Racial inequalities persist after 125 years of the abolition of slavery

May 13, 1888 - Abolition of Slavery in Brazil
May 13, 1888 – Abolition of Slavery in Brazil

by Naira Sodré and Max Milliano Melo

Yesterday, May 13, we remembered the date of the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888. But 125 years after the abolition of slavery, Brazil is still far from being a nation free of racial inequalities. Even so, an analysis of economic and social indicators of the past 20 years shows that the country has advanced.

Research from the IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística or Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) shows that the proportion of Brazilians who declare themselves preto (black) or pardo (brown) in places of higher education doubled in ten years, jumping from 19% to 38%. As a result, the percentage of Afro-Brazilians (pretos and pardos) increased in almost every university career. At the same time, the gap between whites and non-whites in the country in terms of per capita income also decreased.

One of the main reasons for the rise of blacks in higher education is the expansion of the sector, that from 1995 to 2011 saw the number of students quadrupled, especially in the private sector, which concentrates 80% of enrollments. A simple analysis of the Censuses from 2000 to 2010 shows that the percentage of new preto and pardo college graduates has come to 41%, close to their 51% representation in the total population. In medicine, however, they are only 17%, although there was an increase of Afro-Brazilian professionals.

Anthropologist Maria Aparecida de Freitas says the fall of racial inequality in access to education has been the result of an ongoing process of the last two decades. However, inequality will only in fact be fought with the improvement of basic public education. With this investment in the base, there would be less violence, less crisis of manpower and less inequality.

According to the researcher and anthropologist, a change in perspective is happening: ten years ago, few working class people aspired to higher education. This is a process of improvement that has occurred in the last 20 years, with economic stabilization and improved quality of life and the educational system itself in the period.

More Afro-Brazilians are now part of the middle class
More Afro-Brazilians are now part of the middle class

The increased presence of blacks in higher education and the reduction of racial inequality in terms of income also correlates with the expansion of the new middle class (whose average income per capita varies between R$291 or US$145 and R$1,109 or US$554), which benefited from the appreciation of the minimum wage, the growth of the economy and social programs targeting the poor. As a result, in 2001, according to a study by the Secretaria de Assuntos Estratégicos da Presidência da República (Secretariat of Strategic Affairs of the Presidency of the Republic), 31% of the preto and pardo population were in the middle class. Ten years later, they are 51%.

Inequality persists

Even within this segment, however, there are still inequalities, as revealed by a study of the Laboratório de Análises Econômicas, Históricas, Sociais e Estatísticas das Relações Raciais (Laeser or the Laboratory of the Analysis of Economic, Historical, and Social Statistics of Race Relations), of UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro). Among the strata which are among the poorest 10% of the new middle class, the percentage of pretos and pardos is 62%. At the other extreme, of those who become part of the new richest 10% of the country, this percentage drops to 39% (Overall, reports estimate that they make up 18-22% of the 10% richest).

Despite the improved levels of higher education and income of the black population in recent decades, the presence of blacks among occupations with lower income persists. Another LaesEr study reveals that while 20% of pretos and pardos are domestic, among broncos (whites), the percentage is 12%. Pretos (blacks) and pardos (browns) earn in this area of work, on average, less than brancos (whites). Clearly marked by the legacy of slavery in Brazil, only in 2013 did domestic workers earn the right to overtime pay and FGTS (1) guaranteed to other workers.

After many years in struggle, in April, a new law granted domestic workers new expanded rights
After many years in struggle, in April, a new law granted domestic workers new expanded rights

Even with the advances, slave labor still persists, especially in the North-East of the country, where people are deceived and taken to work far from home, where they come into with debts that a poor salary cannot pay off, becoming even more indebted just to eat. Some are beaten. They are contemporary slaves. And 81% of them are “non-white” (pretos and pardos), according to a survey commissioned by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and conducted by a research group of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

According to the study that interviewed workers in conditions analogous to slavery, rescued and freed in operations carried out by the Ministério do Trabalho (Ministry of Labor) and the Ministério Público do Trabalho (Public Ministry of Labor or MPT), nearly 20% of those rescued from the conditions were preto, and 62% were pardo. In 2012, 2,560 workers were found in this situation in Brazil.

Conditions analogous to slavery continue to exist in some areas of the country
Conditions analogous to slavery continue to exist in some areas of the country

There have been improvements but there is still a ways to go; here’s a report from 2008.

Blacks and browns have only 6.3 years of schooling (compared to 8.1 years for whites). Only 31% of people in higher education are black or brown.

 Negros (pretos and pardos) receive 62% of the salary of whites. The black woman receives only 56%. Among the richest 10% overall, only 22% are preto or pardo while they only make up 13% of the richest 1%. Among the poorest 10%, 68% are preto and pardo. Brancos (whites) receive, on average, R$977 (US$490) while pretos and pardos earn R$506 (US$253). Whites on the same job, earn 11% more than pretos and pardos. Police and justice are more rigid and belligerent when it comes to dealing with pretos and pardos.

According to the survey, Brazil has a veiled racism in which discrimination make more difficult access and acceptance: denial of jobs, dating, marriage, friendship, cordiality and trust. At the same time, it is quicker and more rigid in charges and convictions in when dealing with pretos and pardos. On television, racism presents itself through the small presence of black actors and the destination of the few in roles of secondary status. The perception that TV broadcasts of blacks (pretos and pardos) is that of a being destined to be subordinate, usually in roles of doormen, maids, drivers etc. In the minds of the population, important positions are associated with white people and unimportant positions to pretos and pardos. Something good is white something white and something bad is preto or pardo.

Despite imrprovements, racial inequalities persist between Afro-Brazilians and white Brazilians
Despite imrprovements, racial inequalities persist between Afro-Brazilians and white Brazilians

Only 9.7% of physicians are preto or pardo. Among dentists, only 8.6% are preto or pardo, and among the lawyers only 17%. There are virtually no black priests or black soccer coaches (2) in Brazil.

Historically, white elites thought that countries with nonwhite majorities would never progress. While in Brazil only 7-11% of Brazilians participate in trade unions and political parties, the various minorities that make up the Movimento Negro (black rights movement) have managed to reduce the intensity of racism in Brazil.

Source: Tribuna da Bahia, Correio BrazilienseFolha de São Paulo, 23 de novembro de 2008


1. The FGTS (Fundo de Garantia do Tempo de Serviço or Guaranteed Fund for Time of Service) is a savings account opened by an employer on behalf of an employee and acts as a guarantee to protecting the employee in case of unfair dismissal. All registered workers in formal employment (CLT) are entitled to FGTS.

2. Although Afro-Brazilian soccer players are often cited as examples of success of successful blacks, there has long been a stigma against black goalies and black coaches in Brazil’s top soccer leagues are almost non-existent. For more on the historic exclusion of black goalies see here. In the future this blog will feature an article on the invisibility of black coaches.

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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