Black activists of federal university occupy dean’s office against ‘destruction’ of racial quota policy; should a white grandchild of a black grandparent be allowed access to affirmative action?

20180307 jornal sul21 gs 070318 7464 10
20180307 jornal sul21 gs 070318 7464 10
Black students protest in front of Dean’s office after the conclusion of the public class in the late Wednesday afternoon| Photo: Guilherme Santos

Note from BW of Brazil: So you see,  today’s story is really at the crux of the matter when one speaks of race and policies to improve the situation of Brazil’s black population. A number of past articles have already discussed this issue at length, so today’s piece, which is a follow up to an article I posted a few days ago, just adds more fuel to the fire.

The fact is, Brazil has never defined blackness according to such a ridiculous barameter as the infamous “one drop rule” as is the case in the United States. Although I too have been accused of adhering to this standard in my discussions on Brazil, this is simply not the case. I’ve said it before and for sake of clarity of my position on this issue, let me repeat. If a person looks white, that person is white even if their grandfather looks like Joaquim Barbosa. Keep this in mind as I discuss this latest racial controversy coming out of Brasil. 

Since the early 2000s, Brazilian universities have experimented with affirmative action policies to benefit the most discriminated against racial groups. The idea was to give brown-skinned people, those usually excluded from attaining a college education, a chance to experience social ascension and thus darken the country’s middle classes a bit. The policies led to some of the greatest social debates that the country had seen for some time. Allowing quotas would lower the quality of a college education people argued. An idea that has been completely debunked. But allowing poor, black/brown people access to universities would be a form of discrimination against poor whites; why not offer quotas to all students of poor backgrounds? But one of the issues is the overwhelming dominance of white-skinned people on college campuses. Allowing poor whites access to quotas does nothing to balance racial representation. But with so much mixture that is Brazilian history, how do we distinguish who’s black enough to qualify from those who are too white to qualify? Now that’s something worth discussing. 

As I’ve pointed out in numerous previous posts, for Afro-Brazilian activists, pretos + pardos, or blacks + browns represent the country’s black population and by this same logic, it would make sense that these same pretos and pardos should be the ones to qualify for the affirmative action programs. But not so fast, because many of those pardos are actually light-skinned enough that some people could classify them as white. Should these type of people be eligible to benefit from the quota system when many of them will never face the sort of discrimination that darker-skinned people will. Another problem would be that, if Afro-Brazilian militants include these lighter-skinned pardos as part of the 105 million or so people who they define as being a part of the “largest black population outside of Africa” slogan, shouldn’t these people be automatically eligible for the quota system? What do we do in a case in which a brother and sister both want to take advantage of the quota system, but the brother looks basically black while his sister looks pretty much white? Do we exclude the sister but allow the brother to fill a vacancy? Pretty complex, huh? And now the plot thickens..

You see, as I mentioned previously,Brazil has never defined blackness according to the “hypo-descent”, “one drop of black blood rule“, but in essence, a dean of a university is implementing this very notion and thus could be setting a precedent that could set the stage for many people who don’t look even slightly black to enter universities by way of the quota system because they have a black grandparent. The potential outcome of this could undermine the rise of a physically black looking middle class while benefitting a light/white skinned demographic that may be of African descent but not necessarily black. This points to an issue that is still a sensitive one in the black community. People will continuously spread the idea that “love has no color“, but as long as black Brazilians continue to reproduce with white/r Brazilians, all of the struggle for “black” inclusion will eventually undermine itself by the light and white-skinned offspring of this ideology. I mean, how can you argue for more inclusion of the “black phenotype” but not critically analyze the relationships that are naturally eliminating that very phenotype? It’s pretty obvious to me. What do you think? Keep all of this in mind as you read the material below…

Protesto na porta da Reitoria antecedeu a ocupação do prédio
Protest at the Dean’s door preceded occupation of the building | Photo: Guilherme Santos

Black movement of UFRGS occupies dean’s office against ‘destruction’ of quota policy

By Luís Eduardo Gomes

On Wednesday night (7) about 50 students linked to the black movements of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) held a protest at the Dean’s office of the institution against what they are considering to be the “destruction” of the quota policy of the university. In a decree promulgated in February this year, the university defined that those who prove by documentation their black ancestry up to the generation of their grandparents may have access to the slots intended for blacks (pretos/blacks and pardos/browns).The movement considers the decision wrong, since it defends that only students who present phenotypic characteristics of black people should have access to these vacancies, and that this is a setback in the construction of affirmative action policies of the university.

