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120 Years of Non-Concluded Abolition

Historic centre of Brazil and former Jesuit church of Salvador (17th century), now cathedral.

Slavery was officially abolished more than a century ago, but there has never been a social inclusion policy for Brazil’s blacks. Therefore, prejudice and racism are still a problem in this nation that will have more blacks than whites until the end of 2008.

2008 is a year of important celebrations in Brazil. It is the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Portuguese Royal Family escaping the troops of Napoleon Bonaparte and transforming the colony into the capital of the Empire. We are also celebrating, with parties, exhibitions and even a new TV channel, 100 years of Japanese immigration. In the middle of the festivities, the date of May 13th has almost passed unnoted, although it is the 120th anniversary of the Lei Áurea [Golden Law]. Signed by Princess Isabel in 1888, the law that officially abolished slavery in Brazil was the peak of a process driven by the republican movements and by the resistance of the black people that had already managed to prohibit slave trade and to impede children of black women to become slaves. The liberation, however, was not accompanied by any policy of repair, social inclusion or distribution of lands. Quite the contrary, the Republic that would be proclaimed in 1889 would concentrate its effort on immigration from Italy, Germany, Spain and, 20 years later, Japan. Although the blacks are the core from which arise Brazilian identity, music and culture, the blacks, indigenous peoples and their descendents have never been considered for a project of a nation.

"Unfortunately, in Brazil, it is still taught that the abolition of slavery was a ‘generous act’ of Princess Isabel and nothing is spoken of the economic pressure on the part of England and of the revolts of the blacks that escaped and created independent cities, the so-called ‘Quilombos’", says Dennis de Oliveira, member of the NEINB – Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of the Brazilian Blacks. The most important of all was the Quilombo dos Palmares that resisted for 100 years. And it’s the most important leader was Zumbi, of which anniversary of death on November 20, 1695, would represent the true date to be remembered by the Blacks. With the election of President Lula, the longstanding claim for a new national date for the acknowledgment and creation of awareness among the population concerning the question of racism has been appraised better. Thus, in 2003 Law 10.639/03 was enacted that established November 20 as "Black Conscience Day". Today more than 260 cities in Brazil have already instituted the day as holiday. "It is the only official holiday proposed by a social movement and it is a victory of the Unified Black Movement ("Movimento Negro Unificado") and of other entities that fight against racism and for social equality", says Oliveira.

"The blacks were never slaves, they were slaved, and until today fights for a factual abolition of slavery", defines Sinvaldo José Firmo, member of the Human Rights Commission of the Brazilian Bar Association. "Such abolition has not yet been completed because on May 14, 1888 differentiated policies were established for blacks and for immigrants, whereby the immigrants received support, financial aid and lands that had always been denied to the old slaves". According to both, the Brazilian governments invested in a succumbed population "whitening" policy. The evidence is a study of the Applied Economic Research Institute – IPEA, published May 13 of this year, showing that until the end of the year the population slice that defines itself as black or brown will overtake the white population. In 1976, the whites represented 57.2% of the population, blacks and brown 40.1% and yellows and indigenous less than 3%. Thirty years later, the percentage of whites fell to 49.7%, and the one of the blacks rose to 49.5% and the percentage of yellows and indigenous does not reach 1%. Also according to the study, in 2010 the blacks will be absolute majority of the population.

However, this study, as well as other analyses, also reveals that the population growth is not accompanied by a higher share of the blacks in the national income, in the universities and in executive and leading positions in the companies. According to study by IBOPE with Instituto Ethos, for example, only 3.5% of the positions on executive level in the 500 biggest Brazilian companies are held by African descendants. Black women in those positions do not reach 0.5%. According to another IPEA study, the salary average of the blacks still represents 53% of what the whites receive. This, in spite of the policy towards a minimum salary net increase and of the federal income transfer programs, that got more than 30 million people out of absolute poverty levels in the last six years. Even if the blacks continues continued to increase their income at the same level as currently, which is unlikely, it would take more than 30 years until salary equality of whites and of blacks.

