Rebeca Mello Disqualified from an Affirmative Action Program

Rebeca Mello

Rebeca MelloRebeca Mello Disqualified from an Affirmative Action Program

Note from BBT: I swear, the more this continues, the more interesting it gets. It’s actually kind of funny because I remember, back in the early years of this 21st century, one of the main arguments against implementing a system of quotas specifically for Brazil’s black population was the question of determining who was black and who wasn’t.

After having visited the northeastern state of Bahia a few times, I hadn’t really considereded this to be a serious problem. Even though I had seen people from time to time that I had trouble clearing identifying as belonging to one race or another, I just imagined that, in the end, this would all work out. But I also must admit that I tended to see the country based on the writings of long-time activist Abdias do Nascimento and activists of the Movimento Negro that lumped all pretos (blacks) and pardos (browns) into the black category. It was pretty simple…or so I thought. I kinda packed that hint of doubt away in the back of my mind.

Then, as the years went on, I started seeing other parts of country, the interior of Bahia, Minas Gerais, smaller cities in the state of Rio de Janeiro and the peripheries of São Paulo, my view on this whole topic started to slowly change. I started to really see how deep miscegenation had spread throughout the country over the course of centuries and seeing within single families phenotypes that ranged the gamut of looks between black, white and Indian.

I can’t say exactly when this hit me, but one day I could no longer deny a truth that was staring me in the face. The issue wasn’t with defining pretos as black as, in general, people in this category have a more obvious black appearance. The truth I had to come to accept was the fact that not all pardos (brown or people of mixed race) are obviously black, which, in reality, is at the crux of this whole debate. All things considered, the debate over quotas is bringing this dilemna to the fore perhaps more than anything else.

Whereas a decade ago, many black activists were arguing that all pardos should qualify for quotas, nowadays, many of them are now taking issue with certain pardos attempting to take advantage of affirmative action policies. “He/she isn’t black enough! Disqualify and expel him/her!”, they are increasingly saying. So, at this point, the reality is starting to set in and as I have argued, this is just the first step. As I have written elsewhere, if they accept that all pardos can’t be classified as black, eventually, they will need to also bury the idea that Brazil has the largest black population outside of Nigeria. It’s only a matter of time.

This reality is coming from black activists themselves. Frei Davi, a well-respected voice in the movement whose organization Educafro has helped tens of thousands of poor, black Brazilians attain a college education, once stated there were black pardos, pardos who racially sat directly on the fence and pardos who lean more towards a white appearance. Another girl was told by the panel that judges which candidates are “black enough” to apply for quotas that they were looking for pardos were “puxados para o negro” (closer to black).

In essence, all of this squabbing comes back to what I’ve long said and written about. As black Brazilians tend to mix a relatively high rate with white and near whites, they shoot themselves in the foot when they demand quotas in every area of society but remain silent on the issue of interracial unions. In the end, what will happen, as we’ve already seen with so many black Brazilian athletes and entertainers, is that within a few generations, every achievement and level of wealth they’ve struggled and managed to attain will simply revert back to the white population. There’s really no way to dispute this. And as much as black Brazilian women have pointed the finger at black men of being “palmiteiros”, the fact is that, black Brazilian women date/marry across racial lines at a high rate themselves.

This reminds of a funny exchange I had a few weeks back with a few of my readers. I had posted a new article about ballerina Ingrid Silva announcing her pregnancy via Instagram. Silva’s story is inspiring in many ways. Finding it difficult to make it as a black ballerina in Brazil, Silva traveled to the US and became a part of the famed Dance Theatre of Harlem. In my post, I posted her message announcing her pregnancy and the hopes and goals she had for her first baby. She went on say that she, the child’s father and sister were anxiously await his/her arrival.

I thought to myself, “Oh, the guy she’s with has a child from a previous relationship.” But then, less than an hour later, one of my readers sent a link and a comment that read “baby daddy” in reference to Silva’s husband and a link to an Instagram account. I opened the link and saw a slender white male, tatted up, on a bicycle with a dog in the bike’s basket. As it turns out, her husband is a Brazilian from the city of Santa Cruz do Sul located in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. I also discovered that the “sister” that Ingrid referred to was the dog that was in the photo with her husband.

