Black and White in Brazil? – It’s hard to identify race

by Aya Murakami

flagWhile the US has been importing a racial system from Latin America, Brazil is going in an opposite direction. It has imported the traditional US way of classifying race. The system called ‘Black movement’, and it divides people into two categories: black and white. Even though there are another two classification systems, this idea has been rapidly spreading over Brazil and having huge impact on people’s idea of race.

Traditionally, Brazil had been identifying itself as “racial democratic” country. Brazil is one of the most racially mixed societies. It counts 2nd largest black population and the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. There was no legislation to divide people into racial groups and people could claim their own racial categories. As a consequence of these reasons, racial groups in Brazil were very ambiguous and elusive.

However, even in Brazil, the racial democratic country, statistic revealed that discrimination toward darker skin people exists. Although afro-Brazilians occupy at least 50% of total population, there were less than 5% of blacks in the government. Also, nearly two third of poverty was made up by Blacks. The average income gap between white and black was huge, black only gained 40% of which white did in 1980. Moreover, blacks were unlikely to be able to get higher education.

These are some of my Brazilian friends.

These are some of my Brazilian friends.

Since 2001, some of the state and federal universities have provided a certain percentage of seats to blacks. As a result, the number of black students in the university has been bigger and bigger. It has certainly given chance to blacks and in the long run, people are expecting it to reduce the gap between black and white.

However, it is true that these actions are providing equal opportunities for blacks? Or rather, it is increasing the gap between white and black? There remain some questions. Since most of the people are mixed race hence it is very difficult to draw a line between two categories. In fact, it is still ambiguous who is black and who is white. Sometimes family members, such as siblings are categorized in different racial groups.

Also, the system made people to think whether they are black or white whereas most of people have never thought about it. Thinking about it and assigned in a racial group increased awareness of race. As people started to have sense of belonging to either black or white racial groups, some white people felt that the black were taking benefit from the system. Actually, there were some violence attacks toward African students from white students.

Therefore, it can be said that it is difficult to define racial categories especially a country like Brazil where most of people are racially mixed. In my opinion, without clear classification I think it would be very difficult that the system work efficiently. Although the quota system might bring brighter future for blacks, there are still some controversial questions to be answered.

See Also:


Black in Latin America E02, Brazil: A Racial Paradise

WIDE ANGLE | Brazil in Black and White | PBS


Guardian. (2011, November 17). Brazil census shows African-Brazilian in the majority for the first time. Retrieved from

The Economist. (2012, January 28). Race in Brazil: Affirming a divide. Retrieved from


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