Special report: Why Brazil’s would-be first black president trails among blacks

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2014-10-03 20:10Z by Steven

Special report: Why Brazil’s would-be first black president trails among blacks

Reuters
2014-10-03

Brian Winter, Chief Correspondent

SAO PAULO – Brazilians could make history this month by electing Marina Silva, the daughter of impoverished rubber tappers from the Amazon, as their first black president.

Yet Silva is trailing incumbent President Dilma Rousseff, who is white, among the half of voters who are of African descent.

That disadvantage, which contrasts with U.S. President Barack Obama’s overwhelming support from African-Americans in the 2008 and 2012 elections, could cost Silva victory in this extremely close election.

The reasons behind Silva’s struggles speak volumes about Brazil’s history, its complex relationship with race, and the recent social progress that has made Rousseff a slight favorite to win a second term despite a stagnant economy.

In recent weeks, Reuters interviewed two dozen Brazilians of color in three different cities. Many said they would be proud to see Silva win – especially in a country where people of color have historically been underrepresented in government, universities and elsewhere.

Yet they also said they were more focused on the economy than any other factor. Since taking power in 2003, Rousseff’s leftist Workers’ Party has made enormous strides in reducing poverty – especially among blacks.

“No one wants to go back to the past,” said Gustavo Leira, 71, a retired public servant in Brasilia. Silva’s race is important, he said, “but it’s not the most important thing.”…

…In 2008, Obama won 95 percent of the African-American vote. That advantage, plus his support from two-thirds of Hispanic voters, helped him overcome a 12 percentage point deficit among white voters. The margins were broadly similar when Obama won re-election in 2012.

While Obama did not make race a theme of his campaigns, he did address it at key moments – including a famous speech in March 2008 in which he discussed the anger felt by many in the black community, and what it was like to be the son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya.

Silva also comes from a mixed racial background – just like many, if not most, Brazilians…

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Challenger Upends Brazilian Race for Presidency

Posted in Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Religion, Women on 2014-09-17 17:52Z by Steven

Challenger Upends Brazilian Race for Presidency

The New York Times
2014-09-15

Simon Romero, Brazil Bureau Chief

RIO DE JANEIRO — When Dilma Rousseff and Marina Silva were both cabinet ministers, they clashed on everything from building nuclear power plants to licensing huge dams in the Amazon.

Ms. Rousseff came out on top, emerging as the political heir to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and ultimately succeeding him as president. But she now finds herself locked in a heated race with Ms. Silva, an environmental icon who is jockeying for the lead in polling ahead of the Oct. 5 election as an insurgent candidate repudiating the power structure she helped assemble.

Ms. Silva’s upending of the presidential race is a symbol of the antiestablishment sentiment that has roiled Brazil, including anxiety over a sluggish economy and fatigue with political corruption. Her rising popularity also taps into shifts in society like the rising clout of evangelical Christian voters and a growing disquiet with policies that have raised incomes while doing little to improve the quality of life in Brazilian cities.

“Marina differs from other politicians” in this election “in that she came almost from nothing,” said Sonia Regina Gonçalo, 34, a janitor, referring to Ms. Silva, who was born into extreme poverty in the far reaches of the Amazon. “She’s the ideal candidate for this time in Brazil.”

Thrust to the fore after her running mate, Eduardo Campos, died in a plane crash in August, Ms. Silva, 56, has a background with few parallels at the highest levels of Brazilian politics, allowing her to resonate with voters across the country.

If elected, she would be Brazil’s first black president, a milestone in a country where most people now identify themselves as black or mixed race, but where political power is still concentrated in the hands of whites…

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Will Brazil elect Marina Silva as the world’s first Green president?

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Women on 2014-09-05 19:17Z by Steven

Will Brazil elect Marina Silva as the world’s first Green president?

The Guardian/The Observer
2014-08-30

Jonathan Watts, Latin America Correspondent

Born into a poor, mixed-race Amazon family, Marina Silva is on the verge of a stunning election win after taking over her party

It started with the national anthem and ended with a rap. In between came a poignant minute’s silence, politicised football chants and a call to action by the woman tipped to become the first Green national leader on the planet.

The unveiling in SĂŁo Paulo of Brazilian presidential candidate Marina Silva’s platform for government on Friday was a sometimes bizarre mix of tradition and modernity, conservatism and radicalism, doubt and hope: but for many of those present, it highlighted the very real prospect of an environmentalist taking the reins of a major country…

…Silva is a mix of Brazil’s three main ethnic groups. Among her ancestors are native Indians, Portuguese settlers and African slaves. While she is usually described as predominantly “indigenous”, friends say Silva categorises herself as “black” in the national census. In Brazil’s white-dominated political world, this is exceptional.

“It will be super-important for Brazil to have a black president, as it was in the US with Obama. It would signify a big advance for our country against discrimination,” said Alessandro Alvares, a member of the PSB and one of the few non-white faces in the room…

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Brazil Enacts Affirmative Action Law for Universities

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Campus Life, Caribbean/Latin America, Law, New Media, Politics/Public Policy on 2012-08-31 18:36Z by Steven

Brazil Enacts Affirmative Action Law for Universities

The New York Times
2012-08-30

Simon Romero, Brazil Bureau Chief

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s government has enacted one of the Western Hemisphere’s most sweeping affirmative action laws, requiring public universities to reserve half of their admission spots for the largely poor students in the nation’s public schools and vastly increase the number of university students of African descent across the country.

The law, signed Wednesday by President Dilma Rousseff, seeks to reverse the racial and income inequality that has long characterized Brazil, a country with more people of African heritage than any nation outside of Africa. Despite strides over the last decade in lifting millions out of poverty, Brazil remains one of the world’s most unequal societies.

