With November being the Month of Black Consciousness in Brazil, recently released study provides insight into the most pressing issues of the black population
By Marques Travae
Coinciding with this month of Consciência Negra, meaning black consciousness, which is also sometimes referred to as November Negro, or Black November, some very intriguing data was recently released which give us a small snapshot of where Brazil’s black population is in terms of the struggle, not only for equality in the country, but for black identity itself. The report comes at a perfect time after I have reiterated my stance on the idea of Brazil being a black majority country. In a recent post, I again confirmed my position on this issue and why I can no longer go along with the idea that Brazil is a black majority country, it does not have 115 million black people and perhaps may not have the largest black population outside of Nigeria/Africa.
One particular stat in the study conducted by the consultant Mindset-WGSN along with the Instituto Datafolha, re-affirms one of the reasons for the shift in the viewpoint on the topic of just how black Brazil is. My shift has to do with the idea of including all persons who define themselves as ‘pardos’, meaning brown or mixed race, in the percentage and totals of black people in Brazil.
The survey was conducted in a qualitative as well as a quantitative phase a month ago, in October, and gives us clues of what people who described themselves as pardos e pretos, again meaning browns and blacks, believed to be the most important and urgent issues for all who classify themselves in these categories of race or color.
During the qualitative phase of the study, seven interviews were conducted with specialists on the topic, including sociologists, philosophers and historians, along with three qualitative groups in the large metropolitan cities São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, and also included discusssions with six people who run YouTube channels.
During the quantitative phase, a field study was conducted with 1,225 people who defined themselves pretos and pardos, which included both men and women, over the age 16 and taken from all socioeconomic classes in the five regions of the country, including metropolitan and interior areas.
This question of economic class was also very intriguing as it shows that opinions vary depending on what socioeconomic classes respondents saw themselves belonging to. Brazil is broke down into five socioeconomic classes, which include classes A, B, C, D and E. Classes A and B are considered the top economic classes. Class A represents households that receive income of BRL 11,001 or more reais per month. Families of class B bring in between BRL 7,278 to 11,001 reais per month. Class C has the largest spread representing families that bring in anything between BRL 1,819 to 7,278 reais per month.
In class D are families that earn between BRL 1,100 and 1,819 per month and class E represents those earning up to BRL 1,100 per month. In terms of race, white families in Brazil make up the majority of highest classes, A and B, while historically, black and brown families have always been the majority of the poorest classes, D and E.
The study reveals that 68% of respondents feel they are not represented by brands marketed throughout the country. People who defined themselves as pretos (73%) felt even less represented in advertising campaigns than those defining themselves pardos (66%). We also learn that 69% think that brands treat the November 20th holiday of Black Consciousness Day in an empty, opportunistic and superficial way.
These numbers are very much in line with the objective of the so-called ‘’neck test’’, in which black Brazilian consumers were advised that, if they walked into a shopping mall, store, etc., looked to the front, turned to the back, left or right, and didn’t see black people represented in the products or product advertising, they shouldn’t support that company’s products.
Continuing with the report, 91% of those interviewed said that November 20 is an important date to keep the memory of black heroes and heroines alive in the minds of the black population. Interestingly, the day is deemed most important by those of the lower classes with 85% of respondents in classes D and E agreeing that the date is a time of struggle. Among class A and B respondents that percentage is lower (72%).
How is this particular data to be interpreted? Although 72% is still a high percentage, do some black and brown people see themselves as having ‘’made it’’ and thus don’t see the November 20th holiday as important? Or could it be that some people in this group see inequality as something in which one has to simply study and work hard and their lives with automatically improve, thus they place less emphasis on ‘’black’ issues? I can’t repond to this question, but we know that these are a few of the reasons middle class blacks sometimes see things differently from those of the lower classes.
For purposes of this post, the next part of the report is perhaps the most important. After all, November is celebrated as Black Consciousness Month. According to the same report, most respondents interviewed for the report proclaimed themselves pardos (69%) while nearly one-third defined themselves as pretos (31%). But, when these same people were asked if they were pardo, preto or negro, 46% of the total said they were negro.
What this means is that, in the first part of the interview, people defined themselves by two of the five official categories listed on the Brazilian census regarding race or color, the others being branco, or white, Índio, meaning Indian, or amarelo, meaning Asian. But given the choice or preto, pardo or negro, the last of which is not listed on the oficial census, 46% chose this category, which is recognized by most black leaders as a term that signals a higher level of black consciousness.
But just as interesting as that stat, is the fact that among those who in the first question described themselves as pardo, only 26%, a little more than 1 in 4, said they were negro when this term was included in the question. The next question speaks to development of a black identity, as 74% of those who defined themselves as negros declared always knowing they were black while 17% had seen themselves as pardos for years, only discovering they were in fact negros later on. (see note one)
This data speaks directly to my recent post on why we should stop saying that Brazil is a black majority country. In a 2009 article, University of California-Irvine professor Stanley Bailey found that when the term pardo was removed as a choice of identification among people participating in a study, with only branco or negro being available, almost half of the pardos chose the term branco, meaning white (see note two). Ten years later, only 26% of pardos chose the category negro when given this choice. In other words, most pardos continue to not see themselves as negros, and as such, I ask why all of these these people should be included as part of the black population.
