Note from BW of Brazil: Last week the latest racial controversy to come out of Brazil started when a young man of an apparent white racial appearance declared himself to be an “African descendant” to take advantage of the system of affirmative action to improve his chances of getting into an academy that trains Brazil’s foreign diplomats. Three things to note here before moving on to the case. 1) The battle over affirmative action policies to increase Afro-Brazilian presence in Brazil’s universities (and later in other areas) has been raging for over a decade with the Supreme Court declaring the policy constitutional and the president later signing it into law. 2) This is also not the first time that there has been a dispute over who qualifies as “negro” or “afrodescendente” and thus is eligible to take advantage of the quota system and 3) Because of Brazil’s history of miscegenation or “race mixing”, almost anyone, regardless of their appearance, can claim to be an African descendant, which makes cases like these all the more intriguing. Read how the controversy unfolded below followed by one Brazilian woman’s opinion on the issue.
Young white man declares himself “Afrodescendente” and is approved by means of quotas in competition
The Foreign Ministry said that the definition of color is based on the candidate’s declaration, but said it will review the case
by Agência Brasil
The Ministério das Relações Exteriores (Ministry of Exterior Relations), or the Itamaraty, said on Wednesday that it is analyzing the case of student Mathias de Souza Lima Abramovic, who passed the first phase of the selection process of the Rio Branco Institute (in Brasília) which trains and graduates diplomats. Abramovic self-declared himself an afrodescendente (African descent) and was selected through the quota system allocated to that group. However, the selection of the student through the quota system is subject to questioning at the Foreign Ministry.
Abramovic has no apparent characteristics of an African descent: he has auburn blond hair and light-colored eyes. The Foreign Ministry said that the definition of African descent is not technical and is based solely on the declaration of the student. The announcement of the selection process also does not mention the criteria for competing as an African descent. The racial quota is valid only in the first stage of the competition, which selects the 100 applicants with the highest grades.
In the first phase, quotas reserve an additional ten spaces for African descendants and two for handicapped candidates, totaling 112 candidates who remain in contention. At the end, only will 30 remain until the last stage of the competition. The Foreign Ministry said it is the first time that there is a case like that of Abramovic.
The notice specifies that candidates of African descent must self-declare the option at registration. For people with disabilities, the reserve of vacancies goes to the last step (there are four in total) and the successful candidates go through medical expertise.
Note from BW of Brazil: Please keep in mind that Brazil has always proclaimed that it does not follow the US system of race which has been defined as “hypo-descent” or “one drop” in which one is black regardless of how far back their African ancestry is. In Brazil, if one looks white, they’re white regardless of any remote African ancestry they may carry in their genealogy. Thus, this case shouldn’t even be controversial. The man at the center of this controversy clearly looks white and as race is judged in Brazil according to appearance, why should this man be allowed to take advantage of a system set up to benefit those who may face discrimination because their African ancestry is physically visible? Journalist Silvia Nascimento weighs in on this below.
Brazil and its cynical racism, after all, we know who is black, right?
by Silvia Nascimento
How it works in the United States, everybody knows. Whoever has one drop of African blood is black. In Brazil, to be black is to look black. The more that your body is composed of more African genes than European and your grandmother being the (skin) tone of (late Samba singer) Jovelina Pérola Negra, the color of your skin is who defines on which “club” you belong or that registers you to belong. The question here is not right or wrong, it’s only the way that the “race” question works in Brazil. Because of this, soccer player Ronaldo, not declaring himself black, generated an hysteria in the black community. And defining himself as non-black, is not only a denial of his real origins. He was probably “read” as white throughout his life. Actress Débora Nascimento also surprised many people affirming herself as black. His light skin and light eyes, within Brazilian culture, gives her the permission to be what she wants to be. To her goes a round of applause for having decided to be coherent and attribute to her African ancestors various features of her beauty.
The chatter of the moment, again, is the question of quotas, that surfaced again after the repercussion of the case of the student Mathias de Souza Lima Abramovic, judged as white, but declaring himself afrodescendente, thus black, in order to have advantages in the selective process for the Instituto Rio Branco. Do you know the American question of blood? Forget this. Let’s transport the “reading of a person” and define to what ethnic group he belongs through the Brazilian point of view. How? Let’s do an exercise together, responding to the questions below:
The candidate that self-declared himself afrodescendente:
a) Fits the physical profile of black victims of homicide?
b) Would he have difficulty in a hiring process of a company because of his appearance?
c) Would he be the target of racist jokes in school?
f) The racist woman would clutch her purse if she saw him in the street?
He could have more African genes than Lázaro Ramos, but he doesn’t fit into the group of persons that suffer racism in our country and no, he doesn’t need any type of benefit to get to where he wants to go. The O Globo newspaper itself defined him as white (above headline clipping) and this is probably “the club” that he belongs in, even if his genes don’t say so. Affirmative Action programs will be efficient when those involved in its implementation perceive the obvious: it is the color of skin that impedes the ascension of blacks in Brazil. The difficulties are proportional to the quantity of melanin: stop with the cynicism.