The only alternative for more racial justice would be "affirmative actions", that recognize the most historically disadvantaged or vulnerable groups and invest in their education, culture and valuation. In Brazil, the principal affirmative action under discussion, and implemented in some places, is the intention of instituting quotas at public universities for students from low-income families, coming from public schools and, among them, for blacks and indigenous. The quota policy is part of the Racial Equality Statute, a set of laws that has been pending with the National Congress for eight years, and no date for the final voting has yet been established. Even though, 54 Brazilian public universities have already institute some kind of quota system for Afro-descendants, as well as PROUNI, a federal program that distributes scholarships at private universities for low income students. Data of the Ministry of Education of 2005 calculate the annual enrollments at public institutions with 331 thousand. Of those, only 2.37% (around 7,850) are destined to black students, according to the IPEA.

Due to the quota system, traditional Brazilian institutions have already increased the places for Afro-descendants. One example is Universidade de Brasília - UnB, that in four years increase the number of blacks in their classrooms from 400 to 2,049. And what is best, as opposed to what the initial critics of the system imagined, the admission of more blacks and poor at the universities did not negatively influence the quality of teaching. Quite the contrary. In an IPEA study published end of May, those who enjoyed the quota system at the Universidade de Campinas – Unicamp, had a higher performance in 31 of the 55 majors of the institution in the two-year period 2005-2006. At Universidade Federal da Bahia – UFBa, the performance coefficient of the students who entered by means of the quota system was equal to or higher than the one of those who had not entered by means of that system in 11 of the 16 majors in the same period.

Unfortunately, the presented results have not been sufficient to ensure the support of the affirmative actions not even within the black movements. In April, a group called Movimento Negro Socialista (Socialist Black Movement) sent a note with 113 signatures to the Federal Supreme Court - STF requesting that two Direct Unconstitutionality Actions - ADINs be admitted against the quota policies at PROUNI and at the admission tests of the state universities of Rio de Janeiro state. Several days later, another manifesto with 740 signatures was submitted to the STF questioning the arguments against the quotas and requesting that the Court dismissed the ADINs. In the beginning of May, the Human Rights and Minorities Commission of the Deputy Chamber issued an official note to the STF re-confirming the constitutionality of the quota system and its alignment with international instruments executed by Brazil such as the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Convention against Discrimination in Education. "It is incredible how much publicity the media gives to those who oppose the quotas", says Sinvaldo Firmo. "We have been doing the Marcha Noturna ("Night March") for the rights of the blacks since 12 years, hence an important instrument of resistance, and have never obtained any media echo or seen the MSN people fighting for the rights of the blacks".

The fight is really not limited to the courts and politics. The spaces for the discussion of racism and the question of the blacks in the Brazilian media are minuscule. "When talking about media, the first things that comes to mind is Revista Raça ("Race Magazine"), launched in 1997 that continues to be the only specialized publication in Brazil", says Paola Prandini, member of the group Dandaras that produces a quarterly fanzine and a fortnightly program of the same name in Rádio Gazeta. The program Dandaras (name of the wife of Zumbi dos Palmares) is one of the few ones that openly and exclusively deals with the matter and also deals with music, culture and history of the blacks in Brazil. "Another interesting experience is Rádio Favela, in Belo Horizonte, but as it was illegal it had to go off air", mentions Karina Betencourt, who is also member of Dandaras. "As the great part of the media does not admit that racism exists, for them it is foolish to maintain a dialog, and the programs that show the reality of the blacks are always based on the presumption that it is only a socio-economic question and serve as ‘shut up’ for those who wish to discuss the question in depth", continues Betencourt. "And so they only reinforce the stereotype in the mind of the population that the blacks are only good at music, sports and in bed", completes Prandini. In the Brazilian free TV there is no program about the black question. What gets closest is "Manos e Minas" ("Brothers and Sisters"), of black rapper Rappin Hood on TV Cultura of São Paulo, that was launched in May this year. The main focus is music and culture of the periphery (hip-hop, rap, graffiti, street-dance etc.) and, therefore, inevitably works towards the affirmation of race.

"Racism in Brazil is hidden, it is not in the law, and I really don’t know if this is better or worse because the view of the dominator ends up subtly entering the head and blood of society that then accepts it with out reflection", says Gabriela Watson, another member of Dandaras. "This is a difficult question because my own parents do not see themselves as blacks and think that this way they can repel prejudice", tells Cínthia Gomes, also of Dandaras. "As composer Nei Lopes says, ‘when a person has an appearance that confuses, but evokes black heritage for himself, he already identifies as potentially discriminated’, this is the reason why in the black movement we say that the ones that best differentiate between blacks and whites in Brazil are the police"

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