The color of the elite: While Afro-Brazilians make up more than half of the population, whites make up 82% of professional elites



Note from BW of Brazil: Many who have ever been confronted with the racial question in Brazil will simply belittle the idea that the country has any sort of inequalities based upon race, skin color or racially-associated physical appearance. They would have us believe that anyone who points out Brazil’s huge racial disparities are simply “vitimistas” (those who play the victim). For them, if one simply works hard and studies, they can get ahead as easily as anyone with an appearance that would classify them as branco, meaning white. But the fact is, as numerous books over the years have proven beyond a reasonable doubt, this is simply not the case, and there are even those whites, academic or otherwise, who can confirm that white skin indeed provides privileges in Brazil (see here, here or here). One area in which we can certainly judge how these privileges and penalties play themselves out is in the elite professions in the country. The article below provides just a glimpse and the numbers of a reality that, deep down, people really know exists, even if they can’t admit it.

With half the population, blacks make up only 18% of prominent positions in Brazil


The Color of the Elite
The Color of the Elite

Friday, 7pm, at the entrance of the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo. In passing through there about 30 minutes before night classes, 356 brancos (whites), 75 pardos (browns), 16 amarelos (yellow/Asians) and 6 people of pele preta (black skin).

Saturday, 2:45, at the entrance of block C of the Sírio-Libanês (Syrian-Lebanese) hospital. Passing through the turnstile are 195 people: 169 brancos, 14 pardos, 6 amarelo and 6 preto. Of the latter, one is security.

Sunday, 1:20, in the food court of Iguatemi mall in São Paulo, one of the most luxurious in the city. 147 people are having lunch on site: 137 branco, 7 pardo, 3 amarelo. No preto.

Carlos Alberto Reis de Paula was the first black president of the Tribunal Superior do Trabalho
Carlos Alberto Reis de Paula was the first black president of the Tribunal Superior do Trabalho

Negros, or blacks (the combination of pretos and pardos) are 50.7% of the population, but are still not present in the Brazilian elite. What one finds in tours of the elite strongholds of São Paulo matches the survey conducted by Folha with 1,138 professionals in prominent positions in politics, health, arts, the judiciary, university and politics.

The survey was conducted according to the criteria of the IBGE, that requests a self-declaration of color of respondents in the Census. The organ breaks down the skin of the population into five categories: branca (white), preta (black), amarela (yellow/Asian), parda (brown) and indígena (indigenous or Indian). Black people are those were considered preta and parda.

Whoever did not respond to the Folha survey was classified based on photos.


In the 20 largest companies in the country, only one president considers himself pardo, Marcelo Odebrecht. “More than prejudice, [the fact that there are few black businessmen] reflects our socio-economic reality and access to education,” says the CEO of the conglomerate of construction companies.

Marcelo Odebrecht is president of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. At left and center as he appeared on a cover Veja magazine charged with corruption and money laundering
Marcelo Odebrecht is president of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. At left and at left of center photo as he appeared on a cover of Veja magazine after being charged with corruption and money laundering. At right a publicity photo.

In the micro and small enterprises sector, the scenario is different. Blacks are half the business owners in Brazil, according to a study by Sebrae released in April. However, the average income of white entrepreneurs is 116% higher than that of blacks that are concentrated in branches of lower profitability, such as the agricultural and construction sectors.

Businessman Geraldo Rufino
Businessman Geraldo Rufino

More than four decades before charging R$50 million per year with the legal dismantling of trucks, businessman Geraldo Rufino, 56, black, was picking up cans in a landfill to help the family income.

He was working as an office boy in a multinational firm, rose to become director and, at 21, went on to take on a small family business.

Despite being an exception, Rufino says that racism is only a problem for those who believe it exists. “This is something that they put in people’s minds. If blacks had development, had a stable financial situation, racism is secondary.”

Actor Ailton Graça
Actor Ailton Graça

According to Marcelo Paixão, black, a professor of economics at UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), the situation is more complex. “It is important to examine the relationship between race and income also from the angle of the other dimensions that poverty can take, especially the poverty of representation. In politics, the arts, the media,” he says.


