The under-representation of blacks in Brazil’s Congress

A seminar will be held on November 6 at the Freitas Nobre Auditorium on the campus of the University of São Paulo from 2-6pm. In the seminar, several prominent Afro-Brazilians representing the areas of politics, academia and journalism will speak on a range of topics including racial inequality in Brazil, racial inclusion in social movements and the issue of race in the media. Another topic to be discussed will be the under-representation of blacks in the Brazilian Parliament in the presentation of Professor Cloves Oliveira of the Federal University of Bahia.

With recent elections in Brazil and our coverage of the under-representation of Afro-Brazilians in televisionprint media and modeling shows, etc., this is the perfect opportunity to discuss the near invisibility of black Brazilians in Brazil’s political arena. Besides business and economics, politics is obviously another link in the puzzle that can help explain the position of blacks in Brazilian society.

This article breaks down the numbers of Afro-Brazilians in Brazil’s equivalent of the US House of Representatives (called the Câmara dos Deputados do Brasil or House of Deputies of Brazil) and Senate (Senado Federal do Brasil or Federal Senate of Brazil). At the bottom of the page is the complete agenda of the seminar. 

Black Congressional Bloc in Congress nearly doubles

By Fabio Gois

Survey shows that in the current legislature, the number of federal deputies who declare themselves to be of African descent increased from 25 to 43. For leaders of the Movimento Negro, the data shows under-representation and racial exclusion

Although they represent 51% of the population, African descendants occupy only 8.5% of the seats in the Câmara (House). In the Senate, Paulo Paim is one of only two black senators

Black representation increased in the new Brazilian Congress. Of the 513 total deputies, the number of those identifying themselves as black jumped from 25 (5%) in early 2007 to 43 (8.5%) in the current legislature. The number of state and district deputies who identify themselves as African descendants also increased: from 30 to 39. The Senate only has two black senators: Paulo Paim (Partido dos Trabalhores (PT or Workers Party of the state of Rio Grande do Sul) and Magno Malta (Partido da República (political party) of the state of Espírito Santo). The Brazilian senate has a total of 81 senators meaning only 2.4% of the all senators are black.


