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Last week, Brazil’s Supreme Court voted to pass sweeping Affirmative Action measures across the country in an effort to close the higher education gap. Despite having the largest population of African-descended people outside of Africa, black and mixed-raced Brazilians are disproportionally underrepresented in nation’s colleges and universities.

In 2005, a federal law instituted a scholarship program for black and mixed-raced students that have helped many to attend university. Last week’s ruling upheld the scholarship and also found that it was constitutional for colleges to use racial quotas in its admission progress.

Since the scholarship was enacted in 2005, more than 900,000 students have benefitted from the program, which has helped Brazil continue to improve the number of its college-educated citizens. But vast inequalities still exist. According to the 2010 Census, “just 4.7 percent of black Brazilians over the age of 25 held a university degree, compared to 15 percent of whites.”

The Associated Press delves deeper inside the numbers:

A decade earlier, 2.3 percent of blacks and 9.8 percent of whites had degrees. Similar inequalities are seen at all age and education levels.

While those figures show the gap between whites and other races in Brazil has actually widened, supporters say the gain in the percentage of nonwhites getting a university education is the more important statistic.

Backers say the use of scholarships, quotas and other policies aimed at getting more blacks and mixed-race Brazilians into universities is needed to right the historic wrongs of slavery, centuries of stark economic inequality and a society in which whites are overwhelmingly in leadership roles in government and business, despite Brazil having more citizens of African ancestry than any nation other than Nigeria. Fifty-one percent of Brazil’s 192 million people are black or of mixed-race. 

“If you’re going to write about discrimination against blacks you have to talk about the privileges whites enjoy. Those privileges are what’s at stake in the intensely emotional opposition to these policies,” said Eliza Larkin Nascimento, director of the Institute of Afro-Brazilian Research and Study in Rio de Janeiro. “They feel threatened. Their privileges are sustained by a system that perpetuates inequality, both in the form of extreme poverty and extreme privilege.”

Opponents of the measures say instituting Affirmative-Action laws fix a problem that does not exist and will do more to divide the country and stoke racial animus.

“Racial policy, even in good faith, is state therapy for a disease that does not exist: We don’t have a racial identity,” Jose Ferreira Militao, a black activist and lawyer in Sao Paulo, wrote in a local paper.

But Brazil’s Supreme Court disagreed, and wrote that instating Affirmative Action policies helps the country right the wrongs of slavery.

What do you think of Brazil’s Affirmative Action measures?

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  • I’m going to disagree vehemently with Jose Ferreira Militao. My time in Brazil showed me a group of people very in touch with their racial identity and all the baggage that came with it. The disparities I saw in Salvador Bahia were extremely disheartening and just seeing how many blacks “lived” daily broke a part of my soul. I wept bitterly for what they didn’t have and what they were forced to live with. I remember all the bright eyes of the students I met, grade, elementary, and high school, who wanted the chance to learn and succeed. I also met the many high schoolers who just wish that they had more access and opportunities than they did and were fighting to get into schools and remain in them. I’m glad for these measures and hope more good will come of it.

    Now they also really need to focus on the blooming drug problem. Meeting 18 yo boys who look like they’re 10 because they’ve been hooked on crack since that age…I just can’t handle it.

  • MK

    I applaud Brazil’s supreme court, it was about time…

  • Great job by Brazil, a nation with that large of a population can not afford to have its POC uneducated and unprepared for the world competition a world that Brazil has made clear it wants to take role in building. I prefer to see these “stats” as Brazil doubling the number of blacks with degrees in ten years, pretty damn impressive.

  • Alexandra

    It’s time. It is going to take a lot more initiatives to ‘fix’ the racial disparities of course, but I also applaud them for passing it. I think it’s a great idea that needs to be brought to the front in many other Latin American countries; not just for education either.

  • H

    That’s a large number of black people. Here in America, we only make up 12% of the population. but we still fare reasonably well and are able to get our voices heard. You should compare the ghettos here to the shanty towns there.

    Aren’t those numbers of 4.7 and 15 percent kind of low for both groups though?