Note from BW of Brazil: As anyone who follows Brazilian politics knows, President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT) was re-elected to a second term in the October elections. As such, nothing will change in terms of who and what party will occupy the Palácio do Planalto in Brasília come January 1st, 2015.
But as noted here in previous articles (here, here and here), another thing that didn’t change was the overview of Afro-Brazilian political power. In other words, very little. Even with some victories of black and brown candidates, without an agenda in favor of the Afro-Brazilian population, these victories also mean very little. In other words, the “dictatorship of whiteness” that commands most facets of Brazilian society (CEOs, diplomats and professors, wealth, media ownership, media representation, etc.) continues in politics.
Between the Red and the Blue, Brazil elected white
The fiercest presidential race in decades aroused heated discussions about a country that is split between the red PT and the blue PSDB. Few noticed the color that, in fact, prevailed at the ballot box – white. If the national map was painted according to the politicians who were elected in October, little would be left of the image of a multiracial nation: of every four elected, three defined themselves as white to voters.
By Edson Sardinha
For the first time, this year candidates were required to inform the electoral court of their color. The final balance could not be more revealing of the contradictions of a country that has, as few in the world, the mixture of races and covered historically under the cloak of the “racial democracy” thesis in which everyone would live harmoniously and in equal conditions regardless of their race.
126 years have passed since the passage of the Lei Áurea (Golden Law), which abolished slavery officially, parliaments and the command of the Brazilian executives are still restricted to preto (black) and pardo (brown) – two of the terms used in the Census by the Instituto Brasileiro de Geograﬁa e Estatística (IBGE or Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) to define the color of Brazilians. Although they account for more than half of the population and the electorate, these groups won only 24% of the seats in dispute.
Of the 1,627 elected officials, 1,229 declared themselves brancos (whites) (76%). The pardos filled 342 vacancies; pretos, 51; amarelo (yellow or of oriental origin), three, and indigenous two. The data is from the Revista Congresso em Foco (Congress in Focus Magazine) survey based on the information provided by those elected to the Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (TSE or Supreme Electoral Tribunal).
The criterion used by the TSE was self-declaration, made in some cases by the candidate himself or by the party directory. The logic of the polls repeats what is seen in large companies and government offices: the higher the position, the less chance of a negro (preto and pardo) holding it.
Of the 27 governors elected, 20 are white. No one says they are preto or indígena (indigenous). In the new Congress of 100 seats, 80 are occupied by politicians who define themselves as white. Of the 540 elected congressmen, 81 deputies and 5 senators declared themselves pardos and only 22 elected to the Câmara (House) identified themselves as pretos. In the Senate, there is no negro even among the 27 newly elected. Currently there are only two that define themselves as such: Paulo Paim (of the PT of Rio Grande do Sul) and Magno Malta (of the PR of Espírito Santo), both in the mid-term.
The colors of the election
“Blacks lives a social apartheid in the country in relation to parliamentary representation. That same segregationist model we criticized in South Africa is clearly here,” criticizes the philosopher Alexandre Braga, director of communications of the União dos Negros pela Igualdade (Unegro or Union of Blacks for Equality) and defender of racial quotas for parliamentary elections.
Research indicates that pretos and pardos even manage to run at levels close to their representation in society. But, crushed by problems such as lack of space in large parties and attracting financial resources to fund their campaigns, they as well as women, end up swallowed up by the current electoral model.
“This country is plural, but that does not translate into its political representation, that has nothing to do with the Brazilian people,” affirms the state representative Leci Brandão (Communist Party of Brazil from São Paulo), re-elected to her second term. “This is because the political system favors only those who have money. Whoever doesn’t have it, has no representative and their agendas are not met,” she stresses. Besides the sambista (samba musician), only two other parliamentarians as black among 94 state legislators of São Paulo.
The timid presence of pretos and pardos in elected office contrasts with its predominance in the maps of social exclusion. They are in the top rank of the victims of urban violence and the number of the population of low income and education. President of the Comissão da Igualdade Racial da Assembleia da Bahia (Commission of Racial Equality of the Assembly of Bahia), Bira Corôa (PT) believes that the obstacles for blacks to advance politically start in education and employment, whose indicators are generally lower than those of whites.
“Despite the social achievements with the quotas and better income distribution, the structure of power is still racist,” critiqued the state representative, who was elected as first substitute of his coalition. There are only two blacks among the 63 elected to the Bahian Legislative, a state that has the largest black population of the country.
For the historian and political scientist Antônio Marcelo Jackson of the Federal University of Ouro Preto, Brazil’s racism is more “sophisticated” than that practiced in countries where blacks and whites historically don’t mix.
For him, racist theses still from the 19th century, that associate whites to intellectual work and blacks and Indians to physical force and emotions, still exert influence on the imagination of Brazilian voters. “Our type of racism is not spatial segregation, as in the United States and South Africa. It traverses other spheres, such as who is or who is not in power. One can love a black player or singer, but never vote for blacks for political office,” he explains.
One of the main references of the Movimento Negro (black movement) in the country, the Franciscan friar David dos Santos believes that the polls show the difficulty of most Brazilians assuming their blackness. A problem that affects, he said, as much the elected candidates who claim to be white even though they are not, as voters who do not vote for black candidates because they don’t feel represented by them.
“I don’t blame those who don’t assume themselves (as blacks) because they are also victims of society that has implanted in us all the ideology of embranquecimento (whitening) that pervades the minds of black people,” (1) asserts the religious devotee and president of the Educafro NGO and activist of racial quotas.
For David, the change of this reality is underway with the increasing number of young black men coming out of colleges with degrees. According to him, this new generation will have better conditions to be represented politically because it knows the importance of recognizing its origin.
“Today blacks don’t vote for blacks because they don’t assume their blackness. When your consciousness grows it will balance out the white power. Whoever doesn’t assume their color has no condition to represent their people. The exclusion of the excluded is part of the universal game of keeping the broken broken,” he believes.
1. David dos Santos speaks from personal experience of the ideology of whitening oneself. The leader has spoken very candidly of how he himself was a victim of racial denial and how he came to identify himself as black. See his story here.