black Brazilians
Paulo Paim (left) and Magno Malta: Brazil’s only black senators
The data is part of a survey conducted by the União de Negros pela Igualdade (Unegro or the Union of Black Equality in partnership with the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). The study is based on official information from the Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (TSE or Supreme Electoral Tribunal) and declarations of parliamentarians themselves to draw up a map of black participation in Brazilian politics.
Lawmakers who declare themselves African descendants
Alexandre Braga of UNEGRO
Despite the growth, the presence of blacks in the legislature reflects a country still marked by racial exclusion. That’s the assessment of leaders of the Movimento Negro (black movement) on the results of the research. “This fact reveals the great national scandal of racial exclusion. I can’t understand how a population that is more than half blacks is so poorly represented in Congress. Now, to be fair nation, we should also have 51% of Afro-Brazilians in the Parliament,” said the national director of the NGO Educafro, Frei David.
The communications coordinator of UNEGRO, Alexandre Braga, says the research shows how blacks are still out of the decision making process of Brazilian politics. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), 51.1% of Brazilians say they are black or brown.
“It’s a big discrepancy. In terms of parliamentary representation, there is a very wide disparity. In other sectors, such as education, health and violence, you find that the black population is always in the lower range. Research shows that we are also underrepresented in political power,” said Alexander, who led the study, called “Balanço eleitoral do voto étnico negro e presença dos negros no parlamento (Electoral balance of the black ethnic vote and black presence in parliament)”. 
Underrepresentation in numbers
Less than half of the 27 units (26 states and 1 federal district) have black representatives in the Câmara (House). The state with the largest black population, Bahia, appears beside the states of Maranhão and Rio de Janeiro as the caucus with the largest number of members of African descent. Each of these states elected seven black representatives. The southeastern state of Minas Gerais is next with five. Ceará and São Paulo, each have with three, Amapá, Acre, Roraima and Pará, with two, and Espírito Santo, Tocantins and Pernambuco, one with each, complete the list.
Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais are also the Brazilian states with the most elected black state representatives, according to the study of UNEGRO. Research shows that in seven legislatures (the states of Amazonas, Mato Grosso do Sul, Paraíba, Paraná, Rio Grande do Norte, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina) there is no parliamentarian that claims to be black. The study also shows that there are only 52 city councilors who are considered African descendants in Brazilian capital cities. The Câmara of the city of Salvador (Bahia), with 16 blacks, is the state that has the most legislators of African origin.
Weight of the congressional bloc
The electoral report reveals a “black ethnic vote” that is still weak, but with potential for growth within the parliament. “This study did not aim to identify whether a representative was white or black. But I wanted to identify the weight of the “Bancada Negra” (loosely meaning Black Congressional Bloc) in the Parliament,” says Alexandre Braga, of UNEGRO.
The “weight of the Black Caucus” to which Alexander refers can be understood as the potential of the cause of racial equality in enlisting lawmakers in its defense, which can be measured by the size of the Frente Parlamentar Negra (Black Parliamentary Front) in Congress, which brought together in early 2011, 220 deputies and 4 senators. In other words, the more congressmen identified with the flag of the collegiate and included in the parliamentary front, the more firepower the racial cause would have in the Parliament.
Established in May 2007, the Front is composed of parliamentarians from different ethnic backgrounds, which reinforce the team of 43 deputies and two senators in fighting racial inequality. In the evaluation of Alexandre Braga, the fact that there are many mestiços(persons of mixed race) in Congress ends up favoring the performance of the Parliamentary Front.
“In a way, the bench doesn’t have the objective of the demarcation between mestiços and non- mestiços. Actually, the correct name of the Front is the Mixed Parliamentary Front for Racial Equality. Obviously, everybody comes – black, indigenous, mestiço, black. The more support the better. We want to be as respected as the rural, the children’s, the adolescent’s, and the women’s caucus,” he says.
Turning point
Frei David of Educafro
Educafro founder, Frei David also believes that the range of the composition of the Parliamentary Front of Racial Equality transposes genetic restrictions. “In fact, the Front has a different logic. Any Congressman or Senator who believes and will always fight for the cause can enter,” adds Frei David, citing former Senator Marco Maciel (DEM-PE) and Senate President José Sarney (PMDB-AP), as examples of parliamentary who committed themselves to the flag of racial equality.
“The fact of being in the Front doesn’t mean that the parliamentarian has a foot in Africa,” says Frei David, praising UNEGRO saying he is “happy to know that the authorities have been working technically and strategically so that victory for the black people happens.” Victory that, for him, depends on the consciousness and engagement of the Black population. “The problem is in all sectors of society, but especially in the lack of consciousness on the part of the black community itself. The turnaround will occur only when blacks like being black and assume themselves as such. I will confess that it was only at the age of 23 years that I assumed myself as black,” says Frei David.
For a parliamentarian to be considered black and included in the statistics of the survey, the criterion of self-declaration was used, when the Congressman himself stated as such with the staffs of their public institutions. In the case of Irajá Abreu (DEM-TO), which, with characteristics of a “moreno” (1) calls himself black. He is the son of Senator Katia Abreu (DEM-TO).
“We follow the criterion of IBGE for any kind of research, survey and analysis, which is the self-declaration,” explains Braga. “Then we contacted all of the assembly staff to confirm whether the deputy actually stated that they were black,” he adds.
According to the coordinator, the study can be improved with the help of parliamentarians themselves. “That parliamentarian who took knowledge of the study and didn’t see his name included in the list may end up looking for UNEGRO and saying that he is black.”
The first black federal parliamentarian elected was Eduardo Gonçalves Ribeiro, who held office from 1897 until his death in 1900. Son of a slave, he was the first African descendant to assume the government of a province, that of Amazonas, between 1892 and 1896.

Source: Direitos Humanos

1. The term moreno or morena is very common in Brazil and is often used by persons of a wide range of phenotypes including light, brown and dark-skinned Afro-Brazilians, white Brazilians with dark hair and persons who are not so easy to classify according to race. For more on racial classifications see here.

Seminar: “The under-representation of blacks in Brazilian Parliament”

Tuesday, November 6 from 2pm to 6pm
Freitas Nobre Auditorium (University of São Paulo)

Organization: Mixed Parliamentary Front for Racial Equality and Defense of Quilombolas, in partnership with the Institute for Socioeconomic Studies (INESC).

2pm | Opening

Coordination table: Federal Deputy Luiz Alberto (Partido dos Trabalhadores/Bahia), Chairman of the Mixed Parliamentary Front for Racial Equality and Defense of Quilombolas.

“Racial inequality in Brazil”: Luiza Bairros, Minister of State Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality (Seppir).

“The state of the art of under-representation of blacks and blacks in Brazilian Parliament”: Cloves Oliveira, PhD in Political Science and professor of political science at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA)

“Racial inclusion in the proposed political reform Platform of Social Movements”: José Antonio Moroni, Philosopher, post-graduate in History of Brazil, Fundamentals in Special Education and Methods and Techniques of Social Project Development and member of the collegiate management of the Institute for Socioeconomic Studies (INESC).

“The issue of race and the media”: Daniella Luciana, journalist and member of the Commission for Racial Equality Journalists (Cojira/Federal District).

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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