Note from BW of Brazil: For many decades, the dream of attaining a college education had remained just that for millions of black Brazilians: a dream. College and university classrooms were almost completely a place for only white Brazilians. The statistics prove this. Between 1960 and 1999, white Brazilians with a college degree increased from only 1.6% to 10.5%. For blacks, the corresponding figures were 0% to 2% (Telles 2003). Think about that for a minute. In the year 2000, only 2% of black Brazilians had managed to graduate from a college or university! But it was right around that time, the end of the 90s and beginning of the 21st century, that the debate about affirmative action policies to balance out this vast inequality began to gain real traction in the realm of politics. The two terms of President Lula da Silva (2003-2010) saw hundreds of thousands of Afro-Brazilians gain access to a college education but the gap between black and white access to colleges and universities is still enormous and within the halls of higher education, white Brazilians also dominate in the more prestigious university courses. Even so, it cannot be denied that major progress has been made over the past decade and a half, but one has to wonder how this progress will be affected with the now official government of Michel Temer that seems held bent on reversing all of this progress as fast as possible.
Below we see a story that shows once again the difficulties of Afro-Brazilians attaining something that was, and in many respects still is, a thing of only elites.
“In college, I am one of five black women in a class of 85 white students”
Courtesy of Nós, mulheres da periferia
My name is Laurielen, I’m 20 years old, was born and raised in São José do Rio Pardo, on the interior of São Paulo (state) and today study philosophy at the Universidade Federal do ABC (ABC Federal University). My hometown is small, so small that everyone knows everyone, class differences are not as pronounced as in greater São Paulo. People are used to helping each other, in fact, the poor are used to helping other poor, the rich had and have their neighborhoods very distant from that neighborhood I grew up in.
My neighborhood is called the Vale do Redentor, is on the highest hill of the city, considered peripheral. The neighborhood was still divided between people who live in simple conditions and more comfortable conditions. I went to high school in an ETEC (Technical School of Paula Souza Center), which was located in one of the noblest districts of the city. I noticed comments from “friends” who said they were afraid of the people from Vale do Redentor; when there the subject was assault, theft or vandalism, they joked around with me. For where I lived, I was one of the few black people in the classroom, the only one of my circle of friends. They would go to parties, eat in restaurants, have new clothes, speak at universities, they spoke of USP – University of São Paulo and I didn’t know what it was all about.
I told my mom that I wanted to study in a federal university, she smiled with a sarcastic and kind of sad air, said poor didn’t have much (chance) to go. I almost accepted this fate, but I wanted to prove otherwise. “Where are you going to live? I can’t help you pay for housing! Your siblings didn’t go to federal (universities), nobody in the neighborhood did, you dream too much, it’s a thing of the television, put your feet on the ground! You’re going around a lot with these rich friends of yours.”
I wanted more than ever to prove otherwise, but never stopped problematizing this reality. I managed to get into the university, my dream had come true, but then (there was) the same problem as always: white friends, upper middle-class, restaurants, republics, rooms with a suite, new books, parties and I could barely pay R$4 at the University Restaurant (RU).
The doctor/professors speaking of things that, probably, we would have learned in elementary school, but I don’t remember even having had teachers in elementary school. It was already a step back, my mother might have been right. Studying all day without worrying about how I would pay for my lunch? No. I managed to get a grant, so I could enjoy privileges that many didn’t have, I forgot what was worrying me about how to pay for the bus, but then the grant was cut, then I could only remember my mother laughing sarcastically.
When I return to my city and my neighborhood on the interior, I’m honored like a goddess who achieved a great unobtainable trophy, there are so many things that go through my head. Responsibility? Overcoming? Resistance? Everything at play. The periphery of the interior is different from the periphery of greater SP but maybe the comments of the unreachable world of the public university are the same.
“The poor don’t have much (chance) to go.” But I’m here and I resist, I am the daughter of the state school, cotista (quota student), I’m a black woman in a class of 85 white students and 5 black students, I’m black woman lesbian, resisting in the oppressive university, I fight for the scholarship that was taken from me, I fight to get a job, now my new challenge is scientific initiation, but the roads are narrow, so I resist.
Laurielen Lucio, 20, a Philosophy student at UFABC.
Source: Nós, mulheres da periferia. Telles, Edward. Racismo à brasileira: uma nova perspectiva sociológica. Rio de Janeiro: Relume Dumará, 2003
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