By Carolina Giovanelli
A feeling of uneasiness used to come upon José Vicente, 56, of São Paulo, when visited theaters and restaurants in the city. “I’m used to people giving me the keys of their cars for me to park it and asking me who I’m looking for,” he says. He’s not a valet or a chauffeur, but the dean of an influential institution of higher learning whereby visitors such as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was there in 2010 for a discussion with students and professors, have already visited.
In operation since 2004 with a mission of expanding opportunities for blacks, the Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares (Zumbi dos Palmares College), better known as Unipalmares, counts 1,600 enrolled students and 1,400 graduates.
|The dean José Vicente|
The entity’s proposal goes beyond the imposition of the quota system (from the law signed in August, that federal universities reserve 39% of vacancies to blacks, browns and Indians who come from public schools). Unipalmares, which is private and belongs to the Instituto Afro-Brasileiro de Ensino Superior(Afro-Brazilian Institute of Higher Education), aims 50% of its vacancies to these races (colors), but it’s not even necessary: 87% of students declare themselves part of this profile. At Universidade de São Paulo (University of São Paulo), for example, they are only 15%, compared to the 37% of the population of São Paulo that they represent. Currently, Unipalmares offers five courses, including Law and Education, with a tuition of R$300 (about US$150) per month on average. Now the school is preparing for a new phase of expansion. In the first half of next year, there will be Human Resource and Financial Management courses.
|Law student, Karen Mattos|
1. In perhaps a twist of irony, it was the well-known Clube de Regatas Tietê that for many years barred black Brazilians from joining. In 1978, it was the barring of four black volleyball players from the club that was one of the sparking incidents that led to the formation of the Movimento Negro Unificado, the umbrella term for hundreds of black organizations that fight racial discrimination and for the inclusion of Afro-Brazilians in society. The Movimento Negro Unificado, or simply Movimento Negro, officially formed on July 7, 1978. Clube de Regatas Tietê closed its doors in 2009 but the Unipalmares college maintains its operations on the site.
2. This question of identity is frequently highlighted on this blog. While some see Brazil as having largest black population outside of Africa, others see the country as the world’s largest mixed-race nation. In some ways, it is difficult to come to a true consensus on Brazil’s population as the question of self-perception and identity is always personal. Many studies show the complexity of self-perception and how one is perceived. For example, a person may appear to be black (negro or preto) to someone else but define him/herself as a pardo/parda (brown), moreno/morena (dark or brunette), or mulato/mulata (African-European mixture). There are also situations in which one sees a person that they would consider to be pardo or mestiço/mestiço (mixed race) while that person defines himself or herself as negro/negra (black). For some social scientists and activists, these terms have become increasingly signs of political consciousness or lack thereof. For more on this theme, see the following articles:
The Brazilian mulata: black woman or something entirely different?
Brazilians don’t recognize their racial identity
Brazil: The ideology of “whitening” and the struggle for a black identity