17-year old Rio student wins neuroscience competition; will represent Brazil in Denmark – Why did Ministry of Education whiten her image as an homage?

embranquecimento lorraynr
embranquecimento lorraynr
embranquecimento Lorraynr
“Whitening at the Ministry of Education”: Rio student Lorrayne Isidoro, 17, left, and an illustration of her made by the Ministry of Education

Note from BW of Brazil: A question that may come to mind if one read any number of articles on this blog might be, “why doesn’t Brazil like its black population?” It would be a legitimate question. After all, this group has been absent or vastly under-represented in the media for decades. It is this group, particularly young males, that is most often murdered and have the most likelihood of being murdered. It is the population that receives the worst medical treatment during pregnancy and childbirth. And it is the population of which Brazilians like to paint their faces with ghoulish black makeup to imitate. Some may look at these reports and simply say, “you’re exaggerating!” But when things happen time and time again, at what point does one conclude, I don’t think this group is very well-liked by its country?

We’ve long featured material on this blog that shows that more than a century ago, Brazil decided that the best way to eliminate this unwanted parcel of the population was through the encouragement of interracial relations that would eventually vastly diminish the representation of very dark skin, very tightly coiled hair, wide noses and thick lips. This policy is known as embranquecimento, or whitening, and it has been ongoing since the end of the 19th century. In fact, the whitening ideal is so deeply rooted, famous Brazilian figures of African descent such as the country’s greatest writer, Machado de Assis, and former President Nilo Peçanha have been depicted as white men in famous paintings, the former also in a recent television commercial. 

Machado - Nilo - embranq
Top: Writer Machado de Assis at left and right. At center is actor portraying him in a TV commercial. Bottom: At left, President Nilo Peçanha, center and right are portraits

But surely this discomfort with blackness is passe and has been long forgotten, right? Well, to be bluntly honest, this ideology has gone nowhere and we continue to see evidence of it in so many ways. Take today’s story for example.

A black teenager proves once again that Afro-Brazilians are every bit as capable as any other race of people in Brazil, but after her accomplishment, her image, that of an unquestionably black girl, was altered to the point that it looks nothing like her. Now, with the history of anti-black sentiments amongst elites as well as the general population, what conclusion would you come to?

Ministry of Education is criticized for ‘whitenening’ student prodigy in cartoon

Ministry published illustration of student classified for neuroscience Olympiad

17-year old Rio student Lorrayne Isidora will represent Brazil in the 16th Olimpíada Internacional in Denmark

The Ministry of Education (MEC) is receiving criticism from social networking users after posting on Facebook a picture representing a Pedro II high school student who qualified for the Neuroscience Olympiad in Denmark. Web users say that the illustration in question shows the student, who is black, with much lighter skin than reality.

Post is being criticized

MEC illustration
Illustration of Lorrayne Isidora by the Ministry of Education

In a statement, the Ministry of Education, who made the post to honor the girl, refutes the accusations. According to the Ministry, the illustration “is a complement of the material and had the sole purpose of making a representation of the student from the same photo posted on MEC radio site, so that the image of the setting is the same.”

Lorrayne Isidoro, 17, studies at the unit of Engenho Novo do Pedro II, in Rio’s North Zone. As Globo (news) revealed, the student won the IV Olimpíada Brasileira de Neurociências (Brazilian Brain Bee) (Fourth Olympiad of Neurosciences or Brazilian Brain Bee), in São Paulo, after studying very much, on her own and with the help of teachers.

With the victory, Lorrayne won the only seat to represent Brazil at the 16th Olimpíada Internacional  (2016 Brain Bee World Championship) in Denmark. With no money and with costs of the trip estimated at R$15,000, Lorrayne created an online pool, with which she managed nearly four times more than what was necessary in just five days.

The MEC made a post on its official Facebook page, as well as an article on its website, to honor the student. But in the post, instead of a photo of the teen, it used an illustration. A storm of criticism of the post followed soonafter.

The student depicted in the cartoon appears to have lighter skin, straight hair and thinner facial characteristics.



“The cartoon doesn’t look anything like her. She’s afrodescendente (of African descent) and the cartoon,  in my view, is more Asiatic”, “Stop embranquecer (whitening) the girl and removing the merits of the public school where she studies” and “Horrible art, bad taste, did they hire a disgusted communications advisor online?” are just some of the criticisms of the illustration.

