Note from BW of Brazil: Brazil’s free fall from its spectacular rise on the world economic stage has been frustrating, disappointing, devastating and has left millions wondering what the future holds for the country once known as the “country of the future”. What went wrong? Well, there are several factors that have a played crucial roles in an economic debacle that threatens to unseat Dilma Rousseff who is serving her second term as the country’s first female president. With scandal after scandal rocking political circles going back to President Lula da Silva’s two-term presidency (2003-2010), the economy that climbed to the number six position in the world just four years ago has nearly hit rock bottom with the news in September that Standard and Poor lowered the country’s credit rating to “junk” status. With this dramatic fall, last week the American dollar’s value passed the four Brazilian real mark for the first time since October of 2002.
With all of this bad news, the country as a whole is wondering if all of the apparent gains made under the Lula administration have been completely lost or if there is some miracle that can bring the country’s good fortunes back. The group that is perhaps pondering this question the most is the black population. Under Lula and Dilma, Afro-Brazilians have made social advances that are unprecedented in their near five centuries of history that began with the importation of Africans to be used as slave labor in the first half of the 16th century. Just as policies of social inclusion seemed to be bringing real changes to the black and poor population, there must now be a certain fear of a regression. Time will only tell, but as black Brazilians are the most recent recipients of Brazil’s boom, experts are already opining that this group will also be the one suffers the most in the downturn. See the report below.
Blacks are the most threatened by the economic crisis in Brazil, says UN rapporteur
By Hugo Bachega
According to the rapporteur, Brazil may fail to capitalize on the inclusion advances made so far
“Poverty has a color in Brazil,” and blacks are the most threatened by the economic crisis in the country, says Rita Izsák.
Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on issues of minorities, she praised policies of equality adopted by Brazil, but warned that these communities “plead” for immediate results. “People are very impatient,” Izsák said in an interview with BBC Brasil.
In the report, presented on Thursday, she criticized the lack of black representation in public and private positions and said the country could fail to capitalize on advances made so far if there is no dialogue and trust. “The social fabric is very fragile.”
It was Izsák first official mission in Brazil. In 11 days, she visited cities in Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
Born in Hungary, she also said that the media needs to expose more “black models” to break the cycle of marginalization, and that the exposure of blacks on TV is generally related to violence and crime. “Unfortunately, there are no positive role models.”
Below are excerpts from the interview, made by telephone from Brasília.
BBC Brasil – What is the conclusion of the report?
Rita Izsák – There are many good laws and policies to protect the rights of minorities. However, they require more immediate steps that can manifest into real changes in their lives.
This is a very positive moment in Brazil. (But) I see that the social fabric is very fragile, people are very impatient, especially groups who feel they have been marginalized for many years and want real change.
But at the same time, everyone recognizes that after 500 years of injustice and slavery it’s very difficult to obtain progress. But there are certain measures and policies that should be adopted as soon as possible.
Izsák reported on minorities in Brasilia and said ‘poverty in Brazil has color’
BBC Brasil – In the report, you said that Brazilian blacks are “marginalized” despite all the recent policies of inclusion. How is this working out in reality?
Izsák – There are clear statistical differences in life expectancy, income, representation of blacks in society. And there are some pretty shocking data that make this ‘racial abyss’ clear: in terms of political representation and economic power, the black population is really behind the non-black, white population.
The good point is that this is shown by data and the Brazilian government adopted many laws to overcome these challenges.
BBC Brasil – You said that violence has a “clear racial dimension”, including police violence. Have blacks become targeted because of their color?
Izsák – It’s a very complicated issue. The guerra às drogas (war on drugs) is a source of violence against black Brazilians. The homicide rate in Brazil is estimated at 56,000 people per year (Brazil is the country with the largest number of the world’s homicides in absolute terms), and there are estimates that 75% of the victims are black. This is something disturbing. Especially considering that blacks are 75% of the prison population.
BBC Brasil – You said that minorities are “impatient.” Is there some risk of social unrest?
Izsák – I went to favelas (slums) and comunidades quilombolas (maroon communities). Favelas tend to be on the outskirts of cities, in very difficult situations. And quilombo communities often are far from urban centers.
And these communities are really pleading for action. Sometimes what they ask is not much, like a community center. In the favelas, the population demands only some services, so that they don’t just stay on the streets but have something to do. They want to study, for example.
In quilombola communities, they ask for the demarcation of the land, so that they may have freedom to survive and continue their traditions. And these communities are really getting impatient. They receive promises, but say this is not enough.
And in the current political and economic crisis it’s important to say that Brazil is on right track. I recognize that there has been much progress. But it can’t stop.
These communities demand that the special departments of Human Rights and Racial Equality maintain their positions, have their budgets and authority. Because otherwise I fear that if these mechanisms disappear, these communities will become even more desperate and hopeless about their future.
According to the rapporteur, minorities are impatient and asking for public policies with immediate results
BBC Brasil – It seems to be a vicious circle difficult to break ─ the parents of these young people have gone through difficulties and are now it’s their children.
Izsák – What we heard from youths in the favelas is that sometimes they need a model. Because there are no black teachers. Or black role models in the media.
In prime time, it’s very difficult to see any positive black character on TV. The black community is always portrayed from the perspective of crime and violence. When there are no inspiring models … of course these young people will follow in the footsteps of traffickers who emerge as successful individuals in their communities.
It’s possible to break this vicious circle, but it is necessary to have more black faces in everyday life in general. And for that, a radical change is necessary in how the media portrays this population.
BBC Brasil – Why is it so hard for Brazilian society to accept blacks, 53% of the population calls itself negra (black, the IBGE refers to “pretos” and “pardos” – blacks and browns – “negros”).
Izsák – That is the $1 million question! That’s what we have tried to find out. It’s hard, because when we met with authorities, they are white, mostly. They are well engaged and say “yes, we must overcome this.”
I think it takes a shift in thinking. Blacks often consider themselves victims. And I think that’s completely understandable, given the historical context and slavery. But I believe that often this stigma also comes from the white population, which still considers black as entertainers, samba singers, for example. But when it comes to black intellectuals, there is a much smaller opening. We need to overcome these stereotypes.
BBC Brasil – Is Brazil a racist country?
Izsák – There are racist people, but there are progressives, as in every place. (But) I would not say that Brazil is a racist country. (1)
I think one of the issues here is the concentration of political, economic and media power in the hands of some people. And among them, we find many who don’t believe in black potential. It’s not that most Brazilians are racist, I doubt that.
BBC Brasil – You said that “poverty in Brazil has color.” Are blacks are the most threatened by the economic crisis in the country?
Izsák – Surely, there is no doubt about that.
- Intriguing how she can come to this conclusion even after stating all of her findings. Her opinion on the issue of racism seems to echo that of millions of Brazilians who stick to this discourse even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It would be interesting to know her view on the origins of these vast inequalities along lines of race.