When blacks act against their own interest: Young black man’s diatribe against affirmative action stirs up social media – Activists deconstruct and debunk his arguments

Anti-affirmative action activist Fernando Holiday
Anti-affirmative action activist Fernando Holiday

Note from BW of Brazil: In reality, this sort of rhetoric should come as no surprise. In the fierce, ongoing debate about racial quotas for Brazil’s top universities, it should be pointed out that not all Afro-Brazilians are in support of such policies. Last year, a video released by the Folha newspaper featuring a black woman declaring herself against affirmative action sparked discussion in black-oriented social networks. A few weeks ago, another black anti-quota militant stepped forward and offered his arguments as to why quotas aren’t a good idea. His specific arguments? In reality, for those of us who have followed the debate for the past decade-plus, the guy really brings nothing new to the table. He’s just another in a long line of black folks who right-wing conservatives with gladly use to advance their cause. You know the routine: “Ya see, he’s black and he’s against quotas too!”

When black activists are in favor or against some cause, getting a black person who goes against the grain is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Besides the issue of quotas, we also saw this tactic used last year when a white TV director created a controversial series about four black women and the black community rejected it as yet another example of the Brazilian media’s ongoing stereotypical representation of Afro-Brazilians. With this latest situation, I again wonder if the person in question is fully informed about historical racial/social inequalities. Is this person familiar with the original government quotas that supported massive European immigration to replace recently freed black slaves? Does this person know that descendants of those immigrants are among today’s elites and recognize that the advantages their ancestors received are part of the reason for their status today? Does this person recognize the premium placed on white skin and blond hair, and its dire effects on the psyches of millions of people which will probably never change as the billionaires who control these images look like the people they promote?

Just for the record, I also don’t see affirmative action as something that should last forever, but as long as such vast racial inequalities exist, we must recognize that a system structured upon white supremacy will never suddenly correct itself. It was created with this group (white people) in mind as its beneficiaries. I sometimes if these type of people really get the full ramifications of this. Probably not. But naivety is often entertaining (if not a little alarming) even when it borders on the absurd!

A video of Fernando Holiday sharing his views on the black agenda of Afro-Brazilian organizations sparked discussion in social networks
A video of Fernando Holiday sharing his views on the black agenda of Afro-Brazilian organizations sparked discussion in social networks

Deconstructing the discourse of Fernando Holiday

Eliane Oliveira and Silvio de Almeida, scholars of black issues in Brazil, confront the statements given by the student in videos that have had repercussions in social networks

By Anna Beatriz Anjos

The videos of Fernando Holiday, a member of the Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL or Free Brazil Movement), spread across networks last week. In the recordings, he makes intense criticisms to various agendas of the black movement in Brazil, especially racial quotas (video in Portuguese here).

The guy’s statements, often aggressive, generated controversy. While black men and women tried to deconstruct them, many white people used them to justify fighting measures that have racial equality as the objective.

Nobody knows racism and the struggles of black Brazilians as themselves. They are therefore the only ones who can be protagonists in the discussion of these issues. Therefore, Fórum interviewed two black scholars on the theme who evaluated Fernando’s discourse in one of his most watched videos.

“The guy reproduces a racist discourse because, after all, he is a victim of racism. His own visibility is the result of a racist society and that only gives space to young black men who are willing to ratify the dominant thinking and behave according to certain expectations,” said the lawyer Silvio de Almeida, professor of Presbiteriana Mackenzie and São Judas Tadeu universities and president of the Luiz Gama Institute.

Eliane Oliveira
Eliane Oliveira

For Eliane Oliveira, Master of Social Sciences and a researcher at the Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares Afro-Brasileiros (NEIAB or Interdisciplinary Center for Afro-Brazilian Studies), at the State University of Maringá (UEM), there is a counterpoint to Holiday’s opinions. “In times past, it would probably be a problem indeed, but academic spaces are increasingly black, that is, people with this kind of discourse will run into some opponents. He gets visibility, but our fight also is in the clash in which we show our weapons, we throw open to society the open wound that is Brazilian racism.”


“The government demonstrates bias when establishing racial quotas, because it is admitting that I, having a little more melanin, must steal vacancies from others. That’s not fair. There’s no need to steal a vacancy from anyone!”, says Fernando Holiday in the video in question. This is one of the main arguments he uses to argue that quotas would be unnecessary.

“It’s an argument that comes from a lying premise, since one only ‘steals’ from someone who is an owner. No one owns a vacancy at a public university because he is white or ‘well-born’,” says Silvio de Almeida. “It is a fallacy that ignores the fact that, when we refer to vacancies in universities, we are talking about something that is public, but which historically have been appropriated by racial criteria and income. This is anti-republican, and the funniest thing is that in the background there is also an anti-liberal discourse, because he defends the perpetuation of privileges.”

O advogado Silvio de Almeida
Silvio de Almeida

“Quotas are public policies aimed at just breaking the racial privileges that clearly guide access to higher education and to all levels of power. So what has been said is not even an argument; it’s just nonsense,” he adds.

In the same vein argues Eliane Oliveira. “It’s not taking anyone’s vacancy; it’s giving individuals who were for years outside of this space the possibility of access. Democratizing higher education is to seek equity among the subjects,” she explains.

