Courts decide that a candidate must look black in order to qualify for racial quotas

justic3a7a decide que candidato precisa parecer negro para entrar em cota 2
justic3a7a decide que candidato precisa parecer negro para entrar em cota 2
Justiça decide que candidato precisa parecer negro para entrar em cota (2)
White faces, Brown faces, Black faces

Note from BW of Brazil: And the drama continues! Now for those of you who simply looked at the title of this article without considering the Brazilian history and context, you probably looked and thought, “well, of course! Isn’t that obvious?!?” But the question of racial quotas of Brazilian society has been a hot topic of debate since the beginning of the last decade when they were first initiated and not only for the immediate reason you may be thinking of. 

You see, besides the accusations that anti-quota activists have long levied (diminishing of quality of education, reverse discrimination, etc.), there is also the question that immediately emerged due to Brazil’s long history of miscegenation: In Brazil, exactly who is black? For some, black people should only be considered those with the darkest of brown and black skin. For others, including activist of black social movements, black, or negro (the term used in Brazil) includes all pretos (blacks) or pardos (browns) who have any salient traces of African ancestry. The argument is that as pretos and pardos are virtually identical in numerous quality of life statistics and at similar disadvantages in comparison to brancos (whites), they experience discrimination in a similar manner. 

But a particularly Brazilian issue can arise when there is a situation in which there are two siblings, one that looks blacker and another looks whiter, with both having lower class origins and both wanting to take advantage of the quota system. And what about those people who have defined themselves as brancos for their entire lives, have grandfathers/grandmothers who were black but have never been discriminated against or questioned about their whiteness. Do these people deserve to take advantage of a system created act as a sort of reparations for black people who have faced social exclusion for centuries based on their appearance? 

Since quotas began, we’ve seen some great examples of how complex this issue can be, including the case of the twin brothers, one who was accepted under the quota system and the other who was rejected and the white-skinned man with green eyes who resorted to the quota system to enter a university course a few years ago. We’ve already weighed in on this issue in a previous post, thus the judge’s decision in this case makes perfect sense, but the debate is sure to carry on!

Courts decide that a candidate must look black in order to qualify for quotas

Courtesy of UOL

The evaluating commission of a public competition can eliminate from the system of quotas a candidate that doesn’t present the phenotype or appearance of a preto (black) or pardo (brown) even if they declare themselves such in an application, according to the courts. These criteria, however, must be determined in the edict.

This was the understanding of the Tribunal Regional Federal da 4ª Região (Federal Regional Tribunal of the 4th Region) that denied the request of an injunction of a pharmaceutical who was excluded from quotas in a competition for the Empresa Brasileira de Serviços Hospitalares (Brazilian Company of Hospital Services).

According to the action, the candidate, that lives in Pelotas (State of Rio Grande do Sul) was competing for a vacancy through the system of quotas for pretos or pardos, but was eliminated by the evaluating commission because of not having these physical characteristics.

In the first instance, in the 2nd Federal Vara of Pelotas, the injunction of the candidate was denied. She then filed an interlocutory appeal in the Federal Court (a type of appeal).

In the decision, the rapporteur of the suit, judge Ricardo Teixeira do Valle Pereira said that “being that the edict of the competition is clear about adopting phenotype and not genotype (genetic composition regardless of appearance), for the analysis of the racial group, there remained no demonstrated arbitrariness in the commission’s decision.”

According to the TRF, the merit of the case will still be analyzed by the first instance judge.

Decision is based on the STF

According to the TRF, the judges of the two instances make decisions based on an understanding of the STF (Supremo Tribunal Federal or Federal Supreme Court) from October of last year that considered constitutional the policy of quotas at the University of Brasília.

According to the ministers of STF, the evaluation of the bench should be carried out according to phenotype and not ancestry. For them, existing prejudice and discrimination in the society doesn’t have origin in differences of human genotype, but in fact on phenotypes (of appearance) of individuals and social groups.

The court decided that the verification should be done after the candidate has turned in his/her declaration, so that there is no racial classification by third parties.

Source: UOL Economia

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


  1. What an idiotic line of reason! What does the court mean – one has to “look Black”? You could be Albino or Interracial and your children can be a completely different shade of “black”. I’m American and my mother is darker skinned, my father looks Arabic but my family is completely Black – I don’t look like either of my parents. You can’t define an entire race by skin color!

    • I didn’t get from the decision that “all blacks look alike”, did you read the article? The point is that if a person has no attributes of African descendants they shouldn’t qualify for quotas. That’s all…

      • Yes and that is exactly my point. One cannot determine a race by skin color or common physical features. It’s an over simplified view to assess race.

      • I agree to a degree, but according to your logic there is no way to classify race because it’s too simplistic. If you don’t use certain criteria, where do you classify the separation between one race and another? If you don’t draw a line, you can’t classify. Where do you stand?

