For blacks, the end of the line: a panorama of racial inequality in the state capital of Rio Grande do Sul is evident in job opportunities, income and politics

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20170616 lara 600x400
Larinha says that in collective interviews, the racism is more evident

Note from BW of Brazil: As has been documented time and time again, it is not only the numbers that prove the profound racial inequalities in Brazil, but also the personal experiences of the people. And in the three states of southern Brazil, often recognized as the European region of Brazil due to the overwhelming majority of persons who classify themselves as white, the story is no different. Afro-Brazilians lag behind their white counterparts in income, education, access to gainful employment and even opportunities in political careers. These are all subjects that have been discussed in previous material and below a few Afro-Brazilians share their experiences in the city of Porto Alegre. 

For blacks, the end of the line: a panorama of inequality in the state capital of Rio Grande do Sul

By Rebeca Kuhn

Dona Marlene Alexandre da Silva, 68, retired, has not yet found the tranquility of old age. A resident of Vila Cruzeiro, a black woman and mother of seven, she questions the opportunities given to her and her family. Of seven adults, five are unemployed. The quest for work is daily, frustration and despair, too. What do you do when your social conditions, your schooling and your future are connected to your skin color?

Porto Alegre is the capital city of the state of Rio grande do Sul, located in southern Brazil

Racial inequality is present in all spheres of society, throughout Brazil, in all segments. Which seems contradictory, since we live in a country constructed by blacks and experienced by them. Currently, according to IBGE, 53% of Brazilians declare themselves to be pardos ou pretos (brown or black). The injustice suffered by them, even if not shown in the news, is easily perceived: how many blacks do you see in politics? How many in a large company or university? And in the city, how many do you see in precarious situations on the street? How many are in the line of unemployment insurance?

Hilária Alexandre da Silva, 36, daughter of Dona Marlene, always liked to work as a receptionist. Working with the public, answering calls, and earning a salary was not only a pleasurable experience but a necessary one. Three years ago this day to day became different, “My routine is to stay at home and go out to look for a job,” Larinha said, as she prefers to be called. Every week the phone rings. Always a call for a new interview. Expectation fuels her dreams, which are soon diminished by silence. According to Larinha, “retornaremos em breve” (we’ll get back with you soon) is the phrase most said by the contractors but never fulfilled.

She has no doubt that her color interferes with getting a job. She’s already suffered direct and camouflaged prejudice in interviews.

Larinha says that in collective interviews, racism is more evident: “When we are in a group I perceive the look and different questions directed toward me”.

The difference between the black and non-black unemployment rate has always been great. Although there is an increasing number of affirmative policies in the country, which promote resources for the benefit of people belonging to discriminated groups and victims of social exclusion, the unemployment rate between whites and blacks in Porto Alegre was the worst of any historical series registered by PED-RMPA (Employment and Unemployment Survey in the Metropolitan Region of Porto Alegre). That is, it is the most negative index since 1993.

With the dream of attending administration school and marrying her fiancé, Larinha laments Brazil’s debt to blacks. While preparing cupcakes to sell in the neighborhood, she notes that despite the current crisis, jobs are not lacking. For her, the Brazilian still has an understanding that somos todos iguais (we are all equal). Lack of quota, lack of employment, lack of opportunity. In Porto Alegre, where the black majority is underemployed, whites do not suffer the same difficulty in getting an occupation. In 2015 white unemployment was 6.5% and the percentage of blacks rose to 12.30%, almost double.

This social chasm between whites and blacks in the labor market also appears in wages: black Brazilian workers earned, on average, only 59% of whites’ income in 2015, according to data from the PME (Monthly Employment Survey). However, according to the IBGE, in 2003, this percentage of salary difference didn’t come to half (48.4%). In Porto Alegre, the difference between incomes increased, in 2014 blacks received 70% of whites’ incomes and in 2015 this figure decreased to 67.7%.

Consequently, with little supply of labor and money, the rise of blacks to private universities does not compare with that of whites. The instruments offered by the federal government, such as quotas, Fies and Prouni (1), create opportunities for those people who would have little chance of attending higher education. However, the equilibrium of races in the institutions is still far from being achieved.

According to Lires Maria, a black former law student at PUCRS, these social policies are not yet fully accepted: “Many still see quota policy as a privilege, since they don’t take into account the historical reparation of years of denial of basic rights to the community and the deep marks of still existent racism.”

Pérola Sampaio highlights institutional racism within the parties (Photo: Rebeca Kuhn)

In 2004, 16.7% of students in higher education were blacks and browns, according to the IBGE, this number grew to 45.5% in 2014. However, despite the optimistic increase, blacks did not reach the percentage of white students in 2004, which was 47.2%.

The absence of political representation also weighs on the uneven balance of blacks and whites. It became more visible in 2014 when candidates for political office began to be forced to report their color to the Justiça Eleitoral (Electoral Court): Of the 1,627 candidates elected in Brazil, 51 declare themselves black. That is, only 3%. In Porto Alegre it was worse: no black candidate was elected.

In the current composition of the Chamber of Deputies, white parliamentarians represent more than 70% of seats, while blacks occupy only 3.5%. There is no black deputy in Rio Grande do Sul.

There has only ben one black governor in the state, Alceu Collares, who was also the only black mayor in Porto Alegre. Only one black president in the country, Nilo Procópio Peçanha, the vice of Afonso Pena who assumed the presidency in 1909 for only one year.

Such low representation does not seem to bother the country, although the majority of the population is black. But the problem, here non-existent, came to the United Nations that, in 2016, complained about the lack of blacks at the top of the Brazilian government.

According to Pérola Sampaio, a candidate for mayor of Porto Alegre for the  Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party or PT) last year, these data are not the fault of the electorate, but very characteristic of institutional racism that often prevails in party institutions: “There is a discredit within parties to invest in black candidates. In all parties, be it on the right, or on the left,” says Pérola.

When asked if blacks vote for blacks, Pérola replied that yes. However, black candidates usually have the lowest purchasing power. Thus, the other highest-paid candidates end up co-opting the electoral base of the black politician with less power, thereby confounding that electorate to turn over their constituency on the basis of privileges and other positions.

Pérola points out that the spaces of empowerment that must be fulfilled by the blacks are not limited to the parliament, but to all places. “The space I want to be is the opportunity. This is what we seek and demand, that managers can give young people the opportunity, especially the black youth, who are dying by the bullet. The bullet that is not a stray, it’s directed. Because it has a neighborhood, it has a CEP (zip code),” she says.

The opportunity requested by Pérola serves as an object of reflection. It is the duty of an entire country to fight to end racism and to strengthen equality, but it is mainly the responsibility of the Brazilian State to offer this through public social policies, inclusion, affirmative action and quotas. All the ways considered “unequal” by some, little by little, repair the historical debt of more than 500 years with blacks in Brazil. “That we can have the right, in fact, to dream and dream for that that we want so much: that is to make our country developed and a country that belongs to all Brazilians,” concludes Pérola.

Source: Sul 21


  1. Fundo de Financiamento Estudantil (Fies or Student Financing Fund) is a program of the Ministry of Education to finance undergraduate higher education for students enrolled in institutions that aren’t free. Students enrolled in higher education courses who have a positive evaluation in the processes conducted by the Ministry of Education may apply for funding.

    Programa Universidade para Todos (ProUni or University for All Program) is a program of the Federal Government of Brazil created with the objective of granting full and partial scholarships in undergraduate and sequential courses of specific training in private higher education institutions.

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


  1. A bunch of crap!! Ps: your numbers and statistics are ‘false’ made up.
    you white’s ass kisser.

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