The error of the pyramid of oppression: Recognizing that the real source of the subjugation of the black women and the black community is NOT black men

Pirâmide de Opressões

O Erro da Pirâmide de Opressões

Note from BW of Brazil: The article reproduced below is courtesy of a group that publishes material under the banner of an online magazine called Revista Òkòtó. After reading a number of excellent texts written by members of the collective, I find that the uniting theme of most of the articles, written by black Brazilian men and women, is getting to true causes of the position of Brazil’s black population. Now readers of this blog may say, well, ‘don’t all of the articles by Afro-Brazilians featured on this blog seek to expose the roots of black oppression?’ Well, yes, but what I perceive from this particular group is that their understanding of the depths of racism/white supremacy and how they function knows no boundaries whereas with other groups, what I’ll define as the more mainstream anti-racist activists, at times, don’t seem to understand some of the most basic concepts.


One of the contributors to the online magazine, Maicol William, has already brought up an apparent slant within feminist circles of demonizing black men as if black men are at the root of the oppression of black women. But when we take an honest look at the effects of racism, some that are not so easily visible, it becomes blatantly obviously that black men, one of the victims that racism/white supremacy takes its greatest tolls upon, is NOT the true culprit. And as I’e hinted at in a number of previous posts, if black women and black men are not working together to heal their differences and work together as a tight unit, both sides are willing participants in the success of racism/white supremacy.   

O Erro da Pirâmide de Opressões (2)
White man, white woman, black man, black woman

The error of the pyramid of oppression

By Higor Linhares

The figures produced by the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada – IPEA in the Retrato das desigualdades de gênero e raça (Portrait of inequalities of gender and race) (2011) provoked a series of readings on the social conditions of men, women, blacks and whites in Brazil. In particular, a chart that shows the average income of the population and has been widely used to defend the existence of social advantages of the homem negro (black man) in relation to the mulher negra (black woman) and gave rise to a kind of pyramid of oppression. That is where the problem lies. The graph shows that black men have higher income than black women, but this does not mean that they have social advantages over them. Average income is only one of the aspects that must be considered to measure the social condition of the population. From there for a reading of pyramid of oppression is, at the very least, frivolous.

Average income of the population according to sex and color/race. Brazil, 2009

Before proceeding, it is good to say that questioning the truths produced from the social pyramid does not mean denying or lessening the oppression suffered by black women, but to counter a narrative that has positioned the black man as the enemy of black women. And, as we know, the enemy is another.

Admitting a reading which considers the graph of average income in a pyramid of oppression, what becomes more evident (see graph below)? In a country whose racism structures social relations, there’s no need for much analysis to realize that the starting point of oppression is racial: homens brancos e mulheres brancas (white men and white women) have advantages over black men and black women which, not by chance, go to assiduously unfavorable numbers of statistics. Therefore, the social pyramid is, first of all, RACIAL.

Average per capita household income, by sex and color/race of the head of the family – Brazil (1995-2009) – White men, White women, Black men, Black women

White women and men together at the top and black men and women together at the bottom.

To observe the numbers and graphs of the portrait of inequalities of gender and race (IPEA, 2011) and of the Dossiê Mulheres Negras (Dossier black women) (IPEA, 2013) it is possible to perceive that, in all of them, there are advantages of whites over blacks. Regarding gender, it is not always that black women are in the most unfavorable position in relation to black men. In the educational aspects, for example, they come out in front, which means that they (black men) have less access and permanence in the educational system. They (black men) leave school early (not assuming it is a choice), they are pushed out of school, and since very young, socialized to hold informal, unhealthy and dangerous jobs.

