Damn, It Kinda Sucks For Me Here

In the January 28th print edition of The Economist, I read an article that glossed over the subject of affirmative action in Brazil. I have some issues with piece, but it’s still pretty informative if you’re clueless about Blacks in Brazil. If you thought I was talking about a porn title(Even if you know better, click, I will reference it constantly without providing quotes), then the link is a definite pro-click. Brazil is currently the holder of the second largest black population in the world. Nigeria owns the title, and boy is the crown/head heavy over there. Second blackest is a pretty interesting title to hold for a country not in Africa, and Brazil responded with mix results. One of the mixed results is affirmative action. Here is part of an argument for getting rid of it,

Importing American-style affirmative action risks forcing Brazilians to place themselves in strict racial categories rather than somewhere along a spectrum, says Peter Fry, a British-born, naturalised-Brazilian anthropologist. Having worked in southern Africa, he says that Brazil’s avoidance of “the crystallizing of race as a marker of identity” is a big advantage in creating a democratic society.

The idea of affirmative action being unwanted because they can’t pretend that they’re the rainbow nation, is making me twitch in disgust. Oh no, we have to admit race exists within our class consciousness and respond appropriately! The Black Brazilian experience is clearly different from that of the Americans, but similarities do exist. There are a several quotes pointing this out. This is one of the more explicit,

In Brazil you have an invisible enemy. Nobody’s racist. But when your daughter goes out with a black, things change,

Things change, because like in America, black people are expected to play certain roles. One of these roles is not the guy carving out a future with your daughter. Parents are uneasy about a black boyfriend because he is believed to be inferior in a variety of ways. Racial stereotyping isn’t exclusive to white parents. Just try being black, and in an interracial relationship involving Arab, Asian, Hispanic or Centaur(it really doesn’t seem to matter) parents. In many cases your love will be a huge no-no. Why is this? All across the world, being black carries a set of negative connotations. Being black supposedly means you aren’t smart and/or hard-working enough: you’re just a physical specimen good for hard labor and entertainment. In Brazil, many are comfortable with them on farms, in something as gross as favelas, in the service industry and on the pitch, but not in the office- not in their blue-eyed daughters. People are usually color-blind until you invade their personal space with all your blackity blackness.

I’m sorry, but you just don’t become the last nation to abolish slavery, and get to say you’re in a post-racial society. It just doesn’t work like that. IPEA’s empirics, supplemented by personal anecdotes(in the article), should be more than enough to make the case for affirmative action. It still managed to make Brazilians of European descent swoop down on the article’s comment section, to complain about providing benefits to those of African descent. The rejection of opportunity is a direct attack on the humanity of blacks, and very powerful psychological blow. They come in, make their case for dumping it and leaving blacks exposed to what they believe to be a merit based society. The reasoning lends itself to the narrative of black failure being the natural outcome of  inferior people competing with white excellence. The reality is the system had marginalized these people, and then failed them. How do you expect someone to move up without access to higher education?

Affirmative action isn’t a state response to hatred for someone’s color, it is a direct challenge to ill-gotten privilege. The policy creates social remittances that will reverberate throughout the black community. It will help change the black identity for the better, as long as the Brazilians response to recognizing race is a positive one. It isn’t the occupation of undeserved roster spots, it is host to the transformation of the franchise. Education is the key to making the transition from provincial people to global citizens. To deny this only reinforces existing inequalities – it is also a selfish and morally bankrupt act. The state made the correct decision in bringing affirmative action to its institutions. Keep up the good work.