“Does the Big House freak out when the slaves become doctors?” – Black medical students discuss racism in the medical field and the necessity of ‘blackening’ it

fechamento da atividade foi feito por estudantes negras de medicina
fechamento da atividade foi feito por estudantes negras de medicina
Fechamento da atividade foi feito por estudantes negras de medicina
Black medical students discuss the necessity of ‘blackening’ the medical profession

Note from BW of Brazil: The medical industry is a perfect profession to analyze the issue of racial inequality in Brazil. On the one hand, it is a field that is nearly completely dominated by persons with white skin as year after year it is far more common to see persons with darker skin entering the ranks of street sweepers rather than medical schools. We also see examples of these racial disparities when we think of the manner with which black people (particularly pregnant black women) are treated when medical attention is needed.  As such, it is pretty obvious that one way to change these discrepancies is to ‘enegrecer’ (blacknen) the medical establishment.  Which was the precise conclusion a group of black medical students and graduates came to in a recent conference in Rio de Janeiro. See details below brought to you by the people over at the Alma Preta  (meaning ‘black soul’) site. 

Flyer from the event held in Rio de Janeiro

Does the Big House freak out when the slaves become doctors?

By Pedro Borges; photos: Pedro Borges and Thales Lima

For medical students, the answer is simple: the Casa Grande (Big House) doesn’t agree to share the same space with black men and black women

On June 9th, a Thursday, at Hospital Universitário Pedro Ernesto, the event “A Casa Grande surta quando a Senzala vira médica?” (does the Big House freak out when the slave quarters/slaves become doctors?) painted the Ney Palmeiro amphitheater in many different shades of black. Programming colored the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), like few moments in the history of the institution.

The activity, organized by the Coletivo Negrex (Negrex Collective) and by the Front for Democracy of the Department  of Medicine, put racism within medical training and performance of health professionals on the agenda.

Negrex is a national organization of black medical students that receives complaints of racial discrimination within universities and promotes events to address racism within the university medical departments.

Ney Palmeiro Amphitheater received black men and women to discuss racism

The event

At 9 am, the changes started with a musical performance of sambista (samba musician) (and also doctor) Júlia Rocha. The songs, with black references about the combating of racism, were the warm up for the first table, “Racismo de Estado na Sociedade Brasileira e Estratégias de Resistência: as cotas raciais em questão” (State Racism in Brazilian Society and Strategies of Resistance: racial quotas in question).

Thaise Matos, a graduate of the Federal Fluminense University (UFF-RJ) and professor at UERJ, was the mediator of the conversation. She was responsible for presenting the two guests, Vantuil Pereira and Tarcilia do Nascimento. Thaise is also one of the few black professors of medicine in Brazil, a very representative factor for any and all present.

Vantuil Pereira, professor of the course International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), highlighted the racism as a structural problem of Brazilian society and emphasized the danger of the current political situation of the country. The advance of the conservative agenda and the posture of Michel Temer are warnings, including the possibility of the withdrawal of quotas.

Vantuil Pereira, professor da UFRJ
Vantuil Pereira, Professor at UFRJ

Tarcilia Nascimen, a Master of Social Sciences from UERJ has a detailed study about the policy of quotas  within the university, the first to adopt the system in the country in 2003. Thaise presented the profile of this student, as well as his/her performance when compared to those who are not cotistas (affirmative action students). The results are clear. Cotistas drop out less and have equal academic results and sometimes superior to non-cotistas.

After the lunch break, a new cultural intervention served notice to the second debate. Young rappers of the group UR Gueto involved the audience with their songs, personal experiences and reflections on racism.

The end of the presentation ended with the start of the second round table conversation. Denise Herdy, medical professor at UERJ and coordinator for 20 years with the Grupo Com Vida, specialized in dealing with people with HIV, mediated Jurema Werneck’s presentation. With a degree in medicine from UFF-RJ, Jurema represented the movimento negro (black movement) in the Conselho Nacional de Medicina (National Council of Medicine) (2007-2012) and is a member of the group Civil Society of UN Women Brazil.

Jurema Werneck atraiu o olhar de todos presentes no auditório
Jurema Werneck attracted the eyes of everyone present in the audience

The attentive eyes of the entire audience saw a detailed explanation from Jurema about the relationship between racism and health in the country. One of the principal black references in the health field, she highlighted the high mortality of black women in the health system and the relationship between this fact and medical training.

The presence and placement of Jurema Werneck was inspiring to all students present in the Ney Palmeiro Amphitheater. Besides being a reference in the academic world, she is one of the most iconic names in movimento negro brasileiro (black Brazilian movement).

NegrexConclusion of the event

The closing of the program was the responsibility of Negrex members. The moment to respond to question: “A Casa Grande pira quando a senzala vira médica?”. The plural black identity at the closing table turned into a cohesive discourse by the black medical students. Yes, the Casa Grande freaks out when the slave quarters become doctors, just like when black men and black women graduate in nursing, law, psychology and journalism, among other restricted careers in an historic manner to whites (1).

All components of the table made a point of highlighting the difficulties in remaining and overcoming the barriers posed by racism within the university. From the racist exhibition in “beauty contests” to the medical indication in surgery classes that the negroid nose is a surgical case, even though there is no medical explanation for such a measure.

Suzane Pereira da Silva was one of the black doctors that participated. Her story here.

The end of the encounter left in evidence the need to enegrecer a saúde (blacken healthcare), and the importance of redefining the references in medical courses and the urgency to change the look of doctors to take better care of black people.

Alma Preta will soon release a report in video and the complete photo album of the event.

Source: Alma Preta


  1. For more insight into the inequalities within university courses, see the article “In Brazil’s medical school programs, blacks are only 2.7% of the students; they represent only 4.56% of graduates in ten prestigious majors”
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. Black Women of Brazil – An excellent blog that addresses a number of issues affecting Afro-Brazilians. I accidentally navigated to this blog and I have no regrets. I am from Jamaica but knew nothing about the straggles of my brothers and sisters in Brazil. Thank you for your enlightenment.

    I had no idea about the history of Afro Brazilians, the Slave Trade, and the fact that we are from the same African tribes; Caribbean, Brazilian we are one and I join you in the struggle.

    I honestly thought all was well with Afro Brazilians. This came as a result of what is been sold to the world at large. We see the likes of Pele the great footballer and all the press coverages, including advertisings – this seems like smoke scenes to hide the level of atrocities that is carried out daily on humans because of skin colour.

    Black people – Black Women of Brazil, stand firm and continue to let your voices be heard.

    • Bravo!!!! muito feliz com esse evento que foi um marco na história do Hospital Universitário Pedro Ernesto da UERJ.

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