“Black people constructed the foundation for me to be here today,” says black medical student at the State University of Rio de Janeiro



Note from BW of Brazil: Black doctors and specifically black women doctors continue to be an extreme rarity in Brazil. Which is why people are often shocked when they meet one. When Brazilians run into black people in hospitals, it is usually assumed that they are either patients, relatives of patients or part of the cleaning staff. As most people see it, black people don’t have the face of doctors. Despite the fact that most people would have you believe there is no racial intent in such a phrase, in reality it speaks to the fact that doctors are expected to have white skin and European features. Medical student Débora Reis da Cruz is surely aware of this. Suzane Pereira da Silva is also aware of the fact that most people would expect her to be a babysitter. This naturalized idea of ‘race and place’ is what provokes in shock in people when they find Afro-Brazilians wearing white jackets instead of remaining trapped in jobs they are normally associated with. Jobs such street sweepers and maids. And if think this is an exaggeration, just take a look at how the advertisement industry most frequently present Afro-Brazilians! In some ways, these stereotypes are actually understandable as, even with the surge of thousands of black students earning access to higher education these days, courses such as medicine are still considered places for and of the elites and Afro-Brazilians continue to make up a minuscule proportion of those on the fast track to becoming doctors. As such, with each victory, especially with a new administration determined to turn back such progress, we will celebrate each one who manages to slip through the cracks. Like the young woman we present to you today. 

“Black people constructed the foundation for me to be here today,” says black medical student at UERJ

By Ana Beatriz Rosa

The black population is 54% of the country but are only 17.4% of the richest parcel of the country, according to the IBGE in 2014. Also according to the Institute, 45.5% of college students are black.

Although this number has grown, these students are rarely in courses such as medicine, the most elite of the country. In it, only 1.5% of students say they are da cor preta (of the color black). If we add the gender perspective, black-women-doctors are an even smaller parcel.

Mirna Moreira, medical student at the State University of Rio de Janeiro

Mirna Moreira is part of that tiny group. In a post from the page Boca da Favela on Facebook, created by journalist Mayara Ximenes, the medical student at UERJ, in a testimony, said she recognizes that she now occupies a place that is privileged compared to so many young people in the same situation as her: pretos e pobres (black and poor).

“When you live in the favela (slum/shantytown), are a black woman, and you want to get to a particular place, you need to plan, because if you don’t you lose a lot of time banging your head, and we have neither time nor money to remain in experimentation. When they asked me what course I wanted to take and I said medicine, there were people who said: ‘ah, but do you really want this? You don’t have the face of a doctor’. Once a class in the pré-vestibular (pre entrance exam), a professor said, ‘look next to you and tell me how many blacks there are in this room.’ (1) It was at that moment that all the looks in the room turned to me.”

But she doesn’t plan to be just another number behind a statistic. Today, she knows she’s a kind of example for other people facing the same difficulties as her, but who have a dream and the will to change reality. More than that, she knows that representation matters.


“My biggest adjustment was to having assumed my aesthetic as a black woman before entering the university space. I understand that it is very important to be there because there is the issue of representativeness, which extends outside of academia as well. When I wear my coat white and go up Morro dos Macacos representing the UERJ institution, as I did in an action on adolescent sexuality in a public school, and black girls of this school asked to take pictures with me, complimenting my cabelo crespo (curly/kinky hair), and in some way seeing me as reference, I only had more certainty of this. […] On the day of this action in school I came back on the same bus as another student, and when I got off at the same point it here in Complexo, she asked: what are you doing here? She didn’t expect me to come down here in the favela. I cried a lot. That struck me too, because I never had an up close representative that I could look up to in the professional field, this woman, black, doctor.”

When existing policies and social rules fail to include young people such as Mirna in equality of opportunities, what you have is a vacuum. And of this vacuum stories of resilience and empowerment appear as hopeful examples. Mirna is proud of where she is, but above where she came from.

“Because of this, especially in academic spaces, I make it a point to say that I am from the Complexo do Lins. This place is part of my identity. I know from where I came from, who helped me to get here, and it was no trained doctor, it was my mother who worked as a day laborer for many years, my father who worked as a bricklayer, and that always prioritized my studies. I know who the black people are who constructed the foundation in order for me to be here today.”

Source: Brasil Post


  1. As much as Brazil likes to pretend it is not a racist country, these sorts of comments meant to keep black Brazilians “in their place”. For example, take the story of another black student who was told she would have to use her “black sexuality” to get ahead in life.
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. All the best to this brave woman. I remember 20 years ago, a very intelligent black woman friend of mine wanted to study medicine too, just like this girl. Back than the unspoken Brazilian segregation was stronger and it was actually her family who was against it. They said, she wanted to do “white people stuff”. I was appalled by their reaction at the time, so glad to see this woman’s family is supporting her.

  2. Amazing that with such a large black population, black doctors are so rare. The difference between private and public school education must be absolutely enormous. So must the sacrifices being made by the girl’s family. We are all humbled in reading of such determination in spite of social obstacles. One wonders how this state of affairs could have existed for so long. Again, BW of Brazil is doing a magnificent job in raising the consciousness of the Black Diaspora worldwide. I salute you all, and this is coming from a neighbour who thought he was pretty knowledgeable about Brazil.

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