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Today, there are more than 75 million people of African descent living in Brazil, which currently gives it the second largest black population in the world.[1] However, despite its large black population it was also the last country in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery, in 1888. Brazil proudly refers to itself as a "Racial Democracy," originally coined by Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre in his work Casa-Grande & Senzala (The Masters and the Slaves), published in 1933. Additionally, racism has been made illegal under Brazil's anti-discrimination laws, which were passed in the 1950s after an African-American dancer was barred from a hotel.[2] Nonetheless, race has been the subject of multiple intense debates over the years within the country.


History of AbolitionEdit

Calls for the end of slavery in Brazil began in the early 19th century. In 1825, José Bonifácio Andrada e Silva, who was a prominent figure in leading Brazil to independence from Portugal, was in high favor of gradual emancipation.[3] Britain also contributed to the push for abolition in Brazil, by abolishing the slave trade. This was a significant move due to the fact that the British was Brazil's main trade partner. A small amount of legislation also helped lead up to the official abolition of slavery in 1888. First, in 1871 the Law of the Free Womb declared that all the children of slaves that were born after the law was passed were to be freed; followed by the 1885 Sexagenarian Law, which freed slaves over sixty years of age.[3]

A large contributor to the lengthy abolition process in Brazil was in part due to the dynamics of the royal family. By the 1870s, the last king, Pedro II had only one surviving child, the princess Isabel.[4] Due to her gender and her marriage to a foreigner, Isabel had trouble gaining support, despite having twice served as regent during her father's reign. During her brief time as regent, she took small measures to abolish slavery. Due to the obstacles she faced, she had to appoint an entirely new cabinet in order to completely abolish slavery. She succeeded, and the abolition of slavery was referred to as the Golden Law.[4]

Existing ScholarshipEdit

There is a lot of wide ranging scholarship on the racism in Brazil post slavery [5], from books to documentaries. One book, From Slavery to Freedom in Brazil: Bahia, 1835–1900, was written by Professor Dale Torston Graden in 2006. Graden breaks up his book into four different sections, which trace the history of abolition in Bahia.[6] Critics say that Graden's book helps to detail the complex natures of the abolition movement and the large role enslaved and free blacks played in the larger narrative in which Brazilian society was gradually defined. Additionally, it "pushes the reader to develop a more nuanced understanding of the intersection of race, ethnicity and emerging class hierarchy in the Brazilian context and provides a solid point of comparison for work in other parts of the Americas."[6]

Conducted ResearchEdit

A research article published in 2011 indicated that 63.7% of Brazilians believe that race interferes with the quality of life.

At work: 59%
In questions related to police justice: 68.3%

Results conducted in 2008 supposedly show that people are not surprised about this difference—although a large percentage of the population is black or has black ancestry, they represented no more than 8% of the 513 chosen representatives in the last election year. The salary of Whites in Brazil are, on average, 46% over the salary of Blacks. This difference might be explained by differences in education.[7]

According to Ivanir dos Santos (the former Justice Ministry's specialist on race affairs), "There is a hierarchy of skin color where blacks, mix races and dark skinned people are expected to know their place in society."[8]

A study on racial bias in teacher evaluations in Brazil found that Brazilian math teachers gave better grading assessments of white students than equally proficient and equivalently well-behaved black students.[9]

Race indicators

Indicators White Brazilian Black & Multiracial Brazilian
Illiteracy[10] 5.9% 13.3%
University degree[11] 15.0% 4.7%
Life expectancy[12] 73.13 67.03
Unemployment[13] 5.7% 7.1%
GDP per capita[14] R$ 22,699 R$ 15,068
Homicide deaths[15] 29% 65.5%

Studies on Racialized ViolenceEdit

Due to the ongoing questions surrounding race in Brazil, there have been various studies of violence in the country and whether race was a contributing or main factor in these crimes. One particular study looked at a series of homicides that occurred in Brazil, spanning from 2000 to 2009. The statistics were obtained by the Mortality Information System. The explanatory variables the Mortality Information System looked at for potential causes of racialized killings were, race/skin color, gender and education. In the discussion section, the findings of the study suggested that anti-gun legislation in Brazil has yielded different outcomes among Brazil's population due to race or color. The risk of death by homicide in the white population declined during the period studied. In the black population, the risk of being victimized based on race increased regardless of gender, even after gun control measures took place over the studied period of time.[16]

Another study determined that in 2008, 111.2% more blacks died proportionally than whites in Brazil. The disparity is especially pronounced among young adults between 15 and 24 years of age. Among whites, the number of murders fell from 6,592 to 4,582 between 2002 and 2008, a difference of 30%. Meanwhile, the murders of young black men rose from 11,308 to 12,749 —- an increase of 13%. In 2008, 127.6% more young black men died proportionately than whites. Ten years earlier, this difference was 39%. In the State of Paraíba in 2008, 1083% more blacks died than whites. In the State of Alagoas, 974.8% more blacks died than whites. In 11 States, this ratio exceeds 200%.[17]

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Juanma Sánchez Arteaga. Biological Discourses on Human Races and Scientific Racism in Brazil (1832–1911). Journal of the History of Biology, 50(2), 267-314.
  • Hendric Kraay, Race, State, and Armed Forces in Independence-Era Brazil: Bahia 1790s to 1840s. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001.
  • Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman. The Color of Love: Racial Features, Stigma, and Socialization in Black Brazilian Families'. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015.
  • Edward Telles. Pigmentocracies: Ethnicity, Race, & Color in Latin America. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-4696-1783-1
  • France Winddance Twine. Racism in a Racial Democracy: The Maintenance of White Supremacy in Brazil. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0813523651


  1. ^ Brazil. Directed by Ricardo Pollack. PBS, 2011. Accessed February 23, 2018.
  2. ^ Since Established In The 1950s, Brazilians Say Anti-Racism Laws Aren't Enough
  3. ^ a b "Slavery and Abolition in the 19th Century | Brazil: Five Centuries of Change". Retrieved 2018-03-29.
  4. ^ a b "Abolition | Brazil: Five Centuries of Change". Retrieved 2018-03-29.
  5. ^ Sánchez Arteaga, Juanma., & Niño El-Hani, C. (2010). Physical anthropology and the description of the'savage'in the Brazilian Anthropological Exhibition of 1882. História, Ciências, Saúde-Manguinhos, 17(2), 399-414.
  6. ^ a b Gormley, Melissa E. (2008-04-04). "From Slavery to Freedom in Brazil: Bahia, 1835-1900 (review)". Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History. 9 (1). doi:10.1353/cch.2008.0016. ISSN 1532-5768.
  7. ^ Brazilians Think Race Intefere [sic] on Quality of Life, but not Everyone is Concerned About Equality (in English)
  8. ^ Racial Inequality in Brazil (in English)
  9. ^ "AEJ: Applied (7,4) p. 37 - Racial Discrimination in Grading: Evidence from Brazil". doi:10.1257/app.20140352. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ Illiterecy between Whites and Blacks in Brazil (in Portuguese)
  11. ^ Academic degree between Whites and Blacks in Brazil (in Portuguese)
  12. ^ Life expectancy in Brazil (in Portuguese)
  13. ^ Unemployment in Brazil (in Portuguese) Archived 2012-01-18 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ GDP per capita in Brazil (in Portuguese)
  15. ^ Homicide rate in Brazil (2009) (in Portuguese)]
  16. ^ Homicide victimization according to racial characteristics in Brazil (in English)
  17. ^ For every death of a white person in Brazil, 2 black people die (in Portuguese)

Insight into Brazilian Racism