Well, in reality, when I learned she was pregnant, I already imagined the guy was probably white because, well…black Brazilians tend to mix. Seeing the photo, I responded to the comment that I was “absolutely SHOCKED!”, fully with tongue in cheek. A short time later, I received an e-mail from a reader who wrote the following:

“I wanted to put a comment about the article but that’s not work, I saw a comment saying that you were shocked 🙂 Who can pretend to be surprised by the choice or by the color of the partner here ? I mean since I have followed this blog for some years, Unfortunately we know that we must expect to see almost all of the time black brazilian celebrities have relationships with non-black people. I don’t know why but before checking the link of Pedro I was sure at 98% that her partner wasn’t black and my mind didn’t cheat me :)”

It was funny to me because the reader didn’t get the joke in my comment. As I have covered this topic for a number of years, there was NOTHING shocking about who she married. In relation to today’s topic, what I see is that, black Brazilians fighting for quotas and representation in all areas of Brazilian society is a worthy struggle. But if they don’t see any necessity of marrying and procreating with each other, this issue of who is black and who should qualify for quotas will continue. Even more problematic is the possibility that, in the future, the people they struggle to help ascend socially will increasingly look like the people who are already in the vast majority of these positions.

Rebeca Mello
Photo: Personal archive Rebeca Mello, 28, passed the 2018 MPU contest – Photo: Personal archive

Black candidate was disqualified from racial quota in contest for being ‘pretty’, understands Justice of the DF

Article courtesy of Agência Tocantins with additional info courtesy of O Dia and The Intercept

Rebeca Mello passed an exam of the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPU) in 2018, but was disqualified by the organizing panel. She contacted the Judiciary to maintain approval.

The 1st Civil Panel of the Court of Justice of the Federal District and Territories (TJDFT) decided to maintain the qualification of a black candidate for the racial quotas of the exam for technical analyst of the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPU), held in 2018.

Rebeca Mello, 28, passed the selection but, after being submitted to analysis to prove her status as a black candidate, she ended up being disqualified from the quota system by the Brazilian Center for Research in Evaluation and Selection and Promotion of Events (Cebraspe).

The young woman sued the courts and had her approval maintained. For the rapporteur of the case, judge Teófilo Caetano, the economist was rejected for racial quotas “due to being a beautiful woman”.

“In other words, it is undoubtedly inferred from such argumentation that, because she [the candidate] is a beautiful woman and does not present the anatomies ‘identified with blacks’ (curly hair, extremely accentuated nose and lips, black skin color evidenced) she had not suffered discrimination, even though she is negra/parda (black/brown), and therefore should be excluded from the exam for the quota system.”

Cebraspe, on the other hand, said that “it never evaluates standards of beauty or aesthetics in a hetero-identification procedure or in any other phase of the public exam and reinforces its commitment to affirmative policies to combat racism” (see full text below).

According to the judge, the examining board cannot exclude the candidate just for the sake of aesthetics. “It should be noted, the phenotypic evaluation for this purpose should be restricted to the identification of race only, not supporting other speculations about the candidate’s stereotype, including the aesthetic.”

“Does it mean to say, then, that only black women who do not have socially established aesthetic traits as a standard of beauty are those who have suffered social discrimination and racial prejudice and would be able to enter the public service through the quota system?”, questioned the voting magistrate.


In justifying the disqualification of the economist from the quota system, Cebraspe argued that three people participated in the panel and that, during the interview, “it was found that the phenotypic characteristics of the appellate [candidate] did not fit the precepts of Resolution No. 170 / 2017 of the National Council of the Public Ministry [dealing with quota beneficiaries]”.

Rebeca, however, says that she had already gone through three other evaluations carried out by Cebraspe and that, in all, she was considered apt to compete for the vacancies reserved for black candidates. She believes that there was prejudice on the part of the evaluation panel.

Rebeca Mello
Rebeca Mello was rejected for an affirmative action program because she was deemed “beautiful”

“They have a black standard and a crazy criterion in their heads to say who is black or not. I believe that, for them, only those who are preto (clearly black) can be qualified,” she said.

The defense presented by Cebraspe said that “the fact that a person is not white doesn’t mean compulsorily recognizing that he/she is black” (emphasis mine). This last phrase once again demonstrates that these panels are seeing the complexity of defining all non-whites as black as they are beginning to judge some people who are not unquestionably black with more stringent criteria. The jury also said that the candidates enrolled in the quotas should have characteristics that served throughout their lives as an obstacle.

