Why are crowds of protesters calling for President Dilma’s impeachment so white?

Protesters on Avenida Paulista in São Paulo on Sunday
Protesters on Avenida Paulista in São Paulo on Sunday

Note from BW of Brazil: Let me just state for the record that I see these protests as misguided, lacking in critical thinking, manipulated with a serious denial of privilege and probably a sham. Why? Numerous reasons. First, let’s remember nearly two years ago when millions of Brazilians took to the streets principally against President Dilma. Although there were a number of issues that people protested against, the last straw that set off the protests were the 15 and 20 centavo (cent) increases in public transportation fees. I wondered then how it seemed that millions of people just popped up into the streets out of nowhere suddenly.

Fast forward to January 2015 and the announcement in São Paulo that public transportation wouldn’t increase 20 centavos and not 30 centavos but 50 centavos! In Rio de Janeiro in December, the increase was 40 centavos while in Belo Horizonte it was 25 centavos (1). In Goiânia, the capital and largest city of the state of Goiás, the increase was 50 centavos while in the federal capital the increase was 18.39%. In most cases substantially more than the modest increases announced in 2013. While there were a few protests that drew small crowds, there was no repeat of June-July of 2013 when millions hit the streets for several weeks. Hmmm, sounds like a staged event to me. 

The second thing that sticks out to me is how people seem to believe that corruption is more inherent to a given political party than another. As the Brazilian government has been led by the PT (Workers’ Party) for the past 12 years, when unrest and scandal hit, naturally the call is for the ouster of the party in power. This was the battle cry in the 2013 protests as it was during the recent 2014 elections that saw strong support for the Tucano (PSDB) candidate Aécio Neves. These same people seem to ignore that it was a Tucano president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002), whose government was the most corrupt in the past 20 years! I don’t write this because I’m a fan of either party. The point is, politicians are corrupt in general! It’s part of the game but people still fall for the “us vs. them” mentality every four years or so. Ridiculous. 

The third issue here is the deafening silence of large crowds when the issue is the murder rates of the nation, particularly affecting the black population at the hands of Military Police and death squads. Murder rates in Brazil are equal to the numbers of a country at war and the latest bloodbath in Salvador, Bahia, was just the most recent in long line of police murder sprees. Where are the mass protests over that? The article below also points to the backlash factor against gains of the Afro-Brazilian population due to affirmative action policies that have led to economic gains over the past decade. As a recent study by a social scientist showed, the same people white people that acknowledge that they have privileges based on race that often times can be traced back to European immigration policies of the late 19th century will quickly reject affirmative action because, as the overused cliché goes, “nós somos todos iguais” (we are all equal). Little wonder that the crowds in the streets, like the fans in the stands of the 2014 World Cup held in Brazil, are also overwhelmingly white. One has to wonder how anyone could possibly think all Brazilians aren’t treated equal!

Defenders of impeachment are white

By Maria Carolina Trevisan

Lack of black protesters was obvious in every city
Lack of black protesters was obvious in every city

These people have never been to the streets to demonstrate for the right to life,’ says Jorge X, militant of the Movimento Negro in Salvador, ‘because the life cut short, in its majority, is the black population, which doesn’t sensitize them’

The scene in the capital city of Brasília
The scene in the capital city of Brasília

The black population was not part of the acts of March 15. Among the approximately 1 million demonstrators – according to PM (Military Police), or 210,000, according to Datafolha – Avenida Paulista in São Paulo, and six thousand, on the edge of Barra in Salvador (Bahia), there were very few blacks. Whereas the vast majority (76.3%) of the Bahian population is black and that the state of São Paulo concentrates 34.6% black, the demonstrations against President Dilma were not representative. The explanation is obvious: policies specifically associated with that part of Brazilians – 51% of the population – were not even considered.

“The main objective of the demonstrations of March 15 does not address the concerns of the black community,” explains sociologist Marcelo Arouca, 34, a founder of the Núcleo de Estudantes Negros (Black Student Center) of the Federal University of Bahia. The small number of blacks in the Sunday protests shows something even more serious. What brought so many people onto the streets is also a reaction to the achievements of the black movement in the last 10 years, such as labor rights of maids and the adoption of quotas in federal universities.

Fortaleza, Ceará
Fortaleza, Ceará

“These policies bother the white elite. The same people who were making demands yesterday are those who have got rich at the expense of black slavery and that don’t conform themselves to the minimum reparation from the state,” said Arouca.

Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro

To minimize the representative imbalance among protesters on Sunday, organizers made sure to position the few blacks who participated in the act. It would be a way of trying to make up for what was explicit: the demand for fighting corruption is a common agenda for anyone, but it does not reflect the wishes of the most repressed and disadvantaged segments of Brazilian society. These demands will continue outside of the agenda if it depends on the motivation of those who protested on Sunday.