Of the 513 deputados (deputies or congressmen) elected in 2014, 80% are white. In court, the prevalence of whites is even higher: 25 of the 29 ministers of the Superior Tribunal de Justiça (Superior Court of Justice) are brancos, three are pardos and one preto. All 11 ministers of the Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Court), the highest court in the land, are white, since Joaquim Barbosa retired.

The retired minister Carlos Alberto Reis de Paula, 71, who was the first black president of the Tribunal Superior do Trabalho (Superior Labor Court) says that cases of racism were repeated throughout his life. He recalls, especially when he was denied entry into a club in 1967. “Things for us, blacks were more difficult. We had to fight harder, had to do more, had to prove to others that we were capable.”

In classical music, the situation is similar. The Osesp (Symphonic Orchestra of São Paulo), considered one of the most important in the Americas, has among the Brazilians of their coral 29 whites (63%), 15 black singers (33%), one Asian and one Indian.

Classical singer Érika Muniz
Classical singer Érika Muniz

Television also has a low representation of the black population. The five new novelas (soap operas) on the air on free TV have only 15% of black actors, compared with 85% of whites.

Ailton Graça, 50, black and actor of TV Globo says who considers himself a survivor in a racist country. “When I was in primary school, I could count that 60% were black. In high school it decreased, it was 10%. In college, maybe I was the only black. You begin to realize that something is strange.”

Eunice Aparecida of Jesus, law professor at the University of São Paulo
Eunice Aparecida of Jesus, law professor at the University of São Paulo

In order to change the picture, racial quotas are a solution in the view of Eunice Aparecida of Jesus, 68, black, a law professor at USP (University of São Paulo) and former Secretary of Justice of the State of São Paulo. “The university organizes itself and put all its efforts into including people. That’s why it exists,” she says. “This school [the Faculty of Law of USP] had three black professors in its history. I am the third.”

The entrepreneur Geraldo Rufino disagrees. “Whoever is in public school and has no financial condition but has light-colored eyes, he is not entitled to quota. The other or to the school is going right, but has dark skin and has a quota? That, to me, is racism.”

Note from BW of Brazil: Still not convinced? Of course we’ll always find some black folks like Geraldo Rufino who will downplay the influence of racism in everyday life, but most people who cannot pass for white aren’t buying it. Of course I’m sure Mr. Rufino did many things right in life to be able to succeed on his level, but to minimize how long blacks have been at an unfair disadvantage just to speak out against quotas, those of which whites in general have long benefited from, is simply out of touch. According to Rufino’s logic, raising the issue of white dominance in top executive positions, academia, foreign diplomacy, film and television, and balancing the racial inequalities would probably be ‘reverse racism’. Whatever. The rest of us call it what it is: white supremacy. 

Brazil: white and black? No, just the picture of white supremacy

From the newsroom of Afropress with information from Folha de S. Paulo

Twenty-seven years after the entry into force of the Constitution of 1988 – the Citizen Constitution – and after 13 years of governments of a party that proclaims itself leftist – the PT (Workers’ Party) – the Brazil of 2015 combines social inequality that’s expected to worsen with the fiscal adjustments, according to analysts, and white supremacy: Although correspond to only 47.7% of the population, whites constitute 82% of professional elites, according to a study conducted by the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo and published Monday, June 8th (2015).

In the categories adopted by the newspaper as elites, are academics, actors, congressman, governors, doctors, ministers of the Supreme Court (STF), ministers of the Superior Court of Justice (STJ), classical musicians, presidents of companies and senators. The newspaper heard 1,138 professionals in prominent positions in politics, health, arts, the judiciary, university and politics.

According to the IBGE Census 2010, which ranks the population as preta (black), parda (brown), branca (white), amarela (yellow or Asian) and indígena (indigenous), negros, or blacks – the sum of pretos and pardos – correspond to 50.7% (43.1% pardos and 7.6% pretos) – about 102 million Brazilians. They represent, however, only 18% of professional elites.

