Colorism in Latin America; Not about Race

by Oscar Manzano

If you are reading this blog about colorism and you already have prior knowledge on the subject, chances are that you don’t agree with the title of this piece. This may be because Latin America’s preference, or more specifically the preference in México and Brazil, to talk more freely about a person’s skin color as opposed to race may seem like a contradiction to you. Why? I suppose it is because many believe that skin color or other characteristics that we attach to race, in order to be able to identify and categorize people, are indicators of race. It is this idea that I believe is incorrect, which leads me to believe that when Mexicans or Brazilians talk about skin color they are not talking about race as an American might see it. In this context I believe that color talk in México and Brazil is not the equivalent of race talk in America.

My reasoning for questioning color talks being the same as race talks draws upon human history and humans themselves. Humans have always had a history of migration and settlement. This alone prevents us from applying skin color or other characteristics to a certain racial group. So, unless we believe that Whites with certain characteristics grew out of the ground in Europe, and Blacks in Africa and Browns in Latin America and they all remained stationary, then can one possibly make a correlation with race and physical characteristics. However this is not so, and when we hear Mexicans and Brazilians talking about skin colors so nonchalantly, we believe that they what they are really talking about is race.

So if Mexicans and Brazilians are not talking about race, then what are they talking about when they refer to skin color? I believe that when Mexicans and Brazilians refer to skin color, they are acknowledging the great diversity and mixture of physical characteristics that have been as a result of human migration. Not physical characteristics of race but characteristics of human diversity. In saying that color talk is not a talk about race does not mean that colorism is preferred or more desirable over race talks, or that it is immune to social and moral problems that race deals with. On the contrary, the problems that color ideology faces are similar to those that race ideology faces. But the problems are not similar because racism and colorism are the same thing; rather, the problems stem from the fact that we have been socially trained to see physical differences and categorize them under a racial stereotype, confusing color and race.

A second reason as to why racism and colorism share similar social problems is because both are the result of global inequality. This brings up the issues of colonization. Why were White European countries the ones able to colonize? It would be difficult to say that Europeans were able to be the colonizers simply because their skin was white or their race was a certain specific one. It goes beyond that, and the ‘why was Europe the colonizer’ question involves a multi-sided understanding to find the answer to. Possible reasons include the amount of wealth, resources or strength those countries had and as a result, once colonization was achieved, the aggressors implanted various forms of discrimination based on race and color. In this sense it is possible that racism or colorism didn’t create inequality but inequality created racism and colorism.

Brazil’s income gap and inequality

by Nachika Fujimoto

Through official figures, we can observe the income gap In Brazil still remaining extremely high and unequal. According to the census, the richest 10 percent is still over 20 times higher than the bottom 10 percent. Though there are actions taken by the government but it is yet to reach an equal level of income gain in the country. Another consideration is the educational inequalities in Brazil. Due to the low income, not all have opportunity to attend to a school education. Majority has completed study at a high school however; still nearly 20% of the people have not completed study at a high school.

Labor saving technology has spread all around the world and is now in the hands of many individuals. Majority of the women in the world has access to the washing machine however there are still people that remains to wash by their hands. Washing with hands is very time-consuming and not all have easy access to water. Some have to walk for miles to gain access to the water and return back home with gallons of water, which they have to do for hours every week. The poorest 10% of the Brazilian does not have a washing machine. Are the people without washing machine extreme eco friendly? most likely not. Many wishes to have their own washing machine, however cannot afford one. Far too many people have no running water close by, which makes the problem worse. Theses poor people associate nearly 30% of their life related to washing their clothes or collecting water for the wash.

What I believe the government should start with is by creating an affordable education. Increase in education will open up the opportunity for the people to gain jobs and this I believe will slowly close the gap of the income gain. As well as to affordable education, government should work on making students graduate without carrying any debt; this allowing people joining into society with a highly educated knowledge. Another action that I believe better to happen is increasing the working conditions and higher wages that will lead to closing the gap between the rich and the poor. Many workers will quit their job due to hard conditions or ruin their health that makes it hard for earning gains.

In Brazil there are still massive gap between the rich and poor. Some live under a condition without a labor saving technology, such as a washing machine, on the other hand rich people live with luxury goods that has made their living conditions better than the past. Brazilian government is working to reduce the gap but yet to reach an answer.


世界最大の貧富格差が生み出す諸問題.(n.d). Retrieved from:

UNDP (2011). Human Development Report、人間開発報告書. Retrieved from:

Immigration for children in Japan

by Yuki Muto

Children are victims of immigration. Their parents migrate with their children, even if the children don’t want to go. We learn from the two articles that bilingual children get high grades in their cognitive tests. Then we think, “They should learn not only English but also their mother tongue there” But I think many immigrants can’t. Most immigrants migrate as laborers, and they don’t have enough money to let children learn their language or enough time to communicate and teach with their language.

My aunt teaches Japanese to foreign children. The children learn Japanese earlier than their parents, but their scholastic ability is not high. One reason is the difficulty of learning “in Japanese.” (They can speak Japanese fluently but they can’t read and understand subjects in Japanese.) Another reason is their family background: many immigrant families have trouble providing care for their children. For immigrant children, learning the host country language and adopting Japanese culture are pressing needs to live, and their mother tongue is of low priority, and a “luxury option.” That’s why they tend to lose their mother tongue and their own cultural identity. That show how difficult it is for minorities to keep their cultural background in the host society. Immigrants are required economic power and their cultural capital to live in the society.

