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Affirmative Action in Brazil

Affirmative Action in Brazil
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     Appraising Affirmative Action in BrazilJoaze Bernardino-Costa and Fernando RosaIntroduction Brazil has historically represented a somewhat peculiar case in terms of analyses of inequality. It has been comparatively absent in discussions of horizontal inequality asthe country has not been viewed as one where such inequalities are glaringly present.It has also not usually been considered a society where ethnic cleavages have had afoundational character. In this it is very different for instance from Fiji, Malaysia,South Africa, and Sri Lanka, and the United States. Inside Brazil itself until fairlyrecently, the dominant view has been that inequality in Brazil is exclusively (or at leastmainly) of a vertical nature as it is class-based. In fact, this view is still largelydominant not only inside much of academia but also, for instance, in governmentcircles and the political domain not to mention sectors of civil society. Therefore, incomparison to virtually all other countries under debate in this volume, Brazil is anewcomer to affirmative action in more ways than one. In fact, it is still a nation-statewhere affirmative action is of very recent srcin and where its application has been sofar very circumscribed. In reality, it has been confined basically to academia - publicuniversities in particular - and some sectors of the government and public service.Importantly too, Brazil is the only country in this study not to have been a Britishcolony at any point in time. It was a Portuguese colony. This difference is bothimportant and difficult to elaborate. This is because Brazil's discourses on inequalityand 'race' have been heavily dependent on an appreciation of Brazil's peculiar historyas a Portuguese colony, even though that peculiarity is compounded by the fact that,as a colony of Portugal, Brazil has also had no counterparts anywhere in the former Portuguese colonial world. No other former Portuguese colony was so vast, so variedand therefore so incredibly intricate. Besides, no other colony of Portugal was locatedin the American continent. Therefore, referring Brazil's specific character to its   colonial history - a major heuristic device in some discourses explaining the nature of Brazilian society - is at best actually positing yet another conundrum instead of offering an ultimate explanation for ethnicity and therefore also for the srcins of inequality. Unsurprisingly, history itself is here a very contentious matter as both people in favour of affirmative action in Brazil and those against it have oftenresorted to history - both colonial and postcolonial - in order to boost their arguments.Therefore, the very act of sketching the history and development of affirmative actionin Brazil places us, the authors of this study, right in the middle of a warring field asthere is currently virtually no consensus in the country on affirmative action let aloneon the historical roots of inequality.The historical appraisal that follows is an essential part of the debate in Brazil.Crucially too, the notion of separate ethnic identities - say, black versus whiteBrazilians - has itself often been the main bone of contention. Inparticular,opinionmakersopposedtoaffirmativeactionpoliciesinBrazilhavearguedthattherearenotseparateracialidentitiesinthecountry.Instead,theystatethat‘weareallBrazilian,’withoutracedistinction. Hence, the current debate whether 'miscegenation' or 'mestizos’ are sociologically important factors when talking aboutinequality in the country (one side says that both are important whereas the other argues they have little or even no importance). Our point here is not to debate belowthe pros and cons of each conflicting view as it relates to the nature of ethnicity, thenation-state, and the origins and current state of inequality in Brazil. There is alreadya fairly vast literature dealing with the subject both inside and outside the country published in both Portuguese and English. 1 Our aim here, after briefly pointing out theintricacies of the debate as it is currently unfolding in Brazil, is to provide thehistorical analysis of the implementation of affirmative action.The first part of this article provides a general historical background of the issue, whilethe subsequent sections deal with the development of affirmative action. The finalsection will tackle the issue of vertical and horizontal inequalities in Brazil. In this  1 See for instance Htun (2004), Sheriff (2001), and the other references at the end of thisessay.   essay, the terms 'miscegenation' and 'race' (but not racial) have been put betweenquotes as we regard both as historically grounded social constructs. Brazil in historical perspective  The Portuguese supposedly arrived accidentally on Brazilian shores in 1500 on their way to the Malabar Coast in India. 2 In the middle of the sixteenth century, after finding the indigenous population unsuitable to be labourers in the sugar productionindustry, they initiated the traffic of slave labour from Africa to Brazil. Between themid-sixteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, when slavery was legal, first thePortuguese Empire and later the Empire of Brazil 3 brought about 3.6 million Africansto Brazil to work initially in sugar production (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries),mining and the raising of livestock (seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), and finally,coffee production (nineteenth century). Of the immense flow of enslaved Africanswho arrived alive in the Americas (many would die during the crossing), 38% came toBrazilian territory, making Brazil the largest slaveholding nation in the Americas andthe modern world (Hasenbalg, 1979; Karasch, 2000; Mattoso, 1990). It was also thelast to abolish slavery in 1888. 