Farol da Barra in Salvador, Bahia
Farol da Barra in Salvador, Bahia

“As the black population had access to consumer goods, the elite – who always had privileges – claimed the elite position,” said Jorge X, militant of the Movimento Negro (black movement) of Bahia and the server of the public defender of the state. “On the other hand, what most amazes me is that life is the most precious thing there is. Even so, these people have never been to the streets to demonstrate for the right to life,” adds Jorge, which is against corruption and critical to the current government. “For the life cut short, for the most part, is (a thing) of the black population, which doesn’t sensitize (anyone).”

Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais
Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais

The debt of Brazil to the black community has yet to be repaired. Continuing as persecution during the dictatorship and persisting in the violent practices against young black men, about 70% of homicide victims in the country. Proof of this is the report released by the State Commission of Truth of São Paulo last Thursday, March 12th, which is adamant: “The poor and black population is affected until the present day with practices set up during the period of the dictatorship.”


The CEV (Comissão Estadual da Verdade or State Commission of Truth) Rubens Paiva recommends that “the Brazilian State recognize and apologize for the persecution of the black population, not only during the period of the dictatorship in the country, but also for the years of slavery and oppression up to the present day; that the State recognizes the abuses against blacks and repress them a guarantee of equality and democracy; that the memory of the resistance of the black population against the dictatorship is valued and its militants are honored.”

Source: Opera MundiAgência Brasil, Vox Popular


1. See the “Capitais brasileiras registram aumento nas tarifas de ônibus desde o fim de 2014” by Ana Cristina Campos and Yara Aquino in Agência Brasil, January 6, 2015.

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


  1. You are being cynical and in trying to be smart by pointing to manipulation you are missing the bigger picture and falling into mundane conspiracy theory arguments .

    It has always baffled me why the Brazilian population was historically so apathetic. If you compare to almost any part of the western world, corruption is normally something that ignites huge protests and is not accepted. Dilma’s government allowed one of the biggest corruptions scheme’s to take place in Brazil, something absolutely legit of causing a president’s impeachment, a Watergate type of situation. Actually, the fact that there were no protest to impeach Lula after the “Mensalao” scandal is something that always intrigued me. One can only understanding it by appealing to his huge charisma, reason people are not cutting Dilma the same slack, even though she has the “being a woman” factor in her favor.

    Be honest and think for a second if you would make the same type of questioning if, in an EXACT same situation we were talking about a right or center wing party member, an old white man, say like Jorge Bornhausen. You would not, I bet,

    I agree with you that impeaching Dilma without a proper investigation is not leg and would fall short on being a coup d’état. Unfortunately, it has been decided she will not be investigated and this becomes an impasse. Do you believe she didn’t engage in any sort of passive corruption? Maybe you do, but given the facts, it’s not at all clear this is really the case. So, don’t question the right of people to protest!! However the protests were organized, whoever decided to join has a a legit sense of indignation with this government.

    As for the racial element, you really need to have some statistics and not draw your conclusions on who is happy or not by looking at pictures. In Rio one could definitely see black people among the crowds but as the biggest protest happened in the south region, naturally more whites could be seen as this is the norm in any other day. As you know, black people have the lowest income due an inhumane history of exploration, but that doesn’t mean they are happy with this government either.

    Brazilians should demonstrate more, not less, that is the real issue here.

  2. Although I agree that the faces in the photos of the protests showed very few blacks, I have no idea whether that correlates to the protests being staged or that blacks do not disapprove of the government. There are white Brazilians that did not protest but not because they agree with the current government but because they don’t think the protests are helpful or maybe they had something else to do. I personally don’t have an opinion about the current government, but I do believe that the corruption is in and has been in all the parties since the beginning of Brazil, so I don’t know how to go about changing it. I’m sure there are some honest people in politics but the corruption is so pervasive that where and how do you start to eliminate it? I do not think that by eliminating the current president that it will do anything to get rid of the other corrupt people in the government. If the person who takes her place is corrupt, then it will just continue on as usual.

    I agree with the author that the violence against poor and black people is out of control, as is the violence that drug traffickers also perpetrate. In my opinion, that ought to be the first thing to be dealt with, and not because the Olympics are coming, but because the majority of Brazilian people living the cities are afraid. The fact that so many people are afraid to go out alone or on public transportation in certain neighborhoods, and wealthy people are riding around in bullet proof cars, and people in the “communidades” are frequently dodging stray bullets is just not right, nor the way any human being should have to live.

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