This is the second time that the Rectory of UFRGS has been occupied by black students in protest of changes in quota policy. In September 2016, under the coordination of the Balanta collective, created to bring together the university’s various black movements, students “akilombaram” (see note one) the building to protest against a resolution requiring candidates enrolling for college entrance exams to choose to compete for universal access vacancies or those reserved for quota students, which they considered would reduce the entrance of blacks and create a quota for private school students, since it would discourage candidates for racial quotas from attempting universal access.

From that moment, Balanta began a work to combat fraud in the quota system, which resulted in the complaint that 400 people who joined UFRGS after declaring themselves preto (black), pardo (brown) or indigenous were in fact branco (white). As a result, UFRGS decided in November last year to set up a special committee to determine whether or not these persons were entitled to the vacancy (and to make that commission permanent in order to assess the self-declarations in the following university entrance exams). In December, the university reported that 239 people did not actually have the phenotypic characteristics of black – that is, hair type, nose and lip shape, and of course skin color.

Students protest and representatives of the black movement protest against the change in quota policy before the Dean’s office on Wednesday | Photo: Guilherme Santos

However, on the recommendation of the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, UFRGS decided to institute a resource commission which now considers valid self-declarations based on ancestry of a pessoa negra (black person) and characteristics of pessoas pardas (brown people). For the black movement, this means an authorization for white people to enter via racial quotas.

On Monday (5), when the classes at UFRGS were resumed, a cultural act was carried out in front of the Faculdade de Educação (Faced or School of Education) against the change. On Wednesday afternoon, there was a public lecture titled “Quotas at UFRGS are worth it! For whom?”, with the presence of university professors and representatives of the black movement. At the end of the class, which began at 2:00 p.m. and lasted until about 5:30 p.m., the participants of the act traveled in “cortejo” (procession) to the entrance of the Dean’s office, singing slogans like ” Pisa ligeiro, pisa ligeiro, quem não pode com o quilombo, não atiça os seus guerreiros,” (step softly, step softly, whoever can’t with the quilombo, don’t stir up its warriors) “not one less quota student” and “não tem arrego, você tira as minhas cotas que eu tiro o seu sossego” (there is no way out, you take my quotas I take your peace). Simultaneously a meeting took place between the dean Rui Vicente Oppermann and representatives of the assessment commission that includes representatives of the black movement. As the meeting brought no news, the students decided to occupy the Dean’s office.

Aula pública reuniu mais de 100 pessoas na tarde de quarta-feira
Public class gathered more than 100 people on Wednesday afternoon | Photo: Guilherme Santos

This morning, a new meeting should take place between the Dean and representatives of assessment, refusal and occupant commission, but Dean Oppermann did not attend, according to Balanta. Carla Zanella Souza, a member of the communication commission of the occupation, says that the movement will last until there is news about quota policies and that even activities are scheduled for Thursday, such as a debate film about the film Black Panther and a conversation with black activists. Balanta has as its agenda the requirement that the assessment committee be the only body with the power to accept or reject the entry of racial quota and that the enrollments of black students who passed the entrance exam 2018 and have not yet been approved, even with the beginning of classes, are immediately deferred.

Racism is by skin color

One of the lecturers of the public class, the professor of the Department of Sociology José Carlos dos Anjos points out that the revolt with the decree occurs because it means the “destruction of the quota policy” in its main motivation, the reparation against the exclusion of black people from the universities. “We live in a society that systematically produces banishment from the fenótipo negro (black phenotype). Brazilian racism does not target people with black ancestry, who have a black grandmother or great grandmother, it directly targets the black phenotype. The police do not ask the young man on the periphery if he has a black grandfather, they look at his phenotype and takes him for a possible criminal. So, in this sense, the major contribution that the university could give is to work hard for projection of people with a black phenotype into the higher institutional frameworks of the country, to form a mass of visibly black people to occupy posts to give visibility to the black phenotype,” he says.