According to the newspaper’s study, the latest x-ray of socio-racial inequality in the country, the indigenous people who, at the time of discovery in 1500, accounted for about 6 million people, divided into, at least a thousand distinct nations, today don’t make up any segment of Brazilian elites.

Underrepresentation policy

The black under-representation takes place in all segments researched and remains unchanged even in positions that are chosen in elections: among the 81 senators, for example, whites account for 75.3% of the composition of the Senate. The pardos and pretos are just 19.8% and 4.9%, respectively.

"How it is in Brazil" (black, white, indian, Asian and brown) - Senators: Current Brazilian senators
“How it is in Brazil” (black, white, indian, Asian and brown) – Senators: Current Brazilian senators

White supremacy is also marked in the Câmara Federal (Congress): among the 513 deputies elected in 2014, 79.9% are white; negros are 15.8% (pardos) and 4.3% (pretos).

Similar percentages were recorded among the governors: 74.1% are brancos (whites); 22.2% declared themselves pardos; and 3.7% are Asian. None are preto.

The curious fact in this category is that the governor of (the state of) Piauí, Wellington Dias, PT, with visibly black/Amerindian features declares himself Asian.

The business world

Among the representatives of the 20 largest companies in Brazil (including Petrobrás, Carrefour, Fiat, Walmart, Wolkswagen, Oi, Ambev and Gerdau and Braskem groups) according to the Valor 1000 2014 ranking, 95% declare themselves brancos, against only 5% of pardos. There are no pretos.

In the Courts

In the courts in the white presence is overwhelming: the Supreme Court reaches 86.2% versus 10.3% of pardos and 3.4% pretos. In the highest court of Justice, the Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Court), 100% of the 11 ministers are white and declare themselves as such. (In the photo, professor Eunice Prudente, who came to occupy for a short time, the Department of Justice and Defense of Citizenship of São Paulo).

Also among the doctors who preside over the Conselhos Regionais de Medicina (Medical Board) (CRM) of the Brazilian states and the Federal District there are no pretos: 75% are brancos; 21.4% are pardos, and 3.6% are Asians.

Novelas and Academics

In the arts, 84.6% of the actors of the five newest novelas (soap operas) on currently on the air on free access TV, are white: only 6.9% are preto, 8.1% are pardos; and 0.4% Asian. (In the cover photo, actor Ailton Graça).

In the category of classical musicians of the Symphony Orchestra of São Paulo, 79.2% are branco; 12.5% ​​pardo, 5% preto, 0.8% Indians and 2.5% Asian. São Paulo has a black population (preto and pardo) of 34.6%, according to the Seade Foundation. (Pictured is the opera singer, Érika Muniz).

In the academic world, among the rectors and vice-chancellors of the 25 best universities evaluated in University Ranking of Folha, 89.8% are white; 8.2% are pardos and 2% are pretos

Source: Afropress, Senador Paim

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. Disgraceful. I have visited the Iguatemi mall in Sao Paolo, in fact I walked there from my hotel. As soon as I entered the security guards began to follow me, I paid them no mind and stayed for about an hour. It was not until I was at the Tim store that they left, I guess they realized I was a foreigner. Brazilian Blacks need to be ready to die to regain their dignity, It is a horrible situation.

  2. I am African and went to the iguatemi shopping mall a while back, as soon as my friend and I entered, the guards immediately started communicating the other guards. I think we were the only Blacks there on that faithful afternoon LOL. We went to buy some versace stuff because my friend had to travel back the guards saw that we only went shopping and on our way out they called a cab for us. I guess when they see that black actually pay for expensive stuff then only will they try to hypocritically respect you. We had all the attention even from the whites in the mall i know racism exist in Brazil the job sector is even worse. The blacks who are in better positions deny it ( For example: my boss). I have lived here for 3 years now and i can’t wait to finish my univeristy studies and move on.

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