Black professionals are a minority in the first echelon of the Executive Branch

Profissionais negros são minoria no primeiro escalão do Executivo (2)

Note from BW of Brazil: Although one could argue that improvements have been made in terms of racial inequalities over the past decade or so, the gains that have been made demonstrate the vastness of these inequalities to begin with. One of the principal reasons that Afro-Brazilians remain in this precarious situation socially is their lack of representation in the political realm, one of the main avenues of power in the structure of any society. Brazilian society continues to designate a certain “place” for its afrodescendentes: they can be singers (usually in the funk or samba variety), mulatas of Carnaval, athletes, maids, garbage collectors, but areas of social prestige, intelligence, power or beauty are overwhelmingly reserved for Brazilians who have a more European appearance. More than a decade of affirmative action in top universities has begun to tip the scales a bit in terms of access to education, but the more prestigious majors remain primarily white, and attitudes toward increased black presence continue to signal a sort of “what are you doing here” type of mentality. This remains the case in political representation as well (especially when considering black women) as you will see in the article below.

Black professionals are a minority in the first echelon of the Executive Branch

by Matheus Teixeira

Nelson Inocêncio
Nelson Inocêncio

“Brazilian politics is still dominated by the same white elite of the slavery era.” The phrase, made by of Professor Nelson Inocêncio, coordinator of the Núcleo de Estudos Afro-Brasileiros (Center of Afro-Brazilian Studies) of the Universidade of Brasília (UnB), can be translated into numbers. In the Federal District, of the 33 secretaries, only three are black. On the federal front, the situation is not much different. According to a survey done on the ministries site, while more than half of the country is black, only 10 of the 225 top positions, among ministers and secretaries, are occupied by afrodescendentes (African descendants).

As their presence in power is rare, there are reports that, when they go to a meeting, they are confused for aids or representatives of the Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality. The secretário do Idoso (secretary of the Elderly), Ricardo Quirino, got tired of being turned away at the door of the meeting. “Since I’m usually the only one with black skin, they look differently at the negotiating table. They associate the figure of blacks with a lack of capacity,” he believes.

Ricardo Quirino
Ricardo Quirino

When he attends these meetings, the happiness he feels for realizing the success he obtained in life comes along with the sadness of knowing that that scene is a reflection of society. “Looking at that table socially, I see the root of exclusion, the lack of opportunity for all,” he laments.

Whoever conquered their space, like Quirino, is guaranteed to prove daily that he is capable. For an activist affiliated with a party, however, the difficulty of winning the trust of comrades is even greater. Rui Gomes, president of the Movimento Afrodescendente de Brasília (African descendant movement) of Brasília, is affiliated with the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT or Workers Party) and tells stories of discrimination even within the legendary party itself. “Some people think that blacks don’t account for running for office,” he says.

Rui Gomes
Rui Gomes

Frei Rubens, Rui’s brother, doesn’t have a party, but is also a defender of the black cause. He criticizes the absence of afrodescendentes representatives and cites politicians who do nothing to meet leadership that’s not white. “At campaign time, they do everything. They give out snacks, send buses to go to rallies. In normal years, however, they forget about us,” he says.


For a black to win someone’s vote is not easy. In Congress, of 513 members, 46 are black. In the Câmara Legislativa, they are four in 24, and all men – a black woman has never been elected as representative of the DF (Federal District).

The Secretary for the Promotion of Racial Equality, Viridiano Custódio, was twice a district candidate and once a federal candidate. During the campaign, he was the victim of prejudice several times. “When I handed out my flyer, there were people who said: ‘why does this black want to run?’ We get shaken up, but I always tried to use that as an incentive to keep fighting for a more equal world,” he says.

Viridiano Custódio
Viridiano Custódio

Custódio believes voters seek a candidate who considers himself successful in life, and this generally falls into the stereotype of the white, heterosexual, college-educated man. “People vote for who they dream of being, not in their equal,” he argues.

The secretary has also been the victim of discrimination on an official event. At the inauguration of the Estádio Nacional de Brasília Mané Garrincha (Mané Garrincha National Stadium in Brasília), he was in the grandstand. At halftime, he went to the bathroom. When he returned he was stopped by a security guard.

The first step towards ending racial prejudice was taken. “Recognizing that it exists is a start,” says Professor Nelson Inocêncio. The low number of blacks in the top echelon of ministries and departments of the GDF (Governo do Distrito Federal or Government of the Federal District), however, reveals one of the worst of discrimination, according to the professor. “Institutional bias exists. Even worse, it has naturalized itself. This phenomenon prevents the ascension of professional blacks. And the legacy of slavery is alive in the country. The idea that blacks don’t have the requirements to assume a position of prestige is proof of that,” he adds.

The Câmara dos Deputados in the Federal District of Brasília
The Câmara dos Deputados in the Federal District of Brasília

Even the party which is theoretically for workers having come to power, this scenario has not changed. “That historical reference of the PT of the 1980s no longer exists. Today, the party has another face, it’s not the workers who are the base of the society that are there,” says the professor.

Custódio has been affiliated with the PT for 21 years and disagrees with Inocêncio. “The strength of the party comes from unions, and most of these organizations are composed of skilled workers. A great part of blacks don’t even have this,” he says.

The problem is that the image of blacks is always related to poverty, and the government reinforces this, according to Quirino. “You can see that, in advertisements for fighting hunger, the actors always have black skin,” he argues (2).

The secretary was an alternate federal deputy for the PRB (Partido Republicano Brasileiro or Brazilian Republican Party) and assumed the chair for a year and a half, between 2008 and 2009, and for six months in 2011. He recalls that life was not easy in Congress. “I had to assert myself in order not to be isolated,” he recalls.

When his term in office in the Câmara dos Deputados (1), Ricardo Quirino earned a position in the Agnelo Queiroz government. The secretariat of the Elderly was created precisely to house him.

Source: Correio Braziliense


1. The Câmara dos Deputados or The Chamber of Deputies is a federal legislative body and the lower house of the National Congress of Brazil.

2. As seen in a previous post, the lack of blacks in advertising and the types of ads in which they are prominently featured also speaks volumes to the image associated with Afro-Brazilians.

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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