The “Socializa o designer” page, which speaks of similar cases, was the first to compare the images. Its posting highlights that is “basically another person, uma pessoa menos negra (a less black person)” and also questioned the choice of Lorrayne’s phrase, as if supporting meritocracy (1).

criticism - full
Criticism of illustration. Full translation below

“Sometimes the design and illustration can be very powerful tools in favor of oppression. Often this is visible, other times it is subtle.

The photo of the girl on the left is Lorrayne Isidoro, a Colégio Pedro II student of Rio de Janeiro who was ranked first in the IV Brazilia Olympiad of Neuroscience and will go – if she manages the R$15,000 needed – to represent Brazil in the International Olympiad. On the right we have a publication made by MEC on Saturday celebrating the feat. We can see that they chose to use an illustration rather than a picture, the only thing is: why did they change Lorrayne’s face?

The illustrator or designer who made the image not only drew her thinner, they also made her lighter skin, her nose narrower and hair straighter; basically another person, a less black person.

Besides this, the communication team also chose use a single sentence of the narrative to make it appear that the girl is a winner of meritocracy. Ignoring the support of the teacher and the structure of the federal public school in which she studies, ignoring the “access” that the young student lacked was the responsibility of the MEC itself (1).

This is the MEC of DEM and the PMDB (2), MEC that receives Frota, MEC that receives disciples of the Escola Sem Partidos (School Without Parties) program.

Hang on, from here on out it will only get worse.”

Beside the illustration, the MEC highlighted a phrase said by the student: “As I had no access, I decided to study on my own.” But many web users criticized the measure, saying that instead of exalting the girl because of this, the department should provide aid so that students achieve goals.

According to the ministry, the department “maintains actions like the Olympics of Mathematics and Portuguese, deployed last manage implemented in the management since 2004. The MEC repudiates any attempt to create false controversy in social networks over this beautiful life story.”

Source: Gazeta Online


  1. The issue here is the ongoing debate about race-based quotas in universities. One of the principle arguments of those who reject affirmative action policies is the idea of merit. They believe that quotas will destroy the standard of higher education and that candidates for universities should gain entry based solely on merit. Those in support of race and class-based quotas point out the fact that students with parents of higher economic means are able to send their children to private elementary and high schools which better prepare their children for the vestibular (college entrance exam). Study after study have shown that, given the opportunity, students from poorer backgrounds perform as well and in some cases better than their non-quota colleagues. Those who reject affirmative action always use students such as Lorrayne to argue that any student compete regardless of social and racial background.
  2. Political parties with more conservative leanings.
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. I am not surprised by this because, if you are educated, or not from a lower social class, people tend to perceive you as “something other than Black”. I cannot count the number of times that people INSIST on refering to me as “morena” rather than “negra” or “preta”! Sometimes the people here in Fortaleza – where there aren’t that many straight up “afro-descendentes” refer to me as “baiana”. Because I am not from a lower class and because I am American, I am honestly perceived as something other than “Black”! It is the craziest and one of the most fascinating things I have ever experienced. And just to be clear, I am choclate with a nappy “4z” natural afro, so I cannot possibly be mistaken as anything else. But oddly enough, though also seem to know that I am not African (as far as my nationality is concerned) or Haitian. It just seems that the Brazilian collective consciousness is STILL trying to even understand what Black people actually are, and that you actually can be Black AND educated/rich/beautiful/multifaceted/cultured/etc.!

    • I forgot to add that I was happy to see that Black people helped this young lady raise almost 4 times the amount of money she needed to attend this competition! That’s like $60,000 or R$ 210,000!!!!!! WHAT?! I know she will make her countrywomen/men proud (at least those who are not jealous of her success)!

      • Incredible but disappointing story indeed! Not surprising of Brazil at all! Just for clarity purposes, the total needed was in reais, so it was in fact R$15,000, which means she raised over R$60,000, an incredible feat considering that some groups have trouble raising just R$5,000!

  2. Such a damn shame, and she deserved her face to be shown on the poster and not that bloody drawing. This is so shameful of the Ministry of Education to diminish her accomplishment. I even disliked their snarky statement, “if she manages the R15, 000 needed” why would she even need to come up with this money on her own? Shouldn’t the gov’t be sponsoring her trip?

    This is why social activism is so important. I am so grateful to all who contributed to this ambitious young woman achieving her dream, hard works deserves recognition and support.

    Thanks BWOB for bringing this good news to us. Even the racist fckry cannot diminish this teenager’s light.

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