Discussing Race and Education in Brazil
HASTAC: Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory
Department of History
Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
Yesterday at lunch, Maria Lúcia and I sat with a graduate of UFRRJ and an Educação a Distancia tutor for the university, who was headed to the Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF) in Niterói in the afternoon. The graduate student made a comment about the UFF campus, which caught my attention. “One thing, about UFF is that the students there are mostly white,” he said to me. “Look around you. Here you see that students are all mixed. There are every color, but at UFF they are mostly white.” I was somewhat surprised and to hear his thoughts on the subject of race. I had found it difficult to bring up this subject with students that I had talked with the day before, and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get Brazilians’ opinions about race and education.
“Why?” I asked. “Why is the student body more white there? I thought things in Brazil are changing.” He responded, “They are, but the UFF campus has always been that way. It is one of the largest public campuses in Rio and it is older. Even though things are changing, it is still noticeable that there are far more white students there.” I again asked why this is the case. The student explained that the area surrounding the university is one of the richest regions per capita of Rio de Janeiro. The people who live there have the money to send their students to private first and secondary educational institutions. These children are then better prepared to take the university’s entrance exam. So, it is not only that people who are richer (and whiter) have more access to the university because of their physical proximity, but they also have the best changes to be accepted to the school because of their educational background. “For these children, an outing is a trip outside of the country,” he commented. “For children of Baixada Fluminense, an outing is going to the park or to the beach. This same sort of divide is noted in the educational experiences between the people who have money and those who live here (Baixada Fluminense).”
Again, I was somewhat surprised by his comments. Yet this time, I was not taken aback by what he was saying, but because through my American eyes neither the student nor Maria Lucia look particularly “black.” In fact, as far as I could tell, they were white, yet they drew a distinction between themselves and other “white” students, especially those at UFF. Maria Lucia explained later that although by her skin color she considered herself white, but her whole culture—who she associated with, her socialization—was black. She said that her parents come from the northeast, a region with a high African-descended population and that her family was mixed. I pointed out, though, that even though people at UFRRJ are more mixed in their color and orientation than perhaps those at UFF, in Brazil people with the darkest skin color disproportionately represent the poorest people in the country. The other graduate student was quick to agree. “That is true,” he said. “That is very true.” So, how then, do changes in the higher educational system help the darkest and poorest people?…
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