega (negra) Rebeca, 7 years old, was asked by her teacher about her color. “Rebeca, you’re moreninha, right?” asked the teacher. Rebeca replied, “No teacher, morena doesn’t exist. I am black with a lighter skin tone.”

Vandérig and his 7-year old daughter Rebeca

In the examples above, the women and the girl in the photos recognize themselves as negra but they could also declare themselves parda on a census form as preta is generally regarded as the actual color black or meaning a person of very dark skin. The 1% increase of those defining themselves as preta, although a small increase, still signals an improvement of self-esteem and self-acceptance amongst Brazil’s population of African descent.


* – Statements and photos of Katia and Cristina were taken from the Diário de Pernambuco online journal which asked readers to define what it meant to be black.


Source: Palmares

About Marques Travae 3242 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. It is good to read that more Blacks in Brazil are defining themselves as Black or Preta, but my issue is what are the goals of the Black Nationalist movement. In the USA the goals of Black NAtionalist movement were never achieved and barely even uttered through all of the social upheavals. In the end what occured in the USA had little to do with Black people's desires and more to do with White people's relationship with Blacks.No State of BRazil is majority Preta. Am i wrong? If I am right, then you must consider what municipalities in each state of Brazil are populated mostly by Preta. I know at least in Bahia state, Rio, Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais, they must have municipalities that are majority Preta. What are they ?Of those municipalities, what are their schools, what is their relationship with the police? what business and industry are within them.The biggest lesson Blacks in the USA can teach Blacks in Brazil is to stop trying to integrate and start trying to focus on the aspects of government where your populace is strongest. For all of the Black panthers and nation of islam and sbcc and advocates, so few focused on the states in the USA or counties [our counties are equivalent to your municipalities] that Black or PReta's actually have majority population in. We always fought so hard to be grand in places where our numbers always served and still serve against us.I would love a response so my twitter is linked.

  2. In Brazil, there is a conglomerate of organizations throughout the country that fall under the term Movimento Negro Unificado that advocate for Afro-Brazilian rights.According to Shawn Lindsay's research in the late 90s or early 21st century, there were/are around 600 organizations that are part of the MNU, but as all struggle for financial support and there are new organizations popping up all the time, this estimate could be high, low, on point or way off either way. Many of the goals of the MNU were modeled after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and African Anti-Colonialism movements of the 60s and 70s. There is quite a bit of research on the MNU online. When I find one that articulates everything well in English I will pass this along to you. The MNU fights for socioeconomic quality, access to education, Afro-Brazilian representation in the media, health care rights, and also defends the community when there is racist content or actions directed at individuals or the community as a whole. I agree with your assessment of the Movement in the USA and the struggle is even more challenging in Brazil because communities aren't strictly segregated by race/color as they are in the USA. Because of segregation and the "one-drop rule", black communities in the US were easier to mobilize because these laws made gave the community something blatant to fight against and a sense that "we are all one people". In Brazil, although black exclusion is quite blatant in nearly every realm of society save for entertainment and sports (there are issues there as well), because so many people don't identify themselves as simply black, it's a daily struggle to get people to assume a black identity and see that regardless of what term they use to define themselves, they face discrimination depending on how their appearance denotes African ancestry. Thus, in the past few decades, the MNU successfully argued that persons defining themselves as "pretos" or "pardos" are basically in the same socioeconomic strata in comparison to those who define themselves as "branca" or white. Nearly every socioeconomic statistic shows the disadvantage of pretos and pardos vis-a-vis white Brazilians: income, education, health, etc. But because the ideology of "whitening" is so strong, many pretos and pardos don't identify with the struggle and prefer to whiten themselves in some way, by distancing themselves from anything associated with blackness to choosing white or whiter skinned partners with whom to reproduce. Many studies have shown an apparent preference of preto and pardo men (and pretos/pardos in general) for persons of white/whiter skin, lighter eye color and blond hair. There are studies that show that the media which is nearly 100% white has much to do with this. It is nearly impossible to find a major soccer star who has a preta or parda wife for example. This is also true for many Afro-Brazilian entertainers (pardos/pretos). It is in fact true that there is no majority preta state in Brazil. The highest percentage of strictly those identifying as preta is Bahia with somewhere around 20%. But, as I wrote in the article, identifying as preta in the census doesn't tell the whole story. Some people see themselves as negros/as but of a parda skin color. For example, for some people, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett and Gabrielle Union could all classify themselves or be classified as "pardos" because their skin colors are not pitch black. In Brazil, for some people, preto/a only defines people who are the color of a Wesley Snipes or Flavor Flav for example.

  3. There are also people who consider themselves to be "negros/as" as in the black race, but not necessarily "preto/a" as in extremely dark skin color. In the African-American community, people also distinguish between a black person (race) and a BLACK person (very dark skin color). So it's nearly impossible to define how many black people there really are in Brazil because it depends on perceptions, identities, etc. Also, census takers only interview one person per home and they must accept the identity that the person declares. The interviewee responds for the entire household. So, a person could say that everyone in house is pardo/a regardless of if someone in the family defines him/herself as branca or preta. Also, if an interviewer sees an interviewee as preta but that person defines him/herself as parda or branca, the interviewee must record that person's response. In terms of schools, pretos/pardos are on average 2 years behind those who identify themselves as white. People identifying themselves as white also hold more than 80% of college degrees in Brazil. In 2003, the law requiring the teaching of Afro-Brazilian and African History was passed although it doesn't seem that this law is being enforced. Many children of color have identity issues due to the exclusion of Afro-Brazilians in the media or negative portrayals in politics and the media. Much of this is covered on the blog. Afro-Brazilians are in a state of genocide in regards to treatment by the police. African-Americans complain when police in NYC kill 40 people in a year, but in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, police kill 600-700 people per year with the vast majority per capital being pretos and pardos. This is also a big feature on the blog. To see these things, please type in the blog's search box (top left corner) the words police, education, whiteness, hair, racism, racial classification, racial identity, etc. Hope this answered some of your questions. Thanks for your comment!

  4. ->RMThank you for your response. I will finish with this. Numbers matter. Their are many lessons Black Statians can teach Black Brazilians. But the most important in my view is that any Black Americans will only succeed in any zone of government in this continent when we have the numbers. Sao PAulo and Rio will never get better. You need to find Preta Municipalities in Brazil, and focus your efforts on them. Build better schools there, have community watches and relate to the police there.

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