By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – On Thursday, November 20th, Brazil celebrates Consciência Negra (Black Awareness Day) with a little over 18.8 percent of Brazilian municipalities observing it as a holiday. It is, according to analysts it is not a day to celebrate but rather reflect on the social and political conditions of Afro-Brazilians today.

Brazil's Chamber of Deputies holds special session to celebrate Dia da Consciência Negra in Brasilia November 18th, photo  by Antonio Cruz/Agencia Brasil
Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies holds special session to celebrate Dia da Consciência Negra in Brasilia November 18th, photo by Antonio Cruz/Agencia Brasil.

“I would not consider it a celebration as much as a reflection of what Afro-descents have accomplished in Brazil,” says Eunice Prudente, Law Professor at the University of São Paulo (USP) and a member of the Nucleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre o Negro Brasileiro (Interdisciplinary Studies Group on the Brazilian Afro-Descendants).

Being of Afro-Descent in Brazil is not easy or particularly safe. Data from the Mapa da Violencia (Violence Map), released by Flacso (an international educational organization created by seventeen Latin American governments in 1957), shows that of the almost 56,500 homicides registered in Brazil in 2012, a little over 30,000 were of young people. Of this total, over 23,000 of the victims were of Afro-Brazilian descent, with an overwhelming number being male.

Information from Flacso shows that between 2002 and 2012 the number of homicides of young white people fell by 32.3 percent while those of young black people increased by almost the same amount, 32.4 percent. The entity’s latest map shows that in 2012 the rate of young (12 to 21 years old) white people victims of homicides in Brazil is of 37.3 per 100,000 while the rate for Afro-Brazilian descendants is of 89.6 per 100,000.

“In Brazil, a black man living on the outskirts of a large metropolitan area city and is twenty-something can be considered a survivor,” says Professor Prudente. The law professor however admits that social programs have come a long way to promote what she calls ‘positive discrimination’.

Rapper and social educator, Henrique QI, often includes racial inequality issues in his songs, photo by Valter Campanato/Agencia Brasil
Rapper and social educator, Henrique QI, often includes racial inequality issues in his songs, photo by Valter Campanato/Agencia Brasil.

According to her the educational quota system for entrance in universities and technical schools as well as quotas for federal jobs is a step in the right direction. “These (quotas) are not a privilege that are given, but a path towards social and economic inclusion,” she adds.

In 2003 the federal government created the Department to Promote Racial Equality (SEPPIR), linked to the Executive office. The department’s objective is to create and coordinates affirmative public policies promoting equality and the protection of rights of individuals and ethnic groups, with the highlight given to the Afro population.

Its multi-annual plan for 2012-2015 includes actions to reduce homicide deaths in the black youth community, establish agreements for the inclusion of the Afro-Brazilian population in the job market and adopt measures to prevent institutional racism in both public and private organizations.

Since then, economic and political conditions for Afro-Descendants have changed, but not much. The job market for Afro-Brazilians, according to the Employment and Unemployment Survey (PED) released by the DIEESE (Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socio-Economic Studies), for example, has improved.

The agency’s latest survey, released this week, shows that in the six metropolitan areas researched (Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Porto Alegre, Recife, Salvador and São Paulo) the unemployment rate between blacks and non-blacks have declined, although wage and job conditions continue to register a large disparity.

In the political front, Afro-Brazilians continue to be under-represented in Congress. According to the TSE (Superior Electoral Court) of the 513 federal representatives elected this October for the 2015-2018 legislature 19.19 percent were black or pardo (mixed race).

“The problem continues to be the success rate of these candidacies,” says Luiza Bairros, who heads the SEPPIR, “White men were nearly 42 percent of the candidates but are nearly eighty percent of the elected officials.”

Nonetheless, Professor Prudente says that there have been some social, economic and political gains and that Afro-Brazilians should be proud of their accomplishments. “Despite all the difficulties, we have held on to much of our (Afro-root) religion, our culture and customs,” she concludes.

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