      • Well for one, unlike those of Caucasian decent many in South America have been affected by Diaspora. So if you go by physical features like eye color, nose or hair texture you end up excluding many people. Labeling who looks “black” means it’s up to interpretation. Instead, they should allow people to classify their own race like we do in the United States. Our nationwide census asks, “What race are you? Please Check ALL That Apply…” I have family that looks Caucasian but they most certainly aren’t. Going by this court ruling many who eligible people would be overlooked due to hair texture, eye / skin color. Black people and Afro Latinos come in different shades with a variety of features.

      • There is no dispute about black and Latinos coming in different varieties. And as far as your suggestion that “they should allow people to classify their own race like we do in the United States”, that has always been the case in Brazil. Maybe you don’t know, but in 1976, Brazilians used something like 136 terms to classify themselves.

        Of course this is freedom of classification, but it with no common ideal that says that we are part of a racial group, it is almost impossible to organize the group.

        I also agree that “Labeling who looks “black” means it’s up to interpretation” but here’s the problem. Universities are highly competitive and people will use whatever advantage to get into the best colleges. By your logic, a person who looks like Gisele Bunchen can define herself as black and be accepted under the system of quotas with no debate on the topic.

        It leads to further problems as well. As racism as well as colorism exists in Brazil, under your idea, what happens in black beauty contests when 80% of the women look like Gisele but define themselves as black women? Using your criteria this would be no problem.

        Also, the “Please Check ALL That Apply” is already the standard of what Brazil has always been. The Movimento Negro has tried to convince persons that normally “Check ALL That Apply” to identify as black in order to form a cohesive group of people who collectively see themselves as belonging to a group. Part of the problem in Brazil is that the majority of people of visible African ancestry don’t necessarily see blackness as their common denominator but rather just a piece of the puzzle. That’s fine if you’re a person whose ideology toward the world is race-less or color-blindness, but this doesn’t really work when you want to organize a singular group identity.

        I don’t think there is an easy answer to this issue, but I DO believe there should be a criteria of what is black (even if barely black) vs. what is absolutely NOT black.

    • In Brazil, the ones who LOOK black are systematically given less opportunities by private companies. I’m black, my son is mixed, still a child. If I realize that he’s not a target of prejudice as I am, I’ll encourage him not to take advantage of ‘cotas’.

      • Helena,

        Brazilian racism is unforgiving, and as much as I wish all well to your kid, unless he/she is a mixed child where one can guess, but not be sure of African ancestry, there will be a point in his/her life where some discrimination will happen. Being mixed means however having a clear advantage in the white supremacy system. The difficult question this all puts I suppose is how much disadvantage compared to a white person as opposed to how much advantage w.r.t. a “true” black person this person has to qualify. Both issues are there and are true and it won’t be a easy job sometimes to draw the line. However, most of times it will be relatively easy. I agree with the decision in the sense that it barriers clear cases that are not borderline, even if we can identify their just “Brazilian white”. People with light skin, “straightish” hair and green eyes, should not qualify not matter if you can prove your father is Shaquille O’ Neal.

  2. Since many Brazilians pretend to be befuddled when the question of race comes up, and since, statistically, it is clear that the darker skinned people are the ones living in all the favelas, I agree with the judge’s decision. I continue to be amazed that people know who is Black when they need to racially profile people or call them monkeys on social media, but they magically lose this ability when a governmental benefit comes into play. This is absolutely the best thing that could have been done with this issue. Many Blacks will catch hell for it, but they will also have more opportunities to move forward in life across generations.

      • @Bamabrasileira: This is a very difficult issue. Are you speaking on Camila Pitanga the actress specifically or are you alluding to women who look like her? Because, even though it is true, the darker you are the more discrimination you face, this is not to say that lighter-skinned blacks don’t experience discrimination. So do you believe that lighter-skinned blacks shouldn’t be eligible for quotas?

  3. @Gatas – You are correct in that this is a difficult question in relation to how Brazilians view race. When I view it from an “American’ standpoint, the “one-drop-rule” applies loudly and clearly, and she would be included.

    However, Brazil is quite different. In my experience, almost everything in Brazil is relegated to a “gray” area. There are no hard and fast rules for almost anything here because of endemic corruption at every level of society (hence the advent of the “jeitinho”).

    Because many Brazilians are not (or pretend not to be) clear about who is and is not Black, the only solution is to define clearly what “Black” is and is not. Though Camila has a Black father, she does not look like the people I have seen riding in the servant elevators and having few prospects for a bright future. It is typically women more discernably “Black” (with regard to facial features, skin tone, and nappiness of the hair) who are discriminated against the most. So, because Brazilians have a hard time understanding who is and isn’t Black with regard to receiving the quota designations, yes, I do think she should be excluded. I would prefer to see her and people who look like her excluded than to have the program done away with completely because of feigned ignorance about who is and is not Black.