Liquid rate of schooling by sex, color/race and level of education (1995-2009) White men Black men White women Black women

To suppose that black men have social advantages is to IGNORE that they are more than 70% of fatal victims in police actions and more than 60% of the prison population and the population living on the street. They are, in general, also the ones that most die. This means that they are the main target of GENOCIDE and the DEPRIVATION OF THE FREEDOM of the população negra (black population), i.e., ceasing to exist and circulate in society. It’s no use simply affirming that they have social benefits and are those responsible for the oppression of women. So why put black men in the same place of oppressors that white men are is the same as believing that white women suffer the same oppression as black women. If one thing is not true, the other can also not be. The studies themselves of the IPEA, cited in this text, in general, don’t make a hierarchical approach or comparison between black men and black women. What we see are often comparisons between: 1. whites and blacks in general; 2. The black women and white women; 3. The black woman and white man; and 4. The advantages of the white man in relation to the others. See some examples:

“Comparing the total income of persons, inequalities are pronounced. Even though the disparities have been reduced in recent years, the income of black women do not even come to half that received by white men and corresponds to approximately 56% of the income of white women.” (IPEA, 2013)

“Graph 4, of the percentage distribution of students in higher education according to color and sex, shows that, despite the growth of enrollment rates, the presence of white women and men is still much higher than that of black women and black.” (idem)

Students in Higher Education, by sex and color/race (2003 and 2009) Others Black Men White men Black women White women

The pyramid of oppression is RACIAL. In this sense, gender and income is what should appear as a slant within a reading of race. Because it doesn’t no matter (or should not matter) to black people social readings that overlap any aspects to the racial question. Prioritizing readings of income and gender camouflage the main social inequality: the racial.

We need to see and admit, for example, that the favela (slum), jail and the precarious jobs are reserved for blacks and the poor. Poverty and misery are, above all, conditions destined for black people and this is not from today: The Lei de Terras (Land Law) of 1850, which defined the possession of land exclusively for the purchase, has ensured that the street was the place for blacks; in the same period, freed blacks and slaves were banned from attending school. And what changed with the Lei Áurea (Golden Law)? Nothing. In addition, there are no políticas de reparação (reparation policies), a project of deepening impoverishment and the extermination of the black population was carried out. The incentive to immigration, so that white Europeans occupy free jobs, left blacks without conditions to have prospects for a dignified life.

The graph below shows the situation of poverty according to the Programa Brasil sem Miséria (Brazil without Misery Program). In it, the reading is that of the lack and not the gain. This change of point of view is important because talking about a pyramid of oppression is to consider to whom the conditions for a dignified life are being denied. In the graph, it is evident that the more deepened the poverty, the greater inequality between whites and blacks. As to the question of gender, the numbers are insignificant among both women and men as between black women and white men, that is, the situation of poverty is determined by RACE and not by gender.

Distribution of population by sex and color/race, according to situation of poverty defined                            with base in the ‘Brazil Without Misery Program’ – Brazil (2009)                                                               White men Black men White women Black women                                       Extremely poor Poor Vulnerable Not poor

For everything was been exposed here, consider a reading of the social pyramid which unites black women and white women against an alleged oppression of black men makes no sense. The disposition of black women and men in the pyramid itself and in the charts presented shows that the logical alliance is between black women and black men. This does not mean that the black movements do not have to discuss issues of gender and social position, on the contrary, these discussions are necessary. What’s no use is the encroachment of whites and racist theories in this history, after all, it is against their oppression and privileges that we are fighting.

So, pay attention, the pyramid of oppression is this here:


“A visibilidade da violência e a violência da invisibilidade sobre negro no Brasil.” Lúcia Regina Brito Pereira. In: A violência na sociedade contemporânea [recurso eletrônico] / organizadora Maria da Graça Blaya Almeida. Porto Alegre : EDIPUCRS, 2010.

Dossiê mulheres negras: retrato das condições de vida das mulheres negras no Brasil / organizadoras: Mariana Mazzini Marcondes … [et al.]- Brasília: Ipea, 2013.

“O erro da pirâmide.” Anin Urasse, 2015. Disponível em:

Retrato das desigualdades de gênero e raça. Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada … [et al.] 4ª ed. — Brasília: Ipea, 2011.

SourceRevista Òkòtó

About Marques Travae 2895 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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