A Historical Legacy


In 2012, the Brazilian Senate approved a bill that reserved half of the spots in Brazilian federal universities for students who are of African and indigenous descent or who come from public schools and low-income families. Should racial quotas in Brazilian universities exist? In order to reflect on racial quotas in Brazil, one must ponder the historical legacy that motivates them and the complexity of the issue in relation to Brazil’s historical construction.

Between the 16th and 19th centuries, Brazil was victimized by the Transatlantic Slave Trade. During this period, 3.5 million Africans were removed by force from their tribes and homelands and transported across the Atlantic Ocean in ships that lacked basic conditions for survival. All of this was to support the evolution of the Brazilian capitalist economy, which was based, among other things, on the cultivation of sugar, cotton, coffee, and mining. When in Brazil, these slaves faced punishments that transcend human imagination. This atrocity is regarded by many as one of the greatest tragedies of humankind; it represents a shameful facet of Brazilian history. For centuries, those of African descent have been blocked from their dignity and thrown into the lowest spots of Brazil’s social hierarchy.

Even after slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade were abolished, racist ideologies continued to prevail within the Brazilian ideological construct. The white race was seen as “superior” by many Brazilian professors and sociologists. Raimundo Nina Rodrigues and Euclides de Cunha were a few who advocated for such thoughts. Racist tendencies soon solidified in Brazil.

Be it indirectly or not, the effects of such tendencies are still experienced today, guided by a deep-rooted culture of prejudice. When it comes to work applications, individuals of African descent encounter major difficulties. The limited work opportunities for these people contribute to lower social prestige. It is estimated that 80% of Brazilian housekeepers are of African descent. In addition, those of African descent have income levels that are 59% lower than of whites.  Such statistics are a representation of the deeply-rooted racial culture that exists as a result of our historical legacy.

When it comes to politics, the numbers are even more discouraging. In the 2014 Brazilian elections, merely 3% of elected officials were of African descent. Although racism is considered a non-bailable crime in Brazil, racist tendencies run within our political and social legacy. Our current system allows this lack of representation to be accepted and normalized. A country’s democracy must represent a nation’s population; the lack African descendents in our government can, therefore, signal that a great part of Brazilians don’t have their voices and interests heard.
Racial quotas in universities should thus be considered a method of allotting to an entire population the right to equal opportunities that has been blocked by a historical force. It seems to be the only answer to this prejudicial culture. When scrutinizing history, a means of understanding the present, one can conclude that, in order to construct a more just society, racial quotas must be present. Our past actions have left violent effects on our present society.

Although racism is considered a non-bailable crime in Brazil, racist tendencies run within our political and social legacy.

— Fernando Martins

For centuries in Brazil, those of African descent have been the subjects of unjust discrimination and have been blocked from their right to live a life free of prejudice. At present, birth conditions stand as barriers to the development of the Brazilian people. In a democratic country, such actions invalidate democracy.

In a country where African-Brazilians are majority, racial quotas stand as a means of reforming our culture. When those of prejudiced backgrounds are able to rise to the top through education and empowerment, Brazil will reap results that aim on upending our demeaning social hierarchy. Racial quotas stand as a means of returning social justice to an entire ethnicity while combatting a demeaning historical legacy. After dissecting history to appreciate the present, such policies prove necessary.
Sources: The Guardian, O Globo, BBC