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Brazil’s 2010 national census brought a surprise. For the first time, the total number of citizens who self-identified as either black or mixed race represented a majority: 50.7%. In the prior census (2000), most respondents (53.7%) self-identified as white. Far from any increase in the birth rate, the explanation for this phenomenon is a rise in self-esteem the black population, which is a result of affirmative action policies that were introduced during the Lula administration and extended by President Dilma.
“Many who had self-identified as white now say they are mixed race and many who self-identified as mixed now call themselves black. This is due to a process respecting the black race and increased self-esteem among this population,” said Jefferson Mariano, an economic analyst at the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).
According to IBGE, between 2003 and 2013, with Lula and Dilma, the income of black and mixed race Brazilians grew 51.4%, while that of the white population increased 27.8%. Nevertheless, black income stands at only 57.4% of that of the white population – an indication that there is still more to do on the affirmative action front
“Brazil demands and requires affirmative action to overcome every [bit of] prejudice and racial discrimination, and the social inequalities that still mark our society,” said President Dilma in her remarks, in December 2013, during the opening ceremony of the Brazilian federal government’s 19th annual presentation of its Human Rights Award.
Affirmative action policies were introduced in Brazil toward the start of the Lula administration, with the 2003 adoption of Law 10,639, which made compulsory the teaching of Afro-Brazilian history and culture in schools across the country. In 2011, Law 12,519 was enacted by President Dilma, which establishes November 20th as National Black Consciousness Day. The date commemorates the Afro-Brazilian hero, Zumbi, leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares*, who was killed by Portuguese troops on November 20, 1695.
President Dilma signed into law two more pieces of legislation that were bolder still – the first, establishes quotas for Afro-Brazilian in higher education and the other establishes quotas in the federal civil service positions that are filled via competitive examinations.
Lula and Dilma have tripled the number of Afro-Brazilian students in higher education. In 2001, only 10.2% of them were attending university. By 2012, that percentage reached 37.4%, thanks to several initiatives, including ProUni, which offers scholarships to private colleges and universities; expansion of the federal higher education system; and increasing the number of vacancies at existing universities through programs such as the Program to Support Restructuring and Expansion Plans at Federal Universities (REUNI).
Although Afro-Brazilians are still a minority in higher education, this situation is changing, especially thanks to Law 12,711. Signed into law by President Dilma in August 2012, the law requires that federal universities set aside 50% of their enrollments for students who self-identify as black, mixed race, or indigenous – definitions used by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) – whose family incomes are at or below 1.5x the national per capita minimum wage, and who have graduated from a public high school.
Quotas for black, mixed race, and indigenous persons is set forth as the proportion of these populations in each state, according to the IBGE’s Census 2010. Before the law was passed, 18 of Brazil’s 58 federal universities were resistant to the use of any type of quota policy. As of the 2013 federal university entrance exam, through the force of law and with all institutions participating, the number of spots available to those eligible to take advantage of the quota policy rose from 140,000 to 188,000.
In June 2014, President Dilma signed a major piece of affirmative action legislation, which reserves for Afro-Brazilians 20% of all federal civil service positions that are filled via competitive examinations. The adoption of this law represents strategic affirmative action that will accelerate the social mobility of the nation’s Afro-Brazilian population over the course of the next decade. It was a victory in the struggle for racial equality in Brazil.
The law will remain in force for up to ten years and will impact the federal civil service, local authorities, foundations, publicly traded companies and joint stock companies controlled by the federal government. Four states already use racial quotas in their public tenders – Mato Grosso, Paraná, Rio de Janeiro, and Rio Grande do Sul. An additional 44 municipalities have already adopted similar laws.