Colorism and affirmative action in Brazil

by Seimu Yamashita

Reading Edward Telles’ work on the social consequences of skin color in Brazil made me think whether affirmative action is truly justified. The author mentions about difficulties in having affirmative action, especially where to draw the line between potential beneficiaries and dominant group members. Without clear rules for making racial distinction, some people who have not suffered from racial discrimination might benefit from affirmative action. This is more likely to happen in Brazil than the United States since the criteria of race is self-identified in Brazil rather than determined by appearance. In addition, it is very difficult to decide when to end affirmative action. Besides such problems that make affirmative action ineffective, I believe that affirmative action promotes racial discrimination. There are three reasons why I consider it would bring negative effects.

Firstly, affirmative action policy makes racial distinction even more obvious. By officially indicating who are black and who are white, people would tend to take the opportunity to distinguish one race from the other compared to before. People might even consider it right to treat other races differently because the government does so in the name of affirmative action.

Another reason is that affirmative action would make potential beneficiaries looked down upon. For example when someone sees a “negro” (‘black’ in Portuguese) in the university, people will think that they only got into the university through the policy, rather than hard work. This would lead to people looking down on other who are given opportunities. If there is an easier way to get into university for a certain race of people, some people may think those people of a certain race do not try to study hard to normally get into university as everyone else. As another case in Japan against burakumin, some people claim that buraku people should not complain about discrimination against them as long as they benefit from affirmative action. This way of thinking would be totally nonsense and it’s the totally opposite effect to the affirmative action is intended to make. Affirmative action has a possibility to produce new types of prejudice against beneficiaries.

Lastly, it cannot be sure when to finish affirmative action. Ideally, it would be the time when there is no discrimination against a certain race that benefits from affirmative action. However, it is hard to truly admit whether discrimination still exists or not. I personally think there is such time that everyone would agree to finish it.

In conclusion, affirmative action that benefits a certain group of people would not make the effects as it intended. It would promote discrimination by considering that there is official distinction between them. It would even lower the status of the beneficiaries by providing them an advantage, for example, for promotion or enrolling the university because some people may consider all the people of the group effortlessly have achieved it. It would never be fair enough since it is impossible to decide how long affirmative action should last. In addition to the reading that claimed difficulties in making fair affirmative action, I have mentioned three reasons above to claim that it should not exist to make an equal understanding of the race. I believe that a fair understanding against all the races cannot be achieved by affirmative action but by keeping being conscious that all the races are equal.


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