Appellate judge Caetano saw “prejudice” in Cebraspe’s arguments because it was only an “aesthetic analysis”. Rebeca Mello also responded to Cebraspe’s defense. “I’m black, but I can’t be for the quota system? It’s crazy”. Rebeca further states that she has always recognized herself as black and even remembers hearing racist comments inside of her own family. “You have um pé na senzala (a foot in the kitchen), but even so, you’re still pretty,” her family would say. The phrase “a foot in the kitchen” is an old Brazilian expression meaning one still has visible markers of African ancestry. As black women are associated with the kitchen and and cleaning work, the phrase reminds people who look almost white that they are not quite white. 

University of Brasília
Facade of Cebraspe, on the Asa Norte campus of the University of Brasília

Rebeca Mello points out that she did not have access to the criteria and arguments for rejection. The economist says she took proof that she was a quilombola according to the judicial decision that requested she be replaced in the position of administrative technician of the MPU, with an initial salary of about R$ 7 thousand per month. But, according to her, the inspectors didn’t want to analyze the documentation.

“I was rejected by two panels and they never said who the evaluators were and if they were different. I questioned the MPU several times, but I was not given material to defend myself. “

The economist classifies the situation as revolting. “As it should be solved with Cebraspe, we set the Courts of the DF (Federal District) in motion. It was a very strange process, but thankfully the Court of Justice made that decision.”

Judicial determination

The most recent decision in favor of Rebeca Mello came out on August 31. On the occasion, the Justice denied an appeal by Cebraspe and maintained a first instance order that had determined the suspension of the economist’s elimination from the competition, until a final judgment on the case.

Cebraspe had also asked for the analysis of the merits of the case to be transferred to the Federal Court, since the candidate would be competing for a seat in a federal agency. However, the request was also rejected.

The lawsuit was filed by Rebeca Mello’s father, lawyer Magno Mello, 58. He defends a greater debate about the classification by the examining panels in the scope of racial quotas.

“For a person to speak out against a candidate’s declaration, he has to be very sure. The decision changes the entire ranking order of the competition,” he says.

The lawyer states that another case similar to this one is still pending in court. According to him, in 2018, his daughter also passed in another public exam, for the Instituto Rio Branco (see note one), but was disapproved by the board that evaluates the classification of the racial quota. “The only way out is to keep fighting. This is committing a crime.”

Cebraspe states its position in the following note:

“Regarding the case cited, Cebraspe informs that, in its appeal, it never made any association between the phenotypic criteria required for the candidate to be considered black in the heteroidentification stage and any standards of beauty or aesthetics.

It was strange to this Center that, in the judicial decision, there is an association between beauty standards and phenotypic characteristics, considering that the face-to-face analysis made at the time of hetero-identification aims to analyze, only, if the candidate has a set of characteristics of the black person, such as hair texture, skin color, among others. It should also be noted that this procedure is carried out by a panel composed of members with experience in public policies to combat racism.

Cebraspe clarifies that it never evaluates standards of beauty or aesthetics in a hetero-identification procedure or in any other phase of the public exam and reinforces its commitment to affirmative policies to combat racism. (see note two)

Regarding the candidate’s situation at the Instituto Rio Branco (IRBr) event, we clarify that the verification of the self-declaration to compete for places reserved for black candidates was carried out by the Institute itself and not by this Center.”

Despite celebrating the victory of the MPU exam, the economist is also waiting for the judicial decision after being considered white in the Itamaraty contest, with salaries of R$ 17 thousand per month. The case has been in progress at the Federal Regional Court of the 1st Region since 2017.

Source: Agência Tocantins, O Dia, The Intercept


1. Instituto Rio Branco is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ training school

2. This discussion on whether the woman is being judged based on how black she is or is not becomes even more complicated if the question of beauty and aesthetics did in fact come into play. The judge saw it this way by concluded that it seems Rebeca Mello was rejected due to being beautiful. Cebraspe denies this charge but also says that beneficiaries of quotas should have physical features that would present obstacles to social advance in a society based on European aesthetics. The question here would be, in Brazil, is it possible to be considered beautiful and black?

We know that it is still common in Brazil to hear someone say that someone is “black but beautiful” as if to say the two terms aren’t compatible. The first panel judged Rebeca Mello as black while the second didn’t. When comparing her photos, we can see how this could happen. In one of her photos, at least in my view, she comes across as black while in others, she could only be black if we apply the infamous “one drop rule”. It’s almost as if the second judging panel itself is saying that, as she doesn’t have physical features that denote blackness, she is too beautiful, thus not black and thus shouldn’t qualify for affirmative action policies. 

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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