    • Strong stance! And just a little secret. The media doesn’t report it perhaps out of respect, but Antonio is not her biological father. Word is that her biological father is actually a Frenchman! People in the know in Rio know this…

      • LOLOL! I am not AT ALL surprised by this! When I look at pics of her standing next to her 2 very Black parents – neither whom really look like her – I was wondering if she was left at their doorstep, or a scenario like that! She is very clearly a woman who can pass for “white” if she chose to.

  4. Camila Pitanga can basically choose whether or not she wants to be perceived as “Black”. As is clear when you look at her portfolio, all she has had to do is straighten her hair, maybe add some hideous blonde highlights, and stay out of the sun. It opens up her world in a way that is simply not available to those of us who cannot make this choice.

      • Yes, this is VERY clear when you look at her pictures over the years. She claims her Blackness because it is now trendy for Brazilians to be “proud” of their Black roots, as long as they do not have to really live as a Black person here. She reminds me of FHC with his little comment about how he was born with “one foot in the kitchen” . I do think that those who own their Black history do take a compassionate stance on the lives of Black Brazilians, as none of us can escape our families. But it is still resoundingly clear that they have never really lived fully as a Black person. It is also resoundingly clear that they jump on those expensive blonde highlights, nose jobs, and hair straighteners as SOON as the can spend R$ 1.000 per month to maintain the look! I think the most startling transformation for me has got to be Neymar’s transformation from “Black” to “Racially Ambiguous” due to the not so subtle tweeks to his hair color/ type and the nose job!

      • I’ve been considering this about Neymar. I mean, he still looks like himself but sometimes he looks nothing his photos as “boy wonder” at age 14 or so. I understand tanning but he was much darker in about 2006.

  5. ” It opens up her world in a way that is simply not available to those of us who cannot make this choice.”

    I think that this the key point here. Camila Pitanga has the freedom to be in and out of blackness (in Brazil) at pure will. Those to be included in the program should be those without this choice. I agree she resembles her mother, but I always think “ah, that’s how her mother would look like if she was white..”. It’s different in the US, where she wouldn’t have this kind of freedom, but than again I agree with Bamabrasileira that she should be included there. But not in Brazil, not by a long shot.

    Of course, the judges of this would have to exercise common sense judging each case. If her facial expressions were not so soft, she would probably qualify. But then again her freedom to be in and out of blackness be much harder/impossible, which brings us to my original point.

    Even looking at the background picture of this blog, it’s absolutely obvious to me how she’s stand out as the odd “white” one.

  6. “According to the ministers of STF, the evaluation of the bench should be carried out according to phenotype and not ancestry. For them, existing prejudice and discrimination in the society doesn’t have origin in differences of human genotype, but in fact on phenotypes (of appearance) of individuals and social groups.”

    Well, that actually makes sense. I doubt seriously if anyone, even Africans in Africa, are 100% genetically black African. But one thing is for sure, they have black skin and hair that grows toward the sun!!! That is our defining phenotype and anyone who does not look like that should not be considered a black person. For that reason, I can see why for centuries before European colonization and slavery Africa was known as “the Land of the BLACKS”!!!!

    I don’t know much about Brazil or its history. But I do know that they have sense enough to recognize that 1 drop of African blood DOES NOT make you a black person. America is so EXTREMELY racist in that respect!!!

    I get so tired of people thinking that just anyone can be considered black, as if it’s some sort of feeling or fashion. Black is a color, a phenotype and African people are not so worthless that just anyone that feels like it can claim to be us!!!! You SHOULD look like an African if you are claim to be a black person. If you have slick hair, blue eyes, and lightly tanned skin (i.e. Adriana Lima), you are NOT a black person. It doesn’t matter if your mother, grandmother, or great grandparents were black. If you don’t look like a black person (Jada Pinkett-Smith, Gabrielle Union, Tika Sumpter) then you aren’t one. Simple as that.

    • Intriguing that you would include someone like Jada Pinkett-Smith in your assessment. I would say she definitely has some DNA that had some influence on her skin and eye color. So you would say she has BLACK skin too?

      • Your statement makes very little sense in the regard that most black people in Africa aren’t 100% black. It’s the complete opposite. Most black people in Africa ARE 100% black, how exactly would a minority (whites in the south) influence the genetic makeup of a people they for the most part segregated themselves from? Heck, even people in North-Africa still for the most part, carry African Y-dna haplogroups (which then implies that their paternal ancestry at one time, was black) . Their mitochondrial (mtDNA) dna however, usually originates from outside the continent (you have to remember that the Moors brought plenty of slaves to North Africa, and there was some mixing prior to that also.)

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