Some minorities are closed to their narrow community and feel difficulty in assimilating to Japanese society. In 1989, the Immigration control and refugee recognition act was revised, and the government allowed Japanese Brazilians to stay in Japan as migrant workers. So in some industrial areas (Toyota-city in Aichi, Hamamatsu-city in Shizuoka etc), there are some Brazilian communities. They can work in factories with Brazilian colleagues, and their children can take classes in Portuguese. They can live without being able to speak Japanese fluently. The problem is, once they lose their jobs, they will be isolated from Japanese society. They only can speak Portuguese even though they have worked in Japan. That kind of troubles was occurred in 2008, when the Japanese economy fell into a recession because of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. Many Brazilian immigrants lost their jobs and crimes of Brazilian immigrants were reported in the news. That’s because the students in Brazilian school couldn’t get their jobs. Their case is worse, because some of them don’t have any connection to Brazil, and they are not allowed to live as Japanese in Japan.

In my conclusion, all immigrants’ children should have rights to learn same level as children in the country. I hope they will have rights to decide their future living place, their nationality irrespective of their parents’ nationality or economic power.

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.

The Death of Language

by Bun Kin

Today, half of the six thousand or so languages are spoken by fewer than ten thousand people. On the other hand, only a small number are spoken by hundreds of millions of people. Researchers believe that no language can survive unless one hundred thousand people speak it.

However, actually the death of languages is not a new thing. Since languages diversified, at least thirteen thousand of them were born and disappeared without leaving any sign. What is new is the speed at which they are dying out. For example, over the last three hundred years, Europe has lost about twelve languages, Australia has only twenty left of 215 languages, and Brazil has lost 500, three-fourths of total languages. This was brought by colonial conquests, whose territorial unity was linked to their linguistic homogeneity.

The effects of the death of languages are serious for several reasons. First, as each languages dies, a part of human history comes to an end. Because we can’t completely understand the origins of human language or solve the mystery of the first language.

Second, the destruction of multilingualism will lead to the loss of multiculturalism. Because a language is not only the main instrument of human communication, it also expresses the world view of those who speak it, their imagination and their ways of using knowledge. And last, the threat to multilingualism is similar to the threat to biodiversity, because many of the worlds endangered plant and animal species today are known only to certain peoples whose languages are dying out. As those people die, they take with them all the traditional knowledge about the environment.

The 1992 Rio Earth Summit made a specific plan to protect biodiversity. Therefore the need to protect languages began to be appreciated in the middle of the twentieth century, when language rights were included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since then, a number of methods have been adopted and projects have been launched to safeguard what is now thought to be a heritage of humanity. These plans and initiatives may not prevent languages from dying out, but at least they will slow down the process and encourage multilingualism.

The language is not just the main instrument of human communication, it is also the world view, the imagination and the ways of using knowledge of human. We can’t prevent the death of languages, however it belongs to one of very meaningful and important thing for human to heighten conscience about language.

Brazil – A Racial Paradise?

by Lee Hyeon Woo

I remember watching a film about Brazil. It was a film titled Tropa De Elite, or Elite Squad. The film was about special police forces named the BOPE hunting down drug dealers in Brazilian slums known as the favela. As I watched the movie, I realized that most of the population consisting the favela were dark colored. There were only a few completely black men, and most of the population had brownish skin. At first it didn’t matter because I thought Brazil was a “dark country”. But when the movie suddenly showed the image of a Brazilian medical university, I was surprised to find out that most of the students who are introduced as Brazilians were white. That’s when I realized that Brazil was not free from racial problems.

I found out that Brazil’s major populations were white people, who took up 49 percent of the entire Brazil population. Then followed brown, or pardos, which took 42 percent of the population. Blacks, contrary to my original belief, took only 7 percent of the entire population. However I also found out that due to the long history of Portuguese colonization, most of the population were of mixed ancestry regardless of skin color. These include mulato, a black-white mix, mestiso, an indigenous-white mix, and cafuzo, an indigenous-black mix. To my surprise there were also considerable numbers of Japanese Brazilians. Because of this mixed ancestry, Brazilians have no point of discriminating each other with racial ancestry. It was no wonder that the Brazilian government would promote that, since there are so many races living together in harmony, their nation is a “racial paradise”.

While it would have been the best if what the Brazil government claims are completely true, I unfortunately found out that even in a “racial paradise” discrimination exists. Even if the ancestry is mixed, Brazilians would still discriminate race by fundamental means – the skin color. To simply put, the whiter you are, the more advantageous you are in Brazilian society. These discriminations can apply in job interviews, education, and environment. As I mentioned the Favela in the film, Tropa De Elite, most of the populations in the favela are dark skinned people. On the contrary, in university, which requires a large amount of tuition, most of the students are white, implying that white Brazilians have more economic benefits than darker ones. The most difficult part in solving this discrimination is that it is hidden. Everyone in Brazil says that they are not racists and they respect all races, but when they face a situation which involves other races, they would subtly engage in discrimination. Sometimes they don’t even know that their act is a racial discrimination.

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