Understanding Brazil is not an easy task. I've been to Brazil six times in the past few years carrying out two research studies there. One in Rio de Janeiro and one in Espiríto Santo. The first thing I needed to learn was to dismiss the notion that I could understand Brazil with a Norwegian way of thinking. As most Norwegians I like to define things as clearly as possible and I am quick to categorize my observations. Brazilians on the other hand seem to celebrate ambigity. After several years of contact with Brazilian culture and inhabitants, and after many months of visting the country, I am just starting to understand how important it is to leave my Norwegian way of thinking in Norway when I'm studying Brazil.
Brazil is the world's most miscegented country and the world's most unequal country in the same breath. Racial inclusion and exclusion coexist in this vast country. Race in Brazil refers mostly to skin color or physical apperarence, rather that to ancestry -like in the US. If you have a drop of African blood in your veins in the US, than your black. In Brazil, large numbers of persons who are classified as white (branco) have African ancestors. The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) have since 1980 used five different categories in their statistics: White (Branco), Brown (Pardo), Black (Preto), Asian (Amarelo/Yellow) and Indigeous (Indígena). Since only one percent of the nations population is Asian or Indigeous, we can speak of three main categories or skin colors in Brazil: White (Branco), Brown (Pardo) and Black (Preto). The Brazilian Black Movement has started to use only two skin colors: White (Branco) and Black (Negro) in an effort to destigmatize the notion of being black in Brazil. There are 80 million blacks or browns in Brazil. That is half of their whole population of 173 million people. In the USA their are 30 million blacks or the equivalent of 12 percent of the total population of 270 million people.
Brazil was the last country in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery. This was done in 1888. Between 1500 and 1850, over 3.6 million slaves were brought to Brazil. In 1988 Brazilan Constitution revolutionized the legal basis of the defense of human rights. The Constitution also recognized principles of tolerence, multiculturalism, and individual dignity, rights and identities, and became the basis of hundreds of antiracist laws at various jurisdictional levels. But it was not until the mid 1990's that the Brazilan state started to regcognize racism in Brazil and implement racial reforms. There is now widespread recognition of racism by Brazilian society and the Brazilian government has begun to search for ways to deal with racism. Brazilian elites, academics, media, and policy makers have just in the past 10 years begun to openly discuss racism and racial inequality. Social exclusion, including discrimination, poverty, and violence, continue to be persistent problems in Brazilian society, disproportionately affecting the black and brown population.
Brazil is renowned for being the world champion in overall income inequality. This inequality is the root for all of Brazil's major problems, including its poverty, poor health and education systems, high rates of crime, and the lack of social and political integration of the majority of the population. Black and brown men earn 40 to 50 percent of what white men earn in Brazil. The top 10 percent of Brazilians earn incomes worth 52 percent of the total income of all Brazilians. South Africa has the second most unequal structure among the large countries in the world, in which the top 10 percent of South Africans earn 47 percent of the country's total income. This high rate of poverty, couple with the sizable large number of persons in the top 10 percent, relects the status of Brazil and South Africa as the two most unequal large countries in the world. Brazil is at the same time the seventh-largest economy in the capitalist world. Siince the 1950's, Brazil has experienced a tremendos economical growth, making it on of the largest industrial economies of the world. A growth that has disproportionately benefited the white middle class. One third of the population lives in poverty.
Blacks and browns are nearly absent from the middle class in Brazil. Many whites also live in poverty in Brazil. This means that poor whites, browns and black have to compete for teh same jobs and they compete to enter the middle class. Poor whites tend to be preferred to poor browns and blacks in schooling, and middle-class jobs. This makes it difficult for browns and blacks to come out of poverty. Most difficult is the situation for black women. They are considered the poorest of the poor. They confronty greater health risks, are especially affected by poor reproductive-rights policies, are severely isolated, and are more subjected to violence.
Telles, Edward E. (2004). Race in Another America. The Significance of Skin Color in Brazil. Princeton: Princeton University Press.