Originally, the special creation of assessment had just that meaning, but according to José Carlos, politics ended up changing focus when the appeals commission was established, which became the determining body without the presence of representatives of the first commission. The teacher also questioned the fact that the ordinance opened the possibility of people who could, in addition to ancestry, prove cultural links with the black population, to enter the university by racial quotas. “This ends up destroying the whole sense of politics, because from then on the visibly black people will continue to compete at a disadvantage with people who have white phenotype and we will continue to reproduce a type of society where people with a black phenotype are, at first sight, views as disqualified,” he says.

José Carlos dos Anjos (Foto - Guilherme Santos-Sul21)
José Carlos – Photo: Guilherme Santos

The sociologist Reginete Bispo, coordinator of the Instituto Akanni (Akanni Institute) and who also participated in the public class, evaluates that the UFRGS decision is yet another attempt to “branquear” (whiten) the university. “The quota policy was an action devised by the black social movement as a reparatory policy for nearly four centuries of slavery. And it has been distorted over the years. There is an ongoing attempt to branquear the quota policy. In Brazil, anything that is built for blacks is permanently threatened, because it is within people this logic of whitening and intellectually disqualifying black people. Here the attempt was visible when the dean pulls in a very aristocratic way the final, the final decision of who can or cannot. That is, you, homem branco (white man), if you will appeal, did not go through the commission of assessment, go to appeal committee, they will give three opinions, which go to the dean and he will monocratically decide whether or not he can. And the dean in a public statement, says that if descendência negra (black ancestry) is proven, he will ratify a decision favorable to the white person,” she criticizes.

Reginete Bispo (Foto - Guilherme Santos-Sul21)
Reginete Bispo (Foto – Guilherme Santos)

Carla, who is a law student, points out that until January, apparently the Dean’s office and the black movement had a common position, which changed with the institution of the appeal commission. “The assessment commission was set up with people who have expertise in racial issues and would therefore be able to respond to an appeal with greater objectivity. But the Dean’s office chose to place people of his confidence, of which the movement doesn’t even know who they are,” she says.

For Ariele Rodrigues, also a law student, this decision “invalidated eight months of attempt to dialogue with the black movement.” “The Dean office simply ripped it and threw away this work, totally disrespecting the black movement, not to mention that they invented concepts that don’t exist anywhere else in the country, such as, for example pardo com ascendência indígena (brown/person of mixed race with indigenous ancestry), a disrespect not only to the black movement to the indigenous. The UFRGS is disrespecting the entire population to which the quotas were destined and creating, in fact, another way for the whites to continue to use quotas fraudulently,” she says.

Após o evento, participantes partiram em caminhada para a entrada da Reitoria
After the event, participants participated in a walk to the entrance of the Dean’s office | Photo: Guilherme Santos

The student also points out that there is a concern that the change in policies can “legitimize” fraudsters, not only from UFRGS, but also from other universities. “I co-exist directly with white colleagues who have entered with the racial quota and they are not afraid because they know that this is normal, which is a repeated practice. You only need to enter the difficult access faculdades (programs) such as Law and Medicine that you don’t see the people who should be there. Who is in the place of the blacks are white defrauding the quotas. It’s very important that people be alerted because this can be used as case law for all other federal (universities) and any competition or affirmative action policy that has a vacancy for this population,” she says.

The students point out that the black movement tried to maintain a friendly and cordial dialogue with the Dean, but that he took an irreducible position. Faced with this, they say that they will not budge and maintain the occupation. “If there are 400 reported fraudsters, there are 400 fewer quota students at the university,” says Carla.

At the end of the morning of this Thursday, the Dean’s office of UFRGS issued a note saying that it was closing the dialogue with the movements because of the occupation.

Source: Sul 21


  1. A take on the word quilombo.
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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