Note from BW of Brazil: Well, as the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And as far as I can tell, this is what a new study recently confirmed, at least when it comes to how people are viewed in the Brazilian public imagination according to the criteria of race or color. In reality, we’ve seen these types of studies before, usually with the same result.
In the oft-cited 2007 book, A Cabeça do Brasileiro (The head or mind of the Brazilian), we got a glimpse into the mind of Brazilians when they were asked to choose what occupation they would imagine a person having based solely on their phenotype. It was intriguing to watch how the results changed even as the people in the photos wore the exact same clothing.
Another study in 2016 sought to analyze these perceptions in a hidden video test that showed several reactions people had to almost identical photos in which the only difference was the color of the skin, once again confirming the racial hierarchy that exists in Brazil. In the end, regardless of how people may say that “we are all equal”, what we see is that even if you put a black man or black women in business attire, the stereotype of what occupation they occupy remains the same.
In other examples in the media, we see that no matter how low a social condition that a white person finds him or herself in, generally, people don’t associate them with such status. It’s as if misfortunes of life aren’t supposed to affect people with pale skin, light eyes and light hair color. This also plays out when we see how people will willingly try to help white people out of their horrific situations but then pass by numerous black people in the streets in the same situation.
The intriguing thing here is that people don’t necessarily have to reveal their own pre-conceived notions. By asking how do you think the average Brazilian would see the people in the picture, it shows that people DO understand how race/color influences the perception of Brazilians in relation to potential. In this way, in another way, it echoes another study that revealed that Brazilians overwhelmingly acknowledge knowing persons who harbor racist sentiments while not necessarily admitting that they themselves think in the same way.
So, what do you think? Why, even with there having been significant changes in the social ascension of black Brazilians in past decade and a half, do Brazilians see Brazilians as continuing to see them as having such low potential? To be fair, the answers to these questions do also reveal some realities. I mean, it is definitely true that white Brazilians are far more likely to be CEOs of large companies (see here and here) and doctors, which means, in terms of opportunities, even with significant progress, there is still a long ways to go in terms of actual success and perceptions of such.
Research shows the influence of skin color on the way people are seen in Brazil
Black men and black women are seen as a threat and criminals in the population’s imagination; whites are entrepreneurs and successful people
By Juca Guimarães; Editing by: Nataly Simões; Image: Cufa and Locomotiva
A study carried out by the Central Única das Favelas (Cufa) in partnership with the Instituto Locomotiva (Locomotiva institute) in 72 Brazilian cities proposed analyzing the profile of people from photographs. The result shows that the images of black people with darker skin were identified, by most of the interviewees, as suspicious, threatening and of inferior professional qualification profiles, regardless of age, in comparison with white people.
Only 7% recognized that an older black man could be the president of a large company, while 75% pointed out the white man as the head of the company.
Almost half of the population (45%) pointed out that they would be more afraid of meeting a black man on the street. In the photo there is a black model, around 25 years old, smiling. In the same situation, only 9% of respondents said they would be afraid of a young white man.
According to psychologist Ivani Oliveira, vice president of the Regional Psychological Council of São Paulo, a racist society makes people have a pejorative idea of what it is to be black. “These images permeate the subjectivity of all people. This control of images has been fundamental for the maintenance of inequality and social injustice,” says Ivani.
The psychologist points out that the media, commanded by white people, are responsible for stereotypes about black people. “Although the black movement fights for black people to be seen free of stereotypes, the dominance of the media is by whites. They impose an image of white people with positive characteristics, in order to maintain their autonomy and strengthen the group itself. In this context, images are produced and disseminated for racial domination,” explains Ivani.
In the analysis of the photographs of women, 36% of the interviewees pointed out that the black woman had already been arrested, while 15% gave the same answer in relation to the white woman with blond hair. Regarding the profession, 45% said that the white girl was a doctor, against 11% who identified the black girl as a doctor.
In comparison with the same photos, 52% said that the white girl studied abroad and only 7% said that the black girl had studied abroad.
“The colonizer’s reference is placed everywhere as ideal and this has been perpetuated since the abolition of slavery. Brazilian society developed itself by observing black bodies in inferior or marginalized positions. Brazilian television and cinema are two examples of the construction of distorted stereotypes of black people,” ponders the psychologist and specialist in race relations and masculinities, Everton Mendes, a member of the Instituto Afro Amparo de Saúde (IAAS).
The survey, carried out in June with 1,452 people between the ages of 16 and 69 and from all social classes, also addressed questions about the general situation of racism in Brazil. Respondents said that blacks are more likely to be violently approached by the police (94% of responses) and less chance of getting a job (9% of responses). On the other hand, the population’s imaginary identifies that whites are less likely to be killed by the police (6%) and more likely to go to college (85%).