Like many critics of the quota policy, Holiday questions its racial bias, arguing that it should adopt, in fact, a criterion that takes into account the social classes. “Why does a poor black need more benefits than a poor white? Oh, I understand. The government is saying that the black is dumber than the white,” he says in the video. Why is this statement wrong?

“You don’t need to be a researcher to realize this necessity [that quotas have racial bias], just take the test and look around. A country where more than half of the population declares itself black, but we see blacks in greater numbers, in socially degraded functions requires historical and social repair,” points out Oliveira. “Our society is profoundly racist, the myth of racial democracy exists only in academic texts. When I enter a classroom and half the students are black, then I’ll consider that [racial] quotas are not necessary.”


Also in relation to racial quotas, Holiday appeals to the issue of meritocracy to de-legitimize them. “The black does not need to steal anyone’s vacancy, we can get in by merit,” he considers.

“Meritocracy is a discourse seeking to justify racial and class privileges. There is no ‘merit’ possible in a context of deep inequality. Meritocracy is nothing more than a racist discourse to place black men and women as responsible for the injustices they suffer,” says Silvio de Almeida. (1)

“What is astonishing in this discourse is that it removes any historical perspective of the problems. A few decades ago a young black man, however brilliant he was, could never study at a university simply because of being black, regardless of the merit he might have. It was the struggle of the black movement that paved the way so that blacks could study. If there is ‘merit’ to be evaluated it’s because before there was a struggle of thousands of black men and women who fell by the wayside,” recalls the lawyer.

In Oliveira’s evaluation, “a concept that fosters competition between unequal will benefit that subject whose cultural and financial capital is in superiority to many others who have not had the same opportunities in life. It’s not measuring individual effort, in an unequal society, that we should assess the access to higher education.”

Zumbi dos Pamares vs. Adolf Hitler

One of the statements that most shocked in Fernando Holiday’s discourse is the analogy between Zumbi dos Palmares, one of the greatest symbols of black resistance in Brazil, and Adolf Hitler, the German dictator. “A Day of Black Consciousness to honor Zumbi is the same as creating a day of ‘White Consciousness’ to honor Hitler,” he says.

“Zumbi and Hitler on the same level is something that I cannot conceive in the discourse of any person, regardless of skin color. Historical contexts and distinct politics. A black not considering Zumbi a martyr, that’s fine, but then to put him on the same footing with the atrocities committed by Hitler, I don’t know if I consider it a lack of knowledge, ingenuity or bad faith,” points out Oliveira. “There are great historians who reported the actions of Zumbi, a bit of interest leads to good reading.”

As for Almeida, the student’s statement has an evident intention. “It is clear that the sole purpose of the comparison is to offend black men and women attacking the ultimate symbol of resistance against the slave system, which is Zumbi dos Palmares,” he says. “It’s nothing more, therefore, than a rough formulation, rude and with little intelligence, one could say.”


In the video, Holiday goes beyond the debate on racism, quotas, and the role of blacks in society, which is the protagonist. He also wanted to deal with women, disregarding the limits of his place of commentary. The result was a series of misogynistic and offensive placements. “If it’s like this, then we will make quotas for ‘gostosa’ (hot girls), because there is in society prejudice that every ‘gostosa’ is stupid. So let’s make quotas for the ‘gostosa’ because there are many places where she is missing. The FFLCH [Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences at USP] that says: if it’s like this, it would not be that zoo, that fleabag.”

Eliane Oliveira, also feminist, went to the point of analyzing the guy’s sexist discourse. “If the person does not problematize racism, being black, he will not measure the problem of sexism. Problematizing racism and sexism is more than pondering privileges, it’s putting into practice otherness. Put yourself in the place of another is only possible when you know yourself. In this case, before the discourse presented, I believe such an exercise would not be possible,” she says.

Fórum contacted Fernando Holiday, but got no response.

Source: Revista Fórum


1. As quota student performance has been repeatedly found to be equal to or better than non-quota students, the evidence provides justification that these students simply need opportunity and access. See here for examples.

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


  1. “A few decades ago a young black man, however brilliant he was, could never study at a university simply because of being black, regardless of the merit he might have.”

    I don’t get this. Does it mean that even if a black man had better grades than a white in a entrance’s exam he would still come second??? Sick!

  2. I studied years ago (late 80s) in a university in Rio. Not going to say which one. Anyway, I was shocked that there was one black man (from another state) in our cohort. The rest of the university was completely white. (In Brazil I am light enough to be considered white/morena but not here in the U.S. ) It would not have shocked me at all in the U.S. since even the whitest university thirty years ago would still have a few black people in it. I met some other college educated black people from other states in Brazil and they all said that they were usually the only black person in their classes. When you consider the percentage of black people in Brazil, the affirmative action was really needed. Without it very few would be at the university. Part of the problem is that the public elementary and high schools are not good. The government needs to work on paying teachers better and training them better so that public education in K-12 actually is as good as private. The wealthy kids all go to private K-12 in Brazil–and before the affirmative action, they would get most of the spots in the federal universities, since their education was better and they had money to take off a year and study/get tutored for the vestibular. Even if a poor student or one that had been educated in the public elementary/h.s. made it to college how was he/she going to pay for it–often they only got into the private universities, which they couldn’t afford.

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