Photo of black college students wearing graduation gowns goes viral; image shows that even after nearly two decades of quotas, graduations remain mostly white

75714848 rgelaformandos negros na bahia
75714848 rgelaformandos negros na bahia


Note from BW of Brazil: Images such as these featured here today are reasons for why the issue of quotas and affirmative action policies have been so important over the past few decades. College campuses across the country have always been dominated by the presence of white student bodies, with most of the black people you find there working in clean up crews or serving food. The introduction of the highly debated affirmative action policies in the first years of the 21st century gave hundreds of thousands of Afro-Brazilians the opportunity to become the first in their families to ever achieve a college education. And Brazilian society has been criticizing the policies ever since.

First came the arguments of why affirmative action policies were/are wrong and after black students continuously proved through their grades that they deserved the opportunity, then white students came with the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” routine when numerous visually white people began to define themselves as black in order to take advantage of the system. One university in the south even sought to help them pull off this chicanery by changing the criteria of who could define themselves as black. But even without such tactics, graduation ceremonies are still basically a white affair, which is why these photos were such a hit on the internet. Check the details below…


Image of young blacks wearing graduation cap and gown at graduation a success in social networks

Courtesy of Casa de Taipas

The photographer Matheus Leite lives in Salvador, capital city of Bahia, and has always been bothered by the asymmetry between Brazilian racial demographics and what he saw in the graduation photos: although blacks are the majority of the population, they still have a very low presence in the academic universe. To shed light on the subject, he brought together black men and women dressed in traditional graduation ceremony cap and gown for a photo. The image was so strong that it quickly went viral on social networks.

“The idea came when I began to notice the small amount or complete absence of black men and women in graduation photos. So, I decided to make a graduation video, which will still be released, affirming the occupation of this academic space. The photos were a consequence of the recording,” says Matheus.

He came to research works of people and companies that work in the area of graduation ceremonies, but did not find groups hegemonically or completely black. Therefore, he gathered, on his own, the people that appear in the images.

Medicina da Turma 142, da Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais - 175 grads
2017 Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) graduating class in Medicine

“They are people who have had or have some connection with the academic universe. That was my criterion for inviting them. Everything went very fast, because I wanted to take advantage of the gowns from a previous work that I still had,” reports Matheus.

One of those portrayed is the graduate, 25-year-old journalist Patrícia Souza. Although she had shared space with a considerable number of black classmates in her class, she notes that in college, as a whole, they were few. In addition, the number of black professors during the courses didn’t exceed five teachers.

“And yet I had to face prejudiced remarks. At the time, I wore black power hair (afro) and a professor said that if I kept it that way, I would have difficulty working on TV,” recalls the young woman, who had the identity of the black woman in television journalism as the subject of her grad work.

Colação de Grau da Classe 2014 Universidade de São Paulo
University of São Paulo graduating class of 2014

Amidst the success that the photos have been making in the networks, Matheus was not free of criticism. A fact that he considers quite symptomatic.

“They called me racist, Nazi, separatist and segregationist,” the photographer said. “This, unfortunately, only shows how the protagonism of black men and women annoys a lot of people. If you stop and think, every end of semester dozens of classes graduate with 30 to 50 students made up only of white people. And this is received naturally. But when I bring five black people together to take a graduation photo, I’m called that. It’s surreal, but it’s the truth.”

Source: Casa de Taipas

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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