Again, the recent report shows us that, while some pardos, 1 in 4, would identify themselves as black, as I’ve also pointed out, the vast majority would not. Today, 45% of Brazilians define themselves as pardos. With Brazil’s total population standing at about 210 million, this would mean that there are about 94.5 million pardos in Brazil. With 19 million or so defining themselves as pretos, according to Movimento Negro standards, this would mean that there are about 115 million black people in Brazil.
But if the numbers in the study showing that only 26% of pardos would define themselves as black was applied to the population as a whole, we would know that only about 24.6 million people would make up the black population. Adding 19 million pretos to the 24.6 million pardos who would define themselves as black, we come to a figure of about 43.6 million self-declaring blacks. A far cry from the 115 million people that we are being told are black by news reports of Afro-Brazilian actvists.
The five most important issues
The rest of the study approached the issues and agendas that people saw as most important for the advance of the black population.
In the qualitative phase, 15 guidelines were considered important by the população negra or black population. In the quantitative phase, the 1,225 interviewees were asked to indicate, from the list of these agendas, which were the most urgent and the most discussed in their perception.
1st – Inclusion in the job market (Urgency: 46%/Discussion: 34%)
This was considered the issue needing to be adresses with the most urgency of the black population. However, according to the perceptions of those interviewed, the inclusion of black people in the job market is less discussed than it should be as it came in second, behind structural and institutional racism.
2nd – Structural and institutional racism (Urgency: 44%/Discussion: 41%)
Among all respondents, structural and institutional racism is the second agenda that deserves the most attention. But, interestingly, it is considered 1.7x more important among young people (16-24) than among those 60years of age or older;
7 out of 10 negros brasileiros (which is still defined as black and brown Brazilians) do not feel represented by the government;
73% of respondents from classes D/E find it more important to vote for black candidates than those from classes A/B classes, 47% of which agreed with this. Again, how do we interpret this? While those who are still in the lower classes see a pressing need for more black political candidates, less than half of black and brown people interviewed see it this way.
3rd – Black feminism (Urgency: 27%/Discussion: 25%)
Black feminism is more urgent for women (30%) than for men (23%). However, when the urgencies of each genre are placed side by side, the agenda has the same position in both lists;
The higher the education level, the lower the urgency attributed to black feminism: College (18%), High School (29%) and Elementary school (30%).
4th – Genocide (Urgency: 23%/Discussion: 24%)
Black genocide is a more urgent agenda among young people (16-34 years) than among people 60 years of older (28% vs 18%); I’d have to say it’s a bit perplexing to see that black feminism actually ranked higher than the ongoing murder of black men, women and children. How do we rank a political ideology above the very struggle of black people to simply exist?
Another fator influencing responses to this question was education. The higher the education level, the greater the feeling of urgency regarding the genocide of the black population: College (30%), High School (26%) and Elementary (14%).
5th – Affirmative action Policies (Urgency: 19%/Discussion: 24%)
Concern about affirmative policies such as racial quotas is greater among men (23%) than women (17%) and according to the perception of those interviewed, the urgency of affirmative policies is lower than the level of discussion regarding the subject in the country.
Half of the interviewees consider themselves activists of the movimento negro or black movement in Brazil. Again, the percentage of people who consider themselves activists is higher among classes D and E (63%): they are twice as likely as those who consider themselves activists within classes A and B (31%). In addition, 81% of respondents agree that black activism prioritizes causes that are important to the entire black population.
Again, here, we see how class plays out in relation to black issues. The lower classes feel the need to actively participate in movements that may help their social situations, only 3 of every 10 pretos and pardos in the more privileged classes believe this to be important. So, as we can see, the black struggle in Brazil is not only divided only lines of racial identity, but also, it appears that as pretos and pardos improve or maintain their middle class status, these issues are less important to them.
Regarding the role of whites in the fight against racism, 78% of respondents favor the participation of white people in the struggle. Among those in favor, 59% think whites should get involved because they are part of the problem. In addition, 87% of respondents think the struggle is not exclusively black. My question for those who would like to see more white people participating in the struggle against racism and racial inequality would be, what interest would white people, as a whole, have in participating in such a movement? The data has already shown that the higher black people are on the socioeconomic ladder, the less they are likely to support specifically black issues. That being the case, wouldn’t it seem more than a little unrealistic to expect higher white participation in support of the black cause?
All in all, the data presented does present a few of the realities of the black and brown population in Brazil today and for me, I think the time has come for Brazil’s black leaders to be a little more honest about the numbers and percentages of black people in Brazil today. Having the ‘biggest black population outside of Africa’ sounds good on paper and is a great for marketing and tourist purposes, but the reality of the matter is quite different.
With information courtesy of Propmark
- To understand the importance of this ‘discovering oneself as black’, please check out a number of articles in the archive here and here
- See MUNIZ, Jerônimo O.. Preto no branco?: mensuração, relevância e concordância classificatória no país da incerteza racial. Dados [online]. 2012, vol.55, n.1 [cited 2019-11-24], pp.251-282. Available from: <http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0011-52582012000100007&lng=en&nrm=iso>. ISSN 0011-5258. http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0011-52582012000100007.