4  The abolition of slavery 5 did not take place all at once however, having been preceded by three other laws beginning in 1850 that began the dismantling of the slaveholdingregime. 6 This process of transition from a slaveholding system to the formation of a  2 That is, today's Kerala, in southern India. The man who 'discovered' Brazil and took Cochinwas Pedro Álvares Cabral. 3 After the Portuguese royal family fled Napoleon's troops, Brazil went from colony to akingdom integrated within the United Kingdom of Portugal and the Algarves as between1808 and 1822 the royal family was based in Rio de Janeiro. On 7 September 1822, Brazilcame to be independent of Portugal, and the Empire of Brazil was born. 4 Luiz Felipe Alencastro, professor at the University of Paris IV, based on data from HarvardUniversity, writes that the total number of Africans who were taken to the Americas reached11 million, of which approximately 5 million went to Brazil, totalling 44%. He includes thenumber of illegal slaves who entered the country until 1856.( 5 The year following the Abolition of Slavery, on 15 November 1889, Brazil ceased to be anEmpire and became a republic. 6 The Eusébio de Queiróz Law (1850) established the end of the slave trade; the Law of FreeBirth (1871) established that every child of a slave born after the enactment of the law would   free labour market coincided with a project of modernization of the country. From the perspective of that project, slavery and eventually also Africans were seen assynonymous with backwardness. Therefore, in the second half of the nineteenthcentury, the abolition of slavery occurred side by side with a strategy for substituting black labour with free labour of European srcin. This strategy was associated withcivilisation, modernization, and progress.Despite several initiatives to benefit both enslaved and manumitted black workers,such as a proposed land distribution, the principal political and economic agents in thecountry invested in European migration. According to the judgment of the economicand political elite of the second half of the nineteenth century, this migration was notonly a solution to the labour problem, but also an opportunity to whiten - and therefore'civilise' - the country, since ‘science’ claimed that whites were superior to non-whites,i.e., blacks, Asians, and indigenous peoples. Thus the Brazilian governmentdeliberately chose to fund European immigration to the country and close the doors toAfricans 7 and Asians. 8 This policy lasted until the first decades of the twentiethcentury (Azevedo 2004).If during three centuries of slavery 3.6 million Africans came to Brazil, between 1850and 1930 4.7 million European and other immigrants arrived to form the free labour market. A significant portion of these immigrants were Portuguese, Spaniards,Italians, and Germans, besides Japanese, who went to states in the south and southeast,especially the state of São Paulo, the economic centre of the country at the time andtoday. As mentioned above, the promotion of European immigration was based on anideology of whitening. This ideology was rooted in the belief of academics and politicians in Brazil that the inferiority of blacks and mestizos both in what concerned'civilisation' and 'race' could be overcome only through ‘miscegenation’. Theytherefore believed that sexual intercourse between whites and non-whites (blacks andmestizos) would result in the elimination of the non-white population and lead to anentirely white population.   be free; and the Sexagenarian Law (1885) established that any slave older that 60 years would be set free. 7 Until 1934, the entry of free Africans was prohibited in Brazil. 8 Japanese have been allowed to enter the country only since 1908.    João Batista Lacerda, the director of one of the leading research institutions in thecountry, Museu Nacional, stated in the Universal Races Congress in 1911 in Londonthat over the course of a century of intermarriage there would be no more black or mixed ‘race’ people in Brazilian society (Skidmore, 1976). The result of thiswhitening policy was not simply a demographic and ethnic shift, but also thenarrowing of socio-economic prospects to former slaves, now relegated to the marginsof the process leading to the country’s development. They however made up themajority of the country's poor. There was no segregationist institution nor were therelaws to that mandated segregation but blacks were made subaltern. This is the so-called ‘subordinate integration’ of blacks in Brazilian society.From the 1930s onwards ‘miscegenation’, envisioned as an intermediate phase in the project of whitening the country, came in this way to be seen as positive and the key tonation building. This was so as it became clear that thoroughly whitening the countrywould not be a feasible policy. Therefore, ‘miscegenation’ - previously perceived asnegative - began to be seen as the mark of Brazil's uniqueness among nations: it wasthen imagined by some in the elite that the unity of the Brazilian people was the product of a harmonious coexistence among different 'races'. The affirmation of 'miscegenation' permitted the elaboration of a conception of Brazilian society as a'racial democracy.' Thus Brazil came to be thought of as a society without prejudice or racial discrimination. What many now call the myth of 'racial democracy' lasted untilthe mid-1970s - though it had been challenged twenty years earlier in the research of sociologist Florestan Fernandes - and served to construct the nation's image bothinternally and abroad. The certainty of the Brazilian state of the inexistence of racialdiscrimination in the country was so great that the foreign minister stated in 1970, inthe report of the Committee for Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,that 'there is no racial discrimination in Brazil; there is no need to take any sporadicmeasures whatsoever of a legislative, judicial or administrative nature to ensure theequality of races in Brazil' (quoted in Telles 2003: 58).
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