“Brazil owes a historical debt to a huge part of its own population,” said Jorge Werthein, who directs the Brazilian Center for Latin American Studies. “The democratization of higher education, which has always been a dream for the most neglected students in public schools, is one way of paying this debt.”…

…But while affirmative action has come under threat in the United States, it is taking deeper root in Brazil, Latin America’s largest country. Though the new legislation, called the Law of Social Quotas, is expected to face legal challenges, it drew broad support among lawmakers.

Of Brazil’s 81 senators, only one voted against the law this month. Other spheres of government here have also supported affirmative action measures. In a closely watched decision in April, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the racial quotas enacted in 2004 by the University of BrasĂ­lia, which reserved 20 percent of its spots for black and mixed-race students…

…Brazil’s 2010 census showed that a slight majority of this nation’s 196 million people defined themselves as black or mixed-race, a shift from previous decades during which most Brazilians called themselves white…

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Talking About Brazil with Lilia Schwarcz

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Barack Obama, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Interviews, Media Archive, Social Science, Women on 2011-07-27 23:23Z by Steven

Talking About Brazil with Lilia Schwarcz

The New York Review of Books
2010-08-17

Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor of History
Harvard University

On a recent trip to Brazil, I struck up a conversation with Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, one of Brazil’s finest historians and anthropologists. The talk turned to the two subjects she has studied most—racism and national identity.
 
I first visited Brazil in 1989, when hyperinflation had nearly paralyzed the economy, favelas erupted in shoot-outs, and Lula, a hero of the union movement but still unsure of himself as a politician, was undertaking his first campaign for the presidency. I found it all fascinating and frightening. On my second trip, a few years later, I met Lilia and her husband, Luiz Schwarcz, who was beginning to build the company he had founded, Companhia das Letras, into one of the finest publishing houses in Latin America. They treated me to a day so packed with Braziliana that I remember it as one of the happiest experiences of my life: in the morning a stroll with their children through SĂŁo Paulo’s main park, where families of all shades of color were picnicking and playing in dazzling sunlight; lunch, a tour of Brazilian specialties undreamt of in my culinary philosophy (but no pig’s ears or tails, it not being feijoada day); an international soccer match (Brazil beat Venezuela, and the stands exploded with joy); then countless caipirinhas and a cabaret-concert by Caetano Veloso at his most lyrical and politically provocative…

Since then I have never stopped marveling at the energy and originality of Brazilian culture. But I don’t pretend to understand it, all the more so as it is constantly changing, and I can’t speak Portuguese. I can only ask questions in English and strain to grasp the answers. Has the myth of Brazil as a “sleeping giant” turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy? “He has awoken,” people say today. The economy is booming, health services expanding, literacy improving. There are also prophecies of doom, because Brazil’s economic history looks like cycles of boom and bust imposed on centuries of slavery and pauperization. Still, Lula is completing a second and final term as president. Whatever Brazilians may think of his newly assertive foreign policy, which includes cultivating friendly relations with Iran (most of them don’t seem to be interested in it), they generally agree that he has managed the economy well and has done a great deal to improve the lot of the poor. Lula’s term will end in October, and he has thrown his support behind Dilma Rousseff, his former chief of staff, whose chances of winning are much bolstered by Lula’s own popularity. The first debate of the new presidential campaign, which took place on August 5, was a dignified affair—an indication, I was told, that democracy is healthy and the days of military coups are over. Now foreigners are asking new questions about the character of this new great power. I directed some of the FAQs at Lilia…

RD: Yes, like many New Yorkers, I have moments of fear when I get off the subway at the wrong station or wander too far from 125th Street. But when I visit Brazil, I like to think I am in a country that is coping successfully with its history of racism. Could Brazil evolve into a multi-nuanced mestizo society like the one imagined by the Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre?
 
LMS: Let me first ask you Bob, do you think of Obama as a “black President”? I am asking this question, because in Brazil the definition of color depends on the context, the moment and the temperament of the person who asks the question and responds to it.
 
RD: Ask any American, ask Obama himself, the answer will certainly be that he is black. In the US, despite the many varieties of skin color, we do not have a multi-nuanced notion of race. You are black or you are white or you are something not closely linked to color such as Chinese, Hispanic.
 
LMS: In Brazil, you are what you describe yourself to be. Officially we have five different colors—black, white, yellow, indigenous, and pardo (meaning “brown,” “brownish,” or “gray-brown”), but in reality, as research has demonstrated, we have more than 130 colors. Brazilians like to describe their spectrum of colors as a rainbow and we also think that color is a flexible way of categorizing people. For several years, I have been studying a soccer game called “Pretos X Brancos” (Blacks against whites), which takes place in a favela of SĂŁo Paulo, called HeliĂłpolis. In theory, it pits eleven white players against eleven black players. But, every year they change colors like they change socks or shirts—one year a player will choose to play for one team, the next year for the other, with the explanation that, “I feel more black,” or “I feel more white.” Also, in Brazil, if a person gets rich, he gets whiter. I recently talked with a dentist in Minas Gerais. As he is becoming old, his hair has turned white, and he is very well recognized in his little town. He started smoking cigars, joined the local Rotary Club, and said to me: “When I was black my life was really difficult.” So one can see how being white even nowadays is a powerful symbol. Here we have two sides of the same picture: on the one hand, identity is flexible; on the other hand, whiteness is ultimately what some people aspire to. But one aspect is common, the idea that you can manipulate your color and race…

Read the entire interview here.

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