What it means to be Black in Brazil

Racism rooted in slavery has not gone away in Brazil — and it took time until its existence was even acknowledged.

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Brazil imported more African slaves than any other country in the world: over 4 million people. Despite the ancestry forming a big part of the population, the development of a national Black identity was hindered after the country’s abolition of slavery in 1888.

Brazil didn’t have an apartheid system like South Africa’s or Jim Crow laws like the United States, and its mixed population was seen as a symbol of harmony between races. The idea of Brazil being a “racial democracy” affected how Brazilians saw the role of race in their own lives — until the myth was debunked.

“Several people were raised with certain privileges for being a light-skinned person, but still suffering some discrimination and not understanding exactly why is that so,” explains lawyer and diversity studies professor Thiago Amparo. “Only by understanding the history of Brazil, the [social] construction of whiteness and their own Black ancestry, they start to self-identify as Black.”
The rise in the number of Brazilians who self-identify as Black came as a result of the Black movement’s fight to denounce racism in the country and to promote positive references of Blackness. Many achievements have been made over the past decades, such as the implementation of affirmative action practices. However, challenges remain. Seventy-five percent of people killed by police in Brazil in 2019 were Black, and socio-economic characteristics